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02 December 2011

A long road back


Photo: Sergio LlameraJuan Martin del Potro and Tito Vazquez (ARG)

SEVILLE, SPAIN: Never underestimate David Ferrer. The most underrated yet the most dogged player, Ferrer’s epic 62 67(2) 36 64 63 victory over Argentina’s No. 1 Juan Martin del Potro in the second rubber has ultimately changed the course of the tie as Spain lead the visitors 2-0 at the end of day one.

Ferrer’s efforts leave Argentina in a perilous position. Tomorrow foresees excruciating pressure for their doubles team David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank as they attempt to keep Argentinean hopes alive for the Davis Cup title, the nation’s most coveted prize in tennis.

Following a routine 61 61 62 win for Rafael Nadal over Juan Monaco in the opening rubber, Del Potro had the world on his shoulders going into the second rubber. The two had shared spoils in four previous meetings but hadn’t met since 2009, and speculation was on whether the world No. 11 would have enough weapons up his sleeve to beat the Spaniard. And that was even with an underpar Ferrer – he had come straight from the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London admitting physical fatigue.

It could have been to del Potro’s advantage and it certainly looked like that was the tactic he was going for, ambling around the baseline and using his huge reach to ensure Ferrer would be scrambling all over the place. Tiring out the 29-year old seemed the best way to go, but it would be del Potro who suffered in the end as he tried and failed to come back and win from a 1-5 deficit in the final set. Sobbing into his towel as the thousands and thousands of Spanish fans gave a standing ovation to Ferrer - on his knees in victory – del Potro had to leave the court head bowed and red-eyed.

Only at the end of the match did there appear to be a clear winner. The course of the battle twisted and turned from game to game with nuances of play that had the crowd nerve-wracked with bated breath. The second set erased the glum look on the faces of the Argentine fans and the first sign of them coming alive came when Ferrer produced his first double fault for 2-5 in the tiebreak. It meant that just after two hours on court, del Potro equalised. He lost his service game in the opener of the third but broke back to three-all with an unforgivable netcord that seemed to drip over the net in slow motion. Five straight games and on and the third set was Argentina’s.

There was no let up for del Potro though and Ferrer simply outlasted the exhausted Argentine. Repeatedly he was having to catch his breath while Ferrer prowled around the baseline and repeatedly he needed massage on his left leg at the change of ends. The longer the match went on the stronger the Spaniard got and he eventually proved too solid for his opponent after a titanic 4 hours 46 minutes on court.

“He took all the opportunities to close the match and he made it really really difficult for me,” said a beaten del Potro. “All the points were very long and that’s the way he likes it.

"I felt that there was a guy against me that was doing a spectacular game. In the fifth set he immediately got ahead of me, and that made him play a more calm game. He has had a spectacular season, and nobody has given the victory as a gift to him. He's earned it."

Captain Tito Vazquez is aware of the enormity of the next two days for his team. “That was the match that we wanted from our side. We were very close but not close enough. It’s very difficult. For us we have to start thinking about tomorrow, about winning the doubles, and then who knows. Maybe del Potro recovers, he is capable of beating Nadal. You never know, we could be back in the game but it’s a difficult task.”

Argentine fans have an insatiable appetite for Davis Cup which meant umpires Pascal Maria and Carlos Ramos had to handle continuous disturbances throughout both of Friday’s matches. The stadium was split 70-30 in Spain’s favour but the noise wouldn’t give that away, and during Nadal’s match, Monaco and Vazquez even had to stop to help calm the fans down for fear of being docked a point.

Whether the overwhelming noise got to Monaco in his first Davis Cup Final no one would know, as it really was a matter of Rafa displaying his classic repertoire of brilliance on the clay. The world No. 2 had made noises about not having had enough time to practice on the clay straight from the hard courts of London, but he was the first to admit afterwards that the surface always does him favours.

“This court gives me a chance to play a little bit more relaxed, with a little bit more confidence. Sometimes you can hit a bad shot or two bad shots in a row, still in the point, and you can come back later. That's one of my best things on clay. Hard indoor, if I hit one or two bad shots in a row, the point is done.”

Monaco couldn’t get a single break point during the 2 hour 27 minute match, which was still surprisingly gruelling despite the scoreline. After an eight minute opening game, Rafa went on a seven-game winning campaign and towards the end of the match, the punishing routine from the Spaniard became evident. Twice in the fifth game of the third set did Nadal have Monaco pummelled to the floor as he tried to run down his blistering forehands, requiring the Argentine to request a medical timeout, bent double in pain, grabbing his left wrist, and with a bleeding knee.

“I was suffering because I was thinking, well, how can I get one point out of this guy?” said a disappointed Monaco after the match. “After that happened, it's difficult to focus again, it's difficult to feel a winner again after all that. For me not winning that point, mentally it's like you get a little bit down. It's not that you give up.

“Obviously I'm very sad, because nobody likes to lose this way.  But I am also aware that in front of me I had one of the best tennis players in history. Deep down, I knew that in the big moments he grows, he's a big player, and he gives his best. So I knew he was going to play that way because I know him.”

Naturally delighted with the win, Nadal also made time to console his close friend. “I just came over [in the locker room] to cheer him up, because I think the defeat was going to be sad for him. So I wanted to talk to him.”

Nadal’s 19th straight singles victory in Davis Cup meant that it was the first time in 22 years that a player has won so few games in a Final, since Boris Becker defeated Wilander 62 60 62 in 1989. More records could be broken this weekend should Argentina rally from two rubbers down. The last time that happened in a Final was 1939.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) - 02/12/2011

Juan Monaco (ARG) - 02/12/2011

David Ferrer (ESP) - 02/12/2011

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) - 02/12/2011

Captain Albert Costa (ESP) - 02/12/2011

Captain Tito Vazquez (ARG) - 02/12/2011

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    Emily Forder-White

    Emily’s tennis career began aged 5 when she drew an award-winning picture of Boris Becker and Kevin Curren in the 1985 Wimbledon final. Sadly, it would take another 20 years until she found herself in a real tennis job. Emily worked in advertising before joining the ITF and is the current editor of ITFWorld, the 2012 Olympic Book, and the ITF's Centenary Book.





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