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28 August 2014

Flashback: Brazil v Spain


By Tom Allen

Photo: Sergio CarmonaGustavo Kuerten (BRA)

It’s 4 April 1999 in Lerida, Spain, and Gustavo Kuerten has just eased past Carlos Moya 62 64 61.

Usually such a one-sided scoreline between the two most recent Roland Garros champions would be the main topic of discussion but now, in 2014, it is the historical relevance this result still holds that both nations will have in mind when they collide in Sao Paulo.

That match, over 15 years ago, gave Brazil an unassailable 3-1 lead over Spain in the first round of the 1999 Davis Cup World Group. Since then, Spain have compiled 27 consecutive successes on clay, an all-time record 25 straight World Group/World Group play-off home victories and five Davis Cup titles.

The defeat to Brazil remains the last blemish on Spain’s Davis Cup resume at home or playing with the comfort of their favourite surface beneath them.

Twelve months prior to that historic tie, Moya secured a dramatic 3-2 win for Spain over Brazil after a three-set win over Fernando Meligeni. Moya and Meligeni, with the honour of opening the 1999 tie, would meet for the second straight rubber between the two nations. Strengthened by the memories of that 1998 triumph, Moya emerged victorious once again to provide Spain with a confidence-boosting first point.

Brazil was not about to accept the same fate it was met with a year previously. Gustavo Kuerten, just a few hours after Moya’s win, closed the day with a mightily impressive three-set victory over Alex Corretja to level the tie at 1-1.

Both Corretja and Kuerten returned on Saturday to fight it out in doubles for a 2-1 advantage heading into the reverse singles on Sunday. After five gruelling sets, that advantage went the way of the Brazilians who came from two-sets-to-to-one down to defeat Corretja and Costa 62 57 46 64 63. Spain knew both rubbers would have to be won the next day to make it through to the quarterfinals.

Sunday would be Kuerten and Brazil’s moment. Guga produced his third masterstroke of the tie to send Brazil through to the quarterfinals. Spain had lost at home. Spain had lost on clay. To this day, that was the last time either of those events occurred.

After dropping out of the competition’s top tier with a 3-2 loss to Canada in 2003, Brazil has struggled to regain World Group status. September’s clash with Spain will be the ninth year in a row the nation has contested a World Group play-off; winning just one of those eight ties.

It is important to remember that this is just the third time since their previous meeting that a home nation has challenged a visiting Spanish side to play on the dirt; a sign of confidence. On the last occasion, in a World Group play-off, Italy almost pulled off the upset after they took Spain to a deciding fifth rubber.

It must also be noted that just like Lerida in 1999; Carlos Moya will once again be involved. The Mallorcan will return to the rivalry as captain, determined to prevail against the nation Spain has had to wait a decade and a half to meet again.

With a familiar challenge facing both nations, a 2015 World Group spot and an incredible winning streak on the line, Sao Paolo will be the scene of a colossal new chapter in this fascinating, 55-year-old rivalry.

Once again, it’s Spain on clay and Brazil will be fully aware they were the last team to pass that test. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?

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