Davis Cup: A 5th Victory for Spain

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.

The "Fer" rule: The Armada has one player who does the least amount of heavy-lifting, yet he still works his way to the center to lift the trophy. A rising tide lifts all boats for Fer (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

The Crowd

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.

Photo: DyN

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.

Photo: Cristina Quicler

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.

Photo: AP Photo

So close yet so far, for the 4th time. (Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Presser comments

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).

Photo: AP Photo

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.

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About mariposaxprs

I play favorites with Juan Martin Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and the long line of mercurial talent that drives me to despair in front of the screen at odd hours during the week.
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14 Responses to Davis Cup: A 5th Victory for Spain

  1. queridorafa says:

    “Who is the ‘we’ in we all agree on that”–ha, good question! It does make you wonder if there is a special “ranking prediction committee” on the ATP that meets every once in a while to discuss players’ fates. Rafa is often so decisive about these predictions–Nishikori being in the top 10 standing out (although, still waiting on that one)–it does make you wonder if he knows something others don’t…
    I was really surprised/impressed by DelPo’s movement and defense in the first and fourth sets–much stronger than when I last watched him play (which was quite a while ago, admittedly).
    “Dismissive shrug and wave of his hands”–I think I missed that! Would love to see it (again and again… ;))

    • mariposaxprs says:

      A “Survivor: ATP” edition? I hope this news doesn’t fire Muzz up to go on another Christmas Day run for revenge!

      Although Nishikori reaching the top 10 seems like a bit of a stretch. Then again, if Tipsy can make it, who’s to say Special Kei won’t break into the top 10 next year or the year after that? Hmm, if Uncle Toni was on board with Rafa’s “no. 1” prediction, then I’ll buy it!

      I still haven’t found the clip of the dismissive shrug and wave, it was so GANGSTA. At that point in the match, DelPo looked gone, so I almost wished the crowd would keep chanting defiantly and earn a point penalty, just as a futile challenge to Mr. Maria. That would have been something special too 🙂 Although I’m glad it didn’t happen that way!

  2. ariennalee says:

    Also, you probably already read this, but it made me happy:

    “We are happy because each player gave his best. We were giving each other support all the time. Sometimes things don’t come out okay, but we are proud and happy with our work here to try and win. Sometimes, unfortunately, the opponent is better and that’s the way it is.” –David Nalbandian

    • mariposaxprs says:

      No, I hadn’t read that quote! Thank you for it!

      Sigh. I really hope Nalby can hang on for another year. If Argy can beat Germany as visitors next year, they have home advantage for every tie after that. Although they’d also run into Croatia and Serbia, which will be tough. Can’t help but think this year really was the last chance Nalby had. Which is why it was so impressive he accepted the defeat with class. I hope Novak decides to go all out for the Olympics in 2012 (en route to a bronze medal, of course ;)), rather than playing that old Davis Cup tournament.

  3. ariennalee says:

    Great write-up. I was also so happy to hear the crowd chanting DelPo’s name after the match! Maybe they can go home and spread that word that they’ve got a worthy #1 … a worthy team at that! I also agree with you that they should not have fired the coach. I never understand why sports teams do this, they leave a coach/captain in place long enough for him to START to put it together and then they pull the rug out from under him. Makes me think of that systemic rift we were talking about… how is it supposed to heal if the country keeps undermining the cure. (Of course, I suppose that’s what makes it a “systemic rift!”)

    Also, random association that makes me happy: when Delpo rolled on the court and got red clay all over his back the first thing I thought was that the pattern on his backs looked like wings. This might have been the final post-USO struggle before the big man takes off!

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Thank you! I don’t understand how these coaching decisions are made either. Supposedly Spain’s coach is also planning to leave his post this year as well. I’m not sure if it’s because Rafa and the top crew are jumping ship, or whether he has other plans.

      Thanks for the visual image of wings. We will call the clay marks angel wings and use that as a symbol for his take-off in 2012. For added luck, I hope the clay mark never washes out on his shirt! 😉

  4. Ugg, even though I was pulling for Spain and Rafa, I do feel bad for Del Po. I hope that he is able to take something positive out of this. He played so well, he really made David and Rafa earn their victories the hard way. That should be some kind of validation that he is getting his game back.

    Oh, I’ll join you in pulling for Argentina next year. Vamos Del Po!

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Yea it’s a tough one, he spent 9 hours out there this weekend, only to lose both matches. That’s the worst way to end a season, esp in Friday’s match. Hopefully he’s on the track to great things in 2012.

      Spain’s fielding their B-team in 2012, I hear? Well, Ferru’s still playing DC, but that should make things a tad easier. Nico Almagro (current no. 10) recently tweeted things about his lack of confidence and how he doesn’t deserve to be chosen to play for Spain at Davis Cup, etc. Now, I *like* Nico, but everyone under the bus for DelPo and Argy. So Nico, please keep up with the emoting and low confidence! (only until the end of 2012–that’s not too bad, right?) 😉

  5. Iram says:

    thanks so much for ur long post. I loved reading it. 🙂

    I watched the final and of course am happy with the result.
    -I didn’t know that a country could get a “code violation”…is that something that they will have to be penalized again?
    -It was so gut wrenching to see Delpo crying. He is truly one of the most humble players out there with so much talent. I think he will one day pick up this trophy, let alone another grand slam.
    -One last comment, I LOVED the fact that after match point when Rafa did a quick group celebration he came and hugged Delpo and all the Argentinians…so much class.
    Thanks again Mariposaxprs!

    • mariposaxprs says:

      Hi Iram,

      Thanks! I had no idea that a country could get a “code violation” for their crowd’s cheering. I kind of love that it happened though, because it showed how defiant the fans were for their (losing) team. It was a special Davis Cup moment 🙂

      Yea, that loss was pretty tough for him, although they really were the underdogs to begin with against Spain. Here’s hoping there is another chance some time soon! He did play a step above what he’d shown this fall, so those signs look good so far.

      You’re right, that was a sweet moment at the net when Rafa pulled away from the Armada celebrations and went over to the Argy side to hug DelPo and the Argy bench. True class, even amid the victory celebrations. Congratulations to them and to you as well! There are a lot of party photos that I’ve seen on the web and they look mighty jolly!

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