Spain have decided to roll out the heavy artillery when they land in New Delhi for the Davis Cup World Group Playoff tie against India to be played from September 16 to 18.
The non-playing captain of their Davis Cup team, Conchita Martinez, mentioned the possibility of a ‘surprise’ result. India, in Davis Cups, have been the underdogs who’ve often punched above their weight and the Spaniards are not taking any chances in an away-from-home contest.
Which is why Martinez picked possibly the strongest squad at her disposal for the World Group Playoff tie against India. Spain will be travelling with 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, world no. 13 David Ferrer, no. 18 Feliciano Lopez and doubles specialist Marc Lopez for the playoff. On the other hand, India’s highest-ranked singles player, Saketh Myneni, is 143rd in the world while the next best, Ramkumar Ramanathan, is at 202.
The disparity between the two teams is vast, making it no match on paper but the Indians can’t be written off in the Davis Cup. This time last year, they almost conquered the Czechs, without their biggest player Tomas Berdych, in sultry conditions. The year before, Serbia minus Novak Djokovic were given a scare by the Indians but they eventually prevailed.
On both those occasions, it was a matter of just one rubber, one set going India’s way to force a momentum shift.
Spain, desperate to return to the World Group, do not wish to leave anything to chance. “Playing a tie away from home is always complicated and the public factor is in their favor,” Martinez said during the team announcement in Madrid on Tuesday. “Their singles players are excited to try and spring a surprise.”
Back after a year
Nadal, who has won 22 straight Davis Cup matches, will return for the Davis Cup after a year. The last time he played was against Denmark during the same time last year. He missed the previous tie against Romania because of a wrist injury, which also kept him from Wimbledon and forced retirement at Roland Garros.
Spain, in fact, had fielded a ‘second-string’ side against Romania in July, comprising Feliciano Lopez, Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta (all inside top 50 of world rankings) and Marc Lopez. Busta and Agut have made way for Nadal and Ferrer, who are likely to play singles rubbers on the opening day.
Former world No. 1 Nadal had hinted last month that he would make himself available for the tie if he did not go deep into the second week of the US Open. Following his shock defeat to Frenchman Lucas Pouille in the fourth round on Sunday, the Spaniard made himself available for the playoff although it was believed he would instead choose to rest and recuperate from a spate of injuries he has suffered.
But Martinez said she was confident Nadal will perform at the ‘the highest level’ next weekend.
India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali conceded Spain’s full-strength team would make their task ‘extremely tough’. “But at the same time, it’s incredible that they are sending a full-strength squad for the tie. It will be great for Indian players to face opponents of such calibre in an important tournament. It’ll be a treat for fans too,” Ali said. “Spain have made their intent clear by naming a strong squad. Ideal result for us will be to win and move to the World Group. But we will take it one match at a time.”
As is the case with India in Davis Cup, a lot will hinge on the doubles rubber. Paes and Bopanna have shared a frosty relationship on and off court, which reached boiling point during the Rio Games.
The Indian management is hoping the two will be able to bury their issues for a week and ensure India stay alive in the contest going into the final day.
But the task won’t be made easy. Spain have two doubles options, and both have won big of late. Marc, world no.19 in doubles, partnered Feliciano to win the French Open title earlier this year.
He then paired up with Nadal to win the Rio Olympics gold last month. “We have two very good options for doubles. We will see how the tie goes before deciding on whom to pair,” Martinez said.
It’s tough to spot a weak-link in this Spanish squad. It’ll be one of the biggest tests India have faced in Davis Cup of late. They would be keen to ensure it doesn’t end up being the most lop-sided contest.