Gritty Nadal secures Davis Cup for Spain

Mallorcan ends a tough year by clinching country's fifth victory in 11 years; team's top two players pull out of 2012 competition

It has not been the easiest of seasons for Rafael Nadal, but he ended his 2011 on a high in Seville's La Cartuja stadium on Sunday by securing Spain's fifth Davis Cup final victory - its third in four years.

The Mallorcan, who has seen six titles, his number one status, and a large chunk of his normally unshakeable self-belief snatched away by the dominant Novak Djokovic over the course of the year, fought doggedly back to overcome Argentina's Juan Martín del Potro in four sets and earn Spain the third point it needed for the win.

The world number two had gotten off to an appalling start, losing seven games on the trot to allow Del Potro to sail away with the first set 1-6 and start the second with a break.

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But Nadal, who is unbeaten in the Davis Cup on clay, broke back immediately to tie the set at 1-1 and suddenly found his form. He broke again to take the second set 6-4 and tore away with the third 6-1, seemingly on his way to victory.

Then, though, it was Del Potro's turn to mount a comeback. In a thriller of a fourth set, the world number 11 broke Nadal to bring the threat of a fifth decider into view. The Spaniard then broke back, only to lose his next service game and enter a tie-break.

Here though Nadal grabbed the reins and dominated, taking it 7-0 and earning a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 overall win.

"We gave everything; it was a very emotional victory at the end of a tough year," Nadal told Spanish TV after the game.

"I have never won the decisive point in a Davis Cup final before, so that fact makes this victory more special. "Winning in this way, we are very grateful to all the people of Spain. It was the best atmosphere I have experienced in my career."

The final had gotten off to a dream start for Spain on Friday as Nadal brushed off Juan Mónaco in the opening match 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, and David Ferrer fought gutsily past Del Potro in a grueling five-setter - 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

But David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank kept Argentina's hopes alive in the doubles rubber on Saturday by trouncing the Spanish pairing of Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano López to earn their country's first point and ensure the final extended into Sunday.

Verdasco and López, who had lost 10 of their last 11 matches together in all competitions going into the meeting, were always going to be the weak link in the Spanish squad and Nalbandian and doubles specialist Schwank took full advantage. The Argentineans won five of their six break points and successfully defended all three they faced to earn a straight-sets 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win against the poorly performing Spanish duo.

López - slow to react, poor at the net, serving badly and weak elsewhere - was particularly disappointed by his performance. "I would like to disappear after a match like this," said the Toledo-born world number 20.

"Without a doubt it was the worst of my Davis Cup team career, but if anything comforts me, it is the win I achieved in Austin [against the USA in the quarterfinals] that allowed us to be here," López added.

His despair prompted partner Verdasco to encourage a show of support in the post-match press conference. "Feliciano López is my brother and I know he is having a really bad time. So I ask you to give him a round of applause," he said.

The display leaves question marks hanging over the future of the partnership next year as the London Olympics rears into view, but on Sunday Spain captain Albert Costa only had praise for his team. "There are people who have made a lot of effort," he said. "I congratulate all of them. Everyone who has participated has been fantastic and we should be very proud. This doesn't happen every day, we have to value it a lot."

And after a 2011 he will mostly rather forget, it's likely no one will be doing that more than Rafa Nadal.

After the initial celebrations had died down, however, both Nadal and Ferrer let it be known that they would not be available for selection for the 2012 Davis Cup. Nadal, who has never previously taken such a step, even while working his way to number one in the world during the past decade, has been outspoken of late in his criticism of the event, the timing of the rounds and the demands it makes of players, whose efforts are not compensated in terms of ranking points.

Rafa Nadal holds the trophy on top of his head during the celebrations.
Rafa Nadal holds the trophy on top of his head during the celebrations.ALEJANDRO RUESGA
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