(Corrects paragraph 11 to make clear Croatia v Kazakhstan tie is taking place in Varazdin and not Umag)
By Zoran Milosavljevic
April 6 (Reuters) - Spain’s Rafael Nadal returned to action with a 6-2 6-2 6-3 Davis Cup win over Germany’s Philip Kohlschreiber on Friday to set a record for the longest winning streak in the competition’s history.
World number one Nadal had not played since he retired from his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic in January with a leg injury, but made light work of Kohlschreiber to draw five-times winners Spain level at 1-1 in the tie.
Victory meant Nadal set the record for the longest Davis Cup winning streak in combined singles and doubles rubbers with 23 matches in a row.
Holders France went 1-0 up against Italy after Lucas Pouille overpowered Andreas Seppi 6-3 6-2 4-6 3-6 6-1 and Croatia also took the lead against Kazakhstan as Marin Cilic brushed aside Dmitry Popko 6-2 6-1 6-2.
Nadal was swiftly back into the swing of things in Valencia, dismantling Kohlschreiber after Alexander Zverev blew away David Ferrer 6-4 6-2 6-2 to put Germany in front.
The 31-year-old Nadal hardly put a foot wrong on his return, having produced 14 of his 30 winners in the opening set of a lop-sided contest.
Kohlschreiber also went down tamely in the second before putting up more of a fight at the start of the third, but 16-times grand slam winner Nadal kept his foot on the gas and wrapped up the match in two hours and 33 minutes.
“It’s positive of course, winning in straight sets, it was a solid match. I feel comfortable back on the clay,” Nadal said on the Davis Cup website.
“It’s a great feeling to be back, coming back from injuries is always difficult, but it’s great to be in front of my crowd on a very memorable day. I’m very happy with the match.”
It seemed plain sailing for Pouille in Genoa after he swept aside Seppi in the opening two sets but the slugfest went the distance after the Italian fought back in front of a passionate home crowd.
Cilic had an easier task in Varazdin in northern Croatia, as he breezed past Popko to put the competition’s 2005 winners in the driving seat.
The United States are at home to Belgium in Nashville in the other quarter-final, with John Isner due to take on Joris de Loore in the opening singles rubber at 2100 GMT. (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editng by Toby Davis)