It was a hot, scorching day. The rains that were forecast finally did not fall, leaving the air hot and heavy.
Such were the conditions in which Carlos Berlocq and Philipp Kohlschreiber took the court. The weather in Buenos Aires has been very hot all week, and the strategy, for Charly and captain Martín Jaite, was clear: make the match last as long as possible, as Berlocq’s physical resistance was better than his rival’s and they knew that if the match lingered, the chances were all on the home player’s side.
Berlocq did not have the start he might have wished for. Broken in the very first game of the match, he could not find an answer to the precise game of the German, who broke twice to take the first set, 6-3.
It is not in Carlos Berlocq to give up, and he showed it in the second set, never conceding Kohlschreiber a break point, despite very tight games, and breaking at the opportune moment and serving out easily to level matters, reviving the scarce crowd in the stands and putting them into the match as though they were a sell-out crowd.
However, Philipp Kohlschreiber is not a top 20 player for no reason. He kept putting pressure on Berlocq with great efficiency, breaking his rival three times (Berlocq had recuperated one of the breaks) to take a two-set lead.
If there is one thing to be said about Carlos Berlocq, it is that the talent he doesn’t have compared to some players, he compensates with the heart of a warrior and a will that would make many livid with envy. That is exactly what he continued showing, even more so after the loss of the third set.
Berlocq hung on and fought as much as he could. In the end, it bore fruit. He broke in the middle of the set, and never let go, forcing a fifth and decisive one.
So far, the strategy was working, as the players had been on court for a little over three hours by then, and we could see Kohlschreiber starting to suffer from the 36°C that were felt on the court at that time.
Both players had opportunities to break, with neither of them capitulating. Then came the drama. Up 4-3, on serve, with Berlocq serving at 0-30, Kohlschreiber went to run for a drop shot from his rival, slided, lost the point but at the same time, something pulled in his leg, forcing him to stop right away and ask for the trainer.
When he came back, Berlocq had a little bit of problems keeping his focus against a rival who was not basically standing on one leg. He fended off break points, held serve, and then could do nothing on the Kohlschreiber serve, despite the German being unable to serve with any sort of power.
With Berlocq up 40-0 on his serve, Kohlschreiber had enough. Barely able to walk, he went to the net to shake hands with Carlos Berlocq, who thus won his first Davis Cup rubber, 3-6 7-5 2-6 6-4 4-5 ret., in 4h06.
Then came a moment many decry: after celebrating with his team, shaking hands with his rivals, and seeing Kohlschreiber off the court to applause, Carlos Berlocq, transported by emotion, ripped off his shirt. I do not, here, say that I approve of the gesture, because I don’t like shirt-ripping (and that is an understatement). However, this came after 4h06 of intense battle, in excruciating heat.
His reaction after the match was that of a man who left his whole heart on that court, and who had realised one of his long-time dreams. Perhaps his first Davis Cup win came in a very sad way, but before Kohlschreiber’s injury, he was in a good position to take the match, and it doesn’t take away the battle that came before it, which was a big one.
Only looking at the score, and then at the photo, doesn’t reflect that. Making a mountain out of his celebration, without having seen the match, and then insulting Berlocq for what happened is showing him a great injustice, and not knowing what he is.
And what he is is a gladiator, someone who fights with everything he has when he takes the court, even when he knows it will be a losing situation, and who works extremely hard off the court to get where he is now. He is also a player with an immense respect of his opponents, whoever they are. This was not an insult towards Kohlschreiber, just a man who got carried away by his emotions after an intense fight.
Mónaco completes the dream day
After the intensity of the first rubber, Juan Mónaco took the court to face a rival he had only beaten once, several years ago, and to whom he had lost five times: Florian Mayer.
The German’s unorthodox style, and the Argentine’s lack of rhythm after having played only one match since the beginning of the season, made for a very topsy-turvy encounter, in which there have been no less than 14 breaks of serve.
After the match, it was also revealed that Mónaco, who had had a small surgery to his right hand last December, had to receive an injection before the match. “Not an injury, just a precaution”, he said.
On Saturday, David Nalbandian and Horacio Zeballos (who makes a return to the Davis Cup team) will face Christopher Kas and, most likely, Florian Mayer to try and clinch the tie for Argentina.
As for Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was supposed to play doubles, he was to return to Germany, as he appears to have suffered a tear in his left leg, and left on crutches. Let’s hope it is not too serious and that he will make a speedy recovery.