November 22, 2008

Spain grabs 2-1 Davis Cup final lead against host Argentina

In Saturday's pivotal doubles rubber, a tandem of lefthanders Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco topped a duo of Agustin Calleri and David Nalbandian in four sets to give visiting Spain a 2-1 lead over Argentina in their best-of-five Davis Cup final at Estadio Islas Malvinas.

Lopez and Verdasco dropped the first set on Day 2 before fighting back for a 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 decision over Calleri and Nalbandian on the indoor hardcourt here in Mar del Plata. Argentine captain Alberto Mancini removed Jose Acasuso from the doubles bout and replaced him with Nalbandian, who was a singles winner here on Friday.

Spain now needs to win just one of Sunday's two reverse singles rubbers to secure its third Davis Cup title this decade, while the Argentines need to sweep the Day-3 singles in order to secure that elusive first-ever Davis Cup championship.

On Saturday, the Spaniards dropped a tough first set by losing the last three games against Calleri and Nalbandian, but fought back to take the second stanza and level the rubber.

In a most interesting third set, Spain jumped out to a seemingly-commanding 5-1 lead only to see the Argentines charge all the way back to forge a 5-5 tie and ultimately force a tiebreak.

In the tiebreak, it was team Argentina that let things slip away, as Calleri- Nalbandian blew a 5-1 lead, as the Spaniards rattled off six straight points to stun the hosts and grab a two-sets-to-one lead.

The fourth and deciding set was never in doubt for Spain, as the visitors roared out to a 5-2 advantage, after dropping the first game, and held on to secure the crucial second point.

Lopez and Verdasco needed 3 hours, 18 minutes to prevail, which they did with the help of six service breaks and 12 aces. The losers settled for four breaks and 10 aces.

Sunday's singles call for Spain's David Ferrer to take on 20-year-old rising Argentine star Juan Martin del Potro and Lopez to encounter the former Wimbledon runner-up and former Tennis Masters Cup champion Nalbandian. The world No. 9 del Potro, No. 11 Nalbandian and No. 12 Ferrer account for three of the top-12 players on the planet. Lopez is ranked 31st.

On Friday here, Nalbandian spanked Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in the opening singles rubber and Lopez then pulled Spain even with a 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 stunner over del Potro.

The Spaniards, captained by Emilio Sanchez, also have Davis Cup rookie Marcel Granollers at their disposal on Sunday. Granollers joined the squad last week when world No. 1 superstar Rafael Nadal announced his withdrawal, citing a knee injury. The amazing Nadal is the reigning Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champ.

The gritty Spaniards own a pair of Davis Cup championships, with both coming this decade -- in 2000 and 2004. Argentina was the runner-up just two years ago and also back in 1981.

Spain is 2-0 all-time versus Argentina, which is hosting for the first time ever in this series. The Spaniards prevailed at home way back in 1926 and again in 2003.

The Spaniards, who are 2-3 in their all-time Davis Cup finals and appearing in their fourth final this decade, reached this year's final by beating the 32-time and defending champion United States 4-1 in a semifinal in Madrid, while Argentina got past Russia 3-2 in Buenos Aires, with del Potro winning a fifth and deciding rubber.

The Argentines have won 13 straight Davis Cup ties as the host.

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