Spain's men are set to begin their title defence at the Davis Cup Finals without Rafael Nadal, but with all eyes being switched to the teenager touted as his heir.
The 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will be the centre of attention when Spain start their campaign on Friday against Ecuador, looking to triumph again two years after winning the inaugural edition of the revamped 'World Cup' of men's tennis.
Coming off victory at the Next Gen ATP Finals, Alcaraz will be making his first appearance in the tournament, which was ditched last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, playing alongside Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who are both more than 10 years older than him.
"It means a lot to me to be able to represent Spain in the Davis Cup for the first time," world No.32 Alcaraz said.
"When the captain told me I was going to play, I couldn't believe it. It was my dream since I was a kid and to be able to fulfil it at 18 is very special."
Nadal went undefeated in singles and doubles when Spain won the title in 2019, but the 20-time grand slam champion isn't playing this year because of a left-foot injury that ended his season early.
"It's true that we had a big advantage. If you have Nadal in your team you go straight to being the favourite because he is the best player in the history of the Davis Cup," Spain captain Sergi Bruguera said.
"He's not here, we cannot think about this. We continue to have a very strong team. Four players were there in 2019 when we won so they are prepared for this, and now we have a new younger star who is bringing a lot of things to the team."
Alcaraz is capping an impressive season that included a quarter-final appearance in the US Open and victories over top-10 players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.
"Carlos is an unbelievably nice guy, he's very humble," Bruguera said. "And he's adjusting very well. He's happy. The veterans are very good friends already and Carlos is like fresh air in the team. It's nice."
Spain face a difficult task trying to retain the title, though, as the other team in Group A is a Russian squad featuring two top-10 players in No.2 Daniil Medvedev and No.5 Andrey Rublev.
Also in the team is Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov and 2021 Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev.
Russia will be called the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) during the event amid an ongoing doping suspension from international sports.
The 18-team, 11-day event was held entirely in Madrid over seven days in 2019 but this time also take places in Innsbruck, Austria, and Turin, Italy, where Lleyton Hewitt's Australian team will also play their match against Croatia on Thursday.
Australian Associated Press