Spain emerges as new dynasty
Spain's 5-0 wipeout of the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final
showed once and for all that the competition has a new dynasty, and
this time, it's not a nation that downs burgers or heavy ales that
has hit the top of the charts.
The Rafael Nadal-led Spanish team hasn't wracked up the number of Davis crowns that the United States (32) or Australia (23) has, but in checkmating the Czechs in Barcelona with an extremely deep and talented squad, Spain proved it's capable of a long run of dominance.
Spain has won four titles this century with a variety of players contributing to the effort. The squad is chock full of talent, experience and desire and has shown itself capable of winning both on its beloved clay and on quicker courts.
This year alone, some six men have scored live rubber victories for Prince Felipe's favorite team, including six-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, former top five player David Ferrer, current world No. 9 and last year's Davis Cup hero Fernando Verdasco, former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, perennial top-20 player Tommy Robredo and the on-rushing doubles standout Feliciano Lopez.
The team is so strong that its captain, 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, couldn't find room for Ferrero and Robredo on the squad that faced the Czechs, even though those were the two guys who stood up tall in quarter and semifinal victories over Germany and Israel.
"To win the Davis Cup four times in nine years just says everything," said Czech Radek Stepanek, who himself had an outstanding year in Davis Cup but was on a team without depth and was forced to play both singles and doubles against Spain.
"You have a huge amount of players and tennis centers, and there's always someone coming up. The toughness and the team is so strong that you could even build a second team almost as strong."
Spain is the first team to win back-to-back titles since Sweden in 1998 and is a much more talented squad than the Nordic nation, which relied more on team spirit than ball-striking capabilities. Spain boasts nine top-50 singles players, three more than France, which is always lauded for its remarkable depth.
While a country really doesn't need more than two standout singles players who are competent on all surfaces and one doubles expert, it's nearly impossible these days to get through an entire Davis Cup season without calling for some backup because of the length of the season and the number of injuries. No country is as able to bring as many sound players off the bench as Spain.
Plus, the congenial Costa's team gets along quite well, as evidenced by the once mighty Ferrero putting his ego aside and sitting on the bench to cheer along his teammates during the final. It's hard to imagine the self-absorbed David Nalbandian of Argentina doing that.
"We are all very good friends, and that counts for a lot," Nadal said. "And we always make ourselves available because we love representing Spain."
With that said, Spain is no lock to win the title next year. It will begin its defense with a home tie in March against Switzerland, the nation of reigning French Open champion and No. 1 Roger Federer, who might just decide to compete in Davis Cup for a full year.
Switzerland has an excellent No. 2 player in Stan Wawrinka, but after that, the bottom begins to fall off. There are no confident standouts like Verdasco or Ferrero behind those two, let alone a doubles player that captain Severin Luthi is confident in. Given that the tie will be played in Spain, the Spaniards have to be favored. But if Federer and Wawrinka arrive in good health and spirit, it's almost sure to come down to a fifth rubber.
Even if Nadal and crew face down Federer, Spain might have to face a difficult trip to France in the following round. There's almost no doubt France will choose to play the tie on a super quick surface where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils can hope to serve bombs all weekend long.
It's that side of the 2010 draw that is most formidable, as former champ Russia and the revived Nikolay Davydenko are placed there, as is 2008 finalist Argentina and its new young hero, Juan Martin del Potro.
On the bottom half, the U.S., Serbia and the Czechs have the strongest teams, but unfortunately for captain Patrick McEnroe's squad, America has to travel to Serbia in the first round, where top player Andy Roddick will be forced to dig out his unwanted clay-court shoes against Novak Djokovic. While the U.S. has won on clay before, it has failed to win an away clay-court tie against a country with a top-five player since 2001. Given that the No. 2 spot on the U.S. team is very much in flux with standby James Blake having fallen out of the top 40, the Americans will be underdogs once again.
But that won't be the case with Spain, as with its rich lineup, it will be the favorite until the next time it loses. As long as the Spanish keep producing top-notch players, the world might not see that next year or even the year after that.
"There are no limits to what this team can achieve," Costa said. "They're young, there's a great atmosphere in the camp and they are committed. If they maintain their motivation there could be many more Davis Cups on the way."