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Spain's Davis Cup roller-coaster ride continues

Rafael Nadal chose not to play for Spain in Davis Cup competition this past weekend, saying he needed more training. Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

It's been a roller-coaster year for Spanish tennis, but the slide of Rafael Nadal and rise of Garbine Muguruza isn't even the half of it.

This past weekend, Spain dropped a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-2 loss against Russia in its Davis Cup Group I tie, leaving it facing a Group II relegation tie in the next round. Despite having more players in the top 100 than any other nation, it fielded a team with just one top-50 player, No. 21 Tommy Robredo. There were actually more top-50 players at the wedding of Spanish player Feliciano Lopez than at Davis Cup, with No. 7 David Ferrer and No. 39 Fernando Verdasco in attendance to see Lopez get married.

Many in Spain and elsewhere are wondering how it came to this. It has been months in the making, stemming from a conflict between Spanish players and the Royal Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET) that has been filled with political intrigue, accusations of sexism and financial mismanagement.

Almost a year ago at Flushing Meadows, former world No. 1 and then-Davis Cup captain Carlos Moya began asking players to commit to the World Group relegation tie against Brazil. None of the top seven players agreed to play and Spain fell to Brazil, relegated from the World Group for the first time in 18 years. Following the defeat, a frustrated Moya told Spanish newspaper El Pais he was resigning as captain.

Instead of choosing another of Spain's retired stars to replace Moya (former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero was one obvious candidate), federation president Jose Luis Escañuela chose Gala Leon Garcia, a former WTA player once ranked 27th in the world who was the federation's athletic director and appointed Davis Cup captain despite limited coaching experience.

Her appointment caused an uproar. The fact that she was a woman initially attracted the most attention. Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni, fanned the flames, saying Leon Garcia lacked knowledge of men's tennis and questioned how locker-room entry would work if she were to be captain.

"I will not apologize for being a woman," Leon Garcia told the players.

Nadal hit back at what he called an artificial sexist debate, pointing to a range of players who said their objection was that the federation had not consulted them in the usual way and chose someone unfamiliar to them.

"It's like I appointed myself to run a hospital," Nadal said, although he eventually apologized.

The controversy even received the attention of the Spanish government, with the Royal Council of Sport launching an investigation into the running of the federation and its finances. The extent of the divide became obvious when the Davis Cup team was initially being discussed -- and the only top 100-ranked player was No. 62 Daniel Gimeno-Traver.

With the Davis Cup quarterfinal approaching, things were becoming urgent on both sides. Just before Wimbledon earlier this month, 42 Spanish players and coaches reportedly issued a letter denouncing the federation for "lack of transparency," "mismanagement" and "chaotic and belligerent leadership" under the unpopular federation president. According to an El Pais report, the letter had been written during a secret gathering in the All England Club's player restaurant that day. It was signed by many of the country's top players, including Nadal, Muguruza, Carla Suárez Navarro and Ferrer. Leon Garcia, who had flown in to meet the players in London, was on her way back to Madrid and offered to resign as players kept up their refusal to return to the team.

Their collective stand against the federation was a defining blow. Escañuela, who already had been suspended for not cooperating with the government investigation, gave his own resignation and vice president Fernando Fernandez-Ladreda was appointed the post. One of his first steps was to replace Leon Garcia with former Wimbledon champion and Fed Cup captain Conchita Martinez.

Things settled a bit in the days following the Martinez appointment. Ferrer offered to join the team, but could not play because of an elbow injury that forced him to miss Wimbledon. Robredo stepped in instead. Nadal decided not to play, saying he needed more training.

That meant going into this past weekend's Group 1 tie against Russia with a lineup of Tommy Robredo, Pablo Andujar, Marc Lopez and David Marrero. Robredo was the only Spanish player ranked in the top 50 on the team. Even with that lineup, they had a good opportunity against a young Russian team with no players in the top 100, but still dropped the tie.

For a five-time-winning Davis Cup nation, these are reduced circumstances indeed.