Nadal, Spain Look To Stay Invincible In Sydney
Team Spain has started the 2020 ATP Cup much like Rafael Nadal finished the 2019 season: eyeing No. 1. Spain, led by World No. 1 Nadal and No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut, sped through Group B play in Perth, winning all three ties, all nine matches and 90 per cent (18/20) of the sets they played, an ATP Cup best.
Nadal clinched their Group B title with a win against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka on Wednesday.
“It's a positive victory for me and it's an important victory for the team. We go on, we go to Sydney straight with the confidence that we didn't lose a match yet,” Nadal said.
But Spain's group play success will remain in Perth as the tournament begins anew with the Final Eight in Sydney. As Great Britain showed by nearly upsetting previously unbeaten Australia on Thursday, group success means little at Ken Rosewall Arena.
“It's the quarter-finals. It's going to be another tough opponent for all of us there. And I really believe that we need to keep working well, but I really hope to be ready to increase the level,” Nadal said.
The Spaniards will meet Belgium, one of two teams that finished in second place in their group but qualified for the Final Eight, along with the six group winners. The David Goffin-led squad battled all week in Sydney, and every game and set mattered.
Seven second-place teams finished 2-1, but only two advanced based on their match win-loss record and set win-loss record, the first two tie-break methods. Belgium had a 6-3 match record, the best of any second-place team.
The country ended Group C play by coming back against Bulgaria on Tuesday night. After an 0-1 start in the tie, Goffin rallied to beat Grigor Dimitrov 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, and Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen followed Goffin's path, coming back to clinch the tie victory against Dimitrov/Alexandar Lazarov 3-6, 6-4, 10-7.
“These are the moments that we have been playing for all those years, and then you try to enjoy it, and then we were feeling good on court and then we pulled it off. So it's great,” Gille said.
Playing captain Steve Darcis (1-2) will kick off the tie against Bautista Agut. The Spaniard won their only ATP Head2Head matchup last year at Wimbledon, but Belgium will be used to the conditions inside Ken Rosewall Arena, and the 35-year-old Darcis can conjure up some of his best tennis when representing his country.
Bautista Agut, however, finished 2019 at a career-high year-end FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 9 and has been ruthless at the ATP Cup. The 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist (l. to Djokovic) has dropped only nine games through six sets.
“It was a good ten days with the team on the court and off the court,” Bautista Agut said of their time in Perth.
In No. 1 singles, Goffin will try to shock Nadal for only the second time in their five-match ATP Head2Head series (1-4). The Belgian beat Nadal during group play en route to the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals title match in London, but Nadal won their only 2019 matchup in four sets at Roland Garros.
“We had three days of competition. We had also few days of practice. We didn't lose a match. So the confidence is very good,” Spain captain Francisco Roig said.
“The best thing we can do is as soon as possible get used to the conditions of Sydney and right there make a nice rest and a little practice in the afternoon and be ready for the next tie.”