NEW DELHI: Rafael Nadal has almost sounded like a needle stuck on an old LP record this week, going on and on about getting Spain back into the Davis Cup World Group. That was the sole reason why the 14-time Grand Slam champion made the 11,000km journey from New York to New Delhi after the US Open. It was a long and tiring journey and it took a marathon clash in the doubles tie for Nadal and Spain to book their return into the World Group. After missing the singles match on Friday, Nadal teamed up with his Rio Olympics gold medal-winning teammate Marc Lopez for Saturday’s doubles against Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni. The Indians pushed the visitors to the limit before losing 6-4, 6-7 (2), 4-6, 4-6 in a 3hr 23 minutes encounter. It gave Spain a winning 3-0 lead in the World Group Play-off tie with two reverse singles remaining on Sunday. “It was a very tough match for us.We knew what great doubles players the Indians are and they showed it to us here. I have been saying again and again it is really important for Spain to get back into the World Group with so many top 50 players. That’s what we have managed to do,” a delighted Nadal said after the match. When it comes to Davis Cup, there aren’t many more experienced players than the 43-year-old Paes. The man was appearing in his 124th match (singles and doubles included) but still looked a little nervous starting off a tie which was a ‘must-win’ for the hosts who were down 0-2 after Friday’s rubbers.
It was Myneni who calmed the Indian nerves after the pair had trailed 1-4 early in the first set. The Indian fight back started there as a couple of Lopez forehand errors handed India he early break-back. The Indians reeled off five straight games in a row and the familiar Leander roar was on show again. The man, who is tied with Nicola Pietrangeli with 42 doubles wins, initially started to get back his familiar touch and impeccable placements on his volleys. Nadal and Lopez started to wilt under the pressure and lost the first set 4-6 in 45 minutes. The Indian momentum continued n the second set as Lopez lost his serve in the third game with Myneni coming up with a sizzling backhand cross court winner. It was Myneni’s turn to deal with a bout of nerves when he was serving for the second set at 5-4. A couple of uncharacteristic errors from the 28-year-old and he lost his serve going for an ugly looking drop shot. The Spaniards, cheered on by a handful of expatriate crowd sitting in the stands, found a fresh gear to roar into a 5-0 lead in the second set tie breaker and levelled the match after a 59-minute long second set with a 7-2 scoreline.Paes, who was the weakest server among the four players on court throughout the night, once again came under pressure in the third game of the second set. Nadal and Lopez climbed all over that serve and got the early break which they maintained to win the set 6-4 in 38 minutes. The fourth set was truly ‘do-or-die’ moment for India and they had all the opportunity to take the match to the decisive fifth set when they broke Nadal in the second game of the fourth set to go 2-0 up. Paes valiantly fought off two break point opportunities to reel off five points in a row in the fifth game of the set. But the Spaniards were closing in for the kill as Myneni gave the crucial break back with Nadal-Lopez converting the third break point opportunity of the game to get back on serve at 4-3.
Nadal then took his game up a notch to break Paes one final time and was impeccable in serving out the match 6-4. The result was inevitable at the end of the day but the fight shown by the doubles pair would have definitely enthralled the fans in Delhi and around the world.