US set to face Nadal-less Spain in Davis Cup semis

GIJON, Spain — If there were ever a time the U.S. Davis Cup team could envision beating Spain, it had to be now with Rafael Nadal absent.


Sore knees have sidelined Nadal, giving confidence to an American team that already knocked off Switzerland and France en route to the semifinals.

However, it faces the task of its first win in Gijon, Spain, in 40 years and ending Spain’s 13-year home unbeaten run on clay.

“Rafa’s absence is obviously missed for them, but it’s not as devastating considering how deep of a team they are,” said U.S. captain Jim Courier. “Spain is the favorite. The preparation is the same for us, no different. It’s all about execution.”

The Americans will play without Andy Roddick, who retired after the U.S. Open.

Former Georgia Bulldog John Isner stepped in to fill the void of Roddick’s departure, with wins over Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon as he swept all four of his singles matchups in 2012.

Sam Querrey will open today’s singles against David Ferrer before Isner plays Nicolas Almagro. Isner and Querrey are a combined 6-7 on clay.

“Our team has played in some tough environments before and we expect a tough environment tomorrow,” Isner said. “It’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s not going to be anything I’m not used to.”

They’ll play reverse singles on Sunday if neither team sweeps the best-of-five series.

The winner will play the Czech Republic or Argentina in the final in November.

The United States has lost two series in a row to defending champion Spain, which is unbeaten in 25 consecutive series on clay, including a record 23 in a row at home.

“We’ll take our chances,” Courier said.

Spain has won three of the past four Davis Cups to become the dominant force in the competition, with victories over the U.S. in the 2004 and 2000 finals. The Americans have won the trophy a record 32 times.

WORLD TEAM TENNIS: Ve­nus Williams hopes to end a healthy and successful summer with another first – a World Team Tennis championship.

Williams will play for the defending champion Washington Kastles at the WTT Finals Weekend at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, S.C.

Orange County takes on Sacramento for the Western Conference crown tonight before Williams’ Kastles face John McEnroe and the New York Sportimes on Saturday in the Eastern Conference finals.

The conference champions meet Sunday for the WTT title.

“This is exciting,” Wil­liams said Thursday. “I’ve never won a World Team Ten­nis title and maybe I can help the Kastles win again.”

It’s already been a satisfying season for the 32-year-old Williams. She competed in the final three Grand Slam events this year after withdrawing from the 2011 U.S. Open because of Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.

The highlight came at the London Olympics, when she teamed with sister Serena to capture the doubles gold medal for Team USA.

It was Venus Williams’ fourth Olympic gold and confirmed her belief she was still capable of competing at the game’s highest levels.

“It was the pinnacle and what I was going for over there,” she said. “My whole dream was us winning the gold for the U.S.”

Williams said she certainly feels stronger now than when she last came to South Carolina in April to play in the Family Circle Cup.