We knew before the tie even started that it would be a near-impossible mission for Argentina to reach the final against Czech Republic, as much as we know that Davis Cup is a whole other ball game.
Without Juan Martín del Potro, who did not want to play Davis Cup this year to put more focus on the Grand Slams, and without David Nalbandian, still not 100% from the shoulder surgery he underwent in the spring, it made it even more difficult. After all, those are the best players Argentina has to play on a fast indoor court.
Nevertheless, they had four valiant soldiers on their team, with Juan Mónaco, Carlos Berlocq, Horacio Zeballos, and Leonardo Mayer, all players willing to give all they have, and more, when comes the time to represent their country.
But, let’s face it, except for Mayer, none of them is good on a very fast court, which has been compared to ice by some.
Let’s face it, against Tomaš Berdych and Radek Stepanek, even the bravest of heart and the most willing of them had very little chance of succeeding.
Try they did
Juan Mónaco was the one to open the tie for the visitors, against Radek Stepanek, a veteran whose old-school game expresses itself the best on a fast surface. The match ended up in a 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2 victory for the Czech, despite Mónaco having several chances, on which he could neither capitalise nor build. Pico was, at first, quite nervous, then outplayed by his 34-year-old rival.
Afterwards came Leo Mayer, who played one of the best matches of his career, keeping it very close to World n°5 Tomaš Berdych. Mayer had his chances, he broke a few times and, just like he did against Andy Murray at the U.S. Open, he even took a set off him.
However, even that proved insufficient, and Berdych left with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory, giving his team an almost insurmountable 2-0 lead after the first day.
The doubles were just as difficult for the visitors, as Berdych and Stepanek proved too strong for Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos, themselves pretty good doubles players. The locals clinched the tie with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory, sealing a quick and tough defeat for Argentina, who remains so close to their objective, yet so far!
Nothing to be ashamed of
Over the last two days, many have been the comments bringing down the Argentinian team or one or the others of its members, some virulent, some absolutely insulting, some perhaps just, but usually far from the mark.
One thing needs to be taken into consideration: Argentina reached at least the semifinals for the fourth straight year, which very few countries can boast of.
This season, they were playing at home against Germany and France, two ties which they won, but which they were expected to lose, especially the quarter-final. They ended up defeating Germany 5-0, and edged France in a memorable fifth rubber thriller.
Furthermore, the team has been more united than ever this season, under the patient guidance of captain Martín Jaite and sub-captain Mariano Zabaleta. They made a place for the young, upcoming players, giving them the chance to be around the team and soak into the Davis Cup ambiance, and they, in turn, showed their appreciation and constant support to not only the technical corps, but to the rest of the team as well.
Maybe they could not reach the final, this time, but all the players did give all they had, with their usual fighting spirit, and thinking that they could have a chance to turn things in their favour.
They couldn’t, this time.
However, to say, like some have, that Pico Mónaco has no talent is doing him a grave injustice as well as uttering a blatant lie. Mónaco must have some talent, since he was in the top 10 last year, and is still ranked 30th in the world at the moment. As well, we cannot fault him for his lack of will, as will he has aplenty. His being the team leader in a tie that was nearly impossible to win, on one of the worst surfaces for his game, then criticising him for losing is as hypocritical as it is unfair.
And this can be said for every team member.
They were, perhaps, crushed by the Czech Republic in this semifinal.
But the fact is that they did get there.
What would they need to finally win this ever-elusive Davis Cup?
That all the best players of the country take part in the ties, willing to give everything not to the public, but to the country, and most of all, to the team.
That everyone put their ego aside for four weeks in the season and work together with a common objective: bringing that huge cup home, for once.
Else, the Davis Cup, for Argentina, will remain a dream so close, yet so far…
(Photos: José Rieiro)