Rafael Nadal. Picture: REUTERS
Rafael Nadal. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — Rafael Nadal faces a potentially season-defining Davis Cup weekend as the 16-time Grand Slam champion returns for his first appearance since hobbling out of the Australian Open in January with a hip injury.

The 31-year-old Nadal leads Spain into a home quarterfinal against Germany at Valencia’s iconic Plaza de Toros bullring, boasting a remarkable record in the tournament.

He is on a 22-match winning streak in singles with his only loss coming on debut for five-time champions Spain in 2004.

However, it is recent history that now concerns Nadal. He may be back at world No1, but Nadal is far from fully recovered from the hip problem that forced him to sit out the Indian Wells and Miami Masters.

"It’s been a tough few months," said Nadal, ahead of a Davis Cup tie that will see him take on Philipp Kohlschreiber in Friday’s second singles.

"But I am excited to be back and hopefully it will be a positive week for me."

On Sunday Nadal will go toe-to-toe with Alexander Zverev, the world No4 widely seen as heir apparent to the great Spaniard. Zverev first faces David Ferrer in the opening rubber, with Ferrer switched to singles after a thumb injury ruled out Miami Masters semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta, with his place going to Marc Lopez.

Coach Carlos Moya urged fans to be patient as Nadal plots his European spring campaign which, if all goes to script, will see him clinch an 11th French Open in June.

Germany, bidding to make the semifinals for the first time in 11 years, will rely for singles points on Zverev, playing just his fourth Davis Cup tie, and veteran Kohlschreiber.

Spain also have form on their side. They have won 26 straight home ties, with their last defeat on Spanish soil coming against Brazil in 1999. Defending champions France go to Genoa to tackle Italy, who are contesting their 250th Davis Cup tie.