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Nadal returns to action in Davis Cup clash against Germany

World number one Rafael Nadal has not played since limping out of the Australian Open in January. Reuters/Jason Lee

World number one Rafael Nadal returns to action on Friday for his first competitive appearance since hobbling out of the Australian Open in January with a hip injury. The 31-year-old will lead Spain into a Davis Cup quarter-final against Germany at the Plaza de Toros in Valencia.

Nadal is on a 22 match winning streak in singles in the competition. His only loss came on his debut in 2004.

Fourteen years ago, he was a teen with a bright future. Nearly a decade and a half later he is one of the legends of the game. He has won a record 10 French Open titles as well as six crowns at the other Grand Slam venues in Melbourne, London and New York.

"It's been a tough few months," admitted Nadal ahead of his opening match against Philipp Kohlschreiber. "But I am excited to be back. Hopefully it will be a positive week for me."

Nadal will fancy his chances. He has won 14 of his 15 encounters with the German who is three years his senior.

However his match on Sunday against Germany's top player Alex Zverev might be more taxing. Zverev, 20, is considered to be one of the next big things on the circuit. Although Nadal has won all three of their matches, Zverev took him to five sets in the third round at the 2017 Australian Open.

Since then Zverev has risen to number four in the world and was a finalist at the Miami Masters in March.

Before that showdown, Zverev will take on the veteran David Ferrer as he tries to steer Germany into their first semi-finals since 2007.

Elsewhere in the competition defending champions France go to Genoa to tackle Italy, while in Nashville, the United States, who have won the competition a record 32 times, take on the 2017 runners-up Belgium.

The winner of that tie will take on Croatia or Kazakhstan in the last four.