Davis Cup Preview: Shapovalov lead Canada. Thiem and Raonic are out

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Davis Cup Preview: Shapovalov lead Canada. Thiem and Raonic are out

The first edition of the reconstructed Davis Cup will take place between February 1-2, with 24 teams fighting for 12 spots at Davis Cup finals in November where they will join four semi-finalists from 2018 and two countries with a wild card, Argentina and Great Britain.

Slovakia will host Canada in Bratislava in the NTC Arena, facing each other for the second time. Back in 1997, Canada hosted Slovakia on an indoor carpet court in Montreal and Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau were not good enough to beat Karol Kucera and Dominik Hrbaty who claimed all four singles rubbers for a 4-1.

Now, two teams will play in Slovakia for the first time and it should be an exciting encounter on the slowest surface. Slovakia beat Belarus at the same place at the end of 2018 to reach Davis Cup Qualifiers round and they are eager to repeat the success against the Canadians as well throwing their cards on Martin Klizan who won four ATP titles on clay and who managed to beat Novak Djokovic in Barcelona last April.

This will be the first tie for Slovakia in the World Group since 2006 while Canada has been playing in the elite group from 2012, reaching the semi-final in 2013. The Canadians had lost the last four Davis Cup ties on clay after beating Mexico and Ecuador in 2011, also seeking their first Davis Cup win on the European soil since 1969 when they ousted the Netherlands in Scheveningen in the deciding fifth rubber!

After more than 25 years, Daniel Nestor will not be in the Canadian Davis Cup squad, retiring from tennis after the tie against the Netherlands and leaving Frank Dancevic to decide who will be the next doubles partner for Vasek Pospisil in the future.

Pospisil is ruled out for this tie as well after he underwent back surgery in New York, with the top-ranked Canadian player Milos Raonic skipping Davis Cup action too, leaving Frank Dancevic in a difficult position ahead of Friday's matches.

The hopes of the away team lie on Denis Shapovalov and Felix-Auger Aliassime, their most promising and best-ranked players in the absence of Raonic and Pospisil. This is the fourth straight campaign for Denis Shapovalov in Davis Cup while Felix Auger-Aliassime should make his debut, with Peter Polansky and playing coach Frank Dancevic also in contention.

Three players and the captain stand against a solid home team of Martin Klizan, Filip Horansky, Norbert Gombos and doubles specialists Igor Zelenay and Filip Polasek who should be the favorites in front of the home crowd, especially if Klizan brings his 'A game.'

On the other part of the world, China hosts Japan in the only all-Asian tie in Davis Cup Qualifiers and their tenth clash overall, the first since 2009. The Chinese federation has decided to organize the tie at the Guangdong Olympic Sports Center Tennis Center in Guangzhou on an outdoor hard court that has been hosting the WTA tournament since 2004.

This will be the third consecutive Davis Cup tie at home for China, hosting New Zealand and India in Tianjin in 2018 after not playing at home since 2014 when they played versus New Zealand and Uzbekistan, also in Tianjin.

Guangzhou will serve as Davis Cup venue for the first time in the very-first tie above Group I level, staying there since 2009 and getting the opportunity to reach the final 18-team event if they topple Japan in front of the home crowd.

Japan has been regular in the World Group since 2012 and this is the sixth consecutive year in the elite for them, defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina 4-0 in 2018 Play-off round to secure the place in the Qualifiers. China and Japan have met nine times between 1983-2009 with Japan emerging as the winner on eight occasions, dropping only one tie in Tianjin in 1987 in the deciding fifth rubber.

Ze Zhang, Zhe Li, Yibing Wu, Di Wu and Mao-Xin Gong have been invited to defend the national colors, facing two top-100 players Yoshihito Nishioka and Taro Daniel, also Yasutaka Uchiyama who is capable of playing well in both singles and doubles, Yosuke Watanuki and Ben McLachlan, by far the strongest doubles player in both squads. The tie looks to be wide open and we will see who will prevail and book Madrid ticket.