LONDON // Serbia, the Davis Cup holders, will be without their best player in world No 3 Novak Djokovic when they begin their defence on Friday but his absence is unlikely to cause too much alarm.
India, the rank outsiders in the 16-nation World Group, are the opposition in Novi Sad and even without Djokovic, the Australian Open champion and the recent winner at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Serbs will be confident that Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic will get the job done.
Djokovic was nowhere to be seen as Serbia's players practised yesterday although captain Bogdan Obradovic remained coy about the whereabouts of the 23-year-old who inspired his country to its first Davis Cup triumph last December.
However, Djokovic later posted a message on his website confirming he would skip the tie to prepare for upcoming tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. "In consultation with the coach and the players, I decided not to play in the match against India," he said.
While Djokovic, who whipped Belgrade fans into a frenzy in the final victory over France, will no doubt keep tabs on the tie from afar, the world No 1 Rafael Nadal will be on national service for Spain against Belgium in Charleroi.
"If I'm here it's because physically I'm 100 per cent," Nadal, who has not played since injuring himself in losing to David Ferrer in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. "I'm very motivated to play against a great rival like Belgium in a competition as important as this."
Nadal has won 14 of his 15 singles rubbers for Spain in the team competition but has not played for his country since the 2009 final victory over the Czech Republic.
France, beaten by Serbia in Belgrade before Christmas, have key players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils missing for their trip to Vienna where they face Austria in an airport hangar.
While they will still start as favourites to beat an Austrian team heavily reliant on world No 10 Jurgen Melzer there is a whiff of discontent in the air with Gilles Simon voicing his disapproval with captain Guy Forget.
"I've come into the team with the idea that you must abide by the rules. And what do I see? I see everyone arriving when they want. When you are the only one adhering to the rules, it can't work," Simon was quoted in local media this week.
In-form Robin Soderling will carry Sweden's hopes at home to Russia. The world No 4's position as the sole flag-bearer for Swedish tennis these days emphasised by the fact that the other singles player named in the squad is former US Open semi-finalist Joachim Johansson, now ranked 749 in the world.
Russia coach Shamil Tarpishchev is without his top two players Mikhail Youzhny, who has retired from Davis Cup, and Nikolay Davydenko but is confident of victory despite the red-hot form of Soderling.
"If Soderling could sustain his best form, then you would expect him to win both his singles matches, but the Swedes don't have another player of his calibre and their doubles team is not world class either," he said this week.
The United States, winners of the trophy a record 32 times, travel to Chile for Jim Courier's first match in charge since taking over from Patrick McEnroe.
"As far as being captain, this is a great gig obviously when you get guys like this on your team, who love Davis Cup, they love to be here, they love to support United States tennis," told the Davis Cup website.
Andy Roddick will lead the US challenge in Santiago against a weak-looking Chile side missing Fernando Gonzalez. In the remaining ties, Croatia host Germany, Argentina welcome Romania and the Czech Republic are up against World Group debutants Kazakhstan.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced this week that "dead" fifth rubbers will no longer be played — a move that is sure to be popular with the world's top players.
However, should a team have a winning 3-0 lead after Saturday's doubles, Sunday's dead rubbers will still be played.