Playing for the first time since he retired from his quarter-final against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open two and a half months ago, Rafael Nadal won both his Davis Cup singles matches for Spain against Germany in Valencia this weekend, showcasing promising clay form after his injury layoff.
The world No. 1 followed up his straight-sets win over Philipp Kohlschreiber on Friday with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 success over world No. 4 Alexander Zverev on Sunday, to level the tie for Spain 2-2 against the Germans.
Nadal now owns a record winning streak of 24 combined singles and doubles Davis Cup rubbers – the longest in the history of the competition.
With the Mallorcan defending a hefty sum of points during this upcoming clay stretch (4,680 to be exact), all eyes were on him in Valencia to get a sense of where he is at and whether he can claim a record-extending 11th Roland Garros this June.
Here are things learned from Nadal’s convincing win over Zverev on Sunday…
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) April 8, 2018
GOOD BUT NOT FLAWLESS
Considering he only played five matches in 2018 entering this Davis Cup weekend, Nadal did a great job against a player like Zverev, who is ranked No. 4 in the world and is coming off a runner-up showing in Miami last week.
The Spaniard’s movement, which typically puts him a class apart on this surface, was top notch. Stepping on the court knowing he had to win to keep the host nation’s hopes alive in the tie, Nadal revealed no signs of nerves, saved 4/6 break points faced, and showed little to no rust against Zverev. He also converted 6/8 break points on the Zverev serve.
The 31-year-old did however commit 38 unforced errors compared to 21 winners and his groundstrokes sometimes lacked depth. Nadal got away with most of those short balls though as Zverev produced an error-strewn performance that saw the young German fire 57 unforced errors against just 15 winners.
SQUEEKY CLEAN RECORD ON THE DIRT
Nadal may not always be present for Spain in Davis Cup, but when he does show up, his record is remarkable. His win on Sunday extended his spotless record in Davis Cup singles rubbers on clay to 19-0. He could very much end his career without having lost a singles match on clay in this competition.
Classic @RafaelNadal 👏👏👏
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) April 8, 2018
SOLID ON THE SECOND SERVE
Nadal landed 63 per cent of his first serves in, but the telling stat is that he won 63 per cent of the points on his second serve. Zverev didn’t do much with any of the looks he got on the Nadal second serve and it proved costly for the 20-year-old.
FOREHAND IS FIRING
While some of Nadal’s shots lacked depth, that doesn’t mean his forehand did not deliver multiple times throughout the encounter. A total of 17 of his 21 winners came off the forehand wing and his great movement meant he frequently ran around his backhand with no trouble.
BEST-ON-BEST WAS TRULY MISSED IN DAVIS CUP
As commentator Nick Lester noted ahead of the match, this was the first showdown between two top-10 players in Davis Cup since Andy Murray took on Kei Nishikori in the 2016 first round in Glasgow.
That stat alone is the perfect indication of how overlooked the competition has become by most top players in recent years. While many argue that Davis Cup is not about the top players and is attractive even with lower-ranked competitors in it, there is no doubt that countries fielding their A-teams is a much better scenario. Would anyone prefer to watch Barcelona without Lionel Messi in a Champions League final or Portugal without Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup? Of course not!
Davis Cup has been structurally flawed for years and the fact that we get an all-top-10 clash once every two years is testament to that.
POOR FROM ZVEREV
Zverev had a terrible day at the Plaza de Toros. Of the total 94 points Nadal won during the match, 57 of those were unforced errors gifted by Zverev. That really says it all. Add to that the negative body language and you really wonder what happens to the German in crucial best-of-five matches. He is still young though and this is just his fourth career Davis Cup tie. He falls to 4-5 win-loss in the competition.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) April 8, 2018
Rafael Nadal is set to return to action this weekend, for the first time since retiring against Marin Cilic in the Australian Open quarter-finals, as he leads Spain in the Davis Cup quarter-finals against Germany in Valencia.
