India is all but resigned to a mauling, but Spain is not leaving anything to chance. India has little to show in world tennis, while Spain is probably one of the strongest Davis Cup teams of all time, or certainly in the last decade and a half.
Despite their absence from World Group since 2014, their record is phenomenal – five titles in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011 and runner-up four times, twice in this millennium. That means Spain made the Davis Cup final seven times in 12 years between 2000 and 2011.Spain is no ordinary team. They have the pedigree and commitment, like none else. And there is Conchita Martinez, the women’s singles Wimbledon champion from 1994, at the helm.
Yet this amazing team, with three players, who have played in at least three Davis Cup winning teams each – of them Nadal has played in four – is not letting complacency creep in. The reason – in past two years they have lost to teams that were “comparative nobodies’ in Davis Cup. They lost to Germany in World Group Round 1 and then in World Group play-offs to Brazil and last year they went down to Russia.
Women’s Wimbledon singles winner Conchita Martinez’s appointment and elevation as captain of both men’s Davis Cup and women’s Fed Cup teams, raised an eyebrow or two. Actually more. When she took over, Spain lost to Russia in their first match, but Conchita elicited the top players’ commitment to the 2016 campaign and here she is.The team, which has the third best pegged at No. 26 (Feliciano Lopez), is so focused on the tie that they don’t event know that India’s current best doubles player, Rohan Bopanna, has pulled out. They just want to win and progress to World Group and to a sixth Davis Cup title.
Even in our open world, it is not common to see a lady lead a men’s team in sport. It is indeed a rarity. Being the boss of a men’s team, is never easy. She is reminded of that all the time, but Conchita revels in it. “It’s a great feeling and I feel very comfortable.” She used captain the women’s team and commentate on men’s team on TV. And then she was suddenly the captain of both.
So, how was it when she took over last year and Spain was no longer in World Group. What were the challenges, when she took over. “I spoke to everyone, they were positive about it. It is about playing tennis, it is about leading a team and I had the experience of leading the women's Fed Cup team and when it came (to it) I knew the guys (too). I know the players. I was commentating men's matches. It was kind of a nice transition.” How does she handle it? “I give my inputs (after) what I see; I talk to them, in practice or in the chair (and tell them) what is see. I can analyse their match. I talk to them and they are very positive and very open.”
So, what kind of a goal does she have in Davis Cup? “When I started last year we lost the first tie and I didn't have much time to do anything and a lot of (top) players didn't want to play (back) then. We lost to Russia.
That was a pity because that would have been a dream come true. You know you could have gone into to the world group in the first year. That didn't happen. After that I had the commitment of the best guys to play and here we are in India.”
Nadal is without doubt the star of the Spanish team, but it also has another ‘star’ David Ferrer.Ferrer’s string of records includes the most number of singles wins (685) without a Grand Slam.
It is a not a record that he certainly does not like, but accepts it with grace and honesty. Three years ago Ferrer lost the French Open final to Nadal.
On himself, he adds, “I don’t have a Grand Slam because I don’t deserve it.” He did win five times in 2015, but has not silverware this year. “Next year I will try again.” He has been in world’s Top-10 for seven years, but is now No. 13. He says, “It was not my best season. I was inconsistent but it is normal, its very difficult to play every year to be top 10. I am trying to be there (top-10) but it is difficult. There are more younger players. I am 34 years old. I have been in top 10 for seven years, so its normal. I would try to finish as good as possible this season and try my best next season.” But Davis Cup means a lot to him. He has been on the winning team three times (2008, 2009 and 2011 – Nadal was his teammate each of those years). Of the camaraderie he shares with others including Nadal, he says, “We have a very good relation. We played Davis Cup together lot of years, we are good friends. We enjoy playing. Davis cup is a different competition and it is nice for us to play again another tie.”