World No. 1 Rafael Nadal leads Spain into battle against Belgium as the two nations clash in the ATP Cup quarter-finals on Friday night.
Spain vs Belgium ATP Cup tennis is live from Sydney at 5.30pm local time on Friday (6.30am GMT).
Just two months after securing the revamped Davis Cup Finals trophy, Spain are still on course to make it two national team competitions from two as they square off against Belgium in the ATP Cup quarter-finals in Sydney on Friday.
Nadal has once again guided Spain into the knockout stages, supported strongly by Roberto Bautista Agut, with the pair winning all of their singles matches as Spain comfortably topped Group B.
Spain start as heavy favourites over Belgium, who were one of the two countries who qualified for the quarter-finals as the two best runner-ups.
Road to the quarter-finals
Spain ?? def. Georgia ?? 3-0
Bautista Agut def. Metreveli 6-0 6-0
Nadal def. Basilashvili 6-3 7-5
Carreno Busta/Lopez def. Bakshi/Tsivadze 6-3 6-4
Spain ?? def. Uruguay ?? 3-0
Bautista Agut def. Roncadelli 6-1 6-2
Nadal def. Cuevas 6-2 6-1
Carreno Busta/Lopez def. Behar/Fumeaux 6-1 3-6 10-3
Spain ?? def. Japan ?? 3-0
Bautista Agut def. Soeda 6-2 6-4
Nadal def. Nishioka 7-6(4) 6-4
Carreno Busta/Nadal def. McLachlan/Soeda 7-6(5) 4-6 10-6
Belgium ?? def. Moldova ?? 3-0
Darcis def. Cozbinov 6-4 6-7(4) 7-5
Goffin def. Albot 6-4 6-1
Gille/Vliegen def. Albot/Cozbinov 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 11-9
Great Britain ?? def. Belgium ?? 2-1
Darcis def. Norrie 6-2 6-4
Evans def. Goffin 6-4 6-4
Murray/Salisbury def. Gille/Vliegan 6-3 7-6(7)
Belgium ?? def. Bulgaria ?? 2-1
Kuzmanov def. Darcis 6-0 6-3
Goffin def. Dimitrov 4-6 6-2 6-2
Gille/Vliegen def. Dimitrov/Lazarov 3-6 6-4 10-7
SPAIN ??: 1. Rafael Nadal 2. Roberto Bautista Agut 3. Pablo Carreno Busta 4. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 5. Feliciano Lopez. Captain: Francisco Roig.
BELGIUM ??: 1. David Goffin 2. Steve Darcis 3. Kimmer Coppejans 4. Joran Vliegen 5. Sander Gille. Captain: Steve Darcis.
Rubber 1: Roberto Bautista Agut (??) vs Steve Darcis (??), live from Sydney at 5.30pm local time (6.30am GMT)
It’s crazy to think Bautista Agut could advance into the ATP Cup semi-finals with Spain without facing a top 100 player, but that’s exactly what will happen if they emerge triumphant in this tie.
Indeed, Bautista Agut – ranked No. 10 in the world – has faced a player that isn’t even ranked (Uruguay’s Roncadelli), someone outside the top 600 (Georgia’s Metreveli) and Japan’s Go Soeda, who is currently ranked No. 119. And with Darcis, ranked No. 200 and about to retire, looming on Friday in Sydney, it’s exactly the toughest opposition for the Spaniard to begin his 2020 season.
After crushing Roncadelli without losing a game and dropping just three games against Metreveli, Bautista Agut met his first bit of resistance against Soeda, but he still registered a comfortable 6-2 6-4 victory.
“Today was, I think, the most difficult match,” said Bautista Agut. “I think it was also the first match with the sun, with the heat. The ball felt much different, flying more and the court was faster. I had more difficulties today, and I think I handled it well.”
It was a career-best season for Bautista Agut in 2019, with the Spaniard breaking into the top 10 on the back of a series of great results. Always one of the most consistent players on tour (275 straight weeks in the top 30 attests to that), Bautista Agut went to the next level last year, reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, Australian Open quarter-finals, winning the ninth ATP title of his career in Doha – beating Novak Djokovic along the way – and conquering the Serbian again to make the Miami Masters quarter-finals.
Along with Masters 1000 quarter-finals in Montreal and Cincinnati, Bautista Agut won over 40 matches for the fifth time in the last six seasons – and you’d expect him to extend that record in 2020.
