Great Britain have been drawn to play Novak Djokovic’s Serbia in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup in Malaga.
The knockout stage of the competition, which GB last won in 2015, will be played between 21 and 26 November.
Dan Evans and Neal Skupski had to save four match points to beat France in a decisive doubles match in Manchester on Sunday to qualify for the last eight.
Djokovic, who won with Serbia in 2010, says the competition is his top priority for the rest of the season.
But the ties will be the best-of-three matches, and Serbia do not have any other singles players in the top 30.
“We’ve topped this group so we expect to get a kinder draw in the quarter-finals but it’s not panned out that way,” Great Britain captain Leon Smith told BBC Sport.
“But you know what, we deserve to be there – and we’ve got a chance against anyone. It doesn’t matter if Novak plays for Serbia, or anything else. You’ve got to win two [singles] rubbers and a doubles and that’s what we’ve proved to be good at.”
The winners will play either Italy or the Netherlands in the semi-finals, with Italy able to call on world number seven Jannik Sinner and top-20 player Lorenzo Musetti.
Hosts Spain will be absent from the Final Eight after failing to make it out of Group C, while 32-time champions the United States also miss out after losing to Finland in their final Group D tie.
In the top half of the draw, Canada will continue their title defence against the Finns, who are making their debut in the quarter-finals, while last year’s runners-up Australia will play the Czech Republic.
Will GB make changes to team?
The make-up of the Great Britain team for Malaga could prove one of Smith’s trickier selections.
The schedule for the week is yet to be confirmed but it seems more than likely GB’s quarter-final will be played on the Thursday to allow 24-time Grand Slam singles champion Djokovic more time to recover from the previous week’s ATP Finals in Turin.
This means that were GB to make it to Sunday’s final, they would have to play three ties in four days. Incredible though Evans was in winning two matches stretching over nearly five hours in Manchester on Sunday, asking him repeatedly to play two matches a day in such a small timeframe would seem both unrealistic and unwise.
His partnership with Skupski is very much the best doubles pairing of the team Smith selected for the group stage. Skupski and Andy Murray have never played together on tour or in Davis Cup, and Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper are unlikely to be considered for doubles. So unless Evans becomes a specialist doubles player for the week, another card-carrying member of the doubles tour may need to replace one of the singles players in the team.
The two names that spring to mind are Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray.
Salisbury is the world number six and has won the US Open men’s doubles title with Rajeev Ram in each of the last three years. He has won two ATP titles with Skupski, but the pair may still have painful memories of the 2021 Davis Cup quarter-final defeat by Germany, in which they lost seven points in a row from 5-0 up in the second-set tie-break.
Salisbury has won just two of his six Davis Cup matches to date, but could potentially also play with Andy Murray. They did lose both their matches in the group stage of the Finals in Glasgow last year, but looked a better partnership at the Tokyo Olympics before losing a tight quarter-final.
Jamie Murray is an interesting option. He has not played Davis Cup for four years, but he and Michael Venus are in contention to reach the ATP Finals as the winners of three titles this year. He played on tour with Skupski for an 18-month period and even though it was not a runaway success, they still won a title, contested two other finals and a US Open semi-final.
And when they played together in the Davis Cup Finals of 2021, they won their first two matches and then pushed Rafael Nadal and Feliciano Lopez close in a semi-final which took place in Madrid.
And how about Andy and Jamie playing together for their country one last time? It is a tantalising thought, but assumes Andy would still be selected in the event of a singles player making way for a doubles specialist.
Evans and Skupski appear certain to be selected, so who might miss out in that scenario?
The explosive youth of Draper, who won that crucial match with Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis on his debut last week; Norrie, who has been comfortably the British number one for nearly two years now; or Murray, a Davis Cup winner with only three defeats in the 36 singles matches he has played for his country?
There is a lot of tennis to be played in Asia and on the European indoor circuit before Leon Smith has to finalise his team. The initial selection must be made by 23 October, but up to three changes are permitted until the eve of the knockout stage, and September’s form book may be out of print by November.