Almagro steps up for Spain

Costa's forgotten man to lead 2012 Davis Cup defense

A new era for Spain's Davis Cup team dawned on Monday, temporarily at least, when Alex Corretja announced his line-up to face Kazakhstan in the first round of World Group action, to be played in Oviedo on the weekend of February 10. Albert Costa stepped down as captain last December after leading his team to two titles in three years - its fourth and fifth overall - while Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer stated they would not be available for selection as a matter of course.

Nadal more or less ruled himself out of 2012 entirely, although the world number two may be tempted back into the fold for the glamor ties after his quest to retain Olympic gold is resolved, while Ferrer, the world number five, said he would consider playing on a tie-by-tie basis.

Corretja, therefore, delved into Spain's considerable armory to throw together a team from what was left - discarding for the moment the misfiring doubles pair of Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano López - and duly named the next highest-ranked player in the country after Nadal and Ferrer, world number 11 Nicolás Almagro, world number 26 Marcel Granollers, Davis Cup veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero, the hero of its inaugural win in 2000 now ranked 47, and doubles specialist Marc López.

"It's a hell of a team," said Corretja, a double French Open finalist and member of the 2000 side. "But nobody has been ruled out of playing Davis Cup in 2012."

Corretja is fortunate that Almagro has made himself available. Costa had always made clear that the "fantastic four" would be picked every time regardless of form or ranking, a statement not designed to soothe the oft-ruffled feathers of the brooding Murcian, who was widely seen as a fall guy for Spain's 2010 thrashing at the hands of France - the last time he represented his country - despite a narrow 7-6, 7-6 loss in the one rubber he played. "Everybody has it clear in their mind except me," Almagro stated when everything pointed to his being elected to lead the new epoch. "My confidence has been so undermined over the past few years that I doubted I'd be selected to play even if they ruled out the top 400 in the country."

However, as Ferrer said after last December's success in Seville: "The party's over. I think it will be very difficult, almost impossible, for this team to come together and win this competition again." Spain needs a new leader, and Almagro has taken up the challenge. "Nobody should doubt that I will give everything to take this team to the highest level," he said Monday.