TENNIS / Nadal sits out in order to patch himself up and prepare for the U.S. Open
Defending champion Spain continues its quest for a hat-trick of Davis Cup victories when it takes on France in the quarterfinals at Clermont-Ferrand this weekend.
But if it is to become the first country to match the achievement of the United States in 1972 then it will have to beat the French without the help of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
In scintillating form
The 24-year-old has been in scintillating form this year, a winner in Monte Carlo, Rome and Milan as well as the French Open and Wimbledon and overtaking Roger Federer at the top of the world rankings.
However, success has come at a price to his knees and Nadal has opted out of the Davis Cup in order to patch himself up and prepare for the U.S. Open in August.
Even without him, though, Spain is a formidable unit with four players — Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez — in the world top 25.
“Spain will not be as strong as they would have been but don't forget they won the Davis Cup without Nadal in 2008,” warned France captain Guy Forget. The French, who are also without their No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, have been careful to keep the tie away from clay, preferring instead the fast resin surface of the hard court.
“It would have been silly to face the Spaniards on clay on the Roland Garros centre court,” said Forget. “We decided to take them on where we play really well and where they are less comfortable. Spanish captain Albert Costa, however, has played down the choice of surface. “They put in a court they want, it is not our favourite, we would rather play on clay, but I think we'll have a good chance,” he said.
If history is anything to go by, Spain is the clear favourite. In six meetings between the two countries, France has only ever won once and that was 87 years ago in 1923.
The tie with the most intriguing undertones sees Croatia, the surprise 2005 champion, hosting Serbia in Split.
As teammates in the old Yugoslavia, they reached the semifinals three times, the last being 1991, the year that Croatia declared independence, sparking war with the Serbs. Relations have obviously thawed since then but is still likely to be an edge in their first ever Davis Cup meeting.
“It's going to be a clash of two great nations,” said Croatia's Marin Cilic. “There's going to be a lot of tension in the air but hopefully everything is going to go all right.”
Cilic will spearhead the Croatian charge alongside 31-year-old Ivan Ljubicic who returns to the side for the first time since 2007 following injuries to Ivo Karlovic and Mario Ancic. But the Serbs are confident after their 3-2 win over the United States in the last round and their number one Novak Djokovic has suggested that they have the firepower to reach the final for the first time.
Berdych to miss tie
Another absentee this week is Wimbledon finalist Thomas Berdych who misses the Czech Republic's match against Chile in Coquimbo.
That leaves 94th-ranked Jan Hajek as the only player in the tie currently in the world's top 100. The Czechs did well to reach the final last year where they were outclassed 5-0 by Spain.
Chile, which will also be without its top player Fernando Gonzalez, have also played in one final back in 1976 when they were beaten by Italy.
Russia welcomes back Nikolay Davydenko for the tie against an Argentina side which is still missing their top player Juan Martin del Potro who has been out for months with a bad wrist injury.
Davydenko missed the tie against India in the last round but Davydenko, the World No. 6, is now fit to lead Russia's push for its first Davis Cup triumph since 2006. — AFP
Quarterfinal line-up France vs Spain, Clermont-Ferrand (France) Russia vs Argentina, Moscow (Russia) Croatia vs Serbia, Split (Croatia) Chile vs Czech Republic, Coquimbo (Chile)