What's at stake? 

In short, a place in the Davis Cup by Rakuten semi-finals. However, such a simple statement only tells half the story, particularly for Italy who are bidding to make the last four for only the second time this century.

Italy contested three successive semi-finals between 1996 and 1998 but then had to wait until 2014 before reaching that stage of the competition again. 

Once there, a Roger Federer-inspired Switzerland prevailed in Geneva on their way to topping the Davis Cup podium.

Much is made – and rightly so – of the emerging force of Italian men’s tennis given the nation has two players currently ranked within the top 20 and a total of five either within or just outside the top 50.

While depleted in Malaga – Italy are missing the craft, dynamism and sheer quality of injured duo Jannik Sinner and Matteo Berrettini – hopes of a first Davis Cup title since 1976 remain.

Italy captain Filippo Volandri

Incidentally, Italy have finished as runners-up on six occasions, although quarter-final appearances have been infrequent of late, with this their first since 2016.

While the wait for Davis Cup silverware has been nowhere near as long as Italy’s, the United States are probably feeling just as frustrated given their trophy-laden history in the competition.

No nation has been crowned Davis Cup champion on more occasions than USA, although their 32nd and most recent title came 15 years ago in 2007 when they defeated Russia in Portland, Oregon. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, USA are bidding to reach the semi-finals for only the fourth time since.

What is certain is that both nations will be very aware that when opportunity knocks at the business end of the Davis Cup, chances need to be grasped as there are no guarantees they will come around again any time soon.

Frances Tiafoe

The USA's Frances Tiafoe at practice in Malaga

History

This will be the 13th meeting between Italy and USA in the Davis Cup, and the third consecutive season in which they have drawn swords having faced off in the Group Stage at the Finals in both 2019 and 2021.

The United States lead the overall head-to-head 8-4, although the teams have split their two most-recent meetings, with USA winning 2-1 at the 2019 Finals in Madrid and Italy winning 2-1 at the 2021 edition in Turin.

In terms of recent Davis Cup history, Italy are unbeaten in the competition this season having defeated Slovakia in March’s Qualifiers and dispatched Croatia, Argentina and Sweden during September’s Group Stage.

USA are not hugely different, although they did succumb to Netherlands during the Group Stage, but not before victories over Colombia in the Qualifiers and then Great Britain and Kazakhstan in Glasgow.

Italy's Lorenzo Sonego celebrates victory over Reilly Opelka in the Group Stage 2021

Who to watch out for

Should the tie go the distance, it will be interesting to see who partners Jack Sock in the doubles following Rajeev Ram’s surprise omission from the USA squad. 

The singles, however, is far more clear-cut with San Diego-born Taylor Fritz enjoying a breakthrough season that has seen the 25-year-old claim three Tour-level titles, reach his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final – at Wimbledon – and crack the top 10.

Indeed, by winning the Japan Open in October, Fritz became the first American man to break into the top 10 since Davis Cup teammate Sock in November 2017. As such, USA would seem to have substantial firepower, especially with Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul also primed for action.

Given Italy’s absentees, their spotlight now focuses upon Lorenzo Musetti, who is currently ranked world No.23 – a career-high – following another enthralling season.

The 20-year-old sealed his second title of the year in October in Naples, defeating Berrettini in the final, so while Musetti may not have huge Davis Cup experience, he clearly possesses considerable silverware-lifting ability.

Taylor Fritz in action during the Group Stage in Glasgow

Who’s saying what?

Italy captain Filippo Volandri:

“We have had some changes, but I have a great team and great players. I also have choices in singles and choices in doubles.

“We all know that being without the top two players by ranking is a miss, but we don’t care. We’re united as a group and we’re united as a team and that’s our starting point. We don’t care about players being absent, it’s part of the game. Our mentality doesn’t change.”

USA’s Frances Tiafoe:

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had the team to win a Davis Cup title, and I think right now this is one of the better teams we’ve had. Hopefully this group of guys can put it together – I really believe we can go out there and do something special.

“We’re missing Thanksgiving, and we’re trying to make it worth it. We’re definitely one of the better teams out there.”

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