OVIEDO, SPAIN: 2011 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas champions Spain began their title defence in the best possible fashion at the Palacio de los sportades de Oviedo as Nicolas Almagro and Juan Carlos Ferrero won their opening singles rubbers in four and five sets respectively.
Almagro, the Spanish No.1 in the absence of Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, saw off a valiant effort from Andrey Golubev, the Kazakh No.2, battling through the first two sets, before cruising through the second two to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in 2 hours and 23 minutes.
Competing in his first Davis Cup tie since the 2011 quarterfinals against France, Almagro consistently looked the stronger on his favourite surface, taking the first set with one break after just over half an hour. But Golubev, black socks pulled up his calves to protect against the cold, fought back in the second, a one-handed backhand winner wrapping up the set 6-4.
It was not quite enough. Urged on by the home fans, Almagro went on a five-game tear in the third set, grabbing the set 6-1, and doing the same in the fourth.
As captain Alex Corretja clenched his fist in affirmation, Almagro completed the win with a cross court forehand on his second match point.
“I’m very happy with my tennis today, I think I played my best tennis in Davis Cup” Almagro said. “Now we need one more point, so we see what happen tomorrow in the doubles. It’s very fun to play here in Spain, it’s a little bit cold, but I think it’s perfect when you play in your country.”
Earlier, Ferrero made an extraordinary return to Davis Cup with a thrilling five-set opening win over Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-4, in four hours and 28 minutes.
“These kind of matches are very tough, since the beginning I think I start playing very well, in the second set it was very important to him, he get into the rhythm, so I thought it could be easier, but at the end I had to fight until the end, and it was a great match,” Ferrero said.
Making his first appearance for Spain since September 2009, Ferrero looked completely at home on the Oviedo clay, blitzing through the first set 6-1 in 38 minutes as Kukushkin struggled to find his range.
But the Kazkah, who was a surprise member of the Australian Open fourth round last month, dug deep in the second set, surviving an early break of serve to break back, and then break again as Ferrero served to stay in the set.
Urged on by a chorus of ‘Ole’s’, it was the Spaniard’s turn to mount a recovery mission, rallying from 0-3 in the third set to send it into a tie-break. Scorching through it 7-2, it looked like Ferrero’s return to Davis Cup would be a successful one.
But Kukushkin would not go away, needing just the one break of serve to take the fourth set 6-4 and send the rubber into a fifth set as the clock read 3 hours and 38 minutes. Kukushkin broke to begin, and looked as though he would complete a victory reminiscent of his five-set win over Jan Hajek last March, a win that sent Kazakhstan through to the quarter-finals on their World Group debut.
But not for nothing did captain Corretja place confidence in Ferrero above some of the younger Spanish contingent. With the roof of the Palacio threatening to fly off as the Spanish No.2 broke back for 3-3, he found new life, and, as Kukushkin served to stay in the match at 4-5, Ferrero turned the screw, roaring his approval as he completed his 18th singles victory for Spain.
“I like to play very much Davis Cup, all those matches, it gives me a lot of experience and confidence in this competition, so that’s why I love to play,” Ferrero said. “It was very close the whole match, I was trying to push all the time.”
“It was so tough match, long match, was a lot of long rallies, was close, I had a lot of opportunity to win especially in third set, in the fifth set also, unfortunately I lost, but I lost to great player, Ferrero, he’s playing very good, especially on clay, but I’m pretty happy with my game and I hope I will improve in the future,” Kukushkin said dogmatically.
He paid special tribute to the Kazakh supporters, who once again have travelled from afar to support their team.
“For me it means a lot, the crowd who support you, it gives me a lot of energy, helps me to play long matches as today, and just want to thank the people of Kazakhstan who come here today,” he said.
For Corretja, it was the ideal introduction to the captain’s bench.
“Great start, it’s been an exciting day, I think Juan Carlos did an amazing job today against Kukushkin, he was playing great tennis, very offensive, he managed to handle a tough situation, only people like him can handle this kind of situations, it was great to see the way he fought, especially the way he won,” Corretja said.
“And about Nico Almagro, he was playing great tennis, he’s a very talented guy, he was playing against another talented guy that’s Golubev, but you can see the difference that one guy is more consistent and he is more capable to keep his level of the game for more time on the court, it was great news.”
Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers are due to face Yuriy Schukin and Evgeny Korolev in tomorrow’s doubles rubber.
“When you go 2-0, it’s never done,” said Corretja. “But it’s nice to see that you’ve still got some room, so I just expect from the guys that they go out there and try to do their best, try to fight the way their colleagues did today, because it was just fantastic, and nothing else, just giving them my best wishes, I’m going to be sitting there trying to help them as much as I can and hopefully we can just win another match."
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Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) - 10/02/2012
Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) - 10/02/2012