Davis Cup odds stacked against Swiss in Belgium
Switzerland's hold on the Davis Cup is under real threat this weekend when the country's tennis team travel to Liege to take on Belgium in one of eight World Group first round ties.
Powered by Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, the Swiss won the trophy for the first time last November, defeating France in the final in Lille.
But neither Federer, nor Wawrinka have made themselves available for this weekend, and instead the Swiss will have to depend on world number 292 Yann Marti and number 344 Henri Laaksonen.
On the other side of the net, the Belgians have 21st ranked David Goffin and the highly-experienced Steve Darcis to fall back on.
Team captain Severin Lüthi agreed that the odds were stacked against the Swiss "but we will see what happens on the court and we will battle to the end."
"We will try to take the chances that come our way. Even though the Belgians will start favourites, there are not three levels between the players and we will have a go."
World number one Novak Djokovic will spearhead Serbia's bid for a second Davis Cup triumph after that of 2010 and, with the injured Marin Cilic unable to play for Croatia, he will be confident of his team advancing to the quarterfinals.
Djokovic told the HRT television station that although Serbia were favourites, they would not under-estimate their opponents.
"I've been telling my squad all the time that Croatia is a competitive team and that there is no room to underestimate them.
"The fact that Marin (Cilic), (Ivan) Dodig or (Ivo) Karlovic are not playing does not mean that we have already won."
The Czech Republic also enjoy home advantage against Australia but will be without top player Tomas Berdych, who has made himself unavailable as he continues with his quest to win a first Grand Slam title.
Lukas Rosol will take over as top singles player in Ostrava with firm backup from Jiri Vesely.
The Australians, who last won the Davis Cup in 2003, had looked set to start as favourites, but they have lost to injury up-and-coming Nick Kyrgios and will look once again to veteran campaigner Lleyton Hewitt alongside the unpredictable Bernard Tomic.
Australia lead the series between the two nations 6-1, including a victory in the most recent tie between the sides in 1997.
The Czech Republic, however, is the dominant force in Davis Cup and is the number one ranked side thanks to back-to-back title wins in 2012 and 2013.
Australian captain Wally Masur though believes his team could go all the way this year.
"I think we can win it this year," he said.
"That's just me being the eternal optimist. We've got a great team, and they're committed, they're ready to go. [Roger] Federer's said he's not
playing. Berdych is not playing for the Czechs; I wish he was. I like all the best players playing Davis Cup. But why can't we win it?"
If Australia's wait for another Davis Cup crown rankles with them, it comes nothing near the agony of a British team that last took the coveted team trophy in 1936 with Fred Perry to the fore.
But at least they are back in the World Group and have a winnable tie in Glasgow against the United States to start with.
To achieve that, former Wimbledon and US Open champion Andy Murray will almost certainly have to win his two singles ties against John Isner and Donald Young and hope that James Ward can find his top form.
Scotland's Murray believes that home advantage could make the difference.
"It should be a great atmosphere," said the world number five, who steered the British to a superb win over the Americans at the same stage in San Diego last year.
"We were told the tickets sold out in 10 minutes. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea - but I imagine the atmosphere will be great."
French hopes away to Germany have been hit by injuries to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, while last year's semifinalists Italy have a settled lineup, including Fabio Fognini, Andreas Seppi and Simone Bolelli, away to Kazakhstan.
The weekend's two other ties see Canada host Japan in Vancouver and Argentina take on Brazil in an all South American tie.