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The ATP Quarterly Review

Rafael Nadal

By James A. Crabtree

 

So it’s April and that means two things. The first quarter of the year is over and the European clay court season is about to begin.

So what have we learned?

Well, rather a lot.

December 2012

The beginning of the tennis year started in December 2012. With this the whole of Australia became hysterical after Bernard Tomic went nuts at the Hopman Cup and beat both Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic. After that young Bernie continued the streak and won his first title in Sydney prompting some to feel, including probably Bernie himself, that the second coming of Rod Laver was upon us. He did of course become unstuck at The Australian Open, after much hoopla, in a one sided loss to a certain Mr Federer. Bernie hasn’t done much since and it’s doubtful the European clay will help his cause.

During the same period Janko Tipsarevic quietly won in Chennai, Gasquet in Doha and Andy Murray in Brisbane. More fuss was made of the emergence of Baby Fed Grigor Dimitrov who made the Brisbane final, and the fact Tomas Berdych lost in the quarters and was wearing unbranded clothing – the poor darling. He has since signed with Swedish fashion brand H&M.

January 2013

A week later and David Ferrer was up to his usual tricks – cleaning up at ATP 250 events, this time in Auckland. As a matter of fact Ferrer should be banned from 250 events or at least given some sort of handicap like favoured racehorses. He has won 20 career tournaments 12 of which have been ATP 250 events. Not bad for a labourer from Spain.

Two weeks into 2013 and it was already the Australian Open, which went very boringly to Novak’s script. Highlights included Federer in pink shoes and Stan Wawrinka’s battle where he managed to scare Novak in his silver shoes, in the fourth round.

Davis Cup followed the first slam of the year with the surprise elimination of understrength Spain at the hands of Canada and a certain Mr Milos Raonic.

February 2013

By February Frenchman Richard Gasquet was proving he is still a force, beating the rising Benoit Paire who has severe difficulty against his countrymen.

Down in Zagreb Marin Cilic won his first tournament since Umag in July last year. We bet he wishes the entire tour was played in Croatia as he would surely be the world’s number one player, having won 5 of his 9 tournaments on home soil.

The week, however, belonged to Rafael Nadal who made his comeback to the tour in Chile after what felt like a ten year absence. Nadal lost to Argentinian Horacio Zeballos in the final who was on fire for the week, prompting many to say that Nadal was indeed finished and would never return to his best.

Over in Rotterdam Juan Martin del Potro beat Julian Benneteau, who had taken care of childhood rival Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Sadly for Benneteau he lost his eighth successive ATP final, a streak he would surely like to break.

In Brazil Rafael Nadal seemed unfazed by his previous loss and romped to victory over taking out the ever moody David Nalbandian in the final. Nadal as usual bit the trophy he won and expressed how the win was dreamlike.

San Jose played out at the same time and for the last time with Milos taking out old and temperamental Renaissance man Tommy Haas, who may have found the secret of eternal youth.

Memphis indoors provided for Kei Nishikori his third title and hopefully some suede shoes. The Japanese star didn’t drop a set.

‘Allez’ in Marseille for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga where he ousted Tomas Berdych winning his tenth career title and fifth on home soil. Interestingly a player of Berdych’s stature has a pretty mediocre collection of titles with only eight since 2004.

In Buenos Aires David Ferrer picked up his second title of the year and probably breathed a sigh of relief that a certain Mr Nadal didn’t make the trip. A dream for him no doubt.

A week later and Berdych, after beating Federer in the semi’s, lost in another final this time in Dubai. This title went to Novak Djokovic, who was playing his first tournament since winning in Australia. Two out of two for the super Serb.

At Delray Beach the enigmatic Latvian Ernie Gulbis showed another glimpse of talent downing Edouard Roger-Vasselan in the final to win his second title there.

Meanwhile in Acapulco Nadal was playing havoc with Ferrer’s schedule and duly destroyed his fellow countryman in the final 6-0 6-2. Ouch.

March 2013

The onset of March brought two big tournaments and the end of the big hard court tournaments until after Wimbledon.

