Cordoba – Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer put Spain on the verge of another Davis Cup final berth by dominating Friday's singles here against France, while Argentina also took a 2-0 lead in its tie against defending champion Serbia in Belgrade.
Nadal took the court first on the slow red clay at Cordoba's Los Califas bullring against talented Frenchman Richard Gasquet, just four days after he suffered a grueling four-hour-plus loss in the U.S. Open final against nemesis Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
The world No. 2 came into the match with a dominant 9-0 record against Gasquet and the only question was whether he would be hindered by the sweltering conditions - more than 30 C (86 F) - and limited recovery time after the year's last Grand Slam event.
Though showing signs of fatigue, Nadal's game was razor sharp and he repeatedly assaulted Gasquet's one-handed backhand with high, heavy topspin groundstrokes. The Frenchman also did not help his cause by making overly predictable forays to the net and telegraphing drop shots that set up easy winners for the Spaniard.
Between the end of the first set and midway through the third set of his 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 win, Nadal reeled off 11 straight games against his demoralized opponent, who said afterward that he felt ill at the start of the second set.
"He helped me with his mistakes and the points were very quick," Nadal said after the match, referring to his opponent's 40 unforced errors.
"I played quite well, deep with my forehand, moving him around well and with a lot of height ... here the ball bounced up really well for me," the Spaniard, who struck 30 winners for the contest, said.
Nadal did not face a single break point and finished off the match in just over two hours with a perfectly placed drop shot.
The second singles match pitted Ferrer against Gilles Simon, who squared off under even hotter conditions in the mid-afternoon.
The two players known more for their speed and consistency than powerful weapons became locked in long baseline exchanges that favored Ferrer, who benefited from the bigger margin for error on his ground strokes.
Before shaking hands with the umpire at the conclusion of his 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory, Ferrer appeared to be battling leg cramps.
"It was a hard-fought 2-0, two matches that seemed easy but it's very hot and they were difficult," Spanish captain Albert Costa said.
"If (Saturday's) doubles go well, the tie will be over, but we have to work with humility and be wary" of a potential French comeback.
Elsewhere, defending Davis Cup champion Serbia finds itself one match from elimination against Argentina after David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro recorded impressive singles wins Friday on an indoor hard court at the Belgrade Arena.
Nalbandian was first on court against Serbia's Viktor Troicki, a late replacement for fatigued world No. 1 Djokovic, still weary from the effort spent in capturing his first U.S. Open final on Monday.
The Argentine was well aware that Djokovic's absence represented a golden opportunity to give his country an early lead and he took full advantage, recording a workman-like 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in two hours, 51 minutes.
"This point is very important for Argentina," Nalbandian said afterward. "I played well. It was a good match for me."
Del Potro was up next and put on an impressive display of serving and offensive baseline tennis in brushing aside U.S. Open quarterfinalist Janko Tipsarevic 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Del Potro did not lose his serve once in the match, while Tipsarevic received treatment for a physical ailment in the second set.
If Serbia wins the doubles, then Djokovic would likely be used against Del Potro in the first singles match on Sunday.
A potential decisive fifth match would then feature Nalbandian against Tipsarevic.
Argentina is eager to get back to the Davis Cup final after a bitter defeat against Spain in 2008, when the South American team was upset at home by a Spanish squad playing without Nadal.
If Argentina and Spain both win their ties this weekend, the Davis Cup final will be played in the Iberian nation from Dec. 2-4.
Spain has won the Davis Cup four times (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009), while Argentina has never captured this international team title. EFE
COR04. Cordoba, Spain, Sep 16 - Spain's David Ferrer prepares to hit a volley during his Friday singles match here in the Davis Cup semifinals against France's Gilles Simon. Ferrer won 6-1, 6-4 6-1 to give Spain a commanding 2-0 lead. EFE/Rafael Alcaide