James Ward and Jamie Baker will lead Great Britain’s bid for victory against Russia in the Davis Cup at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena next weekend in the absence of Andy Murray.
The world No 3 has made himself unavailable for the tie on an indoor hard court as he prepares for the clay season, so captain Leon Smith has chosen the British Nos 2 and 3 for the Europe/Africa Zone Group I tie.
Ross Hutchins is unavailable as he continues to undergo cancer treatment so his regular doubles partner, Colin Fleming, will team up with Wimbledon champion Jonny Marray, from Sheffield.
The winner of the tie will go forward to a World Group play-off in September but, without Murray, it would take a major upset for that to be Britain.
Ward is ranked 208th with Baker a place behind, while Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev has named two top-100 players, Dmitry Tursunov and Evgeny Donskoy, along with former top-35 player Igor Kunitsyn and Victor Baluda, 20.
Scot Baker has been dogged by injury and returns to the side for the first time since Britain beat Tunisia in Group II two years ago.
The 26-year-old, who trained with good friend Murray in Miami over the winter, qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open in January, but his only match wins since then have come at the third-tier Futures level.
Ward, also 26, climbed into the top 150 last season and reached the second round at Wimbledon, but a broken wrist brought an early end to his year.
He has had some encouraging results this season, reaching a Challenger final in Australia, but he has never won a Davis Cup match in Group I.
Britain’s best chance looks to be in the doubles rubber. Fleming has won his last seven Davis Cup rubbers and has teamed up with Marray on the tour in Hutchins’s absence, although the latter’s recent hernia problem has limited their time together.
Smith said: “It’s great to have Jamie Baker back in the team after him starting the year so well in qualifying at the Australian Open in January.
“James Ward has done fantastically well to come back from a long-term injury sustained last year and brings a lot of Davis Cup experience to the team having played in six of the last seven ties for his country.”
If Britain lose, they will face a relegation play-off to avoid dropping back into Group II.
Who they would face and when will be determined by the result of next weekend’s tie between South Africa and Poland.
A South Africa win would see Britain heading to Slovenia in September – a tie Murray has already committed to playing in – but a Poland victory would necessitate an extra match between South Africa and Slovenia with the loser hosting Britain in October.
Murray stumbled into the last 16 of the Sony Open in Miami after overcoming a determined display from Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.
The second seed was under the cosh for much of the opening set, but turned things around to win 7-6 (7/3) 6-3.
Murray said: “Once I started to improve my depth a bit, I made it tough for him and he started to make more mistakes after that.”