First was Indian Wells where Nadal was back to dreaming. Here he made it official he was back and could beat anyone after adding to Federer’s horrible 2013 with a quarterfinal win. He then outlasted Del Potro in the final. More than dream dream.

Over in Miami Andy Murray won his second tournament of the year and seemed more genuinely pleased than when he won the U.S. Open (insert Sean Connery accent – “where’s my watch”). Although it was a great win, the field was depleted with injuries and no-shows. One notable was Tommy Haas making his first 1000 event semi final since 1952 or something. The tournament should also be remembered for the first round squabble between Llodra and Paire that makes “Days of our Lives” look harmonious. And no, they won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list.

The Sum Up

The first three months has seen the emergence of new talent in Tomic, Dimitrov and Paire, and the revival of old in Haas and Gasquet. Most notably for the first time since 2004 Federer and Nadal are both ranked outside the top 3.

Only time will tell what the next quarter will bring.

Milos Raonic Leads Canada to an Historic Davis Cup Victory over Spain

Raonic Leads Canada to Davis Cup Win

Milos Raonic won both of his singles matches, including earning the winning point on Sunday, to send Canada into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas  World Group quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history this weekend after defeating top-ranked Spain 3-2 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

With Canada entering the Sunday reverse singles with a 2-1 lead following a singles sweep of day one  and a doubles loss on day two, Raonic  clinched victory for his team with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth rubber. The 22-year-old Canadian was in control from the outset, hitting 22 aces and 55 winners. He saved the one break point he faced and broke Garcia Lopez’s on four occasions, including twice in the final set.

“It’s amazing to do everything we’ve done,” Raonic said. “I’ve been a minor part of it for the past few years consistently and to be able to get the win and have this conversation for the first time, it’s pretty amazing. I’m very proud with how I managed everything and how we pulled through.”

Raonic may be grabbing all of the headlines for his clinching win, but Frank Dancevic is the Canadian hero in the eyes of many after he put forth one of the most impressive performances in the history of Davis Cup en route to dismantling Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to give Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after day one. Dancevic was, to put it mildly, in the zone and put his immense natural talent on full display.

“Just walking out on to the court I had goose bumps, and you know that everyone is behind you and that helps you play through tough situations,” Dancevic said. “The crowd was unbelievable, there were certain times when the match was difficult, and they gave me an edge. They motivated me to refocus on the point and I felt like they also put a little pressure on Granollers because the crowd was so behind me today.”

Playing without their biggest stars, This marks the first time since 2006 that Spain, the Davis Cup runner up in 2012 and champion in 2011, has lost a first round tie in World Group. In their first World Group quarter-final appearance, Canada will face Italy in the quarter-finals at home from April 5-7. Italy defeated Croatia 3-2 in the opening round thanks to a win by Fabio Fognini in the decisive fifth rubber.

“It’s a long process when you’re in group one and you’ve got to battle it out in a lot of places and for a spell there we seemed to play on the road so much,” said team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau, speaking of Canada’s journey into the World Group quarter-finals that began years ago. “I think we had a bit of a window a couple of years ago but still we were down 2-0 to Ecuador in 2011, and from there we just turned it around. We play that tie and the next one away and since then we’ve been in Canada and we’ll do that again in April. We’re happy to be in the quarters but we feel like we can keep on going. We’re riding a good wave right now and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts.”

The final total attendance for all three days of the tie is 17, 796, which is a new Canadian Davis Cup record.

The Spanish Inquisition

David Ferrer during his 5 set win

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE –

It is difficult to fathom how hard Nicholas Almagro strikes the ball.

He glares with the eyes of a temperamental bull, but hits with the flowing grace and control of a Matador. An interesting scenario, Almagro uses his racquet as a muleta to tease and finish a pesky ferret.

A method that was proving successful for the first time.

Ferrer has beaten Almagro all twelve times they have played, including 5 losses in finals, a matter that doesn’t sit well with Almagro. “I don’t want to think about that. He is the No. 4 of the world. He is the favourite. He beat me many times, but many matches were close.”

