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29 November 2011

Nadal leads strong Spanish side



  • Chris Archer

Photo: Paul ZimmerFeliciano Lopez, Albert Costa and Rafael Nadal (ESP)

SEVILLE, SPAIN: Spain go into this week’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final in Seville as favourites to lift the trophy for a fifth time, with world No. 2 Rafael Nadal spearheading a Spanish side that shows few signs of weakness.

Nadal, lining up alongside teammates David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco at the team’s opening press conference on Tuesday, appeared in a business-like mood ahead of what will be his third Davis Cup Final.

“It’s a pleasure playing in front of my crowd, in front of the Spanish people,” said Nadal. “Always the feeling is very special when that happens. We’re all very excited and we’ll try to play our best and win.”

Nadal has every reason to be confident. The Spanish team swept aside Belgium, USA and France en route to the Final and now, playing on clay at the Olympic Stadium in Seville, benefit from home advantage against Argentina.

“I think maybe we are a bit the favourites, but we have to show it on the court,” said Spanish captain Albert Costa. “They are a very strong team and they play very good in Davis Cup, so it’s going to be tough for sure.”

Spain’s last defeat on home soil was over a decade ago when Gustavo Kuerten inspired a win for Brazil. Spain have also never lost to Argentina in their three previous match-ups, most recently and most significantly at the 2008 Final in Mar del Plata.

On that occasion, when the roles were reversed with Argentina the favourites to win their first Davis Cup title, Nadal wasn’t present and it was left to Ferrer, Lopez and Verdasco to spoil the party and secure a famous victory for Spain.

“My colleagues did a fabulous job in 2008,” said Nadal. “Argentina had a lot of pressure on their shoulders then. They saw the opportunity but there was a lot of internal disagreement. Then they met my teammates. It’s the same pressure now, they still need to win. We’ve done it before so that makes us a bit calmer.”

Nadal has only ever lost one best-of-five-sets match on clay, against Robin Soderling in 2009, and is considered by many as the greatest clay-courter of all time, so the conditions inside the Olympic Stadium are tailor made for the six-time Roland Garros champion.

And if the invincibility of Nadal doesn’t make Argentina’s job difficult enough then Ferrer, the Spanish No. 2, is certainly no slouch on clay either. The world No. 5 is one of the most consistent players in the men’s game and comes into the Final with an impressive 16-4 win-loss record in Davis Cup play.

All the signs are pointing to a home win, but this is Davis Cup and anything can happen. If Argentina are looking for a chink in the Spanish armour then they will take solace from the fact that their opposition appear slightly jaded at the end of a long season.

Nadal and Ferrer both played at the ATP World Tour Finals in London last week and suffered two defeats each, while the Argentines have been putting their full concentration into this Final.

“We’re all tired, physically tired, but this is a Final so it’s the last push,” said Ferrer. “We want to get this victory. We want to do it at all tournaments, but for us this is very important.”

Although Spain are favourites, Argentina certainly possess the fire power to cause an upset. Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is capable of beating anyone on his day, with the experienced David Nalbandian and the in-form Juan Monaco providing options at the No. 2 singles position.

Argentine captain Tito Vazquez will also be targeting the doubles point, which looks wide open at the moment. The regular pairing for Spain is Lopez and Verdasco, but they suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of French duo Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes,” said Lopez. “In Cordoba (in the semifinals) things didn’t work out as we wanted, but we’ve trained in Barcelona this week and prepared differently to in the past. We’ve been practicing a lot especially to get this win.”

The draw for the Final is taking place on Thursday when Costa and Vazquez will name their line-ups for the weekend. All eyes will be on the Argentine captain to see if he selects Monaco or Nalbandian for Friday's opening singles rubbers.

Live radio commentary of the Final will be broadcast on the Davis Cup website.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) - 29/11/2011

Captain Albert Costa (ESP) - 29/11/2011

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