By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic could not tame the fury of Rafael Nadal in New York Monday but his return to his best form augurs well for Serbia as they prepare to host the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup semi-final this week.
In the other semi-final in Lyon, Argentina will have to beat nine-times Davis Cup champions France for the first time if they are to reach the end-of-season showpiece -- their hopes resting heavily on the shoulders of a resurgent David Nalbandian.
Fiercely patriotic, Djokovic will have to quickly re-charge for what promises to be a difficult task for the Serbs in the 17,000-capacity Belgrade Arena that will be packed to the rafters when the tie begins Friday.
"Nevertheless we confident that Novak will be up to the task because when you have the number two in the world in your team there is no Plan B. He is the backbone of the team."
Viktor Troicki, who almost beat Djokovic in the first round of the U.S. Open, is expected to be Serbia's second singles player with world number three doubles player Nenad Zimonjic likely to partner Janko Tipsarevic in Saturday's doubles.
Unlike Djokovic, Czech number one Tomas Berdych will have no worries about fatigue, having been ditched out of the U.S. Open early.
"Playing them in Serbia will definitely be tough because their fans will be standing behind them," Stepanek told the Davis Cup website (www.daviscup.com).
"They are playing in the World Group (semi-finals) for the first time so definitely the people are pumped about it. But we have a great team and we believe in ourselves.
"We've been underdogs so many times, the same as we will be in Serbia, and we will try to use it to our advantage and do what we've done for the last two years."
Having beaten reigning champions Spain in the quarter-finals, France will be favorites to reach the final for the first time since 2002 when they lost to Russia in Bercy.
Team captain Guy Forget hopes Gael Monfils can step up in the absence of Tsonga while Gilles Simon or Richard Gasquet will probably fill the second singles spot, leaving Michael Llodra to provide the doubles expertise.
"The absence of Tsonga is not worrying me because at the U.S. Open I saw Gael playing well and Richard coming back close to his best level," Forget said.
Argentina's team arrived in Lyon last Friday after the doubles duo of Horacio Zeballos and Eduardo Schwank lost in the U.S. Open semi-finals.
"It was a good idea to have landed several days earlier than usual," captain Modesto "Tito" Vazquez said. "The group are in good spirits."
Nalbandian, who was devastating in beating Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in the 3-2 quarter-final win over Russia, is expected to have shrugged off an ankle injury in time for Friday's start. Juan Monaco is Argentina's second singles pick having missed the wins over Sweden and Russia.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)