Still, this was only their second meeting at a grand slam, and surprisingly Almagro looked like the player with more experience.

Ferrer was coming up against a player who was in rhythm, a player who controlled the rallies with the crosscourt backhand, then owned it with a backhand down the line.

Only one break of serve separated them in the first and second set, proving how many matches are decided by just a few crucial points.

Still, Ferrer was being rushed and uncharacteristically antagonised, vocalising his disdain and even swiping his racquet down on the court.

Meanwhile Almagro had all but passed the finish line and banked a cheque of $500,000, the guaranteed sum for a grand slam semi-final and $250,000 more than the quarterfinal purse.

Obstinate to the last, Ferrer dug in with Almagro serving for the match two sets to love up and 5-4. Now the tension the favourite had felt was all gone. Subsequently Ferrer edged himself forward on the baseline whilst his opponent attempted to win by pushing the ball.

Suddenly Ferrer was playing his typical game, taking the set and reminding his opponent that he still had to finish the quarter final. Ferrer reflected, “Well, it’s very difficult to win [against]Nico [Almagro], no? I think he played better than me in the first set. There was a break.  I play bad in myself in one break.  In the second, I didn’t play good, no?  In the third, I feel better with my game. I can play more aggressive.”

Ferrer had stolen the momentum that Almagro craved and now everyone expected that the match would go the distance.

Indeed, the fifth set came but only after an unbearably tense fourth set, where again Almagro squandered his chances, twice serving again for the match before losing in the tiebreak. “I think the tiebreak of the fourth set I played very good. And in the fifth, he was cramping, problems with his leg, so it was easier for me,” reflected Ferrer to reporters of his 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory.

Almagro, nursing a suspected injured groin and wearing an incredulous smile ran out of drive, reeling at the opportunity lost.

The two players hugged afterwards, their level of friendship striking after such destructive circumstances, with Ferrer humble of his achievement, “I try to fight every point, every game. I know all the players in important moments we are nervous. I know that. I try to do my best. Today I was close to lost, sure. But finally I come back, no?”

Ferrer progresses to the semi-final where he will face either Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych.

Le Grinder- Some Appreciation for David Ferrer

-david-ferrer

by James A. Crabtree

David Ferrer has been an elite top ten player for a considerable amount of time. He has made four grand slam semi-finals and won three Davis Cup titles for Spain.

He has also won eighteen career titles and leads the 2012 tour with titles won in Paris, Valencia , Bastad , s-Hertogenbosch , Acapulco , Buenos Aires  and Auckland . If you weren’t counting that is seven titles and on every surface.

Not bad for a guy who could have ended up on a building site.

Wikipedia

“Once, as a teenager, when Ferrer did not practice hard enough, his coach, Javier Piles, locked him in a completely dark 2m x 2m ball closet for several hours, giving him only a piece of bread and a bit of water. After this incident he was fed up with tennis and went to work at a construction site, but after a week he returned to Piles and asked if he could remain at the club and play tennis. As of 2012, he is still coached by Piles and has said he considers him a second father.”

Simply put Ferrer is a player who has become a tennis master on the grandest of stages because of necessity.  Not only does he have the talent, but also the determination needed to match it to become successful. It is obvious that he has found his resolve from hours and hours on the practice court then consistently polished it to a winning formula when the points have counted. Judgement  and retort, dependability and dexterity. The guy’s feet never ever stop moving, even on a changeover.

But should David Ferrer be an elite player? Well, no, depending on whom you ask?

For a start experts believe an elite player should be 6’1 or taller and they should possess a dominant serve. The majority of technicians believe a player should hit the forehand with a circular ark. Fans believe a player should have one dominate stroke that strikes fear into any foe.

On the face of it David Ferrer has none of these attributes. For a start he is listed at the most popular actor height of 5’9, which puts him at eye level with Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro. He isn’t intimidating like Del Potro, flashy like Tsonga or powerful like Berdych. In fact of all men ranked within the top 10 some would argue that Ferrer is the least talked about. He doesn’t have a dominate stroke and he scurries around the court in between points like a man without a coat on a cold winters night.

