Britain’s Davis Cup final away to Belgium is still more than two months away but Leon Smith’s team have learned the identity of their opponents in next year’s first round. Britain will entertain Japan - at a venue to be decided - from March 4-6.
The draw extends Smith’s remarkable record with regards to home advantage. The Japan tie will be his 15 since he took charge five years ago and it will be the 11 in which his team have played at home. The country’s good luck extends even further back than that: the Japan tie will be the 18th in the last 25 that Britain have played at home.
“We’re very fortunate to get another home tie,” Smith admitted. “It does make a huge difference. Having home advantage has served us well in the past.”
Japan, who finished runners-up in 1921 in their best Davis Cup performance to date, have not faced Britain for 84 years. Their fortunes have taken an upturn in recent times thanks to the emergence of Kei Nishikori, the current world No 6, whose two singles victories away to Colombia last weekend were the key to his team avoiding relegation from the World Group.
Nishikori is the only Japanese man in the world’s top 100, though the country has five players ranked between No 100 and No 150 in Go Soeda, Taro Daniel, Tatsuma Ito, Yuichi Sugita and Yoshihito Nishioka.
The outcome of the tie may well depend on the availability of each team’s top men, who will both be on their way to the Indian Wells Masters the following week. Playing in Britain would involve a lot of travelling for Nishikori, who is based in Florida. Murray’s wife, Kim, is due to give birth to their first child in February.
Meanwhile the Lawn Tennis Association has delayed until next summer its appointment of a performance director to succeed Bob Brett, who left this summer after less than a year in the job. The LTA’s chief executive, Michael Downey, said that a number of potential candidates, including people from other sports, were tied up working for national federations in advance of next year’s Olympics, after which they might become available.
As a temporary measure the LTA has appointed Peter Keen, a former performance director at British Cycling and UK Sport, to do the job on an interim basis. Keen, who will start in November, will be seconded from his post as Director of Sports Advancement and Strategy at Loughborough University. He has been advising the LTA since January.
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