Great Britain are aiming to reach the semi-finals of the Davis Cup for the first time in 33 years, and they will rate their chances of defeating Italy in the quarter-final tie in Naples this weekend.
The home team's chances of progressing at the Napoli Tennis Club rest heavily on the fitness of world number 13 Fabio Fognini, who is in a race against time to overcome a quad injury, which he suffered a recurrence of in a one-sided defeat to Rafael Nadal at the Sony Open in Miami recently.
With the reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray available, there is a feeling that should the British number one rediscover his best form as he continues to recover from back surgery, that they could end their 78-year hoodoo in the competition, and win the trophy for the first time since 1936.
They will have to get to grips with the clay courts, which have proved to be a weak point for Murray throughout his career, and none of the quartet of Murray, James Ward, Dan Evans or Colin Fleming hold particularly strong records on the surface.
Italy can also take heart from the fact that they defeated Argentina 3-1 away from home on clay in the first round.
Should Fognini be fit and ready to face Murray, the result of the tie will be highly dependent on that particular singles rubber.
While Murray may have won two Grand Slams in the last two years, there is now only five places between the two in the world rankings, and it is difficult to gain a reading on previous meetings between the two, as their head to head record reads one win apiece, and they have not met on court since 2009.
The Briton was the victor on that occasion, beating the now 26-year-old Fognini 7-6, 6-4 in Monte Carlo, which was incidentally on clay.
If Fognini’s fitness holds up to play two singles rubbers, then he would be the clear favourite heading into a match against either Evans or Ward, depending on which of the two is selected by captain Leon Smith, who are both ranked outside the top 100, though they have saved some of their best performances for this competition in recent years.
Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti is confident his star player, who rates his chances of being fit “85 to 90 percent” will be able to play three matches over the course of the weekend.
When asked whether Fognini could make it through the tie, he answered: “Without doubt he can.”
Italy’s other singles rubbers are likely to be played by Andreas Seppi, ranked 51 in the world, and he too would expect to take victory against whichever second British singles player he faces, though he will need Murray to have an off day to beat him.
Murray has only played at the venue once in his career, when he was playing on the challenger tour.
He said: “I think I lost in the qualifying here for a challenger at this club. I didn't remember I'd been here and then when I turned up to the club I was, like: 'I'm sure I've played on that court, the second one along out there.' I was probably 16 or 17.”
Doubles specialist Fleming is likely to be introduced for the doubles on Saturday, and his ranking of 36 is the highest on either team, with Murray being expected to partner him, though the Scot was rested for the doubles when the team defeated USA in the first round last February.
Fans of both teams will eagerly anticipate whether Fognini appears on court on Friday, as without him, Great Britain would start as strong favourites in what is at the moment a balanced tie.
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