Rafael Nadal's fitness is one of the main talking points ahead of the 2018 Davis Cup tennis quarterfinals this Saturday. Nadal is part of a Spain team with a strong chance of advancing from the World Group and eventually beating holders France to this year's title.
First, Nadal and Co. will have to get by a Germany team led by the talents of Alexander Zverev, who is likely still smarting from losing the Miami Open final to John Isner on April 1.
Here are the last-eight matches:
- France vs. Italy
- Croatia vs. Kazakhstan
- Spain vs. Germany
- USA vs. Belgium
The schedule details are available on the tournament's official website.
Spain's Chances Will Hinge on Nadal
It's stating the obvious, but Nadal's status will define and determine how far Spain progress. There has been conflicting speculation about the 31-year-old's readiness after he retired with a hip injury at the Australian Open.
His coach, Carlos Moya, told Esports IB3 (h/t Uche Amako of the Daily Express) Nadal "is not at 100 percent yet."
However, Nadal has said: "I hope to find myself without injury, that's why I'm here," per another report from Amako.
The Spanish lineup is still strong, with Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer and Pablo Carreno Busta set to be involved. Yet it's still a group sure to need Nadal's star power to get past a loaded Germany team.
Aside from Zverev, Jan-Lennard Struff and Philipp Kohlschreiber will be formidable opponents.
Marin Cilic Will Inspire and Win for Croatia
Like Zverev, Marin Cilic has a point to prove after losing to Isner in Florida. The American sent Cilic packing in the round of 16, but the latter has the ability to upset any player on his day.
Cilic's form will be the key for Croatia reaching the last four in the world group. The 29-year-old was the second seed in Miami and is a superior player to anybody in a Kazakhstan team led by Mikhail Kukushkin.
There is more talent set to play under the Croatian flag, with Borna Coric also ready to feature in singles action. Meanwhile, Ivan Dodig is available for the doubles.
USA Primed for the Last 4
Things are looking up for the U.S., since Isner will be buoyed by securing his first Masters title. Even so, Isner is understandably wary of the threat posed by Belgium.
The 32-year-old explained how he and his team-mates won't get complacent, per the tournament's official website: "Look, we’re not looking past this team by any means, sure we are the favourites on paper; our team is very strong but it’s going to be a tough match."
Isner is right to urge caution, but it's hard to see anything other than a comprehensive win for a U.S. squad too strong for a less-than-convincing Belgian group.
Along with Isner, Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Steven Johnson and Ryan Harrison round out a formidable lineup for the nation looking to earn a first semi-final berth since 2012.
The Holders to Make it Through
France will again rely on Lucas Pouille, their title winner in 2017, to lead a solid squad also featuring Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Jeremy Chardy and Adrian Mannarino.
Pouille has achieved a career-best ATP ranking of 10th in 2018, but the pressure will be on the 24-year-old when he takes to the court in Genoa. Home advantage is a boost for Italy, with Fabio Fognini's team likely to be confident.
Yet confidence won't trump talent, with the French simply having the better players, as well as the winning mentality. Pouille and Mannarino can win in singles action to set France on course for another tilt at the semi-finals.