Cilic d. Nalbandian, 5-7 6-4 4-6 7-6(2) 6-3
Altogether, it was a mixed bag for Team Argentina on Friday. El Rey played the opening rubber against Cilic, in a match that lasted over 5 hours. It was not a pretty match, by any means (with a combined 241 UFEs), and both players’ level seemed to drop even further as the match went on. Cilic took the first rubber for Croatia.
This is El Rey’s first 5-set loss at Davis Cup, and only his sixth loss in the singles rubbers.
In between the error-ridden points were some long rallies, where Cilic stretched Nalby out wide. Nalby has had trouble playing on clay, ever since the hip injury that required hip surgery and a long layoff in 2009. Given how Nalby had to skip the Madrid and Rome Masters last year, along with Roland Garros, due to a leg injury, I was naturally concerned about the toll this rubber was taking on Nalby’s body.
El Rey looked tired in the 5th set and Cilic took control to win the deciding set. That marked Cilic’s first win over El Rey in 5 meetings and it clinched a crucial point for Croatia.
While the greater tennis media (or, at least, my Twitter timeline) seemed intent on taking immeasurable joy from the error-fest that was this match, I spent time worrying more about Nalby’s condition. I can’t help but feel that if it were an English-speaking player who played through this match, every major headline would be wondering which injury he had, and why this was such a big concern, and why he should never have taken the court in the first place, because “he’s such a warrior legend,” and all that fluff. But because it’s Nalbandian, journos will instead take their assumed positions of writing a snarky storyline about how ugly this rubber was, overlooking the the almost undisputed fact that El Rey is the most committed DC player out there. As you do, media.
Fortunately, there are Argie news sites devoted to slightly more measured coverage of tennis, and they soon released quotes that Nalby had some pain in his left abductor, the very area that he had surgery and extensive recovery for in 2009. El Rey was quoted in his presser as saying that it was a mix of general fatigue (from playing a full season prior to the DC QF), and a light but not serious pain in his abdcutor — he said he had every intention of playing the doubles tie on Saturday.
I’m not entirely sure that Nalby’s declaration to play the dubs rubber on Saturday is in the best interests of his health. This is a player who has aggravated and picked up further injuries at Davis Cup, to the detriment of his singles career and his overall health. At 30 years old, however, he is in a place where 2012 is potentially his last or next-to-last year on tour. In that sense, I can only applaud and hope for the best for El Rey.
Del Potro d. Karlovic, 6-2 7-6(7) 6-1
Compounding the worries of Nalby’s loss to Cilic, was the news that followed shortly afterwards, that DelPo was sick and that he would potentially have to sit out the 2nd singles rubber. DelPo had a fever and had spent much of the previous evening, along with the better part of the morning, vomiting with an upset stomach. It was a pretty nerve-wracking 30 minutes for Team Argentina supporters, as they realized Nalby’s loss and DelPo’s illness could soon turn a winnable tie into an easily lost one.
Minutes before the match was scheduled to start, however, the AAT confirmed that DelPo would play the rubber, despite his illness.
On the basis of will and determination, DelPo took a straight-sets win for Argentina and evened the tie at 1-1. DelPo’s wan face, which seemed to be all cheekbones at times, on account of his sickness, betrayed the below-par state he was in. Paradoxically though, the illness may have convinced him to wrap up the match as quickly as possible, with some aggressive play and FHDTLs.
DelPo was sweating very heavily throughout the match and he had yet another nosebleed, for which he required medical attention. Given his condition, it was a stressful match to watch at times. Still, the giant elf delivered. DelPo had a funny celebration after the winning the 2nd set TB on Ivo’s serve, after he had saved numerous set points. From there, he played on to close out the match 6-1 in the 3rd set.
DelPo levels the tie to save the day for Argentina. Without meaning to, they really know how to deliver the drama.
Quotes from DelPo’s presser:
It’s reported that DelPo vomited again, shortly after the match ended. For obvious reasons, he kept the presser short, as he wanted to rest—
- “If it weren’t Davis Cup, I would have gone home to Tandil.” (source)
- DelPo commented that if Nalby had won his opening rubber, he would not have played, due to the fact that he was vomiting for most of the morning.”When Argentina went down 0-1, that convinced me I needed to step out onto the court.” (source)
- Captain Martin Jaite apparently went to speak with DelPo in the dressing room, before DelPo made his decision about whether or not to play the rubber. Jaite said to him, “We need you to play for the team right now.” (source)
Overall, the tie is level and it will be decided on a live Sunday. The all-important doubles match on Saturday will be critical for this tie. Hoping Nalby is fit to play dubs, a win over Croatia would leave some breathing room for the reverse singles ties.
On Sunday, DelPo will face off against Cilic in the first of the reverse singles rubbers. Captain Jaite had said earlier that El Rey would not play more than two rubbers. On Sunday, Pico would fill in for Nalby against Karlovic in the fifth rubber (if necessary).