Nadal-led Spain plays Czechs in Davis Cup final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Led by Rafael Nadal, Spain enters the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic as favorite to lift its fourth title.

Updated: December 03, 2009 13:53 IST
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Barcelona, Spain:

Led by Rafael Nadal, Spain enters the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic as favorite to lift its fourth title, although the defending champion could be in better shape.

Spain - playing in its fifth final since its first victory in 2000 - is looking to become the first team since Sweden 11 years ago to defend the title. And the numbers back it to do so.

The hosts have won 17 straight at home and 19 straight on clay, which is the surface the series will be played on, in front of expected daily crowds of 16,000 at the Palau Sant Jordi.

But Nadal is coming off a terrible ATP World Tour Final appearance where the second-ranked player didn't win a set, while Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer are recovering from injuries.

Even uncle and coach Toni Nadal said the world No.2's biggest asset - his mental strength - was suffering following a season of ups and downs marked by an Australian Open win and numerous injuries.

"The court didn't help in London but you have to stay realistic and I can say I wasn't at my best," Nadal said.

Nadal is almost certain to face Tomas Berdych to open the best-of-five series on Friday, a player he has beaten four straight times but who has always provided a challenge.

"They have a very good team. Every point is going to be difficult," said Nadal, who holds a 10-0 singles record on clay in the Davis Cup and is leading the team after missing last year's final win at Argentina. "For us it's going to be very important the first day."

Who will play Radek Stepanek in the other opening day singles is still unclear, with Thursday's draw to reveal. Verdasco is recovering from a foot strain while Ferrer hasn't played since October due to a hamstring injury.

In Saturday's doubles, Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez are certain to team up, while Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil is likely to field Stepanek and Berdych again.

Stepanek and Berdych have clinched all nine live rubbers this year to lead the Czechs into their first final since 1980 when Ivan Lendl earned the country - then combined with Slovakia as Czechoslovakia - its only title.

"They are players with a lot of experience, very dangerous and capable of winning against anyone," Spain captain Albert Costa said. "The doubles are very complicated and, likely, the decisive point."

Whether both Czechs have the stamina to play all three days will be vital, since Navratil said that Jan Hajek and Lukas Dlouhy were unlikely to play. Stepanek and Berdych have led the visitors past France, Argentina and Croatia this year.

"If it takes 10 hours to win the match and bring the point for our team, I will be there for 10 hours," the 12th-ranked Stepanek said. "To be mentally strong is especially important, especially in matches where it can go wither way. We know all the players are at a great level on clay, we expect every match to be tough."

Spain returns to the site of its first Davis Cup title in 2000, a team that included Costa and current reserve Juan Carlos Ferrero. Ferrero and Nadal helped lead Spain to a title in Seville four years later.

Nadal was part of Spain's first round win over Serbia, while Ferrero clinched a win over Germany to set up an easy semifinal victory against Israel.

Spain leads head-to-head 3-2, with the last meeting coming during Spain's 2004 run - when Nadal debuted in the competition, against the Czechs.

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