The long-awaited revamped Davis Cup competition got under way on Monday with Russia, Canada and Belgium all winning their opening group matches at the Caja Magica in Madrid.
When you're playing not only for yourself, but for your country, you have to fight harder Karen Khachanov
With 18 nations split into six groups of three and only the pool winners and the two best runners-up progressing to the last eight knockout phase of the event, there is much to play for in addition to the $20million prize at stake.
The teams face off in two best-of-three-set singles matches and one doubles rubber in each tie.
Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev opened the play on the main court where they inflicted a 3-0 defeat on the defending champions Croatia in Group B.
World No 17 Khachanov clinched the point for Russia by fighting back to beat Croatian number one Borna Coric 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4, after Rublev had earlier seen off Borna Gojo 6-3 6-3 who came in as a replacement for the injured Marin Cilic.
Khachanov and Rublev completed the clean sweep later on Monday with a 7-6(3) 6-4 doubles win over Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic.
“When you’re playing not only for yourself, but for your country, you have to fight harder,” Khachanov said later.
Russia, who are without US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev due to exhaustion, can wrap up a place in the quarter-finals with victory over Rafael Nadal’s Spain in their second Group B tie on Tuesday.
Meanwhile Canada upset the form book by defeating the group favourites Italy 2-1 in Group F.
World number 12 Fabio Fognini slumped to a 7-6(5) 7-5 defeat by Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150th who earlier in the year underwent back surgery, before rising star Denis Shapovalov edged out Matteo Berrettini 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 7-6(5) in a marathon battle of NextGen players.
The 20-year-old Shapovalov saved three set points before snatching the first set in a tie-break, only for Berrettini to level the match in a second-set breaker.
In what proved a very close encounter between two evenly matched players holding serve throughout, it was lef to a final set tiebreaker to decide the outcome with Shapovalov reeling off the last three points to win after two hours and 52 minutes on court.
“I’m really happy to get the win against a player like Matteo who has had such a good season,” said Shapovalov. “I always love representing my country… It’s not often you get to play as a team, so it’s amazing.”
Berrettini and Fognini kept their team hopes of making the last eight alive with a hard-fought doubles success over Shapovalov and Pospisil, winning 6-2 3-6 6-3.
Canada now take on the United States on Tuesday, with Italy facing the Americans the following day.
In Group D, Belgium made a winning start with back-to-back singles victories as they went on to defeat Colombia 2-1.
The South Americans have never appeared in the old World Group so were playing at the top level of the Davis Cup competition for the first time.
Steve Darcis beat Santiago Giraldo comfortably 6-3 6-2 but world number 11 David Goffin, had to battle back from a set down to avoid a shock loss against 194th-ranked Daniel Elahi Galan Riveros, eventually winning 3-6 6-3 6-3.
Colomba, with their world number one doubles pairing of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, prevented a whitewash and secured their nation’s first ever win at the top level by battling past Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(3).