Davis Cup: World group last-16 preview

The 2016 Davis Cup gets underway this weekend and there are plenty of matches to look forward to.

Murray returns to action for the first time since becoming a Dad

Great Britain begin the defence of their Davis Cup title this weekend in Birmingham as they take on Japan, led by world no.6 Kei Nishikori. Andy Murray returns to action for the first time since his fifth defeat in an Australian Open final on the last day of January and will be playing tennis for the first time as a father following his wife Kim's birth of their baby daughter Sophia.

Can Nishikori and Japan end GB's title defence? Image Credit: Getty
Can Nishikori and Japan end GB's title defence? Image Credit: Getty

Also returning to action will be Novak Djokovic, after the world no.1 recently retired during his Dubai quarter-final against Feliciano Lopez, bringing an end to his extraordinary run of reaching 17 consecutive finals. Kazakhstan should prove to be no problem for Serbia in Belgrade and that could potentially set up a mouth-watering quarter-final with the Brits in mid-July, pitting Djokovic and Murray against each other (a week after the Wimbledon final no less).

The Aussies welcome the Americans in a possible Kooyong Classic

The standout opening round clash sees Australia play the USA in Kooyong, where Lleyton Hewitt captains the Aussie Davis Cup team for the first time, after his magnificent playing career came to an end on home soil at the Australian Open. He has the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic at his disposal, although Jim Courier and his men will be no easy task, especially with the likes of John Isner and Jack Sock in action.

Whoever comes through that blockbuster will play either Croatia or last-year's runners-up Belgium for a place in September's semi-finals. David Goffin will again be the Belgian's big hope if they are to do just as well, if not, go that one step better than last year. However, with former US Open champion Marin Cilic and talented teenager Borna Coric to call upon, Croatia, despite being on opposition soil, will start as favourites here.

No Federer or Wawrinka for the Swiss

Fourth seeds and champions from 2014, Switzerland will be without the injured Roger Federer and the newly crowned Dubai champion Stan Wawrinka for their encounter with Italy, who will fancy their chances against weakened opposition. The Italians have a solid line-up, with Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi and Simone Bolelli all taking to the clay in Pesaro.

Poland welcome Argentina to Gdansk, with the victors to take on the Italians or the Swiss in the last-eight. The Poles are led by Jerzy Janowicz, who has never returned to the form of his run to the 2013 Wimbledon semi-finals (with video gaming more becoming his forte in recent times). Juan Martin del Potro welcomingly made his return at Delray Beach a couple of weeks ago, but this match is too soon for him, although Leonardo Mayer and Guido Pella, who reached his first ATP final in Rio in February, are solid options.

All strength France play a Raonic-less Canada

France arguably have the strongest all-round line-up, as they tackle Canada. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils are all in the French side named by Yannick Noah, which provides a daunting task ahead for the Canadians. To make matters worse for them, their leading name Milos Raonic won't be in action, still recovering from the muscle tear he suffered during the Australian Open semi-finals against Murray, meaning Vasek Pospisil talks the role of leading man.

Finally, third seeds the Czech Republic make the trip to Hannover to play Germany. Tomas Berdych unsurprisingly will be the star attraction in this match-up, although he has good back-up in the form of Lukas Rosol, Jiri Vesely and Radek Stepanek. The Germans too have named a strong team for this all-European affair: Philipp Kohlschreiber, the in-form Alexander Zverev and the always entertaining Dustin Brown. A clash which could very well go down to the final rubber.