However during point play the scurrying takes on a whole new form. His side stepping baseline coverage beggars belief. Most importantly he takes charge when returning serve. Statistically speaking in 2012 he ranked within the top five for points won on the first serve, second serve and return games won. He is fourth on the all-time list of career return games won, winning 35%. In layman’s terms the servers are under pressure. Once the ball comes back the pressure is compounded by the consistent grinding that has been the major characteristic of his career, and the success of his most recent win in Paris.

A career that could have been very different,  it’s safe to say that this determined little Spaniard has made the right choice in pursuing a professional tennis career over that of a very different sort of grind.

10 Reasons to be Excited for Davis Cup Weekend

Switzerland's Davis Cup team member Federer speaks to Wawrinka during a practice session in Fribourg

The time has come!  While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.

 

10. The Newcomers

It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group.  For Japan it’s been 27.  In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns.  Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.

 

9.  Fedmania!

In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4″ playing in Davis Cup this weekend.  To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.

8. Russian Roulette

The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover.  Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player.  Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place.  Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder.  All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.

 

7. Veterans Day

Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others.  Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.

 

6. The Battle of the Misfits

One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan.  The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine.  It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.

 

5. Tommy Haas

Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we?  Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

 

4. The Other Groups

Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means).  Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko).  You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.

 

3. The New Heroes

Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes.  Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players.  Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.

2. Double Trouble

Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different.  This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.

1. The Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis.  It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us.  Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.

Previewing the Davis Cup World Group First Round

Roger Federer+Stanislas Wawrinka Davis Cup

There’s always a tennis lull for a week or two after a Grand Slam. How many of you were really paying attention to what happened in Zagreb or Montpellier or Viña del Mar? Tell the truth, do you even know where Viña del Mar is? Well, perk up, Davis Cup weekend is coming up. It’s an excellent way to ease back in to watching tennis. There are ties in watchable time zones for almost any part of the world and there are only three days to keep track of. Sounds too easy? Well, it kind of is. There are eight ties to keep track of, spanning three continents. Here’s a short guide to this weekend’s action.

 

Spain vs. Kazakhstan

Venue: Oviedo, Spain

Spain’s been the team to beat for the last several years, led by the nearly invincible Rafael Nadal. They’re the defending champions, and it would be embarrassing if they were to lose to Kazakhstan in the first round. Kazakhstan has exactly one player in the Top 100. Spain has thirteen, a veritable smorgasbord of options to compile a four man team. Spain’s top guys, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, have chosen to sit out, so the team will be led by No. 11, Nicolas Almagro. Throw in Marcel Granollers, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez for the doubles, and the home advantage and I’m pretty sure they will be able to conquer Team Kazakhstan.

Austria vs. Russia

Venue: Wiener Neustadt, Austria

This tie is notable because Alex Bogomolov, Jr. will be making his debut on the Russian Davis Cup team, as the top ranked player no less. Mikhail Youzhny will be second in command and coming in strong off both a singles title and a doubles title in Zagreb last week. Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Kunitsyn round off the Russian team. Team Austria has the hometown advantage but their star, Jurgen Melzer, has been struggling lately and they don’t have much in the way of depth.

Canada vs. France

Venue: Vancouver, Canada

Canada is kind of like the little engine that could. Not known for a strong tennis tradition, they put in a very impressive performance to beat Israel in the playoffs. But, France is no Israel. France is a Davis Cup power house. Much like Spain, their options for Top 100 players number in the double digits. They will also be bringing their two strongest players to Vancouver, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Versatile players Julien Benneteau and Michael Lloda will also make the trip. Either player can be called up for singles or doubles. Vasek Pospisil stepped up as the hero of the Israel tie, but it will take some serious team work to get past France. Canada will likely need a great performance from Milos Raonic.

