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Davis Cup outlook

Great Britain are just one victory away from staging their biggest Davis Cup tie for 36 years. If Leon Smith’s team beat Italy in Naples next month the likelihood is that they will entertain Switzerland in the semi-finals in September. The prospect of Andy Murray and company taking on Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka is one to set the pulses racing for a country which has been starved of Davis Cup success for so long.

Britain last hosted a Davis Cup semi-final in 1978, when Buster Mottram, Mark Cox and the Lloyd brothers won on an indoor carpet at Crystal Palace against an Australian team that featured Tony Roche, John Alexander, Geoff Masters and Ross Case. John McEnroe and Brian Gottfried led the United States to victory over Britain at Rancho Mirage in California in the subsequent final.

While Britain still have their work cut out to beat Italy, it would be a major surprise if Switzerland do not beat Kazakhstan on the same weekend (April 4-6) in Geneva. If Britain and Switzerland both win, Britain would stage the subsequent semi-final between the two countries on the weekend of September 12-14. The hosts would have the choice of playing surface and venue, which would present the Lawn Tennis Association with an interesting decision. Britain staged home Davis Cup ties against Croatia and Austria in 2007 and 2008 on grass at the All England Club, but might be wary of doing so again if Federer is in the opposition team.

Wherever the tie was staged there would undoubtedly be great interest in a match against Switzerland. If it was not at Wimbledon the only difficulty might be in finding an available venue large enough to satisfy public demand for tickets. That, nevertheless, would be the sort of problem that the LTA would be pleased to have to confront. Michael Downey, the new chief executive, believes that a lengthy run in the Davis Cup could help to stimulate interest in the sport in Britain and improve participation figures, which have been in decline in recent years.

Britain’s victory over the United States in San Diego last month was their first in the elite World Group since 1986. It was in the same year that Britain last played in the quarter-finals, when Pat Cash, Paul McNamee and John Fitzgerald proved too strong for Jeremy Bates, Andrew Castle and Colin Dowdeswell as Australia won 4-1 at the All England Club. Britain’s last appearance in a World Group semi-final was in 1981, when they lost 5-0 away to Argentina, Jose Luis Clerc and Guillermo Vilas overpowering a team that included Richard Lewis, who is now chief executive at the All England Club.

Britain last staged a World Group tie of any description in 2002, when they lost 3-2 to Sweden in a first-round meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham after Greg Rusedski went down to Thomas Johansson in the deciding rubber. At the same venue and at the same stage of the competition three years earlier Rusedski had lost the final rubber to Jim Courier in a 3-2 defeat to the United States.

With Italy enjoying home advantage next month, it is no surprise that the hosts have chosen to play the quarter-final on clay. Italy’s singles players are likely to be Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi, who are both comfortable on the surface. Filippo Volandri and Simone Bolelli completed the squad for their first-round victory away to Argentina last month. Murray, meanwhile, has sometimes struggled on clay, although the Scot won both his singles rubbers on the surface against the United States. James Ward, who won a Challenger tournament on clay five years ago, was Britain’s second singles player in San Diego, where his victory over Sam Querrey was crucial. Colin Fleming and Dominic Inglot were Britain’s doubles pair.