- Chris Wilkinson
Well done GB - but hard work starts nowChris Wilkinson September 19, 2013
It's great to see Britain back in the Davis Cup World Group after their win against Croatia at the weekend. Captain Leon Smith and his team - because this result goes way beyond Andy Murray's return in Umag - deserve credit for turning around a squad at its lowest ebb in 2010 and guiding them back to the elite, 16-team band of countries at the top of the men's game.
Being in the World Group is special for any tennis nation. Britain hasn't been part of it for five years now, and hasn't won a top-ranking tie in Murray's lifetime - but reaching it again goes to show that British tennis is in fairly good shape and moving in the right direction. It's the same story in the women's game, where Laura Robson and Heather Watson have come through the ranks to spearhead Britain's Fed Cup campaigns, and throughout the juniors - where I'm involved with the LTA - the teams we put out are competing for European and world titles across the board. Take a look at the bigger picture and you have to agree that elite British tennis looks in pretty good shape.
When it comes to the Davis Cup, Leon Smith's impact cannot be underestimated. He arrived with Great Britain at its lowest ebb in the competition, facing a relegation play-off to avoid slipping into the fourth-tier Euro-Africa Zone Group III in 2010. He led the team to a 5-0 win against Turkey and has lost just one tie in eight since then. Smith wasn't a big name but he offered the team a fresh start and went back to basics. Coaching Murray in the past no doubt helped in getting him to play again, but Davis Cup is all about the way the captain gets his players to gel with one another, and he is very good at that.
He would have liked a slightly kinder draw for the first round tie in 2014, though. Travelling away to the United States at the end of January is not the worst draw, but it's certainly not the best.
The big thing is the doubles. In previous ties Britain has headed into Saturday's rubber as the favourites, taking them one match closer to the three they need to win a tie. But this time they'll face the Bryan brothers, who have won virtually everything there is to win in the doubles game. That's as tough as it gets.
Then there's the Australian Open. In the past Andy Murray has played well in Melbourne, made the final and then entered something of a hangover in the immediate aftermath. That could have a bearing on the tie. All of the top guys will have been playing best-of-five in Melbourne, the finalists just a few days before the first rubbers of the World Group tie.
And of course, there's the travel. The American team will be heading home for the tie, but for the British team it will be another week spent on the road - and it's a long slog for both sides across the Pacific from Australia to America.
If Murray plays you would expect him to win both of his singles matches, most likely against Sam Querrey and John Isner - so then it will be down to his deputy, whether it is Dan Evans or James Ward, to win one of the remaining matches.
France will face Australia in another of the World Group ties, reuniting the grand slam nations in the World Group for the first time since 2003. There has been a big shift in the tennis superpowers in the last couple of decades, away from the likes of Great Britain, Australia, the United States and France. In their place, nations from what used to be known as the Eastern Bloc are now producing many of the world's best players. They may not be bursting with the resources bestowed upon the grand slam nations, but what money doesn't generate is hunger - the drive to succeed.
The hungrier players have come from the Eastern Bloc - the likes of Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska to name but three, not to mention reigning Davis Cup champions the Czech Republic, who face Serbia in this year's final.
Another mouth-watering possibility thrown up by the first round draw is the prospect of a Djokovic-Federer showdown when Switzerland travel to Serbia. Like all Davis Cup ties, it all depends on who plays - Federer has hardly been a regular in the Swiss Davis Cup side during his career, while the quick turnaround after the Australian Open could throw a spanner into the works of any number of teams, including the Serbs.
Davis Cup is difficult for the likes of Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal. Their main goal is to win grand slams - Andy Murray has openly admitted as much - and after that it's all about what they can fit into their schedules. A four-day turnaround from the Australian Open final to the first rubber of the Davis Cup weekend is far from ideal.
Of course, the Davis Cup is the one piece of silverware missing from Federer's trophy cabinet, which might offer him an added incentive this year. If he and fellow top-10 player Stanislas Wawrinka line up together, there's every chance they could emulate Czech duo Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych and win the whole thing as a two-man team.
There's so much resting on the circumstances within a Davis Cup team, bringing together a group of individuals as a team under a captain. Disagreements in the ranks are typical and can be devastating, whether it's players who do not get on or a fallout between a captain and his charges. But it can also draw the best from players, inspired to play under their flag. We're rightly proud to be back in the World Group. Now let's see if Leon Smith and his men can stay there.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Follow him @chriswilks12