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Federer leads Switzerland’s Davis Cup challenge

Having coming up short in his bid for an 18th Grand Slam title, Roger Federer is quickly turning his focus to the Davis Cup — a trophy still missing from his collection.

The former top-ranked player leads Switzerland against Italy in Geneva this weekend as his country bids to reach the final for the first time since 1992. France hosts two-time defending champion Czech Republic in the other semifinal at Roland Garros, home of the French Open.

The best-of-five series begin Friday with two singles matches, followed by doubles on Saturday and reverse singles on Sunday.

After his straight-set loss to eventual winner Marin Cilic in the U.S. Open semifinals, seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer showed his commitment to the Swiss team, heading back home to prepare for the Davis Cup tie on an indoor hard court.

“In tennis there are so many highlights thankfully, so I have something to do next Friday already again,” Federer said after bowing out of Flushing Meadows. “I’ll be very preoccupied with that, starting right now.”

For years, the 33-year-old Federer did not regard the Davis Cup as a main priority, preferring to dedicate himself to Grand Slam events and big tournaments. But the emergence of teammate and Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka as a top player has convinced him they have a good chance of winning the prestigious team competition.

“We obviously are favorites,” the third-ranked Federer said. “We have a formidable team. We are playing at home and we chose the surface. We can do it.”

Along with Federer and Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer complete the Swiss team, which has never lost to Italy at home. The Italian team includes Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi.

Swiss captain Severin Luthi said the presence of both Federer and Wawrinka in Switzerland since the beginning of the week helped the team to prepare.

“We could train together as soon as Tuesday, which was not the case in our opening two rounds,” Luthi said, referring to the tight 3-2 wins over Serbia and Kazakhstan.

If Switzerland wins, it will travel to France or the Czech Republic for the final.

The French will be counting on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils to extend their good run of form to prevent the Czech Republic from becoming the first nation to reach three consecutive Davis Cup finals since Australia in 1999-2001.

Tsonga lost in the fourth round at the U.S. Open but produced good wins over Novak Djokovic and Federer in Toronto to win the title. Monfils advanced to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows, losing to Federer in five sets after going up two sets to one and failing to convert two match points.

“This is the best team in the world,” France captain Arnaud Clement said of the Czechs. “One can’t win the Davis Cup twice in a row by chance. We’ll be trying to put their amazing run to an end.”

Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek lead the Czech team, which also features Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely. Looking to extend their winning streak to 12 straight ties, the Czechs are finding extra motivation in the setting of their semifinal.

“It’s special when you come here for a Grand Slam tournament and it’s definitely even more special for us to play here and play for our country,” the 35-year-old Stepanek said after finding out that Roland Garros was originally built to host Davis Cup matches. “It’s even more special to play here in the semifinals.”

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