MADRID Spain squandered the chance to clinch a Davis Cup semi-final berth against France or the U.S. when Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez lost 3-6 6-4 6-4 7-6 to unfancied Austrian pair Alexander Peya and Oliver Marach on Saturday.
On the second day of the World Group quarter-finals, the U.S. secured a 2-1 lead over France in Monte Carlo and Czech Republic moved ahead by the same score against Serbia in Prague.
Argentina have a 2-1 lead over Croatia in Buenos Aires after David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank delighted the rowdy home support by edging a five-hour thriller against Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic 3-6 7-6 6-3 6-7 8-6 as they bid to make up for the disappointment of losing to Spain in the 2008 and 2011 finals.
"This is a very hard tie, the wind kept bothering and (the match) got complicated," Nalbandian said in a courtside television interview ahead of Sunday's decisive reverse singles.
"(It was difficult) in these conditions yesterday and today with more humidity, (making the ball) much slower and with lots of wind," added the 30-year-old, who is nicknamed King David by the home fans.
Spain's rain-interrupted doubles rubber at home to Austria on the clay at Marina d'Or was a world away from Friday's one-sided singles, when Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer thrashed Juergen Melzer and Andreas Haider-Maurer respectively.
The visitors kept their hopes alive with a gritty doubles performance in front of the partisan Spanish crowd, fighting back from a set down and giving themselves a chance of causing an upset if they can win both of Sunday's singles.
However, with world number five Ferrer and number 12 Almagro in fine form and playing on their favored surface, top-ranked Spain should still be too strong for the Austrians.
Missing clay king Rafa Nadal, who has opted out of the competition this year and is nursing a knee injury, Spain are chasing a fourth title in five years and a sixth overall since their first Davis Cup triumph in 2000.
"It's a shame because we had our chances to force a fifth set," Spain captain Alex Corretja said in an interview with Spanish television after Austria converted their fifth match point to win a thrilling fourth-set tie break 14-12.
"In the end they knew how to cope better with the interruptions and we perhaps were lacking a little in the clarity of our ideas," Corretja added.
"Tomorrow we'll be here again and, although losing the doubles was a pity, we still have two chances to win the tie."
France, runners-up to Serbia in 2010, could lose at home for the first time since April 2006 after Bob and Mike Bryan, the world number one doubles pair, put the U.S. ahead with a 6-4 6-4 7-6 win over Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.
The Bryans broke in the opening games of the first two sets and won the third-set tiebreak 7-4 to put the Americans on the verge of a first Davis Cup semi-final since 2008.
"We came in today and played a really solid match, especially on our serve," said Mike Bryan.
"Not being down a break point on serve, especially against a great team on dirt, is a great stat with us," he added. "It wasn't flashy, we just played our workmanlike doubles today."
Sunday's first reverse singles will feature Jo-Wilfried Tsonga against John Isner after both won on Friday.
In Prague, there was none of the bad feeling that marred Friday's five-hour clash between Radek Stepanek and Janko Tipsarevic as the former partnered Tomas Berdych to beat Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic 6-4 6-2 7-6.
After Tipsarevic's win on Friday, Stepanek refused to shake his hand and the Serb had to be restrained by team mates before accusing his opponent of making an obscene finger gesture.
"I did not get much sleep (on Friday night) so I am looking forward now to getting some rest," Stepanek said.
(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris, Jan Lopatka in Prague and Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires, editing by Ken Ferris and Alison Wildey)