Forget Waldo. The question heading into this Davis Cup quarterfinal weekend is: "Where's Rafa?"
The Spanish Davis Cup team is in Andy Roddick's hometown of Austin, Texas, where they'll mix it up in the Davis Cup quarterfinal against the United States. But not all the top Spanish players have made the trip.
Rafael Nadal -- Spain's numero uno -- selected swimming over swinging a racket. After he lost the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic, his uncle and coach, Toni, said he would be vacationing at home in Mallorca.
Nadal seems in need of a vacation. Of late, he's been very testy. It's likely an outcome of his not being in winning form against Djokovic, the new world No. 1. The Serb has now beaten him all five times they've played this year -- always in tournament finals.
When Nadal was asked at Wimbledon about his decision not to play Davis Cup, he went into a long diatribe against the International Tennis Federation that organizes the international team competition. It was interesting as Nadal's always considered Davis Cup an important event in his career: He was part of Spain's winning efforts in 2004, 2008 (didn't play in the final as he was injured) and 2009.
"The problem is the ITF, my opinion," said Nadal, on June 27th. "They don't want to change nothing. They are never able to change nothing on the calendar, nothing in the format of the Davis Cup competition. And some thing they are doing bad, because the best player of the world, a lot of times we are not able to play.
"For me is hard not go to United States and play for my country," he added. "For somebody can think, 'Well, he only is think about himself. He is playing his own things. Doesn't matter about the Davis Cup.' It's not my case. … I cannot be in every place. I cannot be competitive every week of the year. My body needs to rest."
It's hard to fault the 25-year-old Nadal for needing to care for his body, which has shown serious signs of wear and tear, particularly his knees. Even U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, who played on the winning 1992 and 1995 U.S. Davis Cup squads, said he understood Nadal's concern.
"I think we're very realistic as to the challenges that the players face with the schedule, the week after Wimbledon, when I think we saw that we were playing Spain," Courier said. "Rafa's history of playing well on the grass, it's not surprising he's taken this decision. I think the fans will probably have more mixed emotions than we will."
That said, Nadal has changed his tune since 2006. That year, Nadal was one of the top players who signed a letter sent to the ITF requesting the Davis Cup be played "the week directly after the Grand Slam." In exchange for the ITF scheduling the competition in that fashion, the players said, "In return for this we undertake to make an increased commitment to participate in the Davis Cup qualification rounds."
The letter had been sent asking for the dates to be switched from two weeks after a Grand Slam, citing that except for a few players, most Davis Cup participants won't be hanging around late into the majors and will already have rest time. Of course, if you're a Nadal or Federer -- or now a Djokovic -- and winning Grand Slam titles, you are more adversely affected by the scheduling. However, it should be noted that Djokovic, who has only lost one match this year, is playing Davis Cup in Halmstad, Sweden, this week.
Nadal or no Nadal, the competition must go on. And the Spaniards certainly brought a weighty lineup to Austin with No. 6 David Ferrer and No. 31 Feliciano Lopez (reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals) for singles, and No. 23 Fernando Verdasco playing doubles with Lopez.
The U.S. lineup has No. 8 Fish playing Lopez in the first match, followed by No. 19 Andy Roddick playing Ferrer, and Lopez-Verdasco playing the top-ranked Bryan brothers in Saturday's doubles match. Sunday features reverse singles with Fish starting off against Ferrer.
Spanish captain, Albert Costa, the 2002 French Open champion, is content to look beyond the lack of Nadal. "Well, for sure, Rafael is a very important player in our team," Costa said. "But, right now, he is not here. We have these four players, they know how it is to win Davis Cup. They are very experienced. For sure, they will play with passion, with heart, with all that they have inside to try to win this tie."
Ferrer, the lead player for the Spanish, also spoke with confidence about the team assembled here in Austin, choosing not to worry about the AWOL Nadal.
"I think we have a really good team," Ferrer said. "We have confidence. We will be with confidence in this tie. Of course, it's going to be a very difficult tie, but we will try the best in this tie."
Nadal might be displeased at the moment, a feeling which will hopefully be erased after his summer vacation. But if Spain happens to fly back home with a berth in September's semifinal, don't be at all surprised to find Nadal back in the Davis Cup frame of mind.
He is the type of guy who feels a loyalty to his country and team. And he's made a point of cherishing his Davis Cup successes, which sit cozily alongside his 10 Grand Slam trophies.