Great Britain, France and the Czech Republic will assemble in Innsbruck to decide a group that is too tight to call. The winners will likely face Serbia and Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Davis Cup tennis is hard to predict at the best of times, but choosing a winner from Group C seems, on paper, an impossible task. Three Davis Cup powerhouses go head to head - Great Britain, France and the Czech Republic - when the three nations settle in for five days of competition at the Olympia-Halle Stadium in the Austrian city of Innsbruck.
The French are the most recent champions - beating Belgium in the 2017 final - while the British claimed the trophy in 2015 and the Czechs were world champions back- to-back in 2012-13.
All three teams have a different feel, however, this time out. The British will have been hoping to include three-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 Andy Murray on either the singles or doubles court but his participation was ruled out after a busy end to his year.
The French will have been banking on entertainer Gael Monfils and one of their newest stars Ugo Humbert being available, but both are missing while they nurse injuries. And the Czechs no longer have Tomas Berdych to lead the line after the former world No. 4 retired in 2019.
Norrie to lead the Brits
The British, steered once more by ex- perienced captain Leon Smith, look the most likely to top the table and move into a quarter-final in the same city against the winners from Group F.
Their number one player, Cameron Norrie, has gone from strength to strength during 2021 winning 50 matches on tour and moving from No. 74 to No. 12 by season end. The 26-year-old leftie appeared in six finals this year, winning two of those - the most notable coming in Indian Wells at Masters 1000 level where he beat Roberto Bautista, Diego Schwartzman, Grigor Dimitrov and in the final Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Dan Evans will be expected to slot into the second singles spot and has also enjoyed a career-best season. The right-hander outplayed Novak Djokovic in straight sets on clay en route to the semi-finals in Monte Carlo in April and won his first ATP title in Australia at the start of the year.
‘Evo’ also excelled on the doubles court with two Masters fi- nals alongside Davis Cup teammate Neal Skupski, a combination the British captain may consider in Austria.
First choice for any key double matches, however, will surely be Joe Salisbury, who now owns two Grand Slam titles alongside his American partner Rajeev Ram - the most recent coming in New York in September - and has estab- lished himself as a top five player in the world.
Liam Broady was added to the squad at the last minute and is another player who has been making waves in 2021. The left-hander most notably shocked Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz on his way to the last 16 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Will Grosjean choose Gaston?
French captain Sébastien Grosjean - a Davis Cup champion himself in 2001 - has had to manage a complicated run-in to the Finals trying to decide which player to include as his fifth man. With Arthur Rinderknech, veteran Richard Gasquet and doubles team Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert on the plane, Grosjean waited until the conclusion of the Paris Masters 1000 event in early November before naming his last two additions.
Adrian Mannarino and youngster Hugo Gaston - who reached the quarter- finals in the French capital as a qualifier - were included at the eleventh hour, with the rules stating that one of that group must be omitted and the squad reduced to five the day before their first tie.
Gaston’s unpredictable, varied and entertaining tennis has helped him jump around 100 places in the rankings this season, reaching his first ATP final in Gstaad in July, another four finals at Challenger level and notching up two top-20 wins since the summer.
French captain Sébastien Grosjean - a Davis Cup champion himself in 2001 - has had to manage a complicated run-in to the Finals trying to decide which player to include as his fifth man.
Can Navratil spring a surprise?
For the Czechs, qualification from the group looks a tall order based on the world rankings of the players selected by captain Jaroslav Navratil. Although Jiri Vesely is a former world No. 35, the big left-hander now resides just inside the top 100 and played the majority of the second half of his season on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Navratil’s second singles player will come from a group ranked just outside the top 100 - Tomas Machac, Zdenek Kolar or Jiri Lehecka - with the possibility of an appearance from the experienced 36-year- old Lukas Rosol, a player who can boast a Wimbledon Centre Court victory over Rafael Nadal nine years ago.