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October 25 • 02:01
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December 05, 2011
With the odds and every reason to doubt his chances against RAFA today, Juan Martin Del Potro made the kind of effort for which Davis Cup ties are renown.

Borrowing energy from his country's desperate doubles win yesterday, Delpo got an early jump on Rafa, breaking him in the 4th game and again in the 6th to take the first 6-1 before the Spaniard could make the adjustments he needed playing against someone who isn't bothered by topspin to his backhand side. Instead of rallying into the Delpo wheelhouse, which with repeated attempts had generated 14 of his 18 1st set winners, Rafa began to mix up his placement, spin and depth until he had Juan skidding around awkwardly, looking like a man on stilts. In control of more rallies, Rafa reduced his forced and unforced errors, found the range with his own forehand weapon and stole a couple of huge points with cross court BH passes hit off his right foot out wide.

After trading breaks early in the 2nd set, at 4-5, 30-30, a Delpo forehand cross court missed by an inch. Rafa needed only one opportunity to score with a forehand inside out winner. Just like that, a miracle dream seemed to end, and all the air went out of the Argentine, and Rafa ran off with the 3rd set 6-1 while the Big Man reeled and spun. Unable to turn anything much into a winner or even to force an error (he 'won' 6 of his 11 points), Delpo never earned a break point and started the 4th set looking like a beaten, exhausted shell.

The 4th set see-sawed with more service breaks than holds, as nerves seemed to attack Rafa when Delpo's second wind saw him once again cranking out double digit winners at impossible speeds. The Argentine rallied the blue-face fans and turned a last gasp into a sustained surge that took him to 5-3 and 2 points away from a 5th set. Spanish coach Carlos Costa looked as serious as Bill Belicheck on the sidelines watching a 31-3 4th quarter lead evaporate to the 0-11 Colts today.

Of course in these situations, no one doubts that Rafa will raise his game and pull his countryman from their chanting trance into a frenzy. And he did: Delpo would barely win 4 more points, losing his serve and then Rafa's before a last hold took them to a tie-breaker in which he failed to win a single point.

The 4 hours had been classic Davis Cup drama, and had the breaker been closer, or the match gone to a 5th set, it would indeed have ranked among the best Cup matches ever.

Rick Devereux

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