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
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