MADRID, SPAIN: It was always going to be the toughest of challenges for Ukraine to beat Spain on clay. After an opening day in which Ukraine find themselves 2-0 down, it will take nothing short of a miracle for the visitors to reach the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group for the first time and break the host’s 17-year spell amongst the elite.
The first match had to go the way of Ukraine if they were to have a chance of an upset in Madrid but after Alexandr Dolgopolov took the first set, Fernando Verdasco fought back to win 36 64 64 62.
And any hope that Sergiy Stakhovsky had of newly-crowned US Open Champion Rafael Nadal feeling the effects of his transatlantic journey were quickly dispelled as the Spaniard won 60 60 64.
Spanish captain Alex Corretja could not quite believe what he was seeing from his star man. “I think he’s from a different planet,” he said.
“This is almost impossible what he’s done today, coming from a different surface and time schedule. He spends the whole summer in the States and he came here and won nil and nil in the first two sets. I think only very special people can do that and Rafa is one of them.”
All was going well for Stakhovsky until the second point. The Ukranian opened proceedings with a perfect drop shot but for the next hour was pummelled on his backhand side, off which he plays with one hand, by the world No.2, who for the first time in 769 career singles matches did not drop a game in the first two sets.
Stakhovsky geed up the crowd after getting on the board in the third set and admirably got to 4-4, saving several break points in the process, before Nadal pounced at the crucial moment, breaking his opponent for 5-4 and then serving out the win in one hour and 42 minutes as Stakhovsky hit long.
“It’s always a surprise winning 60 60 against a good player like Stakhovsky,” said Nadal. “I think I started well. I was a lucky with a few balls, that made the difference in the score.
“In the end, the third set was close. It was tough, Sergiy started to play aggressive and there was a few tough moments in the third but I am happy with the way I finished the game. I made the break in the right moment.”
Unlike Nadal, both Dolgopolov and Verdasco had plenty of time to prepare on the clay after early exits at Flushing Meadows and it was the Ukranian who startled strongest, breaking twice to take the opening set against his opponent, who was visibly tight.
Left-handed Verdasco was struggling to deal with Dolgopolov’s flat backhand which flew low through the court to his forehand but hung in there before claiming the break for 4-3 as Dolgopolov served a double fault under pressure and Verdasco confidently served out the set to love.
Although Verdasco went down a break early in the third set, he recovered as Dolgopolov gifted the break back with a woeful drop shot which did not reach the net. Dolgopolov’s backhand was beginning to misfire and Verdasco broke for 5-4 before clinching the set as Dolgopolov hit wide.
As the temperature steadily increased at the Caja Magica, Verdasco was in no mood for hanging around in the heat and after breaking Dolgopolov’s serve twice, the Spaniard served out the fourth set in under half an hour for the victory in two hours and 32 minutes.
Spain can now clinch victory with a win in the doubles, for which Corretja confirmed that Nadal will replace Tommy Robredo and play alongside Marc Lopez. It will be the first time that the pair, who are good friends, have played together in Davis Cup, although they have had success in the past with four ATP titles, including two Masters victories at Indian Wells.
Corretja said: “We spoke a couple of days ago and he [Nadal] felt that if he was feeling good after his singles, he said that he would be able to play and we feel that Marc and Rafa are the best pair we can put out and that’s what we’re going to do. We know it’s a difficult decision because we leave Tommy on the bench and he’s been practising really well and working very hard.”
Who they play has still to be decided by Ukraine captain Mikhail Filima. Denys Molchanov and Vladyslav Manafov were named at the draw but Filima had still to decide at the end of day one on who he will field for the doubles as he looks to save the tie.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) - 13/9/13
Captain Alex Corretja (ESP) - 13/9/13
Captain Mikhail Filima (UKR) - 13/9/13
Rafael Nadal (ESP) - 13/9/13