GIJON, Spain (AP) -David Ferrer overcame a sluggish start to beat Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 to give Spain a 1-0 lead over the United States in their Davis Cup semifinal on Friday.
Ferrer, who played in the U.S. Open semifinals on Sunday, started well with a break but eventually surrendered his only two service games of the match for the defending champions to trail after the first set.
Querrey, returning to Davis Cup for the first time since 2010, failed to maintain his early rhythm and was broken six times by the fifth-ranked Ferrer, who secured a hard-fought victory in 3 hours, 3 minutes after holding off a late charge from his opponent.
Ferrer is leading the five-time champions' bids to reach its fourth final in five years with Rafael Nadal injured.
"It's never easy to adapt from hard court to clay, and with only three to four days even less," Ferrer said after improving to 15-0 on clay in the competition. "I didn't feel too bad but I didn't play perfect tennis either."
Nicolas Almagro looks to give Spain a 2-0 advantage when he faces John Isner in the second singles later Friday.
The last time either team rallied back from losing the first match of their ties was 40 years ago - when the U.S. last beat Spain on home soil.
Querrey had his chances in the fourth set when he bombarded Ferrer with break chances - nine in all - but couldn't convert the necessary winner to help force a fifth set.
"On a couple of them I should have been more aggressive but he played good points," Querrey said. "I feel if I get one of those breaks it could be a different game."
Querrey took a set off Nadal in his Davis Cup debut four years ago but couldn't hold the momentum this time around at the purpose-built Hermanos Castros Park venue, where the wind gusted off the Bay of Biscay.
Ferrer broke Querrey in the first game but then showed signs he may not have gotten back into his clay groove with 46 unforced errors. Querrey broke back with a forehand winner to even it at 4-4, and the lanky American jumped on his opponent's patchy first serve to break again in the 10th game to take the set by forcing an awkward crosscourt return from Ferrer.
"He started playing well and made it difficult for me throughout," said Ferrer, who managed a break point to open the second set to put himself on course for tying it up at 1-1.
With neither player serving spectacularly - the pair combined for 12 double faults - Ferrer led Querrey into hitting long for a 29th forced error for a 3-2 third-set lead with another break. The Spaniard took the third set on a run of six straight games won, including saving six break points on his opening serve of the final set.
The 26th-ranked Querrey didn't relent in the fourth set as he pushed Ferrer until the ninth game when his backhand sprayed wide to be broken for the last time en route to defeat on the outdoor clay.
"Rafa's the best clay-court player of our time, but Ferrer has been one of the top four or five on the circuit. He's a little bit like a little Nadal," Querrey said.
The doubles point is up for grabs on Saturday when Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez play American brothers Mike and Bob Bryan, who are 3-0 against Spain. Reverse singles are scheduled for Sunday.
The winner plays either Argentina or the Czech Republic in November's final.
Follow Paul Logothetis at http://twitter.com/PaulLogoAP