Preview: Italy vs. Great Britain

Sports Mole previews the Davis Cup clash between Italy and Great Britain.

When Great Britain travelled to San Diego to face USA in the last 16 of the Davis Cup, Leon Smith's team were expected to push their hosts close, but a second successive victory on their travels on clay seemed a tough ask.

However, John Isner's withdrawal gave the Brits a window of opportunity, and after Andy Murray and James Ward secured the three points required to help their side through to the World Group quarter-finals, confidence is high within the group that they can reach their first Davis Cup final for 36 years.

Below, Sports Mole assesses Great Britain's tie with Italy in Naples, while also attempting to predict the outcome of the encounter as both teams look to move through to a last-four showdown with either Kazakhstan or Switzerland.

Italy

After avoiding the likes of Czech Republic, Spain and Serbia, a tie with Italy could be considered a decent draw for Great Britain, but their expertise on clay has the potential to cause a huge problem for Smith's side.

Fabio Fognini, the world number 13, has 12 wins to his name on clay in 2014, which includes a tournament win in Chile, and despite suffering with a minor quadriceps problem, he is expected to play a major part in Italy's bid to reach the next stage.

Italy's Fabio Fognini plays a shot during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 11, 2014© Getty Images

He is accompanied in the team by world number 34 Andreas Seppi who, despite only winning four matches this year, adds the experience to the Italian team that will make them a real danger over the three days.

With doubts remaining over the fitness of Fognini, Seppi could find himself in doubles action alongside Simone Bolelli if captain Corrado Barazzutti decides to save his number one player.

The weather is likely to play its part in Naples, with rain forecast for the opening two days, and if that proves to be the case, the slower conditions could favour the home team.

Great Britain

Andy Murray has endured a mixed start to 2014, with a semi-final showing in Acapulco his best performance to date, but the two-time major champion is a different animal in Davis Cup tennis, and his big-match experience is key to his side.

The 26-year-old led from the front in San Diego, blasting past Donald Young before helping motivate James Ward from the sidelines as the British number three stunned Sam Querrey with one of the greatest comebacks in the team's Davis Cup history.

The Scot was far from his best in the fourth rubber, but his competitiveness got his team over the line, and if Murray can fulfil his part of the bargain, that could potentially ease the pressure on his teammates.

James Ward of Great Britain celebrates match point after his five set victory against Sam Querrey of the United States during day one of the Davis Cup World Group first round between the U.S. and Great Britain at PETCO Park on January 31, 2014© Getty Images

Leon Smith has insisted that he will make an "instinctive" choice when it comes to making the second selection, with his intentions focused on attempting to "upset" Seppi.

That could indicate that Dan Evans might be included, but Ward has the better record on clay, and if it's experience that Smith opts for, it will be Ward who will get the nod.

Colin Fleming will form one half of the team in the doubles, but the second selection will depend on the score in the tie, with Murray likely to feature unless Great Britain have a 2-0 advantage.

Prediction

With home advantage in their favour and two players inside the top 100 of both the singles' and doubles' world rankings, Italy are the favourites to progress, but as Davis Cup tennis has proven in the past in the World Group, there is no such thing as an easy passage through to the next stage.

As ever, Great Britain require Murray to successfully come through his two matches, which would leave three encounters available to earn the third and decisive point.

Whether Leon Smith goes with Ward or Evans, both players will need a world-class display to earn a point in their two matches, which could leave the doubles showdown as the pivotal clash of the tie. It could go either way, but after such a memorable route to this stage of the competition, it's hard to back against the Brits now, isn't it?

James Ward of Great Britain in action against Dmitry Tursunov of Russia during day three of the Davis Cup match between Great Britain and Russia at the Ricoh Arena on April 7, 2013
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