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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Starts Davis Cup Defense in Chile

LONDON -- Just two months have passed since Safin dramatically clinched victory for Russia over Argentina in the Davis Cup final at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex, but this weekend the team travels to Chile to start the long defense of its title. Far from home and missing top players, Russia is less than optimistic about its chances of successfully defending the Davis Cup in 2007.

The champions, who beat Argentina to lift the cup two months ago, arrived in Chile for this weekend's first round clash without Nikolai Davydenko and Mikhail Yuzhny, who have opted to skip the tie to concentrate on their singles rankings.

World No. 20 Dmitry Tursunov is also injured, practicing this week on La Serena's clay courts with heavy strapping on his left wrist.

"It doesn't look too good for us," team captain Shamil Tarpishchev told Russian newspapers.

"If everything stays as it is, it will be Marat Safin and Igor Andreyev on the first day because they're in the best condition," he said. Andreyev, 23, was ranked 24th in April last year but following injury has since slipped dramatically down the rankings to 147th in the world.

Chilean captain, Hans Gildermeister is not taking anything for granted, however. "He is a very good player, very strong, with an excellent forehand,'' he said after watching Andreyev play last week.

"His [147th] place in the world ranking is misleading, as he has been 24th in the past. I think he can be the second singles player in the Russian team.''

Russia is looking for inspiration from former world No. 1 Marat Safin.

"Chile are the favorites because they're playing at home. Also, [Fernando] Gonzalez is coming here after playing a great Australian Open and it will be very difficult to beat him," Safin said. "But it's not impossible."

World No. 5 Gonzalez, who had a tremendous Australian Open, beating Lleyton Hewitt, Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas before falling in the final to Roger Federer, lines up alongside Nicolas Massu, ranked 42nd, who reached the final of an ATP tournament in his home city of Vina del Mar last weekend.

Massu is likely to be pitted against Safin in a tie that Gildemeister said would be the key to the three-day contest.

"If we can win that point [against Safin] it will be a very important step for us," he said. "Massu can win and give the Chilean public a big surprise."

Safin, a former U.S. and Australian Open champion, has complained that the red clay courts in La Serena are too slow.

Chile and Russia have met three times in the Davis Cup, all in Moscow, with Russia winning 4-1 each time. The Chileans have won their last nine Davis Cup ties on home soil.

The United States, meanwhile, which has won the cup 31 times, though not since 1995, has made it clear it is deadly serious this year as it begins its campaign against the Czech Republic.

World No. 4 Andy Roddick, Roger Federer's semifinal victim in Australia, leads the team against the Czechs in Ostrava alongside sixth-ranked James Blake and the formidable doubles pairing of Australian Open champions Bob and Mike Bryan.

They will find their toughest opponent in Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych, ranked 12th, who beat Roddick in their single encounter in Madrid last year. Blake has beaten Berdych twice, in 2005 and 2006.

Belgium faces an uphill struggle when it hosts Australia following a three-year absence from the World Group.

The Belgians hope it will be third time lucky after losing 5-0 in Perth in 1991 and 4-0 in Scarborough, England in 1922.

Australia, the second-most successful country in Davis Cup history with 28 titles, reached the semifinals last year losing 4-1 to Argentina. Hewitt will lead its challenge in Liege.

Argentina swaps summer for a winter visit to Linz in Austria and an attempt to dispel the disappointment of the 3-2 defeat in December's final.

They arrive without top player David Nalbandian, relying instead on Jose Acasuso and Guillermo Canas to try to see off Jurgen Melzer and Stefan Koubek.

France, spearheaded by Richard Gasquet, 20, and Romania, led by Andrei Pavel, last met in the first round in 2003, the French clinching an easy 4-1 victory.

"It's true that, on the paper, we are the obvious favorites. But we must be wary. ... It's always tricky to play a tie you can't afford to lose," French captain Guy Forget said.

Benjamin Becker stands poised to make his Davis Cup debut when Germany takes on 2005 champion Croatia in Krefeld.

"I was downright shocked to get the call," the 25-year-old Becker, (no relation to Boris), said after being nominated by coach Patrick Kuehnen.

Becker will take the No. 2 singles slot behind Haas, fresh from a run to the semifinals at the Australian Open.

Two-time champion Spain will be a strong favorite to overcome a Swiss side playing without world No. 1 Federer.

While Federer decided to opt out of the competition's first round, world No. 2 Nadal is on board for Spain, whose young team also includes David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.

Ferrer, 24, is ranked 15th in the world while Verdasco, 23, is 33rd -- just one place below Switzerland's top participating player, Stanislas Wawrinka.

"I think it's sad for world tennis that Federer is not here because if he was playing this tie would probably be the best tie of the year, maybe better than the final," Spain captain Emilio Sanchez said Tuesday.

Belarus and seven-time champion Sweden meet in Minsk with the big-hitting 1.96 meter Max Mirnyi leading an underdog team against the experience and finesse of Thomas Johansson, 31, and Jonas Bjorkman, 34, as well as Robin Soderling, 22.

The ties all open with two singles matches Friday, the doubles Saturday and reverse singles Sunday.