Rafa clinches the tie for Spain, after defeating DelPo in four sets: 1-6 6-4 6-1 7-6. The stronger team won and Spain clinched its 5th Davis Cup title in Sevilla.
Given Manolo Santana’s breezy proclamation that Spain could beat Argentina on roller skates, I’d have expected more of a straight-sets beating from Rafa. Yet the match took off with DelPo hitting penetrating groundstrokes that kept Rafa pinned behind the baseline. Early on, Rafa appeared nervous and made a series of loose errors to give up an early break. DelPo continued the aggressive shot-making and he was keeping up with Rafa’s efforts to run him from side to side on the court, as he took the first set 6-1.
The question was, 1) Was an upset on the cards? 2) Could DelPo, given his 5-hour loss against Ferru earlier, keep up in the 2nd set? The mental and physical exhaustion, combined with lack of confidence, could stop DelPo from taking control of the match.
He went up 40-0 at 1*-0 on his serve, only to get broken back by Rafa. A sloppy service game, combined with Rafa’s shotmaking, gave away the break and 2nd set. The way Rafa celebrated after taking the 2nd set, you’d think he’d won the match. Yet that knee-raised fist-pump signified the actual swing in momentum–and he took the third set easily, 6-1.
DelPo was moving slower and spraying forehands wide and into the net, while Rafa stepped his level up and started playing like the clay court impresario we’d expected. I’d given up on DelPo’s chances, because he wasn’t going for his shots like before. But he recovered a break in the 4th set and broke again, to actually serve for it, only to be broken back. Only to break Rafa as Rafa served for the match. The match went to a tiebreak, only for DelPo to hit consecutive errors that gave Rafa six MPs on his own serve. A winner from Rafa clinched the match and title for Spain.
If I were rooting against Argentina, I’d be unnerved by their fans’ partisan cheering. As it was, I could only admire the way they ratcheted up the Davis Cup fervor in the stadium. Even the Armada were left gawking and taking photographs on their phones. There were moments when the DJ would blare out the Sevilla theme song, as a reminder to everyone that the tie was being played in Spain. The way fans kept chanting DelPo’s name after he’d been left a solitary figure in defeat, was a true measure of their devotion.
There was a mid-match moment when their raucous cheering truly did prop DelPo up, after the lights had seemingly gone out in him. Almost as a thanks for reviving him, he started to play again with the aggressive shot-making he’d shown for most of the first two sets. He gave it one last stand in the 4th set, in a fighting performance.
In the 4th set, chair umpire Pascal Maria issued a code violation to Argentina for their crowd’s partisan cheering. Leave it to Maria to pull an obscure rule out of the book during a crucial match. DelPo gave Maria a dismissive shrug and wave of his hands, upon the violation being issued. I intend to watch this moment over and over again.
Scenes from a defeated team
I’m thankful the TV broadcasts focused mostly on Spain, as the sight of DelPo crying after the match was saddening. He stood stoically at the net, the loser for the 2nd time in three days, only to break into tears straight after the customary hug and handshake.
Pico and the rest of his teammates consoled their fallen teammate on the bench. Nalby consoled DelPo–given their past history, it was a sight to see. They may not be friends, but they’ve patched up their issues. He has to give credit to DelPo for trying his best in Spain–the man logged 9 hard hours on the court this weekend against Ferru and Rafa, who proved they can wear a player down with their excellent defending and offence.
And credit to Nalby as well, for acknowledging when his side was beaten by a superior team (or rather, by Rafa and Ferru). He was calmly accepting of his team’s defeat, and especially mindful of DelPo’s efforts. It meant a lot that they were on working terms with each other, even after another tough defeat. Captain Tito’s role in the “reconciliation” of these two should not be understated here.
Rafa: “Del Potro is a fantastic player, a candidate for no. 1 next year. He will be among the top four, we all agree on that.”
Who is the we in “we all agree on that”? Rafa’s statement isn’t entirely out of left field, because Ferru made a similar “no. 1” remark earlier this fall. Notwithstanding the fact that both have actually defeated DelPo this year (Rafa 3 times), I suppose they’ve noticed something this year while competing against him. Either that or they’ve taken the “build him up, to take him down” mental defense mechanisms to a whole new level. It may be a hopeful omen (or a terrible jinx) for things to come in 2012.
In spite of his mistakes on key points, DelPo played a level of tennis that left me asking how soon it would be before he returned to the top 5 heights he once scaled. Though I’m reluctant to foresee a dramatic rise, given his drop in form this fall, I’d say things bode well for him in 2012–provided he stays healthy and works on his fitness.
So long as we’re going to burden players with sky-high expectations, this Davis Cup win puts Rafa in pole position to have a superb run in 2012. In the past two years, the leader from a winning Davis Cup team has gone on to win 3 Grand Slams the following year: Rafa in 2010 (after winning in 2009) and Djokovic in 2011. Fer had a boost in 2009, after clinching the tie for Spain in 2008 (proving he did in fact, serve a purpose at one point).
Rafa had a subdued year (by his monstrous standards) in 2011, although reports of his demise are surely overstated. Though Fed, Djokovic and Murray have made inroads, Rafa looks poised for a strong 2012.
Rafa, Ferru, and Feliciano Lopez made comments that they would not be playing Davis Cup in 2012. Given that next year coincides with the 2012 London Olympics, it’s scant surprise. As an Argentina fan, I naturally have to wonder if Nalby can keep his engine running for one more year before he hangs up his racquet. I say it’s doubtful, as there are far too many things that have to fall into place for Argentina to reach yet another final.
Rafa apparently also wants to skip Davis Cup in favor of focusing his efforts on re-taking the no. 1 ranking again. It seems he’s set his sights on DelPo as an upcoming threat to him and I can only hope his forecasts are true on this front. If this DC match was any sign, the greater tennis world would also agree that an in-form DelPo is a worthy visual for fans.
Tweets from the sidelines:
Here’s a voice of reason amid any criticism that was directed Del Potro’s way for losing his 2 matches against Spain. My only retort to his critics: “El Rey” Nalbandian is at ease with DelPo’s effort in 2011–which means everyone else should be as well.
WTA players tuned into the DC final. 17-year old British tennis player (and Muzz’s dubs partner at Hopman Cup) Laura Robson cheered for DelPo during this topsy-turvy match.
I’m personally not a fan of Petkovic, but she outed herself as a Nalby fan. Nalby spoke appreciatively of his team at the ARG presser, which was poignant to see.