BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: David Nalbandian has been given the nod by Argentine captain Martin Jaite to get the home team's campaign under way against Croatia in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal tie at Parque Roca.
Nalbandian begins on Friday against Croatian No. 1 Marin Cilic before the battle of the big men - Juan Martin del Potro at 6ft 6in against Ivo Karlovic at 6ft 10in - commences in the second rubber.
Argentina's recent tactics have seen Juan Monaco named in the singles line-up on day one, which has left Nalbandian to play doubles and then still be sufficiently fresh should his services be required for a deciding fifth rubber.
However, Jaite has decided against that policy this time so the 30-year-old has the chance to get the hosts off to a quick start when he faces Cilic, although the Croat is ranked 27 places higher than Nalbandian at No. 23 in the world.
Last year’s runners-up, Argentina, hold the unwanted record for reaching the most Davis Cup Finals without winning the title, having fallen at the final hurdle four times. But if the South Americans keep winning this year, they will play home all the way, including a potential Final.
Curiously, Croatia has raised the trophy in their first and only attempt, in 2005, when they defeated Slovak Republic in Bratislava, led by Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic and with the iconic Goran Ivanisevic in the team.
Argentina meets Croatia for a third time with both their previous encounters also coming at this stage of the competition in 2002 and 2006. Argentina has won both the previous match-ups in a decisive fifth rubber.
“Always special” - Nalbandian
Nalbandian opens the tie tomorrow, something that could be useful for him in order to have a few more hours to recover for the doubles match. However, the Unquillo native is more concerned about returning home. “It’s going to be great. We really enjoy playing in front of our own crowd. It’s always special to play here,” said Nalbandian.
Having won all the four previous matches against Cilic, Nalbandian thinks it is an advantage. “Every match is different. But of course, when you have already played against a guy it’s better because you know what to do, what are his best shots.”
On the other hand, for the Croatian No. 1, Cilic, statistics are just numbers. “I think the record doesn’t matter too much. We played a few weeks ago, and it was a close match. It’s going to be really entertaining for the crowd and a big challenge for me to play against him in front of his own crowd, where he plays the best,” said Cilic.
Just like Nalbandian, del Potro feels he is ready. “The captain gave us confidence with his early choice. It’s very good for us. I am ready to play and fight for my first singles match. He (Karlovic) doesn’t want to play too long rallies, but I will try to do that.”
Ivo Karlovic is the bond between the first tie, in 2002, and the present one, and he recalls that experience. “I was young, I was only 22 years old. It was a big experience for me and I liked it a lot. I remember the crowd was unbelievable, they were wild.”
After beating Germany in February, it will be the first time for Martin Jaite as a captain playing home. “I’m very happy just for being the Argentine captain. For me it’s an honour. For sure there’s a little bit more tension than in my first tie, in Germany, where there was less people around,” said the former world No. 10.
Strategy is not an issue for Croatia’s captain, Zeljko Krajan. “The only plan is to win three matches, we came here to fight, and there is no other secret.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: David Nalbandian (ARG) v Marin Cilic (CRO)
R2: Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) v Ivo Karlovic (CRO)
R3: David Nalbandian / Eduardo Schwank (ARG) v Marin Cilic / Lovro Zovko (CRO)
R4: Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) v Marin Cilic (CRO)
R5: David Nalbandian (ARG) v Ivo Karlovic (CRO)
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
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Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) - 05/04/2012
David Nalbandian (ARG) - 05/04/2012
Captain Martin Jaite (ARG) - 05/04/2012
Marin Cilic (CRO) - 05/04/2012
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) - 05/04/2012
Captain Zeljko Krajan (CRO) - 05/04/2012