Nadal & Del Potro lead Spain & Argentina to Davis Cup final
Spain to take on Argentina in December's Davis Cup final following wins for Nadal and Del Potro
For the fourth time in its long Davis Cup history, Argentina has won the chance to play for the coveted national trophy after defeating defending champion Serbia to face Spain in December’s final.
The title encounter will be a repeat of the final in 2008, when Spain beat Argentina three rubbers to one. It was Spain’s third victory of four in a decade and the team will start as favourite to win once more.
Not only does it boast an array of top-30 players””and two in the top five””but it will also have home advantage.
Argentina has been one of the most consistent performers in the Davis Cup, reaching at least the quarter-finals in the World Group every year since 2001.
It was a semi-finalist in 2003, losing to Spain again, 2005 and again last year. It was also the losing finalist in 1981 and 2006.
The Argentines faced a formidable challenge in Belgrade but they enjoyed the double whammy of fielding both Juan Martin Del Potro and David Nalbandian for the first time since the 2008 final: One of the two had been injured for every tie since.
Also working in the Argentines’ favour was, counter-intuitively, the extraordinary success of Serbia’s top player, world No1 Novak Djokovic.
The US Open champion did not complete his win in New York until last Monday and, by the end of that four-hour, energy-sapping final against Rafael Nadal, the Serb was already suffering from a sore back and ribs.
So while he was scheduled to play in the Davis Cup semi-final tie, it was uncertain how many rubbers he would contest.
In the event, Viktor Troicki replaced Djokovic for the opening singles rubber against Nalbandian””a match that rankings alone suggested the second-ranked Serb should win easily. The Argentine, though, is a higher-quality player than his injury-affected ranking suggests and he is doubly dangerous when it comes to Davis Cup. He took the match in four sets.
Del Potro then dismantled Janko Tipsarevic in three and only an excellent performance from Troicki with doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic kept their hopes alive.
Djokovic took on the reverse singles against Del Potro, knowing it was essential to win if Serbia was to keep its hopes of a title defence alive, but it proved to be a profound error of judgement and Djokovic was forced to retire with back trouble at a set and 0-3 down.
He explained the decision: “We knew my condition was not good but we believed that even so I would have a better chance against Del Potro than my team mate – it backfired.”
Spain’s semi-final tie against France had the makings of a thrilling contest: Both squads contained multiple top-20 players. And even though France was missing its best, Gael Monfils, with injury, there was also a question mark over how much Nadal could contribute to Spain after losing to Djokovic in New York.
The world No2’s commitment, of course, was never in doubt. He returned to Spain to begin training on clay within 24 hours of what was both a physically and mentally draining loss, and was slated to play the very first rubber.
Any lingering doubts about his physical preparedness were banished within minutes. His hapless opponent, the No15-ranking Richard Gasquet, quickly got a taste of what Cordoba’s bulls experienced in the scorching Plaza de Toros. Nadal, apparently oblivious to the 38C temperatures, put him to the sword in the most ruthless fashion in three straight sets””for the loss of just four games.
As if to reinforce the point””and stopping only to make it clear that he was still unhappy with the tour schedule””he went on to hand out the same treatment to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who had shone in France’s doubles win the day before.
But the hot, high-bouncing clay of Cordoba’s bullring embraces the Nadal persona and style of tennis like a warm blanket. Here, the Spaniard has no equal and here, exhausted as he may be, he recovered his confidence and his aura. These two victories took him to an 18-1 Davis Cup singles record, a perfect 14-0 record on clay.
Can he pull off the same feat in December after the rigours of the rest of the season on the hard courts of the Far East and Europe? On clay, in front of his adoring Spanish public, it is highly probable.
For the record, David Ferrer””at No5 as near his best as he’s ever been””made No11 Gilles Simon also look like an also-ran, losing just six games. Meanwhile, Fernando Verdasco made some recompense for his poor doubles performance with an easy singles win in the final “˜dead’ rubber.
World Group risers
It was a big weekend for the 16 teams playing for promotion to 2012’s World Group line-up, but the final eight was only decided after a rare extra day’s play in Sydney, Australia.
Switzerland 3, Australia 2
Switzerland’s chances were on a knife-edge throughout the tie. Roger Federer, making the long-haul trip after losing an arduous five-set semi-final against Djokovic in New York, took four sets to beat old rival Lleyton Hewitt in the opening singles, only to see Stan Wawrinka””carrying a leg injury””lose to the talented teenager, Bernard Tomic, also in four.
The Swiss pair then had to team up for doubles and lost out, again in four, to Hewitt and Chris Guccione. As a very tired Federer said of their one-two deficit, “Chances to win now are extremely slim”¦I’m completely beat up.”
But win they did. Federer took four more sets to down Tomic and then remained courtside to see Wawrinka, dosed up on painkillers, come back from behind three times. After four hours, and holding a 5-3 advantage in the fifth set, play was halted for bad light.
It took fewer than four minutes to finish off a valiant Hewitt the next morning to give Switzerland their first win over Australia in five attempts.
Other World Group promotions
Italy 4, Chile 1
Without a player in the top 100, this was a lost cause for Chile, but the loss was still more significant for Fernando Gonzalez, only lately returned from hip surgery. Far from match-fit, he nevertheless won the second set against 39-ranked Fabio Fognini before slipping over and injuring his left leg. It is another major blow to the long-absent Gonzalez, a former world No5 now down at 297.
This will be Italy’s first time in the World Group since 2000 and they last reached the final in 1998.
Canada 3, Israel 2
The up-and-coming 21-year-old Vasek Pospisil was Canada’s white knight, winning all three matches he played. With 20-year-old powerhouse Milos Raonic already in the top 30 and on his way back from hip surgery this summer, Canada is a new team to watch next year.
Czech Rep 5, Romania 0
Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek whitewashed their opponents in impressive style: The Czech squad lost only one set””in the doubles. They have played in the World Group since 2008 and reached the finals in 2009.
Russia 3, Brazil 2
Russia won the Davis Cup in 2002 and 2006 and the match of the weekend between Mikhail Youzhny and Thomaz Bellucci gave Russia another shot. Youzhny beat the Brazilian 14-12 in the fifth set in a five-hour thriller.
Croatia 4, South Africa 1
Kevin Anderson took South Africa’s only rubber but hip injury prevented him from playing again, and Croatia, the first unseeded nation to win the Davis Cup in 2005, returns to the elite level again.
Austria 4, Belgium 1
Jurgen Melzer conceded the only Austrian loss of the tie against Steve Darcis. Austria’s best result in the Davis Cup was a semi-final finish in 1990.
Japan 4, India 1
India’s only win came in the doubles. For Japan, this is the first time in the World Group since 1985, with its best previous result being runner-up in 1921.