Switzerland vs. USA

Venue: Fribourg, Switzerland

I’m not one of the believers that US tennis is dead, but I don’t give them great odds when it comes to beating Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, on indoor clay, in Switzerland. Mardy Fish and John Isner are reasonable clay players, but neither is up to Federer’s level on any surface. The US can usually count on a doubles win by Bob and Mike Bryan, but Bob has chosen to sit out the tie to spend some time with his newborn daughter so Mike will be making the trip solo. He could play with either Fish or Isner, as both are fair doubles players, but they almost certainly won’t have the magic that Bob and Mike create. Switzerland might as well be a two man team. Federer and Wawrinka will play until the tie is won and the doubles will be good practice as they will be looking to defend their Olympic title this summer.

Czech Republic vs. Italy

Venue: Ostrava, Czech Republic

Tomas Berdych was triumphant last week in Montpellier and Radek Stepanek is fresh off a doubles title at the Australian Open. Much like Federer and Wawrinka, they will likely make up a two man team that should easily conquer the crafty Italians.

Serbia vs. Sweden

Venue: Nis, Serbia

Both of these teams will be missing their best players this weekend. Novak Djokovic is sitting out the tie and Robin Soderling has been sidelined since Wimbledon. Lucky for Serbia, they have two singles players in the Top 25 and Sweden doesn’t have a singles player in the Top 300. It’s going to be a tough ask for Michael Ryderstedt and Carl Bergman.

Japan vs. Croatia

Venue: Hyogo, Japan

Kei Nishikori is the high ranked Japanese player in history and the first to make it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. He leads a reasonably strong team on home turf. I’m calling upset potential on this one. Croatia is a tough opponent, but if Nishikori can win his first singles match and Japan can swing the doubles, I would give them a strong chance.

Germany vs. Argentina

Venue: Bamberg, Germany

This is possibly the most interesting tie on the schedule for this weekend. Argentina had a rather gut wrenching loss to Spain in last year’s final and is still in search of their first Davis Cup crown. If Juan Martin del Potro was participating, I would give Argentina the strong edge. Even without their best player, Argentina has a very good team. Juan Monaco won his first title in five years last week and David Nalbandian always brings his best in Davis Cup. I honestly can’t reason out why Germany chose indoor clay. The Argentines love clay. Why not go for a hard court? Either way, the German team is also pretty strong this time around. There’s not really a weak link among Mayer, Kohlschreiber, Petzschner, and Haas.

Nadal Edges Del Potro Giving Spain the Victory – Live from the Davis Cup

Spain Argentina Davis Cup 2011

by Stephanie Neppl

Being at a Davis Cup Finals tie is unlike any other tennis experience I have ever personally been a part of. In addition to the players coming together to represent their countries, another personality is often on court with them: the crowd.

The Davis Cup crowd during the Spain versus Argentina final in Seville this weekend was electric. The tennis often felt like the supporting act as fervent supporters of both teams tried to out-chant, out-cheer and out-spirit the other. Whether it was shouting during serves, delaying play with the stadium wave or starting up what felt like a percussion band in the middle of a game, there was constant noise from beginning to end. It really was fabulous for those of us lucky to be present.

During today’s match between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro, the crowd was certainly a major player. Play was interrupted time and again. It didn’t matter who was serving; games were delayed, even second serves were delayed and despite some fans (and players, coaches, teammates) getting irate it just didn’t stop. Whether it was done due to pure excitement or to distract one of the players (or both), the cheering, drums and horns were just part of the action. Both team captains got into discussions with the chair umpire and it wasn’t until the Argentineans were given a warning did the crowd scale it back a bit.

For the first time in his storied Davis Cup career, Nadal was in the position to clinch the Davis Cup for his team and as expected he won his 20th straight singles match in Davis Cup play (he hasn’t lost since his debut in 2004). But Del Potro certainly was no pushover and the match looked likely to go to a fifth set when the Argentinean battled back from a break down to serve for the fourth set at 5-3. At that stage in the match, Del Potro had wrestled back the momentum and the Argentinean fans saw their hopes return as Del Potro bounced around the court with a new fire.

The next five games would be an emotional rollercoaster for all 24,000 fans in the Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla as Del Potro lost three straight games before breaking Rafa as he served to seal victory for Spain. But Del Potro’s legs seemed to be gone and the tiebreak ended 7-0 in Nadal’s favour. The Spaniard’s final forehand winner sent him flat on the court in joy.

