MADRID, SPAIN: It was always going to take something special for Ukraine to have a chance of winning this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off in Madrid. In the end, even a rubber was too much to ask for as Spain completed victory in style with a 5-0 whitewash at the Caja Magica.
With Ukraine captain Mikhail Filima allowing Alexandr Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky to make an early departure, it was left to Denys Malchanov and Vladyslav Manafov to try and salvage some consolation for the hosts but Marc Lopez and Fernando Verdasco proved too strong on the clay, as Spain often do with 27 victories in their last 27 ties on the surface.
Spain captain Alex Corretja had rightly given Rafael Nadal the day off after the US Open champion had played the first two days and doubles expert Lopez got the chance to play his first ever Davis Cup singles match, having only played six singles matches on tour in the last three years.
Although Lopez is currently only ranked No. 995 in singles, the 31-year-old clearly would be higher if his focus was not on doubles. Lopez took just 81 minutes to beat world No. 227 Molchanov 63 63 and had a beaming smile on his face as his close friend Nadal gave him a fistpump at the side of the court.
“Obviously if the tie had not been finished yesterday I wouldn’t have played,” said Lopez. “But given that it was and the fact that Alex gave me the opportunity to play for Spain in a singles match, it was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.”
Making his first Davis Cup appearance since December 2011 this weekend, Verdasco was more than happy to play the final dead rubber in his home city despite the fact he now faces a long trip to Russia to play in this week’s St Petersburg Open, where ironically he takes on Stakhovsky in the first round.
Verdasco’s performance was one of a man in a rush. The 29-year-old did not give world No. 620 Manafov – the 20-year-old playing just his second Davis Cup rubber – a look in as he hit 33 of his 36 first serves in on his way to a 62 61 victory in just 57 minutes.
If Spain have a full team for the World Group first-round tie in January, it is likely that they will not find themselves in this position again in 12 months but it is a luxury that Corretja, who was not certain on whether he will still be captain for next year’s competition, has not yet been afforded.
“That would be beautiful to have all the guys available for the team,” admitted Corretja. “But that is not always easy because they have got a busy schedule and sometimes they are not healthy. Hopefully whenever the team is playing the next tie, all the players will be available for the captain.”
This was Ukraine’s second unsuccessful attempt at reaching the World Group and they will be hoping it is third time lucky next year, although Filima will cross his fingers and toes for a more generous draw.
“Of course this match against Spain here in Madrid was very tough but maybe if we play against Spain in Ukraine maybe it will be another result,” said Fimila. “But we lost, that’s sport, in this moment Spain are stronger than us.”
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Captain Alex Corretja (ESP) - 15/09/2013
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) - 15/09/2013