With the dust having only just nicely settled on Great Britain’s historic triumph in the Davis Cup final last year, Andy Murray and his compatriots set out again in the defence of their title with a tricky first round tie this week. Japan will be the opponents as the Brits welcome Kei Nishikori and his team to Birmingham, with Murray returning to competitive action after a break for the birth of his daughter. Will Team GB be able to navigate their path through the arduous route to the later stages of the competition again or will they come crashing back down to earth at the very first hurdle?

Lack of competitive action

Murray has not played a competitive match since another disappointing loss to Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open a month ago. Since then the 28-year-old has put Tennis on the backburner somewhat, following the birth of his first child, Sophia on February 7th.

Juggling tennis and being a parent

Not that he has been inactive in the interim, with daily sessions held at Wimbledon’s All England Club prior to fine tuning his preparations at Birmingham this week, all needing to be fitted around his busy home life. The proud father has however admitted to feeling bad about having to leave his young daughter to continue his punishing tennis regime, stating that he doesn’t want to miss a moment more than he has to during her development.

Dangerous opposition

The world number two will be aware of the strong side lying in wait as GB look to defend their Davis Cup crown in the Midlands at the Barclaycard Arena. Nishikori is an extremely dangerous rival in the singles, a consistently proficient player ranked at number six on the current ATP rankings. His form in Davis Cup rubbers is also excellent, with an 11-match winning streak in the competition dating back to 2012.

As ever, home crowd expectations will be high that Murray can bring his ‘A’ game to the prestigious event, yet many knowledgeable onlookers will be wary of the potential banana skin. British fans will be hopeful that Kyle Edmund, Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot can support Andy and hopefully edge the tie their way.

Nishikori teams up with his countrymen Taro Daniel, Yoshihito Nishioka and Yasutaka Uchiyama as the two nations compete in four singles and one doubles rubber.

Murray leads head to head

In the main, Murray has had by far the better of his previous contests against Nishikori. Their head to head on the ATP circuit indicates just the one blemish from six matches on the Brit’s impressive record, the solitary loss coming in 2014 at the ATP World Tour Finals.

Sixteen teams in action

The first round Davis Cup action runs from 4th -6th March, with eight intriguing ties being held around the globe. With Canada set to take on the mighty French and USA hosting Australia – as Lleyton Hewitt takes his captain’s bow - there should be some interesting battles to follow before the end of the weekend. Last year’s runners-up Belgium are also back in action, with the European challengers looking to overcome Croatia.

Murray and Nishikori are just two of the six top ten ranked players set to feature in the opening round this year: top seed Djokovic has been named in the Serbian team to face Kazakhstan; seventh seed Tomas Berdych lines up in the Czech Republic team; the French feature both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet among their ranks.