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U.S. played with heart despite loss

GIJON, Spain -- This year's Davis Cup final, which will be the 100th Davis Cup in history, is now set. As it turned out one anticipated nation made the final grade as expected and another became a surprise semifinal winner.

Defending champions Spain defeated the United States 3-1 during a semifinal home tie in majestic Gijon, Spain. The Czech Republic pulled off a 3-2 upset over an Argentina team without Juan Martin del Potro, who missed Sunday's action with a left wrist injury.

The final will take place Nov.16-18 in the Czech Republic, where fans can expect the home team to select a fast indoor surface to attempt to increase its chances of winning the Davis Cup for the first time since 1980. The country was still Czechoslovakia back then and part of the Soviet Eastern bloc when they achieved that feat.

Here's what we learned from the Spain- U.S. semifinal tie this past weekend.

The reign of Spain

They don't call Spain's Davis Cup team the Spanish Armada for nothing.

The country has dominated the Davis Cup competition throughout this century, taking home the trophy on five occasions (2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011). Before 2000, Spain had reached the Davis Cup final only once, losing to Australia 4-1 at Sydney in 1965.

Russia is the only other nation to win more than one Davis Cup crown in the 21st Century, winning the Cup in 2003 and 2006.

So deep with talent, Spain can configure a number of different Davis Cup squads for ties that all would be considered "A" quality.

No Rafael Nadal, no problem. Suffering again from a recurring knee injury, Nadal didn't make the trip to Gijon. But that was hardly a worry when you have other options. David Ferrer, the No. 5 player who just reached the U.S. Open semifinal, led Spain with an assist from No. 12 Nicolas Almagro. If you think that's slumming it, think again. Ferrer holds a perfect 16-0 record playing Davis Cup at home, and a not-too-shabby 21-4 overall Davis Cup singles record. It's worth noting that Spain won the 2008 Davis Cup title without Nadal being on the final squad.

"This is the competition in which I have felt the most emotions in," said Ferrer, who was an important factor in Spain's past three Davis Cup championship victories. "I am a team player. I don't know how much longer my career will last, so I want to do my best possible in the Davis Cup."

Although the Spaniards are clearly a force to be reckoned with at home -- they've won their past 24 Davis Cup outings at home -- they've won their past 26 ties on clay dating back to 1999.

Let's not forget that Spain took the U.S. to task in last year's semifinal that was an away tie in Andy Roddick's hometown of Austin, Texas, on a hard-court surface about as fast as an ice-skating rink.

Although the Czechs with Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek on board will also likely attempt a speedy surface, turning back Spain is a task that many countries just find too difficult to successfully achieve.

Don't be down on the red, white & blue

Yes, it's true that back in the good old days the U.S. was the dominator when it came to Davis Cup. They won the first Davis Cup competition started by Dwight Davis of Harvard University in 1900 and reigned victorious over the Davis Cup a record 32 times.

However, in recent times, the only U.S. win came in 2007 on the coattails of Andy Roddick, who led James Blake and Mike and Bob Bryan to a 4-1 victory over Russia in Portland, Ore.

The U.S. went into this latest weekend tie as the underdogs and many didn't anticipate the Yanks making much noise. Well, they didn't go home with a final berth, but they certainly didn't depart without making a statement.

Although only the Bryans scored a point in the four matches played, taking a four-set win over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, John Isner and Sam Querrey didn't amount to pushovers on clay.

Querrey played the opening match of the weekend, losing to Ferrer, who seemingly has an answer for every ball coming his way. But Querrey did extend Ferrer to four sets and with nine break-point opportunities in the fourth, he was inches away from extending the match to five sets. If only Ferrer didn't have the knack to get out of jams.

Isner admitted that he's a bit confused as to why he has lost five key five-set matches this year -- leaving all four Grand Slams after forcing opponents to go the distance as well as falling to Almagro in five in Friday's second match in Gijon. Isner went down to Ferrer in four sets Sunday.

"I don't really know why," said Isner, when asked why he seems to run out of stamina after reaching the fifth set. "I guess the good news is I don't have any more five-set matches this year. I'll start again in Melbourne next year and hope for better."

Considering the level of competition, the U.S. could've come into the semifinal defeated before they started.

But U.S. captain Jim Courier is a motivator, a task master and a believer. Evidence of that is how he led the U.S. to the semifinals in what had to be the toughest Davis Cup draw -- all away ties. The U.S. wasn't expected to win the first round against Switzerland with Roger Federer on the team, but it conquered the indoor clay and Federer in a 5-0 clobbering. The U.S. continued to surprise by heading to France, where it played on outdoor clay and scored a 3-2 win to reach the semis.

"It was a great battle between two of the best teams in the world, no doubt," Courier said. "Spain's obviously the high water mark in Davis Cup in the last 15 years. We knew it was going to be a very tricky tie for us.

"All of us who live in tennis knew that it was going to be a few points that make the difference. The Spaniards found a way to win a few key points in the three matches they won."

Give Courier, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, some time. He has the right ingredients to deliver the U.S. to its 33rd Davis Cup title. It just won't happen this year.