Top-ranked Rafael Nadal will play Ruben Bemelmans on Friday's opening day of the Davis Cup World Group match between Spain and Belgium, in his first match since injuring his thigh at the Australian Open.
Sixth-ranked David Ferrer will play the opening match for the heavily favored Spaniards against Xavier Malisse on Friday on the hard court of the 6,500-capacity Spiroudome in southern Charleroi. The 51st-ranked Malisse is the only Belgian player ranked in the top 100, while Spain has three in the top 10, including No. 9 Fernando Verdasco.
Nadal sustained a left thigh injury in his loss to Ferrer in the Australian Open quarterfinals, but has increased his training regimen as the series got closer. After sparring with Ferrer on Thursday, he said that physically "I am perfect."
He hardly could have hoped for an easier opponent. Bemelmans is ranked 144th in the world and lost in straight sets to Nadal last year in Bangkok.
"I know what I can expect," Bemelmans said.
But he warned that "I'm playing well myself," and proved it by winning the Challenger tournament in Wolfsburg last week.
He was unexpectedly picked over veteran Olivier Rochus to play Nadal.
After winning the 2009 title, Spain was swept 5-0 by France in the quarterfinals last year. The players are determined to return to the top in 2011, and a fit Nadal is key.
"To have the No. 1 player, and especially Rafa with his personality, gives a lot of confidence in the whole team," team captain Albert Costa said. "It creates an atmosphere like we feel even stronger."
Doubles are set for Saturday and reverse singles for Sunday. In 2003, Spain beat Belgium 5-0.