Andy Murray will hold the key to his country's chances of returning to the Davis Cup's elite World Group in 2014. Although Britain received a bye in yesterday's draw for the first round of the Europe/Africa Zone Group One next year, a second-round pairing with Russia, the top seed, presents a major challenge for Leon Smith's team.
For the seventh tie in succession Britain have home advantage. The venue has yet to be announced, although the last four ties have been played at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow. The winners will go into a play-off later in the year for a place in the World Group in 2014.
Like nearly all the leading players, Murray has been selective in his Davis Cup appearances. The dates for Davis Cup ties do not always fit in well with their schedules, but given the timing of the meeting with Russia (5-7 April) there must be a fair chance the world No 3 will make himself available. The tie comes a week after the end of the Miami Masters and a week before the Monte Carlo Masters, where most top players begin their clay-court campaigns. Russia have won the Davis Cup twice since the turn of the century and although they are not as strong as they were, they would be strong favourites against a Murray-less Britain. While Russia's top players are Mikhail Youzhny (world No 25), Nikolay Davydenko (No 52) and Igor Andreev (No 84), Murray is the only British man ranked in the world's top 200 in singles.
* British No 1 Laura Robson continued her fine recent form by advancing to the last eight of the Guangzhou International Open yesterday.
Robson, 18, who reached the fourth round of the US Open earlier this month, saw off Chinese second seed Jie Zheng in straight sets, with the 18-year-old's clinical edge seeing her capitalise on five of her six break-point opportunities.
Robson will face another Chinese opponent in the quarter-finals in the form of the seventh seed, Shuai Peng.