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GB boss: Djokovic could still play in Davis Cup

By Paul Newman

Published 06/07/2016

Will he? Won’t he? Novak Djokovic has claimed he will not play in Belgrade
Will he? Won’t he? Novak Djokovic has claimed he will not play in Belgrade
Great Britons: Last year’s victorious Davis Cup team travel to Belgrade next week to face Serbia in the last eight of this year’s competition

Novak Djokovic has said he will not play in next weekend's Davis Cup quarter-final in Belgrade, but Leon Smith's, Britain's captain, is not ruling out the possibility that Serbia's key man will have a change of heart.

Smith has named his strongest possible squad - he will pick four players from Andy and Jamie Murray, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans and Dominic Inglot - in the knowledge that both teams can change their line-up up to one day before the opening matches on Friday week.

"People can change their mind," Smith said. "Technically they can change two players before the draw, so it's still possible.

"To be honest, you can't prepare thinking about 'what ifs'. We just prepare the best we can. We focus on ourselves.

"It's not like we're short on information on Novak Djokovic in terms of preparation and notes and scouting and analysis. We've done it for all the players, as we always do - every Serbian team member, including their No 5, 6, 7 and 8, so we cover all our bases."

Andy Murray confirmed this week that he will play in the tie provided he is fit.

The world No2 is in good shape at the moment but hopes to be playing three more matches here at Wimbledon, beginning with his quarter-final today against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

"He is named in the team, which is already a show of the commitment he has always had for us, but I can't sit here and say how anyone is going to feel depending on what happens during the week," Smith said. "If he is fit and healthy, then he will play.

"Davis Cup is really important to him. It's one of the things he really likes playing in. He has talked openly about that. It's clearly one of the events that motivates him. He likes being part of the team.

"He enjoys the people who are involved in it, the players, the staff. The atmosphere is amazing. I think there are all those elements that mean it remains an important part of his schedule."

Serbia have home advantage and have chosen the playing surface - clay - which they think will suit them best and provide the greatest challenge for their opponents.

Switching to clay immediately after the end of the grass-court campaign and immediately before a particularly busy hard-court season will test players to the limit.

Most of the leading men have two Masters Series tournaments and the Olympics to fit in between now and the start of the US Open at the end of August.

However, the Serbs will be without their two leading players, both Djokovic and Viktor Troicki having made themselves unavailable.

The Serbia team comprises Dusan Lajovic (world No 82), Filip Krajinovic (No 108), Janko Tipsarevic (No 411) and Nenad Zimonjic (No 26 in doubles). Tipsarevic, a former world No 8, is making his way back after a lengthy absence through injury.

Smith said there would no question of suggesting to Andy Murray that he does not have to play in the light of the weakened Serbian line-up.

"If he wants to play, absolutely he plays," Smith said.

"This competition really motivates him. He has thrived on the responsibility of leading the team. He enjoys every single day of the training and being around the guys. It says a lot that he wants to play and to be involved in this tie, as well.

"There's every reason that we could go through to say, 'Come on, skip this!' But that's not how he feels. He knows himself better than anybody.

"He's playing great tennis. We can't sit here and prepare for what we think may be a weakened team. We have to look after our own and realise this is an opportunity for us to try to reach the semi-finals again."

Assuming everyone is fit, Britain's second singles player is likely to be Edmund, who excels on clay. Evans, who has been nursing a leg injury, is less comfortable on the surface, but Smith pointed out that he is in good form and will climb to a career-high world ranking position of around No 72 next week.

"Although clay is not the surface that he would choose to play on, he is playing very, very well and I've got a lot of confidence in him when it comes to Davis Cup," Smith said.

"There are a few things that can happen in the coming days and weeks. That's why you need that flexibility and you are allowed to change two players within an hour of the draw."

He added: "Whoever turns out for them, they are going to be tough. It's going to be very, very hot, 35C-plus. It's on clay, their chosen surface, in front of their home fans.

"They will be lifted by everything. They are playing against the defending champions. It's going to be very difficult whoever turns out for them."

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