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Published: Thursday January 31, 2013 MYT 11:08:00 AM

Djokovic lights up starless Davis Cup

PARIS: World number one and newly-crowned Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic goes straight back into action in the Davis Cup this weekend while his Grand Slam rivals skip the opening round.

The Serb, who collected his fourth Melbourne title and sixth career major with victory over Andy Murray on Sunday, just about catches his breath before leading his country into their World Group opener against Belgium.

However, the 113-year-old competition is not the powerful draw card it once was.

World number two Roger Federer, fourth-ranked David Ferrer as well as world number seven Juan Martin del Potro have opted not to turn out for Switzerland, Spain and Argentina respectively.

Murray's British team does not have a match while 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal also misses Spain's trip to Canada as he completes his recovery from the knee injury which has kept him off court for seven months.

Djokovic and ninth-ranked compatriot Janko Tipsarevic, who spearheaded Serbia's first Davis Cup title in 2010, should help their country prevail over Belgium in Charleroi. The home side's top player David Goffin is ranked only at 50.

"The Davis Cup title came in the right moment. I believe that feeling of sharing one of the biggest titles in our sport with my team for our country, in our country, was one of the best feelings I experienced as a player," said Djokovic, who skipped the tournament in 2012.

His absence last year was felt as Serbia were defeated in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Czech Republic.

Spain, winners three times in the last five years, and runners-up to the Czechs in 2012, travel to Vancouver without their three top players - Nadal, Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, who has a leg injury.

Almagro has been replaced by world number 85 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, which should mean Marcel Granollers, the world 34, and 51st-ranked Albert Ramos, will play singles.

Canada's top player is big-serving Milos Raonic, who stands at 15 in the world while, in the shape of Daniel Nestor, they boast one of the world's most accomplished doubles players.

In Geneva, the Czechs tackle Switzerland who will be looking to world number 17 Stanislas Wawrinka to win his singles on Friday and Sunday and compensate for the absence of Federer.

Marco Chiudinelli, the world 139, will have to play the second singles for a Swiss side who have never got beyond the first round in eight years.

World number six Tomas Berdych leads the Czechs who are trying to avoid becoming the first defending champions since Spain in 2005 to lose in the first round.

They have a good record against Switzerland, having won six of the eight meetings between the two nations.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, who have lost all three finals in which they have appeared and are without 2009 US Open winner Del Potro, tackle Germany.

Juan Monaco, the world number 12, leads Argentina but Germany boast two top-30 players in Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer.

The United States, who have won the Davis Cup a record 32 times, face Brazil in Jacksonville. Brazil's last win over the Americans came back in 1966.

The US will be led by John Isner and Sam Querrey, both in the top 20, and the hosts can also call upon doubles kings Bob and Mike Bryan, who claimed a record 13th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open last weekend.

In the other first-round ties, Italy welcome Croatia to Turin, France host Israel at Rouen while Kazakhstan play Austria in Astana. - AFP

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