Germany carved out a 2-0 advantage over Spain in the Davis Cup tie between the two nations on Friday after both Roberto Bautista-Agut and Feliciano López were beaten in the Fraport Arena in Frankfurt.
Bautista-Agut, a debutant in the competition ranked 52, was swept aside by world number 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 and it appeared that López was destined to fall in straight sets until the Toledo-born player staged a comeback. Having conceded the first two sets to Florian Mayer on tie-breaks, López, Spain's highest-ranked team member at 26, took the next two with some judicious shot-making at the net made possible by the unerring accuracy of his serve. López fired down 32 aces in the match and forced a decisive set after saving two match points in the fourth.
But from there Mayer regained control of the game and held his nerve to secure a 7-6, 7-6, 1-6, 5-7, 6-3 victory.
On Saturday it will be up to doubles pair Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero to keep the tie alive against Daniel Brands and Tommy Haas, the world number 12 who was not unleashed Friday by Germany captain Carsten Arriens. Marrero and Verdasco are a formidable doubles partnership, ranked eight and 11 respectively, who last season won the ATP World Tour Finals together.
Arriens' opposite number, Carlos Moyá, is without Spain's four highest-ranked players, including world number one Rafael Nadal, through injuries and withdrawals. Should Germany win the tie, five-time Davis Cup champion Spain will face a playoff to retain its World Group status in September.
The same situation occurred last year when Spain was eliminated in the opening round by Canada, again in the absence of Nadal and David Ferrer, both fixtures in the top five. In the playoff round, Nadal, who was unavailable for the Canada tie because of a knee injury, stepped into the breach to play singles and doubles as Spain whitewashed Ukraine 5-0 in Madrid. Spain has been in the elite World Group for the past 18 years.