MADRID, SPAIN: It has been 17 years since Spain last played a match at a level below the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group. Such is the desire and commitment of newly-crowned US Open champion Rafael Nadal to ensure that his country’s long spell amongst the world’s elite does not end that he will take to the court on the opening day of the World Group play-off against Ukraine in Madrid.
Less than four days after beating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to win his 13th Grand Slam title on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, Nadal will take on Sergiy Stakhovsky on clay at the Caja Magica, following the opening rubber between Fernando Verdasco and Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Nadal arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport from New York just after 6am on Wednesday and, after a nap at the team hotel on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, practised on the clay at the Caja Magica around 5pm. Considering his day, it was quite admirable that he had not dozed off at the official dinner by the time the starter arrived in typical Spanish fashion at 10pm.
“I arrived a little bit tired after what happened in New York but I hope to be ready for the confrontation,” said Nadal, who has never lost a Davis Cup singles rubber on clay.
“It is always a challenge to change surface in a very short period of time but it is something that has happened in the past to me and I hope to adapt my game to be competitive. I have to try because I feel that it is a very important confrontation for us to stay in the World Group but hopefully I can help a little bit.”
Without Nadal, Spain would still be highly fancied to beat Ukraine but his commitment to play will perhaps mean captain Alex Corretja sleeps a bit better this evening. It is almost unthinkable that the five-time champions since the turn of the century are just one match away from relegation and Corretja praised his star player for his dedication to the cause.
“It is a joy [to have Nadal here],” said Corretja. “It is something that you can’t ask for more. Having the guy that is giving 200% every day, winning the [US Open] title three days ago and he’s been able to come back to Spain and get ready for another surface and time difference… I think it’s an example for everyone.”
Corretja surprised many by choosing Verdasco over US Open quarterfinalist Tommy Robredo to play the opening rubber. However, considering that Madrid resident Verdasco has had ten days of practice here after his US Open first round exit and has beaten Dolgopolov twice before, it could prove a wise choice.
It is something akin to mission impossible for Ukraine, whose captain Mikhail Filima has won five ties in row since he took over in 2012, to reach the World Group for the first time considering that Spain is undefeated on clay in 26 ties.
Although the surface is faster than usual here at altitude in the highest capital city in Europe, the visitors have remarked that there is more clay than usual on the court to try and slow it down in favour of the home side.
Stakhovsky may have achieved one of the biggest upsets of all time when he beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year but since then, apart from a run to the title at the Kazan Challenger last month, the world No. 92 has not won a match in the six other tournaments he has played.
He is hopeful, though, that the effects of his opponent’s transatlantic journey will give him a chance. “I think the challenge is for Rafa to acclimatise to Europe because he just arrived on Wednesday from New York,” said Stakhovsky.
“I think it’s not going to be very easy for him. I have never played him before. It is on clay, it his best surface but you never know.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Fernando Verdasco (ESP) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
R2: Rafael Nadal (ESP) v Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR)
R3: Marc Lopez/Tommy Robredo (ESP) v Vladyslav Manafov/Denys Molchanov (UKR)
R4: Rafael Nadal (ESP) v Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)
R5: Fernando Verdasco (ESP) v Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR)
Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) - 12/09/2013
Captain Alex Corretja (ESP) - 12/09/2013
Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) - 12/09/2013
Captain Mikhail Filima (UKR) - 12/09/2013
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) - 12/09/2013