Argentina came back into the World Group 11 years ago. Since then, they had not lost a single tie in the first round. Saturday, they were aiming to close out the tie against Germany and keep this perfect record.
With the injury to Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was present at the match, Carsten Arriens elected Tobias Kamke to pair up with Christopher Kas for this decisive doubles rubber. Kamke and Kas were facing David Nalbandian and Horacio Zeballos, in a match that marked the return to activity of the former and the return to Davis Cup of the latter.
Of rust and nerves there were not much at the start of the match, as the Argentine duo took the first set, 6-1, in 30 minutes, and quickly went up a break in the second. The locals were, by far, the most complete of the two teams, with a mixture of baseline shots and efficient net play, whereas their rivals’ game revolved mainly on power rallies from the baseline.
With Argentina one set away from the quarter-finals, Kamke and Kas had not said their last word, keeping the matters close and raising their game at the opportune moment to force a fourth set, where Nalbandian and Zeballos quickly took a double break lead, forcing the Germans to save two match points.
With Nalbandian serving for the match, the Argentines had to save break points of their own, but they finally managed to close a 6-1 6-4 5-7 6-2 win, thus clinching what was to be a very difficult tie for Argentina, 3-0, their 12th consecutive first-round win.
For it was a difficult tie they were coming into, as not only did the best-ranked player of the country (Juan Martín del Potro) has opted not to play for the whole year, but two of their main players (Nalbandian and Juan Mónaco) were coming into this tie after bouts with injuries or, in Mónaco’s case, still recovering from one.
Moreover, they knew the difficulty the German team poses, as they have very good players, and gallant fighters.
The first rubber’s win by Carlos Berlocq, albeit by retirement, was a hard-fought one and showed that the Argentines would not surrender without a fight. In the end, with hard work, unity, and team spirit, they won in straight rubbers, and the team’s celebration reflected well the relief they felt knowing that they overcame a very difficult rival with a team that was not at 100%.
At home again in the quarter-finals
Argentina will again be the host of a Davis Cup tie in the quarter-finals, as they will host France, who also clinched their tie, 3-0, against Israel, when Julien Benneteau and Michaël Llodra defeated Jonathan Erlich and Dudi Sela, 7-6(3) 6-1 6-0, thus marking the first win of Arnaud Clément as captain.
In Friday’s singles, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga topped Amir Weintraub, 6-3 6-3 4-6 7-5, and Richard Gasquet cruised against Dudi Sela, whom he defeated 6-3 6-2 6-2.
Before the doubles rubber, the ITF honoured four players for their commitment to the Davis Cup’s national team, as part of the Commitment Award they have created to celebrate the players who have played 20 or more Davis Cup ties since the beginning of the competition.
In Buenos Aires, Ricardo Cano (23 ties), José Luis Clerc (22 ties), Javier Frana (20 ties), David Nalbandian (who is taking part in his 25th tie), and the great Guillermo Vilas (29 ties) were presented the award.
Playing the Davis Cup is, really, a commitment, especially with the demands of actual tennis. Seeing active players receiving this award is definitely a great honour, on which I will come back after the Canadian doubles rubber, and Daniel Nestor.