The world No. 1, who has been recovering from a hip injury and has played only five matches in 2018, faces Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second singles rubber on Friday.
David Ferrer will open the tie against Germany’s world No. 4 and recent Miami runner-up Alexander Zverev at the Plaza de Torros de Valencia.
A win for Nadal would see him set a record winning streak of 23 combined singles and doubles rubbers, the longest undefeated run in Davis Cup history.
The 31-year-old is also unbeaten in all 17 singles rubbers contested on clay in the competition.
Nadal and Ferrer are joined by Feliciano Lopez, Roberto Bautista Agut and Marc Lopez, who has replaced Miami semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta (thumb injury).
Here’s a look at the stats surrounding this Davis Cup tie.
3 – Germany are looking to win three straight Davis Cup ties since 2006-2007.
3 – Davis Cup titles won by Germany, the last one coming in 1993.
4 – wins and 4 losses for Spain against Germany in clay court ties.
4 – Germany are in the Davis Cup quarter-finals for the first time in four years.
4 – This is Alexander Zverev’s fourth Davis Cup tie of his career. He is 3-4 in Davis Cup rubbers.
4 – Germany have lost their last four consecutive Davis Cup quarter-final ties.
5 – Davis Cup titles for Spain, all won from the year 2000 onwards.
6 – years since Spain last made the Davis Cup semi-finals. They’re bidding to reach that stage for the first time since 2012.
7 – Feliciano Lopez is just the seventh Spaniard to appear in 25 or more Davis Cup ties.
10 – wins and 6 losses for Germany against Spain in Davis Cup meetings.
11 – years since Germany last reached the Davis Cup semi-finals.
17 – this is the 17th meeting between Spain and Germany but first since 2014.
17 – wins and 0 losses for Nadal in singles rubbers on clay throughout his Davis Cup career.
18 – This is Kohlschreiber’s 18th Davis Cup tie. He is 16-10 win-loss in singles in the competition.
23 – Nadal is looking to set a record winning streak of 23 consecutive rubbers in Davis Cup. It would be the longest undefeated run in combined singles and doubles rubbers in the competition’s history. The Mallorcan has not lost a Davis Cup match since losing the doubles rubber in Spain’s 3-2 victory against Italy in the 2005 World Group play-offs.
23 – Nadal could take sole ownership of 3rd place on the list for the longest winning streaks in Davis Cup singles rubbers if he wins a singles clash this weekend, extending his run to 23 in a row. He has not lost a Davis Cup singles rubber since he fell on his competition debut to Jiri Novak in Spain’s 3-2 victory over Czech Republic in the 2004 World Group first round.
26 – Feliciano Lopez is appearing in his 26th Davis Cup tie while Ferrer is contesting his 20th.
26 – consecutive home ties won by Spain, the second-longest streak in Davis Cup history behind Italy’s 29. The Spaniard have not lost at home since falling to Brazil in the 1999 World Group first round in Lerida.
* All stats via ITF preview notes
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) April 5, 2018
Former world number one Novak Djokovic, struggling back from a long injury lay-off, confirmed Wednesday that he had split with his coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner lost his opening game at the ATP Miami Masters last month, the latest setback for the Serbian star as he bids to return from the elbow injury that sidelined him for six months and finally saw him have “minor” surgical intervention after a disappointing Australian Open.
“After Miami Novak Djokovic and his tennis coach Radek Stepanek decided to end their cooperation. The cooperation between Novak and Andre Agassi has also ended,” according to a statement on Djokovic’s official website.
“Novak remains focused and eager to come back stronger and more resilient from long injury break that has affected his confidence and game.”
There was no word about which future coaches might be lined up as Djokovic departed on a short family holiday ahead of preparations proper for the upcoming clay season.
Stepanek joined Djokovic’s team in December 2016 and former world number one Agassi came on board in May 2017.
Djokovic had linked up with the pair after splitting from Boris Becker and Marian Vajda.