The first edition of Davis Cup Qualifiers will take place on Friday and Saturday and unlike the regular World Group first round that we had for more than 30 years, 24 teams will battle to earn the spot at Davis Cup finals in November where 18 countries will play for the crown, the first in the renewed format.
In one of 12 ties, 2014 champions Switzerland will take upon Russia at the Swiss Tennis Arena in Biel on an indoor hard surface, hoping for a miracle against the two-time winner without their by far the best players Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
The Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi has announced that both Roger and Stan have no plans to compete in the Davis Cup 2019 campaign, especially not just five days after the Australian Open. Stan is making his comeback after knee troubles and he will try to improve his ranking and get back where he belongs while Roger will choose his 2019 schedule wisely, as he does for years now, with no room left for Davis Cup in those plans.
This puts the home team into all kind of troubles as they don't have other high-quality singles players, with Henri Laaksonen and Marc-Andrea Huesler standing as the only other two Swiss in the top-400! These two had lead Switzerland in Biel against Sweden in September and the Swedes scored a 3-2 win to reach the Qualifiers round as well, with Laaksonen winning both singles rubbers for the hosts.
Now, he will have to do the same against the mighty Russian squad that hasn't been this strong in years after stellar seasons for both Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov who entered the top-20. Together with Andrey Rublev, Russia has one of the youngest and most balanced teams in the world and they will undoubtedly be the favorites against the Swiss this weekend.
Both Karen and Daniil had won three ATP titles in 2018, including the first Masters 1000 crown for Khachanov in Paris that pushed him just outside the top-10. The Russians made a poor start of 2018 Davis Cup season, losing to Austria at home before they toppled Belarus to earn the place in Davis Cup Qualifiers where they will have a big chance of reaching the finals.
Switzerland had beat the former USSR in 1987 and 1991 and Russia scored the first win in their last meeting in 2002 in Moscow, despite two straight sets singles wins for the young Roger Federer over Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Besides Laaksonen and Huesler, Jakub Paul, Sandro Ehrat and the 15-year-old Jerome Kym are in contention as well, hoping for a miracle against Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Evgeny Donskoy and the 14-year-old Konstantin Zhzhenov who has been invited to gather experience.
The three-time Davis Cup champions the Czech Republic have been playing in the World Group since the start of that format in 1981, missing to play among the elite teams only in 2006 and 2018, losing against the Netherlands in September 2017 in The Hague to start 2018 campaign from Group 1.
The Czechs have defeated Israel and Hungary and they will compete for the place at Davis Cup finals at the Ostravar Arena in Ostrava against the Netherlands on an indoor hard surface. Led by Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, the Czechs have won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 but these two players have ended their Davis Cup careers (Berdych has been struggling with injuries while Stepanek ended his tennis journey), with the team based around their best singles players Jiri Vesely and Lukas Rosol.
Unlike in that The Hague clash on clay, things should be much different in Ostrava this weekend, with the Czech squad carried by the partisan crowd and playing on an indoor hard surface that will suit them more than their rivals.
The Netherlands lost two indoor hard ties against Canada and France in 2018 and they will have to bring something special in Ostrava as well if they want to emerge as winners, having only one player ranked in the top-150 on the singles list.
Sine 2006, Robin Haase had missed only one Davis Cup campaign nine years ago and he is there to lead his country against the Czechs as well, together with another Davis Cup Commitment Award winner Jean-Julien Roger who has won 21 out of 27 Davis Cup doubles rubbers he played so far!
The away team will have to find some extra gear from any of the lower-ranked players in their squad to overpower the host nation, with the Czechs being in a solid position to secure the place in Madrid if both Rosol and Vesely deliver their best tennis against Haase.
Two countries had met for the first time almost 100 years ago and the Czech Republic claimed five straight wins before losing that most recent tie in 2017, hoping to extend their lead to 6-2 in the overall score. Besides Rosol and Vesely, the captain Jaroslav Navratil counts on Adam Pavlasek and two youngsters Tomas Machac and Jiri Lehecka who could get a chance in the dead rubber.
On the other hand, Haase and Rojer are backed by brothers Tallon and Scott Griekspoor and another experienced doubles player Matwe Middelkoop who has played just six Davis Cup ties for his country so far. Colombia is among the countries that will compete in the top-tier level of Davis Cup for the first time, beating Barbados and Brazil in 2018 before losing to Argentina 4-0 in San Juan it the match that carried no importance.
Now, Colombia will host Sweden at the Palacio de los Deportes in Bogota on an indoor clay court, in what will be the first meeting of these two countries in this competition. The stadium in Bogota has the capacity of 4,300 and the partisan crowd will try to carry the home nation towards the most significant success in Davis Cup, losing in the World Group Play-off round in five of the last six season!
Still, they will have to bring their best to earn it, with no singles players ranked inside the top-200 and just six overall on the list! On the other hand, Sweden will play in the elite for the first time since 2012 after a great series of results following a tough loss in Israel in 2016 that downgraded them to Group 2.
The Swedes have won all six ties in 2017 and 2018 and they have secured the place in Davis Cup Qualifiers, seeking the fifth straight away Davis Cup win with brothers Elias and Mikael Ymer, Markus Eriksson, Jonathan Mridha and the veteran Robert Lindstedt, by far the oldest player in both squads.
Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah should play for Colombia in doubles, with Daniel Elahi Galan, Santiago Giraldo and Alejandro Gonzalez in contention for two singles spots. This promises to be an exciting tie and also one of the most important for both countries in their history, setting their eyes on Madrid berth and a chance to be part of the very first Davis Cup finals in this format.