Paris (AFP) – World number one Rafael Nadal will have to defeat young German star Alexander Zverev on Sunday to keep Spain in the Davis Cup after Germany took a shock 2-1 lead after a marathon doubles triumph.
Tim Puetz and Jan-Lennard Struff stunned Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5 as Spain were left to rue converting just two of 20 break points in a four-hour 40-minute encounter at the Plaza de Toros bullring.
Nadal, 31, who marked his comeback on Friday after more than two months on the sidelines with a hip injury by seeing off Philipp Kohlscreiber in his opening singles match, now has to repeat his magic against Zverev, 11 years his junior.
Nadal is on a record run of 23 successive wins in the Davis Cup, having not lost since 2005.
Five-time champions Spain, meanwhile, have won 26 straight home ties, with their last defeat on Spanish soil against Brazil in 1999.
Despite the pressure, Nadal can look ahead to his meeting against Zverev with confidence as he boasts a 3-0 record over the beanpole German including their only meeting on clay in Monte Carlo last year.
“That was a tough match,” said Puetz, the doubles world 120, after Saturday’s win.
“We were always trying to motivate each other and play more calmly in the fifth set.”
Germany team captain Michael Kohlmann added: “This is what the Davis Cup is all about. It was 50/50 in the end. We got a bit lucky but it feels great.”
In Genoa, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert put defending champions France 2-1 up against Italy with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli.
It took two-time major winners Mahut and Herbert just 1 hour 54 minutes to take revenge for a loss to the Italian duo in the 2015 Australian Open final.
Lucas Pouille, the world number 11, will have the chance to clinch a semi-final spot for France for the third time in four years when he faces Fognini in the first of Sunday’s reverse singles.
“Pierre-Hugues and Nico played the perfect match,” said France captain Yannick Noah.
“Now we are going to prepare Lucas to beat Fabio — we will give 100 percent for this match.”
The winner of that tie will face either Spain or Germany for a place in the final.
Croatia, the 2005 champions, are also one win away from the last-four after Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic defeated the Kazakh pair of Timur Khabibulin and Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
“We played together for the first time and that’s why we needed some time to find our game,” said Dodig.
On Sunday, world number three and former US Open champion Marin Cilic can wrap up the tie when he faces Mikhail Kukushkin, the world 92 in the first of the reverse singles.
Kukushkin stunned world number 28 Borna Coric in Friday’s singles.
In Nashville, John Isner and Sam Querrey lifted the United States into a 2-0 lead over last year’s runners-up Belgium on Friday as the 32-time champions attempt to reach the semis for the first time in six years.
Isner needed three hours and 14 minutes to dispose of world number 319 Joris de Loore 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (10/8), 6-4, while world number 14 Querrey beat 110th ranked Ruben Bemelmans 6-1, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 in a two-hour long second rubber.
Belgium, who are playing without world No. 10 David Goffin, don’t have a player ranked in the top 100 in their lineup.
On Saturday, Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock, both with top-30 doubles rankings, can wrap up the tie when they face Sander Gille, ranked 84, and number 98 Joran Vliegen.