(Reuters) - Spain’s Rafael Nadal returned to action with a 6-2 6-2 6-3 Davis Cup win over Germany’s Philip Kohlschreiber on Friday to set a record for the longest winning streak in the competition’s history.
World number one Nadal had not played since he retired from his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic in January with a leg injury, but made light work of Kohlschreiber to draw five-time winners Spain level at 1-1 in the tie.
Victory meant Nadal set the record for the longest Davis Cup winning streak in combined singles and doubles rubbers with 23 matches in a row.
Holders France were tied 1-1 with Italy in Genoa and 2005 winners Croatia were also deadlocked against visitors Kazakhstan after a day of thrilling action on indoor red clay in Varazdin.
The heavily-favored U.S. team took a 2-0 lead against a depleted Belgium side on the indoor hard courts in Nashville to come within a point of their first Davis Cup semi-finals in six years.
Nadal was swiftly back in the swing of things in Valencia, dismantling Kohlschreiber after Alexander Zverev blew away David Ferrer 6-4 6-2 6-2 to put Germany in front.
The 31-year-old Nadal hardly put a foot wrong on his return, having produced 14 of his 30 winners in the opening set of a lopsided contest.
Kohlschreiber also went down tamely in the second before putting up more of a fight at the start of the third, but 16-time grand slam winner Nadal was relentless and wrapped up the match.
“It’s positive of course, winning in straight sets, it was a solid match. I feel comfortable back on the clay,” Nadal said on the Davis Cup website.
“It’s a great feeling to be back, coming back from injuries is always difficult, but it’s great to be in front of my crowd on a very memorable day. I’m very happy with the match.”
Lucas Pouille fired the French ahead with a labored 6-3 6-2 4-6 3-6 6-1 win over Andreas Seppi before home favorite Fabio Fognini redressed the balance with a 6-7(6) 6-2 6-2 6-3 defeat of Jeremy Chardy.
Pouille looked in cruise control after he swept aside Seppi in the opening two sets but the slugfest went the distance after the Italian fought back in front of a passionate home crowd.
The hosts were in danger of falling 2-0 behind as Chardy snatched the opening set tiebreak against Fognini before the 30-year-old Italian raced through the rest of the match to keep the tie in the balance.
Croatia’s Cilic breezed past Dmitry Popko 6-2 6-1 6-2 to give the hosts the lead against Kazakhstan but the visitors hit back after Mikhail Kukushkin overpowered Borna Coric 3-6 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2.
Miami Open champion John Isner smashed 43 aces to overcome a surprisingly stiff challenge from world number 319 Joris de Loore to win the United States’s first point with a 6-3 6-7(4) 7-6(8) 6-4 victory in a match that lasted over three hours.
It appeared like an upset was in the works when the speedy and hard-serving de Loore broke world number nine Isner to open the third set.
But the towering American battled back, wearing the 24-year-old Belgian down with his punishing serve over the course of their marathon match in front of a partisan crowd at Belmont University in Nashville.
Isner’s countryman Sam Querrey faced less resistance from Ruben Bemelmans in the second match, winning 85 percent of his first service points to dispatch the Belgian 6-1 7-6(5) 7-5 to win the U.S.’s second point.
“It felt good. It’s always nice to play second after your teammate gets a win. So John took a little pressure off of me, which was nice of him, so thanks John,” Querrey said during an on-court interview.
The shorthanded Belgian team were playing without David Goffin and Steve Darcis, who are both sidelined with injuries.
The U.S. will have a chance to advance to the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time in six years with a doubles win on Saturday, when Querrey and Ryan Harrison and take on Bemelmans and de Loore.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editng by Toby Davis, Pritha Sarkar, Ken Ferris and Sudipto Ganguly