The Spanish clay of Torre Pacheco Murcia burns orange.
The distant hills of this parched region of Spain shimmer in the sun.
The Spanish flags flutter like red and golden flames.
The packed stadium throbs with the passionate heat of the home crowd.
And Spain’s tennis elite occupy their own small cauldron alongside the court, fired up from watching their compatriots power their way inexorably to victory.
Spain’s Davis Cup team is hot property, and there is no sign of its fire being extinguished any time soon, because this squad is awash with men in the top 50 or so places of the ATP rankings.
It’s all enough to get anyone with an eye for a shapely male calf a little hot under the collar.
Because this apparently bottomless pool of talent is awash with men who bring just a little more to the sport than their outstanding tennis.
This personal selection delves into the qualities of the six who make up the current 2009 squad: that they happen to be memorable for more than just their tennis is purely coincidental.
Rafael Nadal may not have played this tie’s live rubbers because of a strained abdomen, but he has lit up the stands while supporting his team-mates.
Nadal has an appeal that over-arches both tennis and off-court time.
His glowering, dark, passionate match-persona melts into an almost bashful charm when his face breaks into a bright crooked smile.
Now with hair slightly shorter, shoulders a fraction less bulky, and adorned in slimming polo rather than vest, he looks more mature, more loose and more attractive than ever: a slim Hercules with a boy-next-door face.
He reduces daughters to mush and mothers to putty. And he happens to be one of the best players in world.
Women of the world look forward to seeing that abdomen unadorned by tape.
Fernando Verdasco has also been watching the action from the Spanish players’ cauldron, having played a pivotal role in the last tie against Germany with three winning matches.
And those same women of the world have taken the opportunity to look at him “off duty.”
Verdasco has the type of olive skin that turns copper when tanned. Now that his near-black hair has lost its over-gelled angles and grown into softer neck-clinging curls, he looks even more akin to a Greek god.
The strapping 6-foot-2 left-hander has copy-book bone structure—chiseled cheeks, aquiline nose, and angular jawlines—and has, not surprisingly, featured more than once on the cover of glossy magazine.
After Spain’s 2008 victory, in which Verdasco played such a major role, he has burned through 2009 with a new sense of purpose, and—it has to be said—an increasingly finely-honed physique.
And the icing on the cake: in interview, he comes across as thoughtful, articulate, intelligent and charming. It’s a double—no treble—whammy: looks, talent and intellect.
Verdasco is combustible material.
Verdasco’s best friend, Feliciano Lopez, may lack some of his skill but is equally easy on the eye.
Another perfectly proportioned 6-foot-2 left-hander, his longer hair, golden skin tones and brilliant blue eyes hint more at Italian than Spanish.
But the angular profile and strong nose and jawline pronounce his true home.
Feli and Fer—as the pair call themselves—stirred many hearts when they teamed up for the doubles rubber against Argentina in 2008: surely one of the most eye-catching pairings on the tennis tour.
In the latest tie, Lopez teamed up in another stunner of a doubles performance with another stunner from the melting pot of Spanish tennis.
Tommy Robredo, with his single-handed backhander, provides an almost mirror-image counterpoint to Lopez.
It’s a lethal combination: all-court ability and speed, confidence overhead, speed at the net, and coverage of both wings with left and right stroke making.
Two intense men, firing from both barrels: it’s enough to lift the spirits of the most jaded spectator.
Robredo is enjoying a second flush of success in his career, with titles in Brazil and Argentina, a semi in Chile, and a quarter in Mexico.
He’s a fluid and elegant mover, able to bring great variety of shot to any surface.
Slimmer, trimmer and quieter than his compatriots, he embodies the Madrid archetype of dark hair, angular face, hollow cheeks and serious demeanor.
He could have walked straight from the set of Carmen.
Slightly smaller than his comrades—though in fact only a fraction short of six feet—he is nimble, light footed, compact, and stylish.
And he has that Nadal ability to switch from dark and furrowed on court to handsome warmth as soon as he smiles.
No wonder he, too, has graced many magazine features. One in particular brings a little warmth to the cheeks, and will be revealed after hot Spaniards five and six.
David Ferrer is the terrier of the courts, dogged and disciplined, never knowing when he’s beaten. The compact and wirey Spaniard looks almost surly during play, so intense is his focus.
He does not have that free-flowing, elegant or explosive game of his team-mates, but was instrumental in Spain’s defeat of Serbia this year when he beat both Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki without the loss of a set.
He has a fire in his belly. He is the kind of player who, against one’s better judgment, demands a second look.
He demands a second look as a man, too. Off court, he has a gentle and modest attitude, and a wonderfully kind face. He is generous with fans and popular with colleagues.
He is also possessed of the sort of smile that lights up a room. Stir in golden skin, golden hair, and sweeping eyelashes, and Ferrer becomes a heart-warming surprise package.
Finally to the elder stateman of Spain’s squad, the resurgent, 29-year-old Juan Carlos Ferrero. The former world No. 1 captured his first title since 2003 at Casablanca in 2009.
He seems to be fired up by his return to Spain’s Davis Cup role after a four-year absence.
He became the team’s hero with a straight-sets win in the final rubber against Germany, and crushed Dudi Sela in the semis.
He is elegant, fast and wiry, and has one of the best sets of legs on the tour: long, slim and muscular.
He has a twinkle in the eye, and his oval face has become more angular and handsome with maturity.
A man with new fire, new purpose, and new fitness is fanning the embers. That he’s rather fond of fast motorbikes does no harm to the image, either.
With 2000, 2004 and 2008 already on the record sheet, the men of Spain are now on their way to possibly their fourth Davis Cup title of the century. We are heading for a very photogenic final once again.
And on the subject of photos, let’s return to the magazine shoot that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to the face and flutter to the chest.
Verdasco decided, last summer, to follow Robredo’s example in helping to raise awareness for the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign—by baring all for a Cosmopolitan centre-fold. The shoot took place on the rooftops of Barcelona.
Spain: the tennis-loving world owes you a debt of thanks.