November 25, 2008

Spain's Davis Cup victory

Spain's Davis Cup victory Sunday signaled emphatically to the tennis world that the team can win on any surface, in any situation, against any opponent.

This year's final was heralded as a clash of tennis titans with a potential historical first on the line – a first Davis Cup trophy for the favored host Argentina, and the first by a Latin American nation. Instead, the tie featured the dramatic emergence of two talented but lesser-known Spaniards, and served to restore tennis' pecking order.

Fernando Verdasco clinched the victory for Spain Sunday by beating Jose Acasuso in the day’s first singles match, a nearly four-hour affair that had the crowd at Isla Malvinas Stadium living and dying with each point. On match point, Verdasco rifled a forehand winner to prevail, 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, and give Spain a 3-1 match victory in the tie. The trophy is Spain’s third, and first won on the road.

Verdasco was a substitution for world No. 12 David Ferrer, who lost to David Nalbandian Friday in the opening match of the tie and has been struggling lately.

Acasuso himself was substituting for an injured Juan Martin del Potro, who strained his right quadriceps in a loss Friday to Feliciano Lopez. Del Potro warmed up Sunday with his thigh wrapped. Officials confirmed that Argentinean captain Alberto Mancini waited until nearly the last minute to announce Acasuso as del Potro’s replacement.

In the buildup to the final, Argentina's sports media had declared that fate was on the home team’s side. The surface (indoor hard court, the hosts’ choice), the home crowd, and the absence of injured world No. 1 Rafael Nadal all were considered significant advantages for Argentina.

But even without Nadal, Spain proved too formidable an opponent for the hosts.

"Nadal not coming made [the Spanish team] even more of a unit, more together," Mancini said. "We have to learn a lot about this to someday win the Davis Cup."

The captain declined to comment on speculation that this is his last tie at the helm of Team Argentina.

In a tense back-and-forth with local journalists, Mancini said the media had contributed to his team’s defeat. After Argentina went down 2-1 Saturday, local newspaper headlines questioned del Potro’s heart, Mancini’s tactics, and Nalbandian’s play. Some outlets also reported that the Argentinean players were fighting in the locker room following the team’s loss in the doubles match; Mancini denied that there was a fight.

Media members blasted Mancini for David Nalbandian’s no-show for Saturday's press conference – a move which earned Nalbandian a $5,000 fine. Mancini and Acasuso were the only members of the Argentinean delegation available for comment following play Sunday.

"You have to think about what you write because many things that happen, happen because of what you write and what you say," Mancini said before abruptly ending his news conference.

Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, who is stepping down from his post as Spanish captain, said that Argentina's favored status likely hurt the team.

"I think that for the local players having so much media behind them saying they were the favorites, maybe that was not the best for the Argentinean players," said Sanchez-Vicario.

"A lot of press in Spain criticized me because I didn't have a plan B," he said. "Now I showed them that I had a plan … and it worked."

Before the tie began Friday, the Argentinean newspaper Clarín described the anticipation of a proud country that believed it was on the cusp of an historic first Copa Davis.

"She, the blessed and aloof Davis Cup, will wait while thousands of Argentine voices, from inside and outside the stadium, will [victory] with their body and with their heart. And with the force of a unique passion."

Sunday, as the small contingent of Spanish fans and players celebrated, the crushed Argentinean spectators – many teary-eyed – clapped politely, their Copa dream still unfulfilled.

More from Borden in Mar del Plata:
Day 2 (Saturday) report
Day 1 (Friday) report

Pre-competition (Thursday) report


No comments: