Australia primed for Davis Cup challenge

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Even without Nick Kyrgios, Lleyton Hewitt feels spoilt for choice as he plots Australia's long-awaited return to the Davis Cup fold in Europe.

Led by Alex de Minaur, Australia takes on Croatia in their opening Group D tie in Turin on Thursday night with Hewitt confident he has the team to make another deep run.

Australia lost a quarter-final cliffhanger against Canada in the first edition of the revamped, round-robin Davis Cup Finals in 2019 before last year's event was cancelled because of the pandemic.

"We had a really good run in the Davis Cup Finals two years ago, where we ended up winning our group stage pretty convincingly," Hewitt said.

"We ended up losing an extremely tight quarter-final with Canada, who went onto make the final, so that gives us a lot of confidence.

"We have a slightly different team, but a lot of the guys have played in the Davis Cup before and understand the pressure and demand of representing your country and playing well."

While de Minaur has slipped down the rankings following a rough end to 2021 since contracting COVID-19 before the Tokyo Olympics, Hewitt is backing the world No.34 to rise to the occasion of spearheading Australia's assault.

But who lines up for the second singles rubber is anyone's guess, with fellow former US Open quarter-finalist John Millman jousting with Alexei Popyrin and late inclusion Alex Bolt for the honour.

The left-handed and "versatile" Bolt only received the call-up last week after Jordan Thompson was ruled out with the coronavirus.

Kyrgios, back home in Canberra preparing for the Australian Open, was unavailable after cutting short his season with a knee injury, while Australian No.2 James Duckworth opted out after initially being overlooked for selection in September when ranked the country's No.6.

Hewitt said he and coach Tony Roche would decide on Australia's full line-up for the best-of-three tie in Turin after another hearty practice session.

But the captain confirmed de Minaur would play the opening match against an experienced Croatian outfit led by three-time grand slam finalist and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.

John Peers is also a lock for the potentially decisive doubles rubber.

"Right now where it sits, I'd be very confident in putting any of them on," Hewitt said.

"I'm really happy with how they're hitting the ball and I'm pretty confident whichever person we put out there in the second singles and the doubles will play well.

"They've done all the right preparation and it's now about going out there and executing, which obviously under pressure is totally different.

"But Rochey and I have got a lot of belief with the guys on the court."

Australia plays Hungary in their second pool match on Saturday, with the six group winners plus the top two runners-up to progress to the quarter-finals.

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