Spain took a 2-0 lead in their Davis Cup semi-final against the United States on Friday after world number one Rafael Nadal survived a spirited attack from rookie Sam Querrey and David Ferrer beat Andy Roddick.
With Spain needing just a point to reach November's final, the Americans have a mountain to climb to retain their title starting with Saturday's doubles match which pits Mike Bryan and Mardy Fish against Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.
Only once in 32 ties have they come back from a 2-0 deficit and US captain Patrick McEnroe will be rueing their missed chances.
Nadal struggled in the first set against world number 39 Querrey as the American's booming serves drove the tired-looking Spaniard deep behind the baseline before the French Open and Wimbledon champion finally won 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
World number five Ferrer won the first set on a tiebreak, collapsed under a barrage of blistering serves from eight-ranked Roddick in the second and third, only to roar back and steal the match 7-6, 2-6, 1-6, 6-4, 8-6 in a nail-biting finale.
Argentina lead Russia 2-0 after Friday's singles in the other semi-final in Buenos Aires. The final starts on November 21.
Querrey had said he needed to be aggressive and the gangly 20-year-old's big serves unnerved Nadal and the ducking VIP spectators behind him in the 77-year-old Las Ventas bullring.
"Never in my life have so many service points been scored against me on clay," Nadal told Spanish television.
"I started the match three metres behind the court and I ended it five metres behind," he later told a news conference.
Querrey, who stands 1.98 metres tall, started to find his range as the first set wore on and in the tiebreak he seized the initiative to take a 4-1 lead before holding his nerve, while Nadal lost his and double-faulted, to win the set in 59 minutes.
The enthusiastic crowd in the 21,000-seater arena looked as stunned as Nadal when the now-rampant Querrey, who hit 17 aces during the match, broke at the start of the second set.
However, that was to be the peak for the inexperienced American and in a pivotal third game a passing shot from the 22-year-old Nadal hit the line to halt the American's momentum as he pressed for a second break.
Nadal broke back at the first chance and Spain's claycourt master then began to dominate the longer rallies. His forehands started to fizz and errors crept into Querrey's game.
Finally, the San Franciscan, who lost to Nadal in four sets at the US Open, cracked in the 10th game and lost the set.
It was a similar story in the third set as Nadal soaked up Querrey's powerful strokes and chased down everything before hitting a series of sensational counter punches.
Despite battling in the fourth, Querrey buckled in the ninth game and chants of "torero" (bullfighter) reverberated around the packed stone stands as Nadal won after 3 hours 18 minutes.
The tie between Ferrer and Roddick took exactly the same amount of time but was a very different match.
After a close first set, the American shifted into top gear as he blew Ferrer away with his powerful serves. Roddick only played one bad game at the start of the fourth set but it gave Ferrer some momentum in the early evening sunshine.
Roddick was no longer slamming down easy service winners, and after levelling Ferrer's early break in the fifth set found himself again at break point down at 6-6 in the decider.
The American hit the line at 30-40 down but the frenzied crowd called it out and, though the confused players carried on, Roddick netted a backhand volley moments later.
He was furious and exchanged words with Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez-Vicario at the change of ends, though at a news conference later he refused to say what had been said.
The clearly ruffled-American had no response to a Ferrer ace in the next game that set up match point and hit a final backhand long to surrender the match.
"The crowd played a crucial role," said Ferrer. "In the fifth set there was a lot of tension and the game was excitting. It was important to have them on my side."