Spain’s Nicolas Almagro would be a key member in the singles line-up of just about any other nation in the world, but such is the quality within the Spanish ranks that he has often been overlooked for selection.
In fact, Almagro has only played four ties during his short Davis Cup career, compiling a 5-2 win-loss singles record, but this could be a breakthrough year for the 26-year-old as he steps into the side once again to deputise for Rafael Nadal.
Nadal and David Ferrer, the team’s top ranked players, were both missing when Spain opened their campaign at home against Kazakhstan, leaving Almagro to lead the hosts to a comfortable 5-0 victory and a place in the World Group quarterfinals for the sixth straight season.
Ferrer returns for this clash with Austria, although Nadal is absent after incurring a knee injury, so Almagro, who reached a career high ranking of No. 9 last year, continues his run in the team.
The right-hander from Murcia won both his singles rubbers at a canter against Kazakhstan, defeating Andrey Golubev 63 46 61 61 and Evgeny Korolev 63 64, and now he’s eager to continue Spain’s title defence.
“We’re the defending champions and for us Davis Cup is very important,” said the Spaniard. “We’re playing at home again and we’re playing on our best surface – clay, outdoor – so I think we’re a little bit the favourites for this tie because of that.”
Spain have elected to stage the tie at the seaside resort of Marina D’Or, near Castellon, where a 10,000-seater temporary stadium has been erected, and Almagro is looking forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans.
“When you play at home you play with a little bit more passion,” he said. “You want to win because you’re playing with your crowd behind you. You try to fight with your heart and I think that is one of the keys of this tie.”
There is no doubt that Spain, who haven’t lost a home tie since 1999, are the favourites to prevail and set up a semifinal meeting with either France or USA, but Austria are not just coming to make the numbers up.
“We’re not going there for holidays, we’re going there to compete and to win,” said Austrian No. 1 Jurgen Melzer, who won both his singles rubbers during his team’s impressive 3-2 home win over Russia in February.
Austrian captain Clemens Trimmel, who made his debut as skipper against Russia, has named an unchanged side that sees Melzer line up alongside Andreas Haider-Maurer, Alexander Peya and Oliver Marach.
Austria haven’t appeared at this stage of the competition for 17 years, when Thomas Muster was in the side, but they can draw strength from their head-to-head record with Spain, which sees them leading 3-1, including a win on Spanish soil in 1990.
Despite this past success, it would be a serious upset if Austria knocked out the reigning champions. Almagro isn’t taking anything for granted, although he is confident that Spain can retain their title.
“We are going to fight to win it again and we’ll see if we can do it or not,” he said.
In the other Davis Cup quarterfinals this weekend France host USA at the Monte Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune, Czech Republic and Serbia play at the O2 Arena in Prague and Croatia will travel to the Parque Roca in Buenos Aires to face Argentina.
Live streaming of all four Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinals, taking place on 6-8 April, are being broadcast on the official Davis Cup video website: DavisCup.tv