November 24, 2019
Rafael Nadal broke British hearts by starring twice for Spain in a Davis Cup semi-final victory that went right down to the wire.
We can’t fault the inimitable Nadal for showing precisely the fighting spirit for which he is so loved and revered.
He has carried his nation to the brink of glory in the Caja Magica. He has already produced performances befitting a world number one.
And Nadal’s steely nerve was vital to Spain’s 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (10-8) doubles win over GB on Saturday night.
‘It’s really, really special,’ he said.
No blame can be apportioned to Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, who fought valiantly in the doubles decider against Nadal and Feliciano Lopez.
Agonisingly, the Brits had four set points during a dramatic second tie-break. But they simply couldn’t level the match.
Predictably, Nadal did most to resist. He fashioned two spectacular winners under immense pressure. Murray netted the other opportunities before the Spanish moved in for the kill.
But in the absence of Jamie’s brother Andy, who played only one singles match all week, the Brits can hold their heads high for coming so close.
If they had won, they would have met a Canadian team playing in the showpiece for the first time.
GB’s players might have fancied their chances. But they can still look back on this extraordinary experience with pride.
Let’s not forget, Jamie and Skupski had twice been GB’s match-winners earlier in the week. And they were on song again for much of this key rubber.
‘I thought Jamie and I played a good match, and we had our chances. But they came up with big shots at the right time,’ Skupski said truthfully after the defeat to Spain.
British fans won’t dwell on the disappointment for too long. There is always Wimbledon 2020.
We will hope more than ever now that Andy Murray can get himself into the best possible shape to compete against the big names there.
No reason why he shouldn’t, with time on his side.
How sweet it would be if Andy could avenge his brother’s Davis Cup defeat with a massive win over Rafa at Wimbledon.
The fans will always enjoy the best of what both players bring to Wimbledon, whatever happens.
Nadal will be no less popular this summer for this win over GB. After all, he just charmed London with his humour and humility as he secured the year-end top spot at the ATP Finals.
Rafa didn’t get past the group stage in that tournament. But we should have known he wasn’t finished for the year.
This is Nadal, one of the greatest of all time. One more global stage beckoned – in his own country.
Rafa certainly didn’t shrink from the pressure. And now Spain are in the final.
First Nadal beat Dan Evans, then he thwarted Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski with the help of Feliciano Lopez.
‘Thank you Feli, and to the crowd who were amazing,’ Nadal beamed.
Ironic that “Feli” ended up a winner, having been so soundly beaten by Kyle Edmund earlier in the day.
Lopez had the last laugh.
Such is the nature of the Davis Cup, where dramatic twists come thick and fast.
So now it is Spain v Canada – and that should make for a scintillating final.
Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil are on fire and loving the ride in Madrid.
The Canadians have also had the longer rest before their first-ever Davis Cup final today.
Spain must have suspected they would still be fighting for that final spot late into the previous evening.
We virtually knew it would come down to the doubles once Kyle Edmund had worked his early magic again.
To beat Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) was sensational from the quietly-spoken Englishman.
Particularly since most of the Madrid crowd were against him.
As Edmund reflected after his stunning victory: ‘There was a lot of noise. They had come to support Feli and I really had to concentrate on myself.’
The key moment came when Kyle faced two set points in the second.
‘To come up with an ace and an “unreturnable” was a great way to shut that noise out,’ he acknowledged.
The Spaniard might have been favourite to take the breaker, given that he had dominated most of the second set.
But Edmund wasn’t having any it. He stormed to a 6-1 lead. And although Lopez saved the first two points with huge aces, he couldn’t cope with the third and his aim deserted him.
There were times in 2019 when Kyle couldn’t stop losing. Now he can’t stop winning.
And Edmund’s biggest weapon was his immense forehand. Some nineteen winners looped and fizzed off his racquet on that deadly forehand side.
Dan Evans then threw caution to the wind and tried to work a miracle against Nadal by taking risks in their singles clash.
In reality, the only slim chance Evans had against Nadal was to be ultra-aggressive.
Dan certainly started with freedom in his strokeplay. He held his own and exerted pressure to force three deuces in Nadal’s second service game, the third earned with a stunning backhand down the line.
The Warwickshire warrior went toe-to-toe with Nadal all the way to 4-4 in the first.
But we probably all knew deep down this brave party couldn’t be sustained.
Nadal struck as great champions do when he knew it would really count. He pounced as Evans served to stay in the set.
An incredible Rafa return down the line set up three set points. Gutsy Evans couldn’t save them all.
The writing was on the wall with the favourite a set ahead.
Nadal proceeded to close out the match 6-4, 6-0. Even so, the second set was more closely contested than it sounded.
Nadal admitted: ‘He played a tough first set, very aggressive. Then the ball started to hit the right spot.’
So the doubles would decide who would face Canada.
Unfortunately, that match was a heartbreaker for the brave Brits. But well done Spain and especially the great Rafael Nadal.