The world No. 1 and 2 will be the two headliners of a private competition for most of the elite.

And in particular Rafael Nadal, physically unable to help Spain keep the trophy.

Many absent

Ten players from the World's Top 15 will be missing.

Rafael Nadal, considered by his captain Sergi Bruguera as the "best Davis Cup player in history", has given up on helping his teammates to defend the trophy won in 2019, before a cancellation last year due to a pandemic, in because of an injury to the right foot which truncated all his second part of the season.

Spain's Rafael Nadal takes a selfie, surrounded by his teammates and the Spanish team, after winning the Davis Cup against Canada, November 24, 2019 in Madrid JAVIER SORIANO AFP / Archives

"Without him it will be different, but we are still a great team which will be difficult to beat," said Bruguera.

The fit man at the end of the season, Alexander Zverev, 3rd in the world and winner of the end-of-year Masters, has long signaled that he will not join his German compatriots.

German Alexander Zverev poses with his trophy after winning the Masters final against Russian Daniil Medvedev (6-4, 6-4), November 21, 2021 in Turin Marco BERTORELLO AFP / Archives

Absent also Stefanos Tsitsipas (4th) but Greece is not qualified, the Italian Matteo Berrettini (7th, injured), Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime (11th, injured) and Denis Shapovalov (14th, rest), as well as the 'Austrian Dominic Thiem (15th, injured).

The Norwegian Casper Ruud (8th), the Polish Hubert Hurkacz (9th) and the Argentinian Diego Schwartzman (13th) are not qualified.


Serbia or Russia successor to Spain?

Suddenly, Serbia led by Djokovic and even more the Russia of Medvedev which is more homogeneous on paper, seem serious candidates for the succession of Spain.

Serbia won the event once (2010), with Djokovic, and Russia twice (2002 and 2006), without Medvedev.

The latter, finalist in three of the last four tournaments he has played, excluding Laver Cup, with a title at the US Open and finals at the Masters 1000 in Paris and the Masters at the end of the year in Turin, will be assisted by Andrey Rublev (5th), Aslan Karatsev (18th) and Karen Khachanov (29th).

Russian Daniil Medvedev serves against Serbian Novak Djokovic in their US Open final on September 12, 2021 in New York TIMOTHY A. CLARY AFP / Archives

Djokovic, he managed a harvest of records this season but remains on two failures with potentially heavy psychological consequences for this last competition of the year: in the final of the US Open where he failed to win the Grand Slam, and in the semi-finals of the Turin Masters where he was aiming for the record of six titles in this tournament held by Federer.

Serbian Novak Djokovic, during his defeat against Russian Daniil Medvedev, in the final of the US Open, September 12, 2021 in New York TIMOTHY A. CLARY AFP / Archives

Italy, even without Berrettini, will also have its card to play with its youngsters Jannik Sinner (10th, 20 years old) and Lorenzo Musetti (59th, 19 years old) who will be supervised by the most experienced Fabio Fognini (37th, 34 years old) and Lorenzo Sonego (27th, 26 years old).


An exploded competition

In 2019, the entire competition took place in Madrid.

But faced with programming problems (with matches that ended well beyond midnight) and atmosphere, the six groups of three teams were distributed on three sites, hoping in particular to attract more audiences.

Three countries will play in front of their fans instead of one: Spain in Madrid, Italy in Turin and Austria in Innsbruck.

But when it doesn't want, it doesn't: three days before the start of the competition, Austria was confined and the matches in Innsbruck will be played behind closed doors.

After the group stage, Turin and Innsbruck will each host a quarter-final.

The other two quarters as well as the semi-finals and the final will be played in Madrid.


Blues in the wave

Captain Sébastien Grosjean took a private group of the usual French tennis spearheads to Innsbruck.

The experienced and formidable pair Nicolas Mahut / Pierre-Hugues Herbert, just crowned with a second Masters title in doubles, is accompanied by Richard Gasquet (86th and winner of the event in 2017), Adrian Mannarino (71st , who only played two matches and only one Davis Cup match, in 2018 against the Netherlands) and newcomer Arthur Rinderknech (58th).

The French Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, winners for the second time at the Masters in doubles, after their victory against the American Rajeev Ram and the British Joe Salisbury (6-4, 7-6 (7/0), the November 21, 2021 in Turin Marco BERTORELLO AFP

To hope to play the quarterfinals, they will have to extricate themselves from Group C which also brings together very solid Great Britain (Saturday at 10:00 am) and the much more affordable Czech Republic (Thursday at 4:00 pm).

© 2021 AFP