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October 25 • 12:48
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Stirring Cup Drama, Epic Match, but no surprise...

December 03, 2011
Spain up 2-0 after Day 1.

A foregone conclusion, the first match outcome never seemed in doubt from the first game. Such a complete lack of competitiveness is very unusual on the tour, except when Rafa and clay are involved. Juan Monaco played as if he could stay with Rafa in the points, which is to say he finished with nothing to be ashamed after his effort though it yielded only 4 games in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 drubbing in less than 100 minutes: "Obviously I'm very sad, because nobody likes to lose this way," he said, "but I am also aware that in front of me I had one of the best tennis players in history."

For his part in displaying his magnificent clay-play skills, Rafa had this to say: "Last week I was almost dead, and now people think that I'm not human," he said disbelievingly. "I don't think we can dramatise or exaggerate things either way. I wasn't there last week [in London], and I am human this week."

Del Potro no doubt expected the pressure when he took the court as the 6'4" Goliath against the 5'1" David (Ferrer), but the smaller man put it right on him. In the 1st set he won 55% of his receiving pointsm taking half of the points on Delpo's 1st serve, and winning better than 60% of all points with 12 winners. Delpo scored 7 winners with his forehand and had 3 aces, but served inadequately (50%). The smaller man controlled the points on both ends, forcing 11 errors from the big man while giving up 5 unforced and 5 forced errors himself. He would need far greater production to get in the match.

The 2nd set saw Delpo rise to the occasion with better serving (64%, almost doubling the percentage of serving points he won to 72%). He hit 20 winners, scoring almost equally off both wings, and forced 10 errors, but it still took him a tie-breaker to close out the set 7-6 (2). David's 1st serve percent fell off a cliff to 44%, allowing Delpo to control and shorten points.

The 3rd set saw their serving fortunes reverse again, but this time the Argentine found the groove on his poundies and shot off 18 untouchables and another 14 unreturnables to come back from down a break, taking a 6-3 set and 2-1 set lead.

David recovered quickly with another early break in the 4th, which turned out to be pivotal. Though the Argentine continued his bloody assault with another 13 winners and 10 forced errors - and unless you saw some of their battles for every point, you have no idea how hard it was to score a winner or force an error from the Spaniard - David kept doing what he does: making gets, setting up points and scoring enough of his own winners by pinpoint shooting when he saw a target. They ended with 30 points each in the set, but Delpo never broke back, and after 4 hours, it appeared the big man might be broken, mind and body.

David raced to a 5-1 lead in the 5th set, seeming to get stronger and more impossible to beat with every game as he approached the end. Serving to hold, he seemed to feel a little pressure and allowed Delpo a two game surge. But this stirring match with wonderful Cup drama, football-like crowd behavior throughout, and closing him out 6-3 in 4 hours 45 minutes.

Delpo was left to sob into his towel afterwards, no doubt wondering whether he has any chance to come back on Sunday to keep his country's hopes alive for a first Davis Cup title (playing first Sunday, he wouldn't be able to win the final point). He might also wonder how he could possibly be fit to compete with Rafa after what David did to him over nearly 5 hours today. Delpo recovered sufficiently to be gracious in his interview:

"I felt that there was a guy against me that was doing a spectacular game. In the fifth set he immediately got ahead of me, and that made him play a more calm game. He has had a spectacular season, and nobody has given the victory as a gift to him. He's earned it."

The Betfair odds still make Delpo only a 1/8 underdog, but if the match becomes meaningful to the outcome of the tie, I wouldn't bet a nickel on him. But Delpo will probably return home without picking up his racquet again. When he looks back on this year later, he'll know his own epic battle, climbing 474 rungs up the rankings to #11 since February, made him a player again (he was voted the ATP Come-Back Player of the Year).

Ferrer played what he said was "the best match of my career," in what was certainly as exciting a situation and venue as anyone imagine, and a wonderful finale (assuming further work for him this weekend will not be needed) for what has been his best year ever. Five months from his 30th birthday, he has secured his first top 10 finish with a solid #5 ranking (1500 points ahead of #6 Tsonga). Two years ago it was Delpo who ended the year #5 (both men have briefly reached #4 a couple of times).

David also improved his Cup singles record to 17-4 - not shabby, though slightly more human than his team-mate Rafa, who has now won 19 Cup matches in a row, 15 without the loss of a set (that's 45-0 in sets). As long as there is red dirt and Rafa in Spain, the Armada is an unassailable fortress on home ground. They are also the most feared invaders in the world on foreign sole.

BEFORE TOMORROW'S DOUBLES (10 am LIVE on The TENNIS CHANNEL), perhaps someone will give David Nalbandian something unavailable over-the-counter at CVS. Otherwise, in order to hold up his end of an untested partnership with Eduardo Schwank, the almost 30 year old - who has played ONE doubles match this year (and lost) - will need what the media seem to be willing to call an inhuman performance when they watched Rafa today.

The energy in Seville is probably enough to guarantee that Lopez and Verdasco rise to the occasion. Nerves or a slow start may cost them a set, but once they get going with the crowd, there'll be no turning them back. Never mind that in 2011 they are a combined 9-30 in doubles matches (Verdasco is 2-15). This may explain their narrow advantage in the odds over Schwank, who with a 12-10 doubles record this year, won more doubles matches than all 3 other men. But So What and Who Cares. The Cup isn't leaving Seville on Sunday.

Rick Devereux

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