No Nadal but Spain upbeat about retaining Davis Cup

MADRID • Holders Spain finally get the chance to try and retain their Davis Cup crown when the competition resumes in yet another new format across three European cities this week, with all eyes on teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the absence of Rafael Nadal.

Two years ago in the inaugural edition of the revamped team event, a Nadal-inspired Spain claimed the title after an exhausting week in Madrid's Caja Magica.

The pandemic scuppered last year's 18-nation Davis Cup Finals and since then the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and partners Kosmos Tennis have moved to make the event more manageable, with Turin and Innsbruck added as co-hosts.

Starting today, the 18 finalists will compete in six groups of three with eight qualifying for the knockout rounds and the final taking place in Madrid on Dec 5.

Impossibly late finishes to ties (comprising two singles and a doubles) and smallish crowds for some matches tarnished what was an encouraging debut for the revamped Davis Cup Finals in 2019, which is why the event has been expanded to 10 days across three nations.

But Spain will feel right at home with Group A, which also includes a powerful Russian team and Ecuador, in Madrid.

They will not have talisman Nadal though as he continues his recovery from a foot injury. Instead, the focus will be on Alcaraz, who this month won the Next Gen ATP Finals and has been tipped as the player most likely to fill the void when Nadal retires.

World No. 32 Alcaraz, the youngest player in the top 50 at 18 years, will be making his event debut but he will not be joined by Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the heroes of 2019 who is injured and will be replaced by Albert Ramos.

Pablo Carreno Busta, Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers are the other Spaniards, who begin tomorrow against Ecuador.

"It was a dream that I had since I was a child and being able to make my debut is super beautiful and super special," Alcaraz said.

"It will be a difficult challenge because only one team definitely gets through in the group and Russia has a great team, but I trust a lot in the Spanish team."

On paper Russia look favourites, with world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Andrey Rublev spearheading their challenge, but Serbia will have top-ranked Novak Djokovic in their ranks in Group F in Innsbruck. The Serbs are up against Austria and a Germany side missing Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, who won last week's season-ending ATP Finals.

Britain, semi-finalists in 2019, are without Andy Murray but with in-form Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans they will be confident of progressing from Group C against France and the Czech Republic.

The United States, Davis Cup champions a record 32 times, are in Group E in Turin alongside Italy and Colombia. Group D will also be in Turin and features Davis Cup heavyweights Australia, champions 28 times, Croatia and Hungary.

Group B teams Canada, Sweden and Kazakhstan will play their matches in Madrid.



Day 1: StarHub Ch201-204, 10.50pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'No Nadal but Spain upbeat about retaining Davis Cup'. Subscribe