Great Britain’s knock-out path to attempted Davis Cup glory has begun in the same way as it did last time the competition ran, in 2019.
The British team topped their group to earn a quarter-final tie with Germany, the same side they overcame in the last edition of the Cup.
The two teams play tonight in Innsbruck, Austria, with the winner earning a tie against either Sweden or the Russian Tennis Federation.
Hosts Spain ended Britain’s hopes two years ago and went on to lift the trophy, but Leon Smith’s men are aiming to go at least one further than the semi-finals this time and perhaps even challenge for the title, which will be decided in Madrid on Sunday.
Before that, though, they must overcome a strong Germany side, who topped a group featuring Austria and Novak Djokovic’s Serbia to set up tonight’s tie.
Serbia snuck through as one of the two best second-placed teams, denying the defending champions a space in the last eight, despite losing to the German side.
With them Germany bring Jan-Lennard Struff, Dominik Koepfer, Peter Gojowczyk, Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz.
Great Britain, on the other hand, are made up of Indian Wells winner Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans, Liam Broady and doubles duo Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski.
Britain on top
Speaking after confirming top spot in their group, Smith, who captained Britain to the title in 2015, said: “Today was tough. You look at the rankings and people think it is straightforward but it is never like that in the Davis Cup.
“I’m thrilled for these guys [Salisbury and Skupski]. To come out and play as well as they did speaks volumes.
“We asked for passion, determination and the quality comes after that. I’m really proud of them.”
Elsewhere in the quarter-final stages, the Russian Tennis Federation play Sweden, Italy meet Croatia and Serbia face off against Kazakhstan.
The Davis Cup’s new format sees the decisive matches take place over the course of a week, rather than dotted throughout the year as before.
Britain have experience and level-headedness in their team, spearheaded by Norrie following his outstanding 2021.
Without the likes of Andy Murray, Britain needed a new Mr. Reliable. And when, against the Czech Republic on Sunday, Britain needed a crucial win Norrie stepped up and provided it.
There appears to be a new era of optimism in British tennis, fuelled by the remarkable rise of Emma Raducanu and the consistency of Norrie.
No longer are Britain relying on one outstanding player to bring home the titles or hoping there’s an outsider. The nation has a better level of depth now than it has done for decades.
“It’s a great performance to beat the team who have the world No1,” Germany captain Michael Kohlmann said. “Before the tie, we all thought that we had a good chance. We really believed it and it paid off.”
There is no lack of confidence in the German camp, and they’ll pose a huge threat to Britain.
That said, the lack of star name Alexander Zverev and further afield the defending champions Spain, Britain have a path to the final that’s easier than would have been predicted beforehand.
It felt like a national moment in 2015 when Britain beat Belgium for Davis Cup glory in 2015, their first since 1936.
And the new format has dramatically shrunk the preparation time teams have for any given match.
Under current Covid-19 rules there will be fans at the final, though if Brits wish to travel to Madrid this weekend they must be double vaccinated.
The Davis Cup party atmosphere stands out in tennis, and the scenes of the jubilant spectators just a few seasons ago will be etched into the minds of those who saw it.
But with their quarter-final being played in Austria, there will be no crowds, and no atmosphere outside of the backroom staff’s whoops and cheers.
Britain have a brilliant chance of making it through to the semi-finals tonight and should they do so, they’ll be just two rounds away from glory.
But in their opponents Germany this evening, they mustn’t be complacent. If they are, then a brilliant opportunity to capitalise on a stunning year for British tennis could be wasted.