Britain face tough tie with Slovakia

 

The equation is simple. If Andy Murray plays, Britain will have a fighting chance of competing for a place in the Davis Cup's elite World Group next September. If the world No 4 does not play, they face a battle to avoid returning to Europe Africa Zone Group Two, effectively the cup's third division.

Yesterday's draw for next year's Group One first round in February gave Britain a home tie – at a venue to be decided – against Slovakia. The prize will be a home tie against Belgium on 6-8 April, the winners to go into a play-off for promotion to the World Group.

Slovakia, who lost to Croatia in the final just six years ago, beat Britain 5-0 in Bratislava in 1995 in their only previous meeting. They typify the step up in class facing Britain after their return to Group One. Leon Smith's team won promotion last weekend by beating Hungary, whose highest ranked player was the world No 262. Slovakia have three players ranked higher in singles than the British No 2, James Ward (world No 157), and two higher in doubles than Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, Britain's leading pair.

With home advantage, Britain would be marginal favourites if Murray plays. But the tie begins just 12 days after the Australian Open, where the Scot has twice reached the final. He pulled out of a tie in Argentina on the equivalent weekend three years ago.

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