Madrid: Holders Spain set up a heavyweight Davis Cup semi-final clash against the United States when David Ferrer cruised to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Austria’s Juergen Melzer to give the hosts an unassailable 3-1 lead on Sunday.
All four ties were still open on the third day of the World Group quarter finals and John Isner wrapped up victory for the US when he fought past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 to inflict the first French home defeat in six years.
Czech Republic went through on the other side of the draw after Tomas Berdych edged Janko Tipsarevic 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 in Prague as the home side gained revenge for their last-four defeat to Serbia in 2010.
Their opponents in September’s semi-final will be Argentina, who are seeking to go one better than their runner-up finishes to Spain in 2008 and 2011. Juan Martin del Potro was far too strong for Marin Cilic in the opening reverse singles in Buenos Aires, the world No. 10 crushing the Croat 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 for a decisive 3-1 lead and sealing victory with an ace.
In a blustery Marina d’Or on the Spanish coast, the tenacious Ferrer was far more consistent than an error-prone Melzer and was rarely under pressure as he secured his second point of the best-of-five tie after thrashing Andreas Haider-Maurer on Friday.
“It was quite an uncomfortable match but David was very focused and very disciplined,” Spain captain Alex Corretja said in an interview with Spanish television after both players struggled with swirling winds and uneven bounce.
Spain missed a chance to wrap up the tie on Saturday when doubles pair Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez surrendered a one-set lead and were beaten by Oliver Marach and Alexander Peya.
Undefeated in 23 home ties, they remain favourites to win a fourth title in five years despite the absence of talismanic world No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
The French Open champion has opted out of the competition this year citing the packed calendar in an Olympic year and is also nursing a knee injury aggravated in Miami last week.
However, with world No. 5 Ferrer in the side — who has won all 14 of his Davis Cup singles matches on clay — and 12th-ranked Nicolas Almagro playing some of the best tennis of his career, the US face a tough task to beat the Spanish at home on their favoured red dirt in the September 14-16 tie.
Almagro beat Peya 7-5, 7-5 to secure a 4-1 success for Spain.
Against the French, the Americans shrugged off the absence of world No. 9 Mardy Fish and relied on an in-form Isner to lead the charge at the glamorous Monte Carlo Country Club.
The towering 26-year-old, who humbled Gilles Simon on Friday before the Bryan brothers won Saturday’s doubles, has been in fine form this year as he has chalked up victories over Roger Federer and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.