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13 September 2013

Can Ecuador slay the giant again?


By Clive White

Photo: Fresh Focus- Andy MuellerEcuador's Davis Cup team

NEUCHATEL, SWITZERLAND - Probably not since Ecuador beat Great Britain on grass at Wimbledon in 2000 have the South Americans had such an opportunity to shock the tennis world as they have this weekend against Switzerland in Neuchatel – and even then one of the stars of that stupefying victory doesn’t believe it would compare with what the South Americans achieved against Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and all over that July weekend 13 years ago, immediately after the Wimbledon Championships.

The occasions are similar inasmuch as there is a gulf in class between the sides now as there pretty much was then and that Ecuador are playing in conditions that are foreign to them – an indoor hard court now, the hallowed turf of No. 1 Court at SW19 in 2000.

Nicolas Lapentti, who shocked Rusedski in the opening rubber of that tie, is here in Neuchatel in his role as president of the Ecuador tennis federation and well remembers the tie, not least because his 17-year-old younger brother Giovanni won the deciding rubber from two sets to love down against Britain’s Arvind Parmar. Poor Parmar never lived down the loss.

"I remember people [in Britain] didn’t like very much that we jumped on the court and started celebrating in the way we do in South America," said the 36-year-old Lapentti, who has been practising with the Ecuador team in Switzerland. "The emotions that we had after winning that final rubber and the tie, I think it’s going to be tough to do something similar here. And, of course, it was the first time after probably 40 years that Ecuador was going back to the World Group.

"I think they [the British team] probably underestimated us. I also remember a former Great Britain captain in the newspapers saying that a team from a blind school could beat us – those kind of things helped to motivate us."

Lapentti thought it a little harsh that Parmar should have shouldered the blame for the defeat. “I think he saw victory very close and probably got a bit tight," said Lapentti, who is Ecuador’s most successful Davis Cup singles player. "Of course, playing at home can help you a lot or put you down.

"Maybe Greg had a bigger fault. He really should have beat me and played doubles [with Henman]. And then he came back the next year with Great Britain and beat me on clay in Ecuador, so that was big revenge for him and a bad loss for me."

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