The tennis season ended officially today, as Spain was crowned Davis Cup champion for the third time in the last four years, defeating Argentina 3-1 in the finals and in an epic match between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro, won 1-6 6-4 6-1 7-6(0) by the King of Clay. And I must say that the emotions of this weekend are really what made it so very special, even though, from a completely fanatic point of view, it is not the team I wanted to see winning that won. Objectively speaking, it was the better team that won, of course, but the vanquished did not surrender without fighting with all artillery out.
On that, today was absolutely no different to the two previous days for Argentina. David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal were, simply, just too good. Although for a set, a game and three points, many were we who thought we would see an Argentine miracle.
One set, one game and three points, then the Bull revived
The beginning of the match left crowd, supporters and teams alike in shock, but also, from the Argentine point of view, completely in glee. There’s no denying it: Del Potro was playing unbelievable tennis, driving Nadal to mistake over mistake, playing short and with lots of moonballs, like he does when he is not comfortable in a match. In fact, the only game he won was when he broke Delpo’s serve at the complete beginning of the match. Although if the set lasted a full hour, it had a lot to do with both players struggling on their serve and rare easy holds from Del Potro.
The beginning of the second set was very similar to the first: Del Potro breaking Nadal at his first service game but then, for once, he seemed to make his way to an easy hold. Up a break, 40-0, he started making errors. And that’s when the match turned. From 40-0 up, Delpo lost the next 5 points and was broken. Never wake a wounded Bull, even more so if his name is Rafael Nadal. This break, after being down 1-6, 0-1, 0-40 was really what he needed to recover all his confidence.
Away went the moonballs, flying came the serve, deep came the groundstrokes. The King of Clay was back and all Del Potro could do was hang on for dear life and try, and try again. In the end, just like in the fourth set against David Ferrer, the Argentine was unable to hold serve to stay in the set, which Rafa won 6-4.
The body gives up, but the fans give energy back to their man
Part of the story of this tie was written by the fans, particularly, to me, the loud and constantly encouraging Argentine fans. La hinchada was more present than ever after seeing their man losing the third set, a set in which he was completely without energy, when his legs started giving way again (he finished the match with both thighs bandaged), and the unrelenting Rafa was pushing and pushing harder, doing whatever he wanted with his opponent, taking it 6-1 and breaking Delpo at the start of the fourth.
But the Argentines never gave up. They chanted on, bringing tears in the Gentle Giant’s eyes, a moment of great emotion (and later earning Argentina a warning from the chair umpire, Pascal Maria, a man who has balls to give those warnings, unfortunately at the most inopportune of times). And this revived him. Down a break, about to serve, he found enough nerve to hold, and then rallied to break Nadal’s serve. Back to square one? Not really, because Nadal broke right back, and the same thing happened again. Transported by the crowd, Del Potro hung on until, at 5-5, he was broken again.
Over and done? No! Unable to serve for the match, Nadal saw Del Potro breaking his serve and force a tiebreak, which the Spaniard completely dominated, winning it comfortably. A marathon of four hours that he ended falling flat on his back, in a moment of pure joy, as his team-mates and the Spanish fans chanted and celebrated their triumph.
Class act until the end, Nadal gave a heartfelt hug to a Del Potro in tears, then went to congratulate the whole Argentine bench before heading to celebrate with his team.
As for Del Potro, he was inconsolable. Sitting in his chair, his head in his towel, he was crying his deception, the one of having come so close, but still so far.
A team’s unity
Inconsolable was also the rest of the Argentine team (and fans), as they saw their dream of bringing the Ensaladera de Plata home shattered for a fourth time. But as much as they were cheering Delpo during the match, they were also there for him in defeat and quickly rushed to his side to try and comfort him. Pico Mónaco held him for long minutes, until he was joined by David Nalbandian, both men fighting their own grief to try and alleviate that of their team-mate.
That image of Pico and Nalbandian comforting Delpo (from the Argentine newspaper La Nación) is really, to me, what symbolizes the most what Tito Vázquez, in my fan eyes, has accomplished best during his three years at the helm of the team: he restored unity in a team that has been quite shattered after the disaster of 2008.
For Tito is not coming back. He announced it after the match. His contract ended with the tie and persisting rumours state that Martín Jaite will replace him as of next year. And maybe they never won the Davis Cup with him, but they finally ended up being a team, which, to me, is quite an accomplishment. Hay equipo.
Them being finally united with a common goal bodes well for next year, which should be Nalbandian’s last as an active player. And no matter the loss, the team worked very hard and gave everything to try and win against the powerful Spain, as visitors. They can leave with their heads held high, proud of their effort.
After the match, David Nalbandian concurred to the thought that many of us had (translation below):
I’m content and satisfied with all that we did, each of us: the players, the technical staff, everyone. I think that after all, we had a great year. A tie for which we were many and not all could play but I think it was done the best way because it was a very tough tie. We knew how tough Spain was and they showed during the who weekend how tough they were as locals but we are at peace because every player at every moment gave everything. There are moments when things don’t go our way but we have to be at peace and satisfied with what we did to try to win. Unfortunately, there are times when the opponent is better and there’s nothing else to it.
(Video: BA Tennis)
Spain fully deserved the win. Both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer played unbelievable tennis in order to bring them a third Davis Cup in four years and, to me, the hero of the tie was Ferrer, who played the match of his life on Friday to give the important 2-0 lead to his team.
However, the very united Spanish team risks falling apart, as Rafael Nadal already announced, after the match, that he wouldn’t play Davis Cup next year, in order to prepare for the Olympics, but most of all to try and regain the no 1 ranking.
Furthermore, Feliciano López and Fernando Verdasco are reflecting about their continuation with the Davis Cup squad and so is the captain, Albert Costa, whose contract also comes to an end and will take time to reflect on whether or not he would come back. As for David Ferrer, he will take it tie by tie to see whether he participates or not, due to his calendar.
However, I am not worried. Spain is a manna of good players, who all get along marvelously, and it would be a very nice chance for them to continue the winning tradition that is now, rightfully so, Spain’s trademark.
Today, Spain is a very deserving champion and the team deserves all our congratulations!