During a recent press conference, Spain's Davis Cup captain Sergi Bruguera opined that Rafael Nadal is the "best player in Davis Cup history". Nadal is absent from the Spanish side due to injury, which is what Bruguera reckons could be the "big difference" in this edition of the tournament.
Rafael Nadal has been a part of five Davis Cup-winning teams. Spain won the title in 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2019. The Mallorcan also owns an impressive 29-1 win-loss record at the event, including an active winning streak of 29 matches.
Spain is essentially the defending champion, given that the tournament did not take place in 2020 due to the pandemic.
When asked if the pandemic has taken away some sheen from the Spanish side, the two-time Roland Garros champion suggested that Rafael Nadal's absence means that Spain are not as big a favorite as they are with him in their ranks.
"A pandemic has passed and all players have regularized the situation because they have been playing and obviously when you account with Rafa Nadal, your team automatically becomes favorite and you have many more options because you account with the best player in Davis Cup history," Sergi Bruguera said. "That's the big difference, although we still have a very strong, very good team and we'll fight for the most we can."
Without Nadal, Spain have a tough battle against the Russian side
Spain has been drawn in the same group as the Russian Tennis Federation and Ecuador. And without Rafael Nadal in their ranks, beating their fellow Europeans could be a big ask for the Spaniards given that the Russian side features four top-level players -- Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karatsev, and Karen Khachanov.
Spain is not only missing Nadal, but also Roberto Bautista Agut, who is their top-ranked singles player after the Mallorcan.
As per the Davis Cup rules, the top-ranked side of each group will progress to the quarterfinals. However, only two of the six second-placed sides will make the last eight, meaning a win over Ecuador might not be enough for Spain should they get crushed by the Russians.
Having said that, Rafael Nadal's presence might not have tilted the scales in Spain's favor by too much, given the form displayed by Daniil Medvedev in recent months.
The form displayed by Rublev at the ATP Finals suggests that he too could have been a tricky opponent for the Mallorcan, given the latter's recent physical issues.
Rafael Nadal is still recovering from his foot injury, even though he has resumed training in recent weeks.
ALSO READArticle Continues below
Nadal recently announced that he intends to make a comeback at this year's Mubadala World Tennis Championships, which is set to take place from 16--18 December.