SEVILLE, SPAIN: Argentina’s captain Tito Vazquez is playing his cards very close to his chest and he is wise to do so. With the Spanish team all set in their line-up - with the regular crew of Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer in the singles and Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco for doubles – Vazquez was reticent to give the game away when interrogated in Tuesday’s press conferences.
At his disposal: world No. 11 Juan Martin del Potro, the in-form Juan Monaco, Davis Cup bloodhound David Nalbandian, and the all-rounders Juan Ignacio Chela and Eduardo Schwank. Who will play what will not be revealed until Thursday.
This Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final is a very sensitive one for the Argentines. For so long have they been fighting for that elusive title, so close were they to achieving it in 2008, and so clear is their determination to get it in their fourth chance here in Seville.
And never before have they been so well prepared.
“All the players have been making a big effort over the last three weeks,” says Vazquez. “They have sacrificed their normal schedule and devoted energy to this tie. I’m very proud of them.” Adding, “This is the best group we have in Argentina. The five players here are the five I want to have.”
While Nadal and Ferrer were running the hard courts down at last week’s ATP Tour World Finals in London, the Argentines have been working hard on clay, training in Barcelona before arriving altogether in Seville on Friday.
Neither Del Potro nor Nalbandian have played a competitive match since October, and it’s only Monaco who can bring a recent surge in success to the party, having finished runner-up in Valencia and a quarterfinalist at the Paris Masters. Collectively they may be out of match practice per se, but that could end up in their favour when the weekend unfolds.
“We are practicing well and doing the best we can, preparing to play whatever we have to play,” a laidback Nalbandian told the media. “And me, every day I’m feeling better and better.”
This is encouraging news for Argentine fans. The 29-year old, who turns 30 on New Year’s Day, has had an unfortunate year hampered by injury. With a 22-12 record for the season so far, Nalbandian has spent the least time on court this year of any of this weekend’s competitors.
For him however, a notorious hit and miss player, it’s all about the mental energy that makes him one of the most astonishing players in Davis Cup. He has a 22-5 record in singles rubbers, yet for the majority of those wins he hadn’t always been the favourite.
Back in 2008 in that infamous final in Mar del Plata, the Argentines, who were overwhelming favourites, suffered a breakdown within the team and the twists and turns and ultimately the outcome of the tie became less about the on-court action. Vazquez, who came into the captaincy role in 2009, is confident that those issues can only benefit his team this time round.
“I wasn’t there but I know we were very disappointed, very sad, as that was our chance. Nadal wasn’t in the team, that was our surface and the right surface to beat them. It was a very close tie, it could be one point here one point there. In the doubles they had a set point, del Potro was injured, a few things happened. We hope that the things that happened there will do us favours in this final.”
Del Potro agrees. “That’s in the past, completely in the past. After that final, we grew up, I’ve improved my game alot and now we have another chance. We are very calm within the team and trying to do everything ok to be ready to fight.
“To me, every final is different. Here it’s different players, different surface, different stadium and this time Spain is the favourite. It’s going to be different than Mar del Plata, if we are in good shape and remain focused.”
And it’s fighting talk from both camps. “It’s quite clear that the Argentines were hurt by that final,” said Verdasco earlier. “They were at home and favourites and it’s clear they want to pay us back. But we are preparing for it as if we have never won it before.”
Not necessarily a certain for the singles, Monaco could perhaps be Vazquez’s jewel in the crown this weekend. With no personal emotional attachment to the loss in Mar del Plata, and playing in his first final, he is possibly the most relaxed of all the team and has saved his best til last.
“I’m feeling good, I have alot of confidence, alot of energy and I’ve adapted well to clay. It’s not my decision if I play or not, but our captain knows we are there full time for him.”
The line-up for the weekend will be announced at the draw on Thursday, held at 11:00 GMT at the Teatro Lope de Vega. Schwank, Argentina’s fifth player this weekend could be brought in for the doubles (he has been, in his own words, doing his “homework”), while Nalbandian could also be saved for the doubles. And there is Chela, ranked No. 29 and who has had alot of claycourt practice this year and already the experience of playing in a final.
Meanwhile the Argentines have a number of things to address before action gets underway at the Estadio Olimpico, site of Spain’s thrilling win over USA back in the 2004 final. The team are not 100% happy with the specifics, something that Vazquez wants to address with the referee ahead of Friday, but he says it is what it is.
“The court is fast and quite slippery. It’s not very easy to see with the light and shadow, but we just have to get used to that.”
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) - 29/11/2011
Captain Tito Vazquez (ARG) - 29/11/2011