‘Day to remember’ as record-setting Rafa returns in style

I'm back: Nadal celebrates his 6-2 6-2 6-3 win
AFP

Paris (AFP) – Rafael Nadal described his return to action as “a memorable day” after the 16-time Grand Slam winner pulled Spain level in their Davis Cup quarter-final against Germany.

Nadal, playing his first match since limping out of the Australian Open in January with a hip injury, beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in just over two and half hours in Valencia, stretching his winning streak in the Davis Cup to a record 23 matches in singles and doubles.

The victory for the world number one in the Plaza de Toros bullring levelled the tie after world number four Alexander Zverev beat 33rd-ranked David Ferrer 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

“Of course, it’s a positive thing to win in straight sets,” said 31-year-old Nadal, who has not lost a singles match in the Davis Cup since his 2004 debut and in doubles since 2005.

“I played a solid match. I feel good when I return to the clay courts.”

Nadal, building up to an assault on what he hopes will be an 11th French Open title, said it had been a special day playing on home ground again.

“It’s a memorable day, in front of my own crowd. It’s always special to play in these arenas,” added Nadal, who has played in four of Spain’s five Davis Cup-winning teams.

“It’s great to be back even if after an injury it’s always difficult.”

On Sunday, Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez will face Tim Puetz and Jan-Lennard Struff in the doubles, paving the way for a potential tie-deciding clash between Nadal and 20-year-old Zverev on Sunday.

Spain have history on their side — they have won 26 straight home ties, with their last defeat on Spanish soil coming against Brazil in 1999.

The winner of the Valencia quarter-final will face either defending champions France or Italy for a place in the final.

– 35th win for Cilic –

Lucas Pouille, the world number 11, gave France the first point in Genoa with a 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1 win over 62nd-ranked Andreas Seppi.

“Of course, I was a little worried after leading by two sets and being a break up in the third,” said Pouille.

“But I just had to be more aggressive and play closer to the lines.”

Italian number one Fabio Fognini then won a bad-tempered 3hr 30min rubber against world number 80 Jeremy Chardy 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to make the tie 1-1.

Fognini, who spent over 11 hours on court in the 3-1 victory over Japan in the first round, was furious after Chardy had brushed his shoulder against him during a changeover early in the third set before the referee appeared to calm tempers.

Chardy, a surprise selection ahead of Adrian Mannarino, the world 25, suffered his first Davis Cup defeat in six matches.

On Saturday, France’s Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert will face Fognini and Simone Bolelli in the doubles.

Croatia, the 2005 champions, got off to a winning start against Kazakhstan in Varazdin when world number three Marin Cilic outclassed Dmitry Popko, the world 258, in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.

The victory was Cilic’s 35th in Davis Cup, just one short of Ivan Ljubicic’s Croatian record of 36.

Borna Coric, the world number 28, later faces Mikhail Kukushkin, the top-ranked Kazakh player at 92.

In Nashville, 32-time champions the United States will hope Miami champion John Isner, now at nine in the world, can take them into the semi-finals for the first time in six years.

The US tackle last year’s runners-up Belgium who are without world number 10 David Goffin after he suffered a freak eye injury in Rotterdam in February.

While the Americans can boast Isner, 14th-ranked Sam Querrey as well as number 16 Jack Sock, the luckless Belgians will pin hopes on Ruben Bemelmans, the world 110 and 319th-ranked Joris de Loore.

The winner of that tie will face either Croatia or Kazakhstan in the semi-finals.

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