FRANKFURT, GERMANY: Five-times champions Spain are facing a second successive Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round exit after Germany’s Florian Mayer fought off a spirited Feliciano Lopez comeback in the Fraport Arena to give his side a commanding 2-0 lead going into the weekend.
Philip Kohlschreiber earlier produced a scintillating display to crush Davis Cup debutant Roberto Bautista Agut 62 64 62 in the opening rubber of the tie and when Mayer won the first two sets against lefty Lopez on tiebreaks a healthy lead looked a formality for the hosts.
In the end it proved to be a cliff-hanger as Lopez stormed back and saved four match points before Mayer finally clinched it 76 76 16 57 63 with his ninth ace of an enthralling contest.
Lopez only dropped serve once in the three hour 51 minute duel but two double faults in the second game of the decider proved decisive.
“I felt the momentum was on my side because apparently he was struggling with the (shoulder) injury and he was tired, as I was too, but when you are two down and you come back to equal the match it feels like the fifth is on your side but it didn’t go this way.
“I was serving huge the whole match but not in that game and that was enough.”
Mayer hurt his left shoulder diving to return a Lopez serve on his first match point in the fourth set but a crucial victory eased any discomfort he was feeling.
“I took a pain tablet at the end of the fourth and it got better in the fifth,” said Mayer after his first singles win in a World Group tie. “It was absolute drama at the end and the crowd helped me. It’s extra special to win it for the team. It would have been very disappointing if I had lost and it had been 1-1, now it’s 2-0 but still nothing decided.”
It was a match that had the fans inside the packed arena on the edge of their seats throughout as the two gladiators produced some breathtakingly cut and thrust tennis.
They are only separated in the rankings by three places and there was precious little between them in the opening two sets in which neither dropped serve.
If anything Mayer was more comfortable as Lopez was forced to save break points at 2-2 in the opening set and then again at 5-5 after two stunning Mayer lobs had him trouble.
Lopez battled back from 0-4 in the tiebreak and also saved a set point but Mayer edged it 8-6.
The world No. 29 had the chance to break at 4-3 in the second set after a stunning backhand winner was greeted with huge roars from the crowd but Lopez held firm and then earned his first break point of the match in the 11th game but watched in horror as Mayer hit a second serve ace.
More brilliance from Mayer built him a handy lead in the tiebreaker and although Lopez saved a couple of set points Mayer moved two sets ahead.
Then the comeback started. The 32-year-old Lopez blasted through the third set in quick time and then at the end of a thrilling fourth set he saved two match points at 4-5, the first with a serve that sent Mayer diving painfully to the ground and the second when his opponent poked a volley wide.
A frazzled Mayer then dropped serve and needed ice applied to his left shoulder at the changeover before Lopez served out to level the match.
Lopez looked favourite at that stage but the momentum swung back to Germany as Mayer capitalised on a brief Lopez lapse to move to the brink of victory at 5-3. But the drama was not over.
From 0-30 down Mayer played three superb points but Lopez replied to save another match point after an exchange of volleys. A fourth match point was wasted by Mayer but at the fifth time of asking he banged down an ace that Hawkeye showed clipped the line.
Earlier Kohlschreiber was simply too good for Bautista Agut earlier in the day, taking just one hour 43 minutes to give Germany a flying start.
The world No. 27 reeled off five games in a row to win the opening set in 26 minutes and never looked back as Bautista Agut could not repeat the form that saw him reach the fourth round of the Australian Open this month.
“It’s always a lot of pressure in the Davis Cup and I was very happy that I played from the beginning to the end a really great match,” said the German No. 1, who did not even face a break point.
Germany hold a 9-6 head-to-head record against the Spanish, but victory this weekend would be the first they have managed since 1994. Spain were beaten in the first round last year by Canada.
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Feliciano Lopez (ESP) - 31/01/2014
Florian Mayer (GER) - 31/01/2014
Captain Carlos Moya (ESP) - 31/01/2014
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) - 31/01/2014