The star of the semifinal series, Rafael Nadal, delivered a commanding performance on Sunday, defeating Andy Roddick of the United States in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, to clinch Spain a berth in the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.
Before a sellout crowd of 21,000 in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros Las Ventas arena, Nadal won his second point of the weekend, carrying Spain to an impressive 4-1 victory over the United States.
On match point, Nadal dropped to his knees and rejoiced. Waving to the crowd on the shoulders of teammate Feliciano Lopez, a jubilant Nadal was serenaded by the crowd.
“I don’t think you could draw up a tougher situation than Nadal on clay away with this crowd,” said Roddick, who saw his U.S. record drop to 29-11.
“That’s probably the toughest match that you can think of. Even playing Roger (Federer) on grass, at least you can serve and the points are a little bit quicker.”
Scheduled to begin at 12 pm local time, the match was delayed by rain showers for an hour and a half, producing heavy conditions on the packed red clay. Ideal for his opponent, the slower court made a bad situation worse for Roddick.
“I think the six hours of raining this morning didn’t help,” said Roddick. “I got to the court and it was raining and it was getting heavier, and I was sitting there saying, ‘oh no.’ And then I see them carting out the wheelbarrows and putting more clay on the court and I was like, ‘oh no.’ And then they said it was time to go and I said, ‘oh no.’”
Designed to keep points brief and open up the court, Roddick employed serve-and-volley tactics. Even as a flurry of baseline winners whizzed by the net, Roddick stuck to the game-plan that gave him the best chance to win the match.
“Staying back and getting into long rallies with Rafa on this surface wasn’t the best play,” said Roddick. “It’s high-risk, high-reward.”
It didn’t take Nadal long to peak. He broke Roddick three times in the second set, 6-0, to seize a two-set advantage. It marked the first time in Roddick’s Davis Cup career that he had lost a six-love set.
By the time the grey skies overhead had turned into brilliant sunshine, the world’s top-ranked player rattled 10 of 11 games at the expense of his opponent.
“People are going to see the 6-0 but I think you choose a strategy, go with it and you commit to it,” said Roddick. “He’s rough on this surface.”
In the fifth and final rubber of the weekend series, Sam Querrey lost to Feliciano Lopez, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), in a shortened best-of-three set match. Lopez, a native of Madrid, celebrated his 27th birthday on Saturday, and was a substitute for David Ferrer.
Their will be no repeat bid for the defending champion U.S. Playing without half of their 2007 title-winning team – No. 2 singles player James Blake and top-ranked doubles player Bob Bryan – the United States forged ahead and performed admirably.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t repeat as champions, but I’m proud of these guys and I’m proud of Mardy and Sam stepping in here on such short notice and playing well,” said Roddick.
“I think you’re seeing the dividends of years of us being a team away from the court,” he added. “Mardy played in the final in ’04 and since then has been a practice partner, but has come to many of the ties as a Top 35-Top 40 player just because he really enjoys it. On the bright side, it’s nice to see a young American player come up and show as much enthusiasm for it as Sam has this year.”
On Saturday, the newly-formed U.S. doubles team of Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan defeated Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in five sets to keep the tie alive.
A day earlier, in the series opener, Nadal and Ferrer swept their singles matches against Querrey and Roddick.
The last time Roddick dropped two matches in a tie was at Moscow’s Olympic Stadium in the 2006 semifinals. Roddick dropped a decision to Marat Safin and was on the losing end of an epic encounter with Dmitry Tursunov, 17-15 in the fifth set.
Davis Cup Champion in 2007, the United States can be proud of several accomplishments. Over the past year and a half, the team won six consecutive ties, including three hard-fought victories (over the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Austria) on European soil.
Captained by Patrick McEnroe, the team of Roddick, Blake and the Bryans played in a team record 10 consecutive ties together.
The team’s crowning achievement was when it defeated Russia, 4-1, at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon last year to become Davis Cup champions for a record 32nd time.
It has now been 10 years (Sweden 1997-98) since defending Davis Cup champions have repeated as winners.
Spain last hoisted the Davis Cup in 2004, when a team consisting of Nadal, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Tommy Robredo defeated the United States, 3-2, on outdoor red clay in Seville at the Estadio Olimpico.
Spain will travel to either Argentina or Russia to play in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, November 21-23.
At the Estadio Parque Roca in Buenos Aires, Argentina leads Russia, 2-1 behind straight sets wins from rising newcomer Juan Martin Del Potro and veteran David Nalbandian.
Versus will broadcast same-day coverage of Sunday’s reverse singles matches featuring Nadal and Roddick at 12 noon ET. Tennis Channel will re-air coverage at 8 pm ET.
Held simultaneously over the semifinal weekend, the 2008 World Group Play-Offs determined which new nations would join the elite World Group in 2009.
Seven of the eight nations have already qualified: Austria, Croatia, Israel, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, and Switzerland. The final spot will be filled by either Chile or Australia.
Several top players, including five-time defending US Open winner Roger Federer and 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, are expected to compete for the Cup.
The draw for the 2009 World Group will be held at the BNP Paribas headquarters in Madrid on Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 1 pm local time. The United States is likely to remain the No. 2-ranked team in the world but the third or fourth seeded nation in the 2009 World Group.
“We just talked in the locker-room and were wondering when the draw comes out for next year,” said Roddick, an eight-year veteran on the team.