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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Rafael Nadal ready to put 'tough few months' behind him to lead Spain in Davis Cup

World No 1 has struggled with injury this season and has not played since retiring from the Australian Open quarter-final in January.

Rafael Nadal, left, and Alexander Zverev shake hands ahead of the Davis Cup tie between Spain and Germany. Manuel Bruque / EPA
Rafael Nadal, left, and Alexander Zverev shake hands ahead of the Davis Cup tie between Spain and Germany. Manuel Bruque / EPA

Rafael Nadal has said he is looking forward to putting a "tough few months" behind him as the world No 1 returns to competitive tennis representing Spain in the Davis Cup this weekend.

Nadal, 31, has not played since retiring during his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic in January. However, despite his absence, Nadal has reclaimed the top ranking from Roger Federer following the Swiss's early exit at the Miami Open.

Nadal's return to court has coincided with his favoured clay court season, and to prepare for his French Open title defence - as well as a host of other clay court titles - the 16-time grand slam champion is featuring for Spain against Germany at Valencia's Plaza de Toros bullring, a venue where he boasts a remarkable record in the tournament.

Nadal is on a 22-match winning streak in singles with his only loss coming on debut for five-time champions Spain in 2004.

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However, it's recent history which now concerns Nadal, who is far from fully recovered from the hip problem which forced him to sit out Indian Wells and Miami.

"It's been a tough few months," said Nadal, ahead of a tie which will see him take on Philipp Kohlschreiber in Friday's second singles. "But I am excited to be back. Hopefully it will be a positive week for me."

On Sunday, Nadal will take on Alexander Zverev, the world No 4 widely seen as heir apparent to the great Spaniard.

Zverev first faces David Ferrer in the opening rubber, with Ferrer switched to singles after a thumb injury ruled out Pablo Carreno Busta with his place going to Marc Lopez.

Nadal's coach Carlos Moya has urged patience as he plots his European spring campaign which, if all goes to script, will see him clinch an 11th French Open in June.

"He is not at 100 per cent yet, but if he can win a match or two, it can help him," Moya said.

Germany, bidding to make the semi-finals for the first time in 11 years, will rely for singles points on Zverev, playing just his fourth Davis Cup tie, and veteran Kohlschreiber.

Spain also have form on their side. They have won 26 straight home ties, with their last defeat on Spanish soil coming against Brazil in 1999.

Defending champions France go to Genoa to tackle Italy who are contesting their 250th Davis Cup tie.

France, the 10-time winners, have two top 30 players in Lucas Pouille, ranked No 11, and Adrian Mannarino, the world 25.

But the French are missing injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils while Italy can count on Fabio Fognini for his dedication to the flag.

Fognini spent over 11 hours on court in the 3-1 victory over Japan in the first round. He has also competed for his nation every year since 2008.

In Nashville, 32-time champions the United States will hope Miami champion John Isner, now at No 9 in the world, can take them into the semi-finals for the first time in six years.

The US tackle last year's runners-up Belgium who are without world No 10 David Goffin after he suffered a freak eye injury in Rotterdam in February.

While the Americans can boast Isner, 14th-ranked Sam Querrey and No 16 Jack Sock, the Belgians will pin hopes on Ruben Bemelmans, the world 110 and 319th-ranked Joris de Loore.

The winner of that tie will face either 2005 champions Croatia or Kazakhstan for a place in the final.

World No 3 Marin Cilic and 28th-ranked Borna Coric spearhead the Croatian challenge in Varazdin against a Kazakh team whose top player is Mikhail Kukushkin at No 92 in the world.