The Davis Cup final, the pinnacle of the men’s tennis year as far as national rivalries are concerned, always has surprises in store. While the top two teams are decided prior to the final with favorite and underdogs, a long season featuring exhaustion, injuries and hot/cold streaks always plays a factor.
Last year the U.S. defeated Russia in the final without former No. 1 Marat Safin, and the Russians sitting Nikolay Davydenko (bad mistake) in singles, contributing to a 3-0 sweep by the Americans. The prior year Safin was the hero as the Russians won the fifth and deciding singles, with Argentine Jose Acasuso on the sports biggest stage, coming up just short for his country. The prior year Croatia won in a fifth and deciding singles, when the Slovak Republic had to substitute unheralded Challenger-level player Michal Mertinak for an ailing Karol Kucera. Anything can happen in a Davis Cup final, and usually does.
That’s why it was no surprise when heavy underdog Spain ended today’s kickoff of the final in a 1-1 tie with host Argentina.
Spain was the slight favorite entering the encounter behind world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, but after Rafa pulled with a knee injury, the betting swung heavily toward the Argentine side. Spain’s David Ferrer has had a disastrous second half of the season and enters the tie with little confidence, while Feliciano “F-Lo” Lopez does not have a history as a big-match winner.
The opener Friday went according to script, with Argentina’s David Nalbandian rolling past Ferrer, but F-Lo flipped the script with a four-set win over Top 10er Juan Martin Del Potro to even the tie at 1-1 entering the Saturday doubles. Del Potro came up gimpy late in the match, an injury that could leave him out of Sunday play and further Spain’s underdog chances, but F-Lo came up big in the second and third-set tiebreaks before winning in four.
Saturday’s doubles will be nothing if not interesting, and not pretty. F-Lo and partner Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco spray balls all over over the place, yet post their share of big wins in Davis Cup play. Over the last two years they have a 3-2 win-loss record as a team in Davis Cup, with two of those wins coming 12-10 in the fifth set.
The Argentines have announced Jose Acasuso and Agustin Calleri in doubles, a dubious proposal as Nalbandian usually partners one or the other. It will be up to Argentine captain Alberto Mancini to determine whether Nalbandian’s straight-set victory on Friday leaves him fresh enough for the Saturday doubles and a potential live fifth-rubber appearance on Sunday.
Look for last-minute substitutions and no lack of drama on Saturday as the underdogs could become the potential overachievers entering Sunday play.
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