Holders Spain raced into a 2-0 lead over Austria in the opening singles when Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer outplayed Juergen Melzer and Andreas Haider-Maurer respectively in Friday’s Davis Cup quarter-finals.
As the four World Group ties got underway, with France against the US, Czech Republic versus Serbia and Argentina hosting Croatia all even at 1-1, Almagro thumped Melzer 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 and Ferrer thrashed Haider-Maurer 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
Those performances put the favorites in command on the clay in blustery Marina d’Or on the Spanish coast.
“That was possibly my best match in Davis Cup,” Almagro said in an interview with Spanish television after giving Spain, missing talisman and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, a blistering start as they bid for a fourth title in five years.
“I knew that I was going to be nervous and I was tense at the start, and so were the first three or four games,” the world No. 12 added. “But I threw off the shackles and then the tennis started to flow.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, leading the French charge against the US, carved out a 1-0 lead for the 2010 finalists when he beat teenager Ryan Harrison 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.
However, John Isner leveled the best-of-five tie with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 dismissal of Gilles Simon in glamorous Monte Carlo.
Harrison was warned by the umpire after slamming his racket into the ground when he double-faulted in the second set, but said he enjoyed his first live Davis Cup singles rubber.
The Czechs took an early lead in Prague in their tie against 2010 winners Serbia — without world No. 1 Novak Djokovic — when Tomas Berdych hammered Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
Radek Stepanek and Janko Tipsarevic then traded blows for more than five hours before Serbian Tipsarevic saved two match points to level at 7-7 in the final set and went on to clinch a nail-biting 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 9-7 success.
The match ended in controversy as Stepanek refused to shake hands with Tipsarevic, who had to be restrained by teammates and later accused the Czech of making an obscene gesture.
“Stepanek not only refused to shake hands, but he also showed me a middle finger and this is completely outrageous,” Tipsarevic told Serbian TV.
“Never in my career has this happened to me and all I can say is that I am completely stunned by his behavior,” the world No. 8 added. “I think I played one of the worst matches for my country in the Davis Cup, but the important thing is that I won to put us back on level terms.”
There was a classic Davis Cup party atmosphere at Parque Roca in Buenos Aires for David Nalbandian’s opening singles against Marin Cilic as Argentina seek to make up for the disappointment of losing to Spain in last year’s and the 2008 finals.
However, Cilic stayed focused amid the drumming and raucous chanting in the 14,000 capacity arena to edge the former world No. 3 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 in a five-hour thriller on the clay court.
World No. 10 Juan Martin Del Potro then put the hosts level with a 6-2, 7-6 (9/7), 6-1 win over big-serving Ivo Karlovic, despite suffering stomach pain and vomiting on Friday morning and needing medical attention for a nosebleed in the third set.
Clay kings Spain, who have won their last 22 home Davis Cup ties, appear far too strong for underdogs Austria despite the absence of Nadal and the doubles pair in last year’s final of Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.