The dust has barely settled from the gripping finale to the 2016 Davis Cup, which saw Argentina finally claim the title after a pulsating final against Croatia in Zagreb, but the elite 16 nations of the World Group are already preparing for first-round ties to be played 3-5 February 2017.
Held the weekend after the Australian Open final, the first round of the 2017 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas will see top-seeded Argentina beginning their title defense against Italy, while 2016 runners-up Croatia face an extremely tough tie against Spain, who stormed back into the World Group last year after some rocky times. Great Britain, the 2015 champions, will travel to face Canada in a tie which promises the possibility of world no. 1 Andy Murray taking on world no. 3 Milos Raonic, while Yannick Noah's French side - surely the best national generation of players never to have won the Davis Cup - face a Japanese side sure to be led by Kei Nishikori. Switzerland will surely be hoping they can draw on the services of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka as they travel to the USA, while Czech Republic are set to clash with Australia, Belgium with Germany and Russia with Serbia.
Argentina celebrate victory after beating Croatia 3-2 in the 2016 Davis Cup final (-/AFP/Getty Images)
With 126 nations entering in 2015, the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is the largest annual international team competition in sport. Uniquely structured in terms of tennis competitions, a Davis Cup tie sees two singles rubbers on the first day, followed by a doubles rubber on the second day before reverse singles on the third day – all played over the best of five sets. The first nation to score three points wins.
Although Davis Cup ties are played all around the world and involve players from all echelons of the sport, the cream of the competition is the World Group. The top 16 nations in the world play in a knockout format over four weekends throughout the season, with eight nations progressing to the quarterfinals, four nations to the semifinals and finally just two nations to the final, which is held the week after the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and brings the season to a fitting climax.
First played in 1900 as a competition between the USA and Great Britain, 14 nations have been crowned Davis Cup champions since the USA won the inaugural edition. The USA remain the most successful nation in Davis Cup history, winning 32 titles between 1900 and 2007 – their last title – followed by Australia, who have won 28 titles with their most recent triumph coming in 2003.
In recent years, the balance has shifted decisively towards the European teams. Spain dominated the competition between 2008 and 2011, winning three times with a strong squad led by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, while Novak Djokovic’s success in leading Serbia to a first title in 2010 was a hugely significant moment in the latter’s career. The Czech Republic were the next to take up the mantle of dominance, winning in 2012 and 2013, before Switzerland became the 14th nation in Davis Cup history to claim the trophy when Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka combined to defeat France in the 2014 final.
The 2015 edition saw Great Britain, once a great Davis Cup nation but one which had long lingered in the wilderness, rise from the ashes to claim the title. Great Britain had last won the Davis Cup in 1937 when Fred Perry and Bunny Austin led the team, but with Andy Murray playing some of the best tennis of his career and fully committed to the competition, the team led by Leon Smith beat the USA, France, Australia and Belgium in the final to claim the trophy.
World no. 1 Andy Murray will lead Great Britain's Davis Cup campaign in 2017 (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Great Britain were edged in the semifinals of the 2016 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas by Argentina, who were buoyed by the return of talismanic former world no. 4 Juan Martin del Potro after a virtual two-year absence from competition due to multiple wrist surgeries. Del Potro defeated Murray in five sets in what turned out to be the key rubber of the semifinal and the best nation never to win the Davis Cup set up a fifth final, this time against Croatia in Zagreb. Captain Daniel Orsanic's men were experienced at playing away ties by this point, having played every round away in 2016, and Croatia - looking to win their second title - found their chances damaged by Borna Coric's failure to recover from knee surgery. Croatia led 2-1 after claiming a significant doubles rubber on the Saturday, but on Sunday del Potro came back from two sets down for the first time in his career against world no. 6 Cilic to send the tie to a live fifth rubber and Ivo Karlovic - returning to Davis Cup after a four-year absence due to quarrels with the governing body - was unable to withstand a nerveless performance from Federico Delbonis, who sealed Argentina's first Davis Cup win.
Argentina will be attempting to defend their title when the 2017 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas begins with first-round World Group ties from 3-5 February.
Argentina vs Italy, Buenos Aires
Defending champions Argentina, who didn't play a single home tie during the year they finally claimed the Davis Cup in 2016, will have the chance for what they will hope will be a belated victory lap when they host Italy, likely to be led by father-to-be Fabio Fognini, on outdoors clay in Buenos Aires.
Germany vs Belgium, Frankfurt
Having struggled in recent years, Germany were edged 3-2 in the first round by Czech Republic in 2016 and will want to avoid a similar fate against Belgium, the 2015 runners-up who now routinely punch above their weight under the leadership of world no. 11 David Goffin, on indoor hard courts.
Australia vs Czech Republic, Melbourne
One of the most promising of the first-round World Group ties sees Czech Republic, who enjoyed a spell atop the world when they won back-to-back titles in 2012-13 and remain a powerful force when led by veteran Tomas Berdych, hosted by Lleyton Hewitt's Australian side on Melbourne's iconic Kooyong grass courts. Hewitt will be hoping he can harness troubled talents Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.
USA vs Switzerland, Birmingham
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could lead France against Japan (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)
Jim Courier's USA side, likely to feature Jack Sock, John Isner and the Bryan brothers, host Switzerland for a tie that could be a real thriller if Roger Federer and/or Stan Wawrinka show up for the 2014 champions - and very one-sided if they don't.
Japan vs France, Tokyo
Captain Yannick Noah will have another attempt to marshal the considerable, but injury-prone, talents of France's Slamless but magnificent generation of Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, with youngster Lucas Pouille a promising addition, when they take on Japan - likely to be led by local superstar Kei Nishikori - on indoor hard courts in Tokyo.
Canada vs Great Britain, Ottawa
This tie could feature world no. 1 Andy Murray, who played such a crucial role in Great Britain's historic 2015 Davis Cup trophy, against world no. 3 Milos Raonic in a re-match of the 2016 Wimbledon final.
Serbia vs Russia, Nis
Indoor hard courts are the surface as Serbia, possibly led by Novak Djokovic, take on a Russian side which could include rising star Andrey Rublev.
Croatia vs Spain, Osljek
Still smarting from defeat to Argentina in the 2016 Davis Cup final, Croatia have been handed a very tough first-round tie against Spain - who, even if they are not led by 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, boast extreme strength in depth and look set to return from a couple of years in the Davis Cup wilderness.
Davis Cup World Group first-round ties are live from 3-5 February 2017 - how to watch and bet live online: