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Tennis treat in store as old foes prepare to lock horns for first time since 1999

One of the oldest rivalries in sport will be reignited today when Great Britain take on the USA in the opening round of the Davis Cup World Group in San Diego.

Great Britain and United States Davis Cup teams, from left Dominic Inglot, Kyle Edmund, Colin Fleming, James Ward,  Andy Murray and captain Leon Smith of Great Britain, and captain Jim Courier, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan, Donald Young, Sam Querrey and John Isner outside the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, California. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Great Britain and United States Davis Cup teams, from left Dominic Inglot, Kyle Edmund, Colin Fleming, James Ward, Andy Murray and captain Leon Smith of Great Britain, and captain Jim Courier, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan, Donald Young, Sam Querrey and John Isner outside the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, California. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

GB may scarcely have been relevant in the competition in recent years but, if there are prizes for quantity rather than quality, then GB would surely clean up. Britain is the only country to have played in every edition of the Davis Cup, with GB and the USA having contested the first Davis Cup in 1900, held in Boston and won 3-0 by the Americans.

The event grew from having only two participating countries in that inaugural edition to 130 last year, making it the largest annual team competition in world sport. The United States remain the most successful Davis Cup nation, having won it 32 times, most recently in 2007. GB may have won it nine times, but their last victory was in 1936, the same year that Fred Perry won his final Wimbledon title.

Great Britain have not beaten USA in the competition since 1935 but, despite this dismal record, they have a realistic chance of victory this weekend. With Andy Murray in attendance, a win is always possible, particularly if he plays the doubles rubber as well as his two singles ties. A GB victory would be significant as it would guarantee World Group status for another year and cap a phoenix-like rise from the ashes for the team.

As recently as 2011, Great Britain was in the Euro/Africa Zone Group 2, facing such luminaries as Tunisia and Luxembourg. Consistent appearances from Murray, together with more solid back-up from his team-mates, has ensured that GB are back in the big time.

The tie is also significant for the USA. In the 1990s, the Americans had an embarrassment of riches in terms of male tennis players. Grand slam title winners were abundant - Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang, along with multiple grand slam finalist Todd Martin, meant that USA invariably fielded a strong line-up.

Andy Roddick was their stalwart from the turn of the century but, since his retirement in 2012, USA have looked unlikely to add to their 32 Davis Cup victories, to say the least. The country is in a real slump in terms of producing world-class men's tennis players.

The 2012 year-end world rankings were the first in history without an American in the world's top 10. It was repeated a year later, although the top men's doubles pair, the twins Bob and Mike Bryan, are American.

John Isner and Sam Querry will play singles against Great Britain and, while they are no slouches, they are far from potential grand slam title winners. Ranked Nos.13 and 49 respectively, neither appears, on paper at least, likely to beat Murray even though the tie is being played on clay, as chosen by the Americans and Murray's least successful surface. Both Isner and Querry will be firm favourites to beat Britain's No.2 singles player, though, be it James Ward or Kyle Edmund.

If the tie matches the excitement and tension of the last time these two teams met, then a treat is in store. Great Britain last faced USA in Birmingham in 1999 and it became one of the most exciting Davis Cup encounters of the last 25 years.

Prior to the match, the GB captain David Lloyd predicted that "it would be special"; he wasn't wrong.

Both Sampras and Agassi were absent from the United States team but, even so, they won both the opening singles - Courier beat Tim Henman, then Martin defeated Greg Rusedski - but Henman and Rusedski won a five-set doubles and Henman brought the scores level by beating Martin.

In the deciding rubber between Rusedski and Courier, the American won the first and third sets but Rusedski drew level each time to set up a deciding set. The American, one of the most experienced, wiliest and gutsiest players on the tour, broke British hearts by clinching victory, 8-6 in the final set. For once, tennis fever had gripped this country outwith the Wimbledon fortnight.

Appropriately, Courier will be present this weekend. He is captain of the United States team and knows that the presence of Murray means that an American victory is far from guaranteed.

If Murray plays doubles, he is likely to team up with his fellow Scot Colin Fleming and a victory over the Bryans is not out of the question. The best-case scenario would have the tie poised at 2-1 in Great Britain's favour going into the final day. A repeat of the tense conclusion of 1999 could just be on the cards.

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