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.
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.
By Maud Watson
Defending Champ Out – It’s approximately three months down the road, but Juan Martin del Potro has already ruled out his chances of attempting to defend his US Open title. The Argentine, who recently underwent wrist surgery, stated that if all went according to plan, he should be able to play during the fall season. I sympathize with del Potro but greatly admire his realistic grasp of the situation. He noted that the US Open would always be a special place for him over the course of his career, but that he didn’t want to rush his comeback. He obviously has a good head on his shoulders and recognizes the advantage of his painful decision to skip the last major of the year as a decision that could, and should, pay dividends later. My fingers are crossed we see him make steady progress at the end of 2010 and in full flight come 2011.
King of Clay – Lest there be any doubt, Rafael Nadal added yet another tournament to his already impressive tally of titles, and he did so in ruthless fashion, including a relatively routine straight-sets victory over Roger Federer in the Madrid final. I tip my hat to Nadal for his composure in taking the title in Madrid, because it wasn’t just any ordinary title. His win in Madrid not only saw him become the first player to complete the Masters 1000 clay court hat trick in a single season, but it also saw him surpass Andre Agassi as the all-time Masters 1000 title leader with 18. While I’m not as sold as some on the idea of it not being matter of “if” Nadal will win Roland Garros but “how easily” he’ll win the title, there’s no doubt that it’s going to take something extra special from someone in the field to knock Nadal off course for his fifth French Open victory.
Raising French Hopes – Last week I noted that Justine Henin had suffered a shock early exit in Madrid. Her exit was courtesy of a one Aravane Rezai, and it included a bagel in the third. After seeing the way Rezai played Venus Williams in the final of Madrid to claim the biggest title of her career, however, I suddenly understand that victory over Henin a little better. Rezai proved she’s got game, she’s developed some composure, and she has been knocking on the door. There’s clearly a difference between a player going on a hot streak as opposed to being the real deal, but Rezai is starting to look more and more like she could be a contender. And for the nation of France, her potential arrival couldn’t come at a better time.
Head Scratcher – The verdict is out on the case of Wayne Odesnik, and he was given a two-year suspension for being in possession of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). That suspension wasn’t a shock, but what ultimately led to it was. In a statement, Odesnik made in response to the ITF’s verdict, Odesnik said, “The sole reason I was in possession of this banned substance was under doctor’s advice for treatment of a recurring shoulder injury. I was unaware at the time that this would be considered an anti-doping violation.” Odesnik claims that he was planning to apply for a therapeutic use exemption, and that may very well have been the case. But given the controversy surrounding HGH in the world of sports, as well as the number of suspensions the ITF has meted out over the last couple of years, it’s puzzling that Odesnik wouldn’t have done a better job of staying on top of applying for the exemption, particularly since there’s no guarantee it would have been granted.
Royal Presence – As if there wouldn’t already be enough pressure on the one lone Brit capable of making a run to the title on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, Andy Murray now has extra incentive to find a way out of his slump. Queen Elizabeth II, who last attended Wimbledon when Virginia Wade won the title in 1977, will once again be attending The Championships. Nationalistic politics and pride aside, Murray might draw some inspiration from the current reigning monarch who might very well be making her own return to Wimbledon because she sees in Murray a strong possibility of ending the British drought.