Saturday morning, a few moments before the start of the doubles. A doubles match that has a special importance for both teams. For Spain, it’s a match in which they can finish what they so strongly started yesterday. For Argentina, it’s a do or die match, what we call, in French, un match sans lendemain.
Because the Argentine team has its back to the wall, trailing 0-2, which explains this expression that just doesn’t translate very well. Do or die. David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank need a win in order to keep this tie alive and give some meaning to tomorrow’s matches and still keep their nation’s hopes alive, as well as those of their many supporters.
Spain went with flying colours
We knew that Spain had a very, very strong team and at home, on clay, they showed yet again why yesterday. For starters, Rafael Nadal showed why he is, in my mind and in that of many, the best clay court player in the history of tennis. If his 6-1 6-1 6-2 win over Juan Mónaco let us think that the match was a beatdown, it doesn’t translate how tight a lot of the games were.
The match was played at a few points here and there and if one thinks that Pico surrendered, well, that one has definitely not watched the match. Mónaco really gave all he’s got, did not serve pretty well, it’s true, but he gave everything he had and this should’ve ensured him a win against about any player. However, in front of him wasn’t just any player, but the player, the ultimate clay court warrior, one who played an absolutely unbelievable match, in which he would have defeated just anybody.
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Regardless of anyone’s preference, it was an enjoyable display of clay court tennis, grit and admirable defence. Rafa at his best. Pico went with all his artillery, including the kitchen sink, and still only won four games. But this Rafa, I must insist, would have defeated every player with the level of play he showed yesterday. Probably not with the same scoreline, but he would have. Yes, it makes no doubt in my mind, he would even have defeated Novak Djokovic (who had the better of him twice on clay this season) with that kind of tennis.
For Spain, the great march to victory had started. For Argentina, it was the beginning of a very dark Friday.
Then came David Ferrer and Juan Martín del Potro and the first set and a bit gave me to think that it would be a nightmare for any who supports the Argentine team, as Delpo started the match as if he were the one who was dead tired from many weeks of tennis, was not serving well, was not very aggressive, just as though the pressure was too much on his shoulders, whereas Ferrer was all energy, as always, but with this little extra gear he was able to find in order to raise to the occasion. He might be short, but he was a train that rammed into Del Potro from the first moment.
However, my initial thought was wrong. We had the epic that, on paper, match promised to be. After that first set and a bit, Del Potro found his game (if not his serve) and came back to take the second set in the tiebreak, after letting a break advantage go, and then gave Argentina his first lead of the finals when he took the third.
If Delpo gave his all and even more, we have to say the same for Ferrer. Both players on court gave all they got and it’s on a double fault from the Argentine that Ferrer clinched the fourth set, forcing a decisive fifth. As Ferrer mentioned after the match, the strategy was to wear Del Potro out and the little Spanish Ironman did just that. When the decisive set started, Delpo was all but dead on court. Yet he fought on and came really close, after being two breaks down, to bring things back to square 1. Yet it was not to be. The second time serving for the match was the good one and Ferrer gave Spain a nearly impossible to come back lead, winning 6-2 6-7(2) 3-6 6-4 6-3.
Del Potro left the court in tears, as were many of the (very loud during the matches) Argentine fans in the stands, and many of their supporters at home too. From a fan perspective, I will not say I wasn’t crushed, because that would be a lie. I was devastated. After the match, Ferrer also mentioned that he probably played the match of his career. I cannot disagree. It was a monster effort from him, as it was for his opponent.
We were the witnesses of an epic and emotional match, one of the best matches of the year. Davis Cup tennis bares the players’ souls when played with this level of intensity.
What’s left for Argentina?
The hope for a miracle. And hope there is in the Argentine camp, do not doubt it. They might be on a respirator now, but as long as there’s life, there’s hope and it will be for Nalbandian and Schwank to step up and keep this threadbare hope alive when they will face Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano López.
The players still believe, as does the captain, Tito Vázquez, a very wise man. (As usual, I provide the translation below. Many thanks to Silvina for making sure that my translation was accurate!)
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Q: Tito, do you believe it’s over, that the tie is done with?
Tito: No, no, if it were over, we wouldn’t be there tomorow. No, no, we’re still going. First, there’s the double. Obviously today, Delpo’s match, we had a lot of confidence. We knew it would be very difficult. I think that those are moments, no? And it was Ferrer’s moment. Today, Friday, he played a hell of a match.He was the best player today and they owned the first day. But well, those are things you know. We wanted to end the day 1-1, as we would then have a bit more space and there would be more pressure for Spain as locals. Obviously Spain is 2-0 ahead and have an enormous advantage. And when all players play singles like that, they are favourites, as they always were from the beginning of the tie.
(Video: BA Tennis)
And whether winning or losing awaits them today, they have to be proud of one thing: the players gave all they got. Yesterday, both Mónaco and Del Potro left everything on that court to try and win. They couldn’t do it, but they still gave it all and just for that, they deserve compliments and pride. The Spaniards were just too strong. But it doesn’t mean the Argentines didn’t try.
One thing is for sure: the doubles, for both teams, is of the utmost importance.
Do or die.