Spain plays Czechs in Davis Cup final today
BARCELONA: After four straight defeats, Rafael Nadal returns to his favorite clay surface when he plays Tomas Berdych in the opening match of the Davis Cup final on Friday as Spain bids to retain its title against the Czech Republic.
Nadal, a four-time French Open champion, is looking forward to returning to the surface after failing to win a set during three straight defeats at the ATP World Tour Finals in London last week and losing in the semifinals in Paris before that.
Those matches were on fast indoor surfaces, but the second-ranked Spaniard is now back on clay at the Palau Sant Jordi. He is determined to help Spain, playing for its fourth title in its fifth final since 2000, become the first team since Sweden in 1998 to defend its crown.
Nadal, who is 10-0 in Davis Cup singles matches on clay, has won four straight over Berdych since an ill-tempered defeat in Madrid three years ago that led to questions over how the 20th-ranked Czech will be received by the 16,000-capacity crowd.
The Davis Cup final caps a year that started with Nadal winning the Australian Open and dominating tennis as the top-ranked player.
But the four-time champion was upset in the fourth round by Robin Soderling at the French Open, couldn''t defend his Wimbledon title because of injuries, dropped to No. 2 and failed to win another tournament.
In the second singles match of the best-of-five series, David Ferrer was picked over Fernando Verdasco to face Radek Stepanek despite being sidelined for more than a month because of a hamstring injury.
Spain captain Albert Costa went with Ferrer, who is 9-3 in singles play, over Verdasco, who was the hero one year ago in Argentina as underdog Spain triumphed in Mar del Plata. Spain is a heavy favorite this time. The hosts have won 17 straight at home and
19 straight on clay.
Ferrer and Stepanek have split all six of their previous matchups, including the two on clay, in a closely contested rivalry.
Verdasco, who also lost all three of his matches in London lastits first Davis Cup title in 2000, a team that included Costa and current reserve Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Ferrero and Nadal helped lead Spain to a title in Seville four years later.