Wawrinka spearheads Swiss, Czechs seek third title
PARIS - Stanislas Wawrinka, hotfoot from his Australian Open triumph, turns his mind to affairs of national importance this weekend as he leads Switzerland into battle against last season's beaten finalists Serbia in the Davis Cup World Group first round.
In last Sunday's final in Melbourne, the new world number three captured his first Grand Slam title with a four-set upset of Rafael Nadal.
Wawrinka told the Melbourne crowd he was looking forward to the tie against the weakened Serbs - as long as he survived his victory party.
"Davis Cup, it's really important for me. I'm really proud. It's a big honour to play for my country....
"I don't know how I'm going to get there exactly, if I'm still going to be alive after tonight, but I'm going to go there... There's a big chance I get drunk tonight...."
Nadal, the world number one, is one of a clutch of stars missing from this weekend's opening salvoes of the venerable 114-year-old competition.
While Nadal and world number five David Ferrer skip Spain's tie with Germany in Frankfurt, Serbia must face Wawrinka's Switzerland without Novak Djokovic.
The Swiss in contrast are looking strong as along with the in-form Wawrinka they boast Roger Federer, who confirmed his presence on Wednesday.
Argentina meanwhile face Italy without their top player, Juan Martin Del Potro, knocked out in the second round at Melbourne.
Djokovic had already signalled his intention not to play at Novi Sad before his quarter-final loss to Wawrinka last week.
With Janko Tipsarevic (injured) and Viktor Troicki (suspended) also out Serb captain Bogdan Obradovic is fielding untested youngsters Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic and Ilija Bozoljac with veteran Nenad Zimonjic set to play in the doubles.
In Ostrava, world number seven Tomas Berdych, a semi-final victim of Wawrinka's last week, leads the Czechs into battle against the Dutch, returning to the Davis Cup fast lane for the first time since 2009.
Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil is upbeat over his team's prospects.
"We hope to continue our recent run of results," said Navratil, whose team beat Spain in the 2012 final and then defeated Serbia to retain their crown in Belgrade late last year.
"Berdych is in great form. He is serving brilliantly and is very strong from the baseline."
Australia make their return to the World Group after a seven-year absence, against France on the indoor clay courts of La Roche sur Yon.
The Aussies last won the title in 2003 - in 2001 they fell at the final hurdle to France in Nice.
Veteran Lleyton Hewitt is thrilled Pat Rafter's team, winners of the trophy 28 times, are back in the Davis Cup mix.
"It's fantastic," said the 32-year-old who made his competition debut in 1999, just three years after teammate Thanasi Kokkinakis was born.
"For me it's about leading by example on court more than anything, using my experience I've been able to have playing so many years and so many big ties for Australia."
France will start favourites with two of their team top 10 players in Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
On the red outdoor clay at San Diego's Petco Park, Great Britain's world number six Andy Murray leads his team into battle against the United States in a rerun of the first ever Davis Cup tie at Boston's Longwood Cricket club in 1900.
Great Britain captain Leon Smith said last week: "We're relishing the opportunity to compete in the world group once again, and I'm delighted that Andy is able to play in the tie."
American number two Sam Querrey is taking heart from his victory over Murray at the ATP final in Los Angeles in 2010.
"At least I've beaten him one time, so that gives me a little belief that I can do it again," he commented.
In other ties, Belgium face Kazakhstan in Astana, and Canada take on Japan - seeking a first ever World Group win - in Tokyo, with Kei Nishikori forecasting "a tough match even if we play at home".
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