ODENSE, September 18, 2015
The summer has almost gone in Europe and a lot of tennis action is shifting back indoors. This is the time of the year when the Davis Cup competition is approaching its climax. The World Group semi-finals are taking place in order to find the two nations facing each other for the title in November.
But there are also the lower stages of the competition taking place, involving prominent names. After a shocking 2-3 defeat from being 2-0 up against Russia, Spain will have to pick themselves up for a first round relegation play-off visit to Denmark in order to secure their stay in Europe/Africa’s Zone Group I. And the Iberians have brought out the most powerful weapons of their arsenal to play in Odense, a municipality with almost 200,000 inhabitants in Region of Southern Denmark, located on the Island of Funen. Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Roberto Bautista-Agut build the Spanish armada for this weekend.
For the Danish organizers, it was great news to hear that Nadal returns to Davis Cup playing in Odense. “The arena with a capacity of 2,300 seats will be sold out. Normally, we only play in front of a couple of hundred people,” the girl at the entrance is excited.
So it was 14-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Davis Cup winner Rafael Nadal being first up on Friday against Mikael Torpegaard, who referred the former world number one as his idol when he was a young boy. The 21-year-old from Gentofte, a town located a couple of kilometres away from the Danish capital Copenhagen, is currently ranked on 909th position – his personal career high. Torpegaard played his last tournament on the ITF Future Circuit about a month ago, losing in the quarterfinals of the US-$ 10,000 event in Helsinki to Daniel Appelgren from Sweden. So far, he has only reached one final in Pittsburgh in June earlier this year.
In the last ten years Nadal has taken on opponents ranked lower than 500th position only five times. The 29-year-old from Mallorca defeated Goran Ivanisevic (No. 592) 6-4, ret. in Miami 2004, lost to Joachim Johansson (No. 690) 4-6, 6-7 in Stockholm 2006, beat Mario Ancic (No. 694) 6-2, 6-2 in Indian Wells 2010 and claimed another victory at Roland Garros in 2010 against Gianni Mina (No. 655), winning 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Last year Nadal dismissed Thanasi Kokkinakis (No. 570) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the Australian Open.
In Friday’s opening rubber, very soon it became obvious, that Nadal was not feeling comfortable on the court. The world number 7, who will finish the year without claiming a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2004, is still lacking in the consistency of his shots. In the ninth game of the first set, he netted a forehand volley as well as produced an unforced error from the baseline again with his forehand, which led to the first three break points for the Danish youngster. Nadal eventually saved them but it clearly showed that Nadal is still far away from his best.
Nadal, however, showed all of his experience and converted his own third break point of the match, taking the opening set 6-4 after 45 minutes.
The Spaniard also struggled at the beginning of the second set, as Torpegaard handled Nadal’s spin pretty well, put also a lot of pressure to the other side of the net, but just couldn’t capitalize on his chances. Consequently, Nadal broke serve in the fourth game and just when you thought the former world number one has found his rhythm, he suffered his first service loss in the following game. With the third break in a row, Nadal was back in the driving seat and clinched the second set after 90 minutes.
From then on, the man from Mallorca was in command of the encounter, firing nine aces and converted his first match point after two hours and three minutes, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
“It was an incredible experience to play this match today and to be given that opportunity,” Torpegaard told afterwards. “I am excited and I really do think that being able to play tight with a great player like Nadal gives me a lot of confidence. This is what I can take away from this match. But it also shows that I need to work harder physically, as that was the main reason that he beats me in the end,” he added.
Nadal seemed to be relieved after the opening rubber. “I had a couple of chances in the first set but I couldn’t capitalize on them. In the following I felt more comfortable on the court but it is a quick surface and my opponent served well,” Nadal analysed afterwards. “Every match is difficult, in particular in conditions like those but the most important thing is that we won the first point. I am happy for the victory,” the Spaniard explained.
Danish Number one Frederik Nielsen and David Ferrer followed the opening match. Nielsen, well-known on the ATP World Tour as a doubles player, claimed the biggest victory in his career by winning the Wimbledon doubles’ title with Jonathan Marray in 2012. On Friday, he was without any chance. The 32-year-old could only gain one break and lost his own service six times. Ferrer was more solid in the deciding moments and converted his first match point after one hour and 48 minutes to put Spain into a 2-0 lead after Day 1.
Understandably the world number 8 from Valencia was satisfied. “My opponent played very aggressively on a fast court, but I was pretty consistent throughout the match. Of course, in the second set it was close but the most important thing is to be 2-0 up,” Ferrer said afterwards. “Last week we played outdoors at the US-Open but for everyone it is the same to adapt to the indoors conditions again. It’s faster but I like it.”
Spanish team captain Conchita Martínez was pleased with the performance of her team. “We have to stay concentrated. It’s nice to be 2-0 up but we need to keep on working hard and stay focused,” she said and didn’t want to tell, who is going to play the doubles on Saturday. “Do I have to say it now? No, I will tell you tomorrow,” she just stated and smiled.