France's Richard Gasquet lost his rubber to Tomas Machac

Paris (AFP) - Sweden were 1-0 ahead of Canada, the Czech Republic won their first rubber against France and Croatia were leading Australia as the Davis Cup round-robin phase got underway at Madrid, Innsbruck and Turin on Thursday.

There are 18 nations divided into six groups of three, with winners and the top pair of second places going into the quarter-finals pot.

For Sweden, Elias Ymer beat Steven Diez of Canada 6-4, 6-2 in Madrid, with Kazakhstan also in Group B.

Tomas Machac also won in straight sets taking 1hr 33mins to see off French veteran Richard Gasquet 7-6, 6-2 in Innsbruck where the surge in coronavirus cases and the subsequent lockdown in Austria means that matches will be played once again in an empty arena.

Great Britain make up Group C.

Australia, 28-time winners, were on the back foot in their tussle with Croatia losing their first rubber in Turin.

Hungary await their debut in the group.

The Davis Cup, which began life back in 1900 as a bilateral contest between Britain and the United States, has had numerous makeovers in the past, most recently in 2019 when it was reshaped to resemble a world championships.

This year’s competition sees 12 qualifiers - Australia, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Sweden and USA - joined by the previous edition’s semi-finalists - Spain, Canada, Great Britain and the Russian Tennis Federation.

These are joined by two wild card nations France and Serbia.

The semi-finals and December 5 final will all be played in the Spanish capital, reward for the team that won the title two years ago after 2020 was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.