After the match, Nadal acknowledged how amazing the Davis Cup crowd can be. “The atmosphere is really, really unbelievable so thank you very much all the Spanish crowd, all the Argentina crowd that makes this confrontation really really special and unforgettable.”

That ambiance is what makes Davis Cup so special. In tennis, it can be rare to see such emotional cheering throughout an entire match, let alone four or five matches. It’s what makes Davis Cup so special and challenging for fans and players alike. It makes each point seem so vital. Whether a double fault or simple missed return, each point won is celebrated as if a set was won. And that is incredible to experience.

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.

(Del Potro and Spanish team via Getty Images; Nadal photo via AP)

Ferrer Wins Thriller as Nadal Schools Monaco – Live from the Davis Cup

Spain Argentina Davis Cup

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVdmcm0oqno

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)

Argentina Could Evade Underdog Status in the Davis Cup Final

Juan Martin Del Potro speaks to the media

It wasn’t so long ago that players from Argentina dominated the ATP rankings, with Guillermo Canas, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, Mariano Puerta and David Nalbandian all spending time in the top 10.

The only one of those players still active today is Nalbandian, and he’s going for something again that he and his compatriots weren’t able to achieve, a Davis Cup title. But the final obstacle to achieving that goal is a longtime tennis powerhouse in its own right: Spain, led by top-five players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.

Pulling off the upset against the host nation will be a difficult task for Argentina, but there are some things that could work to their advantage:

A Top 10-Caliber Player of Their Own

Juan Martin del Potro will be leading the singles effort for Argentina. This has been a year to remember for the 23-year-old as he rebounded back from wrist surgery, returning his ranking to the top 15. He’s a force on all surfaces, particularly clay, which the players will be doing battle on this week.

A Top 15-Caliber Player, Too

The likely second singles spot will go to Juan Monaco. “Pico” has been ranked as high as 14 in the world and has a winning record against Ferrer.  All three of Monaco’s career singles titles have come on clay, so surface shouldn’t be a factor. He’s also on one of his best stretches in years: reaching the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, the finals in Valencia and the quarterfinals at the Paris Indoors event.

Fresher Legs

While Nadal and Ferrer were facing the best of the best at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, the Argentine players were able to start preparing for the year’s final event a little earlier. Ferrer was able to win two of his round-robin matches relatively easy, but did have a battle against Tomas Berdych at the 02 Arena. Nadal didn’t advance out of group play, but did go three sets with Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With the way Nadal and Ferrer play, any extended matches add more wear-and-tear on their bodies.

The (Good and Bad) Experience Factor

While Argentina has yet to win the Davis Cup, the team has advanced to the finals twice since 2006. Nalbandian and Juan Ignacio Chela were both members of those squads, and have played during years where the team was the odds-on favorite to win the whole tournament. Those two are entering the latter stages of their careers, and more than likely will end them without Grand Slam glory. But they’ve seen almost everything the tour has to offer, and could be a steadying hand when the pressure is on in the final tie of 2011.

Player Bounces Racquet Over Fence, Where It Gets Stuck!

Santiago Giraldo of Colombia was involved in a very unusual circumstance in his first-round US Open match Tuesday against Feliciano Lopez of Spain.

Playing on Court No. 7 at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center, Giraldo was disgusted in his play, trailing two sets to love and a service break in the third set. After he committed an unforced error, Giraldo smashed his Babolat racquet to the hard court surface, where it bounced over the 10-foot fence landing in the shrubbery that lined the back of the court. The racquet was out of reach for the Colombian Davis Cupper and he had to go to his bag sitting courtside and pick up another stick to play with.

After receiving a code of conduct warning for the abuse of his racquet, Giraldo finished the game and then grabbed a lines person’s chair and stood on it to reach and grab the bounced racquet.

In the corresponding photos, note Giraldo’s racquet sitting in the shrubbery in the middle of the back of the court and him retrieving it with the linesperson’s chair. Lopez went on to win the match 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

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