Locker room fisticuffs! Eavesdropping Spaniards! Cussed-out tennis dads! Alberto Mancini resigning to the jeers and boos of the Argentine press corps! Nalbandian accused of playing puppet master! Boy oh boy, this definitely tops the Davis Cup drama at France vs. USA earlier this year (which I somehow forgot to include in my Top Baller Dramas in my 2008 Review.)
Here’s all the juicy gossip, courtesy of Tennis Week.
A disastrous Davis Cup final for Argentina appears to be the end of Alberto Mancini’s captaincy.
Hours after Fernando Verdasco clinched Spain’s third Davis Cup of this decade, fighting back from a two set to one deficit to defeat Jose Acasuso, 6-3, 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in Mar del Plata, Argentine captain Alberto Mancini announced he has resigned his post.
Mancini had planned to resign after the final regardless of the outcome, according to reports, but anticipated going out on a celebratory note with Argentina winning its first Davis Cup championship in history. Instead, the team dissolved as singles starters David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro argued in the locker room after Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez beat Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri in Saturday’s doubles match.
Acasuso was pressed into starting in place of the ninth-ranked del Potro, who was sidelined with a cracked toenail on his big toe as well as a leg strain he sustained in the fourth set of his loss to Lopez on Friday.
“There was a lot of sadness in the locker room after the loss,” said Acasuso after the match. “And the fact that three of the four of us lost to Russia two years ago means that the pain was double.”
Pain and personal animosity may well linger for some time in the aftermath of this loss. This final, which was billed as Argentina’s long-awaited Davis Cup coronation, quickly and shockingly degenerated into the dissolution of a team.
Initially, local media reported the argument was between Nalbandian and Calleri, but sources tell Tennis Week it was Nalbandian and del Potro who went at it and the fact that both men barely made eye contact during today’s match with del Potro sitting on one end of the bench and Nalbandian sitting next to Calleri on the other served as physical confirmation of the gulf between the team’s top two singles players.
Nalbandian was upset that del Potro went to Shanghai to play the Tennis Masters Cup last week rather than remain in Argentina to prepare for the final. After del Potro’s loss to Lopez in Friday’s second singles match, sources say Nalbandian made it exceedingly clear to both del Potro and del Potro’s father (reportedly using blunt language) that del Potro’s decision to play Shanghai was costing the team. Stung by Nalbandian’s words, del Potro is rumored to have criticized Nalbandian for his performance afer today’s doubles loss with Calleri stepping between the two before the dispute escalated.
The Argentine Tennis Federation would not confirm the clash and Mancini did his best to dance around it in Saturday’s press conference, but when asked point-blank why Nalbandian blew off the mandatory media conference on Saturday night Mancini said Nalbandian was not “well mentally.”
At a time when the Argentine squad was desperate for leadership, there was none. Today’s final press conference degenerated into a derisive debate between the media and Mancini. Asked repeatedly why the anchors of the team — del Potro and Nalbandian — were not present at the press conference, an increasingly agitated Mancini, put in a position to defend players, who were MIA, could not provide an adequate answer.
When an Argentine reporter asked why Nalbandian is so seldom available to the nation’s media, several members of the media cheered. At that point, the captain abruptly cut short the press conference with an adomonishing: “this is the problem with the Argentine media”. That comment prompted many in the media to boo and jeer the captain as he walked out of the room.
Tennis Week contributing writer Alberto Amalfi is in Mar del Plata covering the Davis Cup final for this web site.
Click here for Tennis Week’s follow up report, which includes Nalbandian’s own post-mortem. Great stuff, Tennis Week!