No Nadal as Spain begins title defence

All eyes will be on 18-year-old Alcaraz, touted to be Rafa’s heir

Spain is set to begin its title defence at the Davis Cup Finals without Rafael Nadal, and with all eyes on the teenager touted as his heir.

The 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will be attracting attention when Spain starts on Friday against Ecuador. Spain is looking to triumph again two years after winning the inaugural edition of the revamped nations’ competition. The tournament wasn’t played in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Debut

Coming off a title at the Next Gen ATP Finals, Alcaraz will be making his first Davis Cup appearance alongside Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who are both more than 10 years older than him. Alcaraz wasn’t even born when another member of Spain’s team, 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez, began playing on tour.

“For me it’s a dream come true to be here,” the No. 32 Alcaraz said Wednesday.

“I watched this tournament since I was a kid and I always wished to be here representing my country, so I’m really excited to be with the team.”

Left-foot injury

Nadal went undefeated in singles and doubles when Spain won the title in 2019, but the 20-time Grand Slam champion isn’t playing this year because of a left-foot injury that ended his season early.

“It’s true that we had a big advantage. If you have Nadal in your team you go straight to being the favorite because he is the best player in the history of the Davis Cup,” Spain captain Sergi Bruguera said.

Alcaraz is capping an impressive season that included a quarterfinal appearance in the U.S. Open and victories over top-10 players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.

Bruguera said Alcaraz has helped bring new life to the team with his great character.

“Carlos is an unbelievably nice guy, he’s very humble,” Bruguera said.

“And he’s adjusting very well. He’s happy. The veterans are very good friends already and Carlos is like fresh air in the team. It’s nice.”

Tough task

Spain is facing a difficult task trying to retain the title, though, as the other team in Group-A is a Russian squad featuring two top-10 players in No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Andrey Rublev. Also in the team is Olympic silver medallist Karen Khachanov and 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev.

Russia will be called the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) during the event amid an ongoing doping suspension from international sports.

“It’s the strongest team,” Bruguera said. “It’s the most complete team, with Medvedev probably the most in-form player right now, so it will be our most difficult rival.”

Spain’s team took a hit when No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut had to be replaced by No. 45 Ramos-Vinolas at the last minute because of an abdominal injury.

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