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Spain in deep Davis Cup trouble against France

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Holders Spain were on the brink of elimination in the Davis Cup quarter-finals on Friday after France won both the opening singles in Clermont-Ferrand.

Without world number one Rafael Nadal, resting his knees after his French Open and Wimbledon triumphs, Spain slipped behind when Gael Monfils beat David Ferrer 7-6 6-2 4-6 5-7 6-4 before Michael Llodra saw off Fernando Verdasco 6-7 6-4 6-3 7-6.

"We lead 2-0 but it's not over yet. We have one point left to grab but this point will probably be the most difficult one to get," Llodra told reporters after his win.

Spanish captain Albert Costa admitted nothing had gone his side's way but was not giving up just yet.

"Of course, it has been a bad day. I don't have many regrets as my players gave everything they had.

"We only have a slim chance of winning and we'll try to get one point after an other. As long as there is life, there is hope."

Russia and Argentina, the winners of whom will face either France or Spain in the semi-finals, were locked at 1-1 after the opening singles in Moscow.

David Nalbandian, whose ranking has plummeted into the 150s after injury problems, gave Argentina a superb start with a 6-4 7-6 7-6 defeat over Nikolay Davydenko before Mikhail Youzhny outclassed Leonardo Mayer 6-3 6-1 6-4 in two hours six minutes.

"We both didn't play our best but I won and it was the most important thing," Nalbandian, who has been troubled with hip and leg injuries, told reporters.

"We made a lot of mistakes today but physically I felt fine. If the match went into a fourth or even a fifth set I think I would have played with the same intensity."

Davydenko, who lost both tiebreaks after letting a 5-2 and 6-4 leads slip away, was left to rue missed chances.

"I don't have a lot of confidence because I didn't play a lot of matches this year," said the world number six, who is also on a came back trail after missing nearly three months with a wrist injury.

In the bottom half of the draw the Czech Republic, without their two best players in Radek Stepanek and Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych, enjoyed a sensational opening day against Chile, racing into a 2-0 lead in Coquimbo.

Ivo Minar dropped just five games against Nicolas Massu before Jan Hajek thrashed Paul Capdeville 6-0 6-2 6-1.

World number two Novak Djokovic gave Serbia a solid start against regional rivals Croatia in Split, beating Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 6-4 6-1 before Marin Cilic hit back for the hosts with a comfortable victory against Viktor Troicki.

"The first set was really tough, plus it's never easy to play away from home, but I managed to convert my break chances and seize control over the match," Djokovic told reporters.

Monfils, taking on the lead role for France in the absence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, appeared to be cruising against Ferrer when he won the first two sets on the indoor hardcourt.

However, Ferrer launched a robust fightback and leveled the match before Monfils edged home to the delight of most of the 6,000 crowd.

Ferrer had won his previous eight matches in Davis Cup.

"I feel happy. Not relieved, just happy," Monfils, who fired down 21 aces, told reporters. "I felt strong and I really fought hard on the crucial points... and the crowd support helped me."

Verdasco was plagued by unforced errors against the attacking Llodra but did nick the first set on a tiebreak after saving two sets points.

Llodra seized control thereafter and Verdasco crumbled before staging a late rally in the fourth but the home favorite won to put France one point away from a first Davis Cup win over Spain since 1923.

Ominously for Spain, they have never recovered after losing the first two singles matches.

(additional reporting by Chrystel Boulet-Euchin in Clermont Ferrand, Zlata Zsolna and Gennady Fyodorov)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)