On top of the world, and his head. Photo by Paul Zimmer via DavisCup.com
Davis Cup finals weekend put Argentina on Spanish clay and Rafael Nadal in his happy place. It was no surprise that it ended in tears for Del Potro & Co., given how passionately they wanted to bring the cup home and how hard they fought to change the seemingly inevitable result: Rafa triumphant and the cup going to Spain for the fifth time since 2000.
It’s one of the surprising factoids in tennis that Argentina has yet to win the Davis Cup, given its roster and passion. “I think it’s clear to people that it’s a kind of obsession,” says Nalbandian of DC victory. This latest disappointment makes me think back to 2008, when Argentina lost at home, on hard courts to a Rafa-less Spanish team. Is it any wonder that Nalbandian wanted to punch out Del Potro in the locker room? I’m sure Del Po would prefer Nalby’s right hook to the nine hour beating he suffered over this weekend: nearly five fruitless hours vs. David Ferrer on the first day and four vs. Rafa on Sunday.
As for Nalbandian, who prolonged Del Potro’s misery when he and his partner, Eduardo Schwank, took the third rubber vs. Lopez/Verdasco on Saturday, it appears his chances for Davis Cup heroism are coming to an end. I was sad to read this quote from his captain, Tito Vázquez, in the New York Times: “I think personally it’s his (Nalbandian’s) last major chance of winning something obviously very important. I think definitely he’s probably running out of chances to win a Grand Slam, so Davis Cup is the main thing.”
Heartbreak to heartbreaker? Photo by Paul Zimmer via DavisCup.com
Heroism isn’t always about winning. Del Potro and Nalbandian stand as a shining examples of that. But winning doesn’t hurt. David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal remain unbeaten at home and Spain remains the dominant Davis cup force of the new Millenium. Though Team Espana will see some big changes in the coming year, as both Nadal and Ferrer have indicated that they may not play.
Davis Cup is tennis’s time to play at being a team sport – the remaining 48+ weeks of the year it’s about looking out for No. 1 (or No. 3 or No. 256 or wherever you happen to land in the rankings.) Del Potro left the court in tears this weekend, but he’s going into 2012 as a real threat. Anyone who can take a 6-1 set over Rafa on clay is ready to do damage on any surface. Like Roger at the Masters, Rafa enjoyed his own late season confidence booster (assuming he forgets that first set vs. Del Po) and can head into the three week “off-season” with calm, as he would say.
Rafa says he’s focusing on the Olympics in 2012 and reportedly, getting his No. 1 ranking back. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have their hearts set on the same prizes. But after watching his performance this weekend, I think Del Potro is poised to be the big heart breaker next year.