by Stephanie Neppl
Words won’t do justice to try and convey what the atmosphere of a Davis Cup Final feels like. Even an hour before play started at Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla on Friday afternoon, the Argentinean and Spanish chants had begun and they would only intensify through the day and what would become a late night.
This was never going to be a quiet affair, but Spain versus Argentina was beyond loud. The crowd was boisterous, it was mischievous, it was ecstatic. Drums, brass instruments and horns were allowed inside the venue and they were used often, and not always appropriately.
When the ceremony began, I got goosebumps as the players were announced onto the court. Such applause, such appreciation and such idolatry particularly for David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal. Rafa was of course the last of all players to be introduced and he was lovely in acknowledging his home country.
The first match, as expected, was very one-sided. Rafa has been a big match player for most of his career, and he had the massive advantage of playing on his favourite surface in his home country. It wasn’t at all that Juan Monaco played badly, Rafa was just vintage Rafa on clay. It is amazing to watch this Rafa – the way he moves the ball around, the great way he is able to defend. This is just one example why it is so hard to put Rafa away on clay:
In the end, there was nothing Monaco could do as the King of Clay put Spain up 1-0 with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 win.
The second match would turn into those Davis Cup matches fans hear about and read about but few are lucky enough to see live. Well last night 26,000 of us got to witness Davis Cup greatness and the matchup was ideal. The young, tall Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro versus the veteran, much less statuesque, David Ferrer. Del Potro can annihilate the tennis ball but is not the greatest mover on court, particularly on clay. In the first set, Del Potro looked quite hopeless at times. His heavy shots were returned, and returned well over and over again and when he did venture to net things got ugly.
Somehow, Del Potro was able to turn the tide and starting hitting with much more conviction, actually winning some of the longer rallies that earlier he was unable to do. Del Potro would led two sets to one. The Spanish bench was looked tense, the Argentinean fans much more alive after they had little to cheer for in the first match. Alberta Costa was visibly tense and started to complain to chair umpire Carlos Ramos about the noise the Argentinean fans were making (particularly during a player‘s serve).
All bets were off by this stage of the match. The Spanish fans loudly cheered when Del Potro missed a first serve, horns were blown at will and the crowd was on its feet after most points. It’s no wonder the match lasted nearly five hours.
Most fans knew that if Argentina was to keep itself in this tie Del Potro would need to win his match in four. David Ferrer would be a clear favourite to win should the match go five sets – he is the epitome of fitness. And when Del Potro was broken to give Ferrer the fourth set, it all seemed over.
Ferrer raced to a 5-1 lead and though Del Potro won two straight games to stay alive, fatigue had set in and Ferrer would clinch a 2-0 lead for Team Spain with a 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
The celebration by Ferrer, the Spanish team and the crowd was an explosion of joy. One can only imagine what emotions will be shown on court today should Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco clinch a Spanish victory in the doubles as they take on David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank today.
Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.
(Ferrer and stadium photos via Getty Images; Nadal via AP)
Roger Federer’s reign as US Open champion is over. The Swiss maestro’s quest to win a sixth straight US Open men’s singles title came to an end Monday as Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro defeated the world No. 1 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the championship match. “Delpo” and David Nalbandian account for “Argentine book-ends” as the two countrymen combined to be the only two players to beat Federer at the US Open since 2003 – Federer winning 40-straight matches between losing to Nalbandian in the round of 16 of the 2003 US Open and losing to del Potro in the 2009 US Open final. Rene Stauffer, in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) discusses Roger’s loss to Nalbandian in 2003, when Roger was first on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the world, in this exclusive book excerpt below.
The US Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, presented another opportunity for him to seize the top spot. As the tournament began, Federer seemed in the best position to capture the No. 1 ranking as he was the player with the least amount of points to defend from the previous year among the contenders for the No. 1 ranking. He survived the first three rounds without being seriously challenged, but in the round of 16, once again, his opponent was none other than Nalbandian.
Media and tennis insiders tagged the Argentinean as the arch-nemisis of Federer. The two players played four times as professionals, with Nalbandian winning all four times. Federer, however, rejected the idea that Nalbandian was the player he feared the most.
“That bothers me because I’ve never said that and I don’t see it that way either,” he told reporters almost defiantly in New York. “I’ve never lost to him decisively and I’ve even beaten him in the juniors.”
The second week of the US Open became an ordeal as rain created a scheduling chaos. The round of 16 matches that were scheduled for the second Tuesday of the event did not start until 3 pm on Thursday. After four hours of play and two more interruptions due to rain, Federer had—for the fifth time in five professional matches—succumbed to Nalbandian 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3. The Argentinean was still a mystery to him.
“I find it difficult understanding why I take the lead or fall behind,” Federer said after the loss. “I knew that I had to play aggressively. But I just don’t know how much I should risk when serving against him. He gets to many balls quickly and is great at reading my game. I don’t know what to make of him.” Federer could only watch from a distance as Nalbandian reached the semifinals, where he lost a heart-breaking five-setter to Roddick after leading two-sets-to-love and holding a match point. Roddick went on to win the championship, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who assumed the No. 1 ranking by virtue of his runner-up showing. The American wept after his first Grand Slam title just as Federer had two months earlier at Wimbledon. Roddick won the tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati earlier in the summer and moved to No. 2 in the world rankings.