CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: Rafael Nadal will make his return to tennis on Friday, as Spain tackle Belgium in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round at the Spiroudome in Charleroi.
Nadal’s first taste of competitive tennis, since tearing a leg muscle in the Australian Open quarterfinals, will be against up-and-coming Belgian Ruben Bemelmans. Their match will follow Friday’s opening rubber, which involves Xavier Malisse and David Ferrer. Malisse teams up with Olivier Rochus on Saturday for the doubles against Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.
The Belgians have their work cut out if they are to stop Spain from marching into the quarterfinals. Three of the Spanish team are in the world’s Top 10. In Nadal, of course, they boast the best player in the world, who insists he is fully fit and raring to go. “My body is fine,” he said. “If I wasn’t perfect, then I wouldn’t be here.”
The Spaniard, who has spent time with friends and family in Mallorca during his spell away from the game, certainly looked in tip-top condition during a lengthy practice session on Thursday and is eager to put the disappointment of last year behind him. He was absent from the team which lost 5-0 to France at the quarterfinal stage, thereby denying Spain the chance of winning the Davis Cup for a third successive year.
These two nations have met three times before in Davis Cup play. The most recent was a 5-0 whitewash in favour of Spain eight years ago. Belgium’s team includes two ‘survivors’ from that crushing contest, Malisse and Rochus. But, while Malisse will have the opportunity to test his talent against Spain’s stars in the singles, Belgium’s No. 2, Rochus, has been overlooked in favour of Bemelmans.
Belgium captain, Reginald Willems, waved away a question on why Bemelmans received the nod over Rochus. Locals have high-hopes for Bemelmans, but his Davis Cup record is limited. This will be only his third tie, and he lost his singles and doubles rubber in Australia last September. His only other outing was a victory by default in 2008, after Czech Republic’s Pavel Vizner retired in the third set.
This could prove to be a master-stroke by Willems, who is faced with trying to topple the No. 1 ranked nation in world tennis. But, if Belgium are seeking a chink in the Spanish armour, then Malisse was at a loss to see where it would be. “I don’t think they have many weaknesses,” he said, “especially with Nadal and Ferrer in their team, but we’ve got to go with what we have.”
Malisse did agree that Nadal may lack sharpness due to his enforced rest…“but we can’t count on that.”
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Xavier Malisse (BEL) v David Ferrer (ESP)
R2: Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) v Rafael Nadal (ESP)
R3: Xavier Malisse/Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
R4: Xavier Malisse (BEL) v Rafael Nadal (ESP)
R5: Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) v David Ferrer (ESP)
Watch this tie live on: DavisCup.tv
Rafael Nadal (ESP) - 03/03/2011
David Ferrer (ESP) - 03/03/2011
Captain Albert Costa (ESP) - 03/03/2011
Xavier Malisse (BEL) - 03/03/2011
Captain Reginald Willems (BEL) - 03/03/2011