While Bautista Agut is at the peak of his career, Darcis is at the very end of his, with the Belgian set to retire at the end of his month.
The 35-year-old missed the entire 2018 season with an elbow injury and returned in 2019, becoming the first player in ATP history to make a semi-final while unranked after he did so in Pune. However, Darcis isn’t able to train and play without pain and as mentioned, will hang up the racquet after the Australian Open.
Darcis has won two of his three matches against Cameron Norrie and Alexander Cozbinov, but he was humbled 6-0 6-3 by Bulgarian journeyman Dimitar Kuzmanov. The Belgian has played Bautista Agut twice before – in 2009 and 2019 – and lost both times. It seems a formality that Bautista Agut will be too solid again in one of the last matches of Darcis’ career.
Rubber 2: Rafael Nadal (??) vs David Goffin (??), live from Sydney around 7.00pm local time (8.00am GMT)
Darcis will likely have to pull off a miracle upset if Belgium are to have any chance of progressing, but in saying that, Goffin and Nadal have only played once before on hardcourt – and it was indeed Goffin who prevailed, winning their ATP Finals clash in London in 2017.
However, Nadal is always battling some kind of injury issue at the end of seasons – this time they meet at the start of the year, with the World No. 1 seemingly fresh and fit.
Although, Nadal hasn’t had it all completely his own way so far in the ATP Cup – even if he has won all of his matches in straight sets. Nikoloz Basilashvili almost creeped up and snatched the second set in their opening match, while Yoshihito Nishioka twice led by a break in the opening set before the 19-time major champion clawed his way back into the contest, winning the tiebreak and remaining steady in the second for a 7-6(4) 6-4 triumph.
“It was a very tough one and we played under heavy conditions today, because for me it was the first day that I played under the sun,” said Nadal. The first set was important, and then in the second I had some tough moments, but at the same time I was able to manage well to get the break at the right moment. So I’m happy for the victory.
“I played against a player that has started the season on fire, winning two great matches against two very good opponents and with very comfortable results. So it’s a positive victory for me and it’s an important victory for the team. We will go to Sydney straight [away] with the confidence that we didn’t lose a tie.”
Nadal couldn’t have put together a better 2019, especially after battling injury concerns for large chunks at the start of the season, winning his 12th French Open and fourth U.S. Open, while he also secured record 34th and 35th Masters 1000 crowns in Rome and Montreal.
Those results contributed to Nadal leapfrogging Novak Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking in the closing stages of the season, despite being knocked out of the Nitto ATP Finals in the group stage as he battled an abdominal injury. Now back to full fitness after finishing 2019 by leading Spain to Davis Cup glory, can Nadal do the same in Sydney at the ATP Cup?
David Goffin will do his best to stop him. The Belgian had his best season in 2017 as broke into the top 10 for the first time and reached the biggest final of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals, defeating No. 1 Nadal and No. 2 Roger Federer en route, eventually going down to Grigor Dimitrov.
Goffin earned 59 wins that season, peaking at No. 7 in the world and winning titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo, along with runner-up finishes in Sofia and Rotterdam, a semi-final in Monte-Carlo and a quarter-final at the Australian Open. Injuries contributed to Goffin sliding down the rankings in 2018 as he retired or withdrew from over 10 tournaments, but he bounced back strongly in 2019, ending last season at No. 11 in the world, reaching the Cincinnati Masters final and Wimbledon quarter-final.
The 29-year-old has gone two from three in ATP Cup play so far, beating Radu Albot and scoring a crucial win over Dimitrov, with his loss coming against Dan Evans.
As mentioned, Goffin won their only previous hardcourt meeting, but Nadal has won their other four encounters on clay, dropping just one set in the process. The Belgian knows he can challenge Nadal on this surface, but I still don’t think Goffin is playing at the level he was in 2017 – and anything under that probably won’t be good enough to defeat Nadal.
Rubber 3: Doubles, live from Sydney around 9.30pm local time (10.30am GMT)
Teams to be confirmed
Belgian pairing Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille were immense in securing they nation’s spot in the quarter-finals as they beat Bulgaria in a match tiebreak and will surely be retained for this contest, while Spain’s team will likely depend on whether they have already made the semi-finals or not.
If they haven’t, Nadal will possibly come into the side, but if they have, expect Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez to play.