Nishikori-less Japan faces Italian job in Davis Cup

Japan returned to the top tier of the Davis Cup in 2011 after 26 years languishing at the regional level before registering their first victory in 2014.

Japan will be without talisman Kei Nishikori when it hosts Italy this week for a place in the Davis Cup quarter-finals.   -  Getty Images

Japan will be without talisman Kei Nishikori when it hosts Italy this week for a place in the Davis Cup quarter-finals.

With Nishikori only just returning from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for five months, Japan's challenge in Morioka will be spearheaded by Yuichi Sugita, who won his first ATP tour singles title in Turkey last summer.

Former champion Italy, making its first visit to Japan, has named world number 22 Fabio Fognini and 46th-ranked Paolo Lorenzi with Andreas Seppi, Thomas Fabbiano and Simone Bolelli also among Corrado Barazzutti's team.

Japan captain Satoshi Iwabuchi has called up world number 100 Taro Daniel alongside the 41st-ranked Sugita in singles, with Go Soeda offering experience alongside Yasutaka Uchiyama and Kiwi-born Ben Mclachlan, who recently reached the Australian Open doubles semifinals.

Japan is looking to reach the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup for only the second time after Nishikori helped it reach the last eight in 2014.

But without the former world number four, who has slipped to 28th since injuring his wrist last August, the Japanese will have their work cut out after winning a World Group playoff against Brazil last September.

Italy was champion back in 1976 and has finished runner-up on six occasions.

The Italians won both of their two previous meetings, in Genoa back in 1930 and Milan in 1932. More recently, they lost to Belgium in last year's quarter-finals.

Japan returned to the top tier of the Davis Cup in 2011 after 26 years languishing at the regional level before registering their first victory in 2014.