Argentina Gets Unnerved and Drops the Davis Cup Doubles Rubber

Argentina went down 1-2 in the Davis Cup final after losing the doubles rubber in four sets to the Spanish team.

I’ve given you an Italian feed with highlights of the Davis Cup final doubles match between Spain and Argentina. It’s just tennis so you can probably figure out what’s going on no matter what the language, but I will say that the term “brutta risposta” – heard after Nalbandian puts that easy volley into the net – refers to a pretty bad shot.

The crowd was roaring with every fault and virtually every shot in the overloaded arena in Mar del Plata, Argentina. If you didn’t know Spanish, you might have thought one of the players was named “por favor” because the umpire had to say it after every point to quiet the crowd. It sounded more like the soccer match I went to last week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with everyone standing up and chanting and drumming. I half expected to see patches of the arena covered with twirling six foot high flags containing likenesses of the Argentinean players. In Rio, one fan had a huge flag with an image of Che Guevara. I’m still trying to figure that out. Was Che a crack soccer player?

Spain lost the first set of the match after Lopez and Verdasco managed to win only 25% of their second serves while Argentineans David Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri won an incredible 73% of theirs. For some reason, Lopez and Verdasco stayed back when receiving serve and that’s pretty ridiculous considering they were already down a set and Lopez is one of the few serve and volley guys left in the world.

Still, Spain was up 6-5 in the second set and Argentina was serving to stay in the set when Calleri chose an awful time to make a mistake. He hit an overhead into the net at 30-30 giving Spain a set point. On the next point, Calleri missed a volley and one very unhappy Argentinean tennis player slunk over to his seat on the courtside bench.

The third set was kind of crazy as each team broke twice and when they arrived at the tiebreaker, the Spaniards were aiming at Calleri trying to get him to cough up another set. It didn’t work as Argentina got up 4-0 which, of course, excited the crowd even more if that was possible. When the teams changed ends, Argentina was up 5-1 and then a Spanish fan decided that it was her duty to help out her country by yelling during a Nalbandian second serve. Nalbandian ended up hitting it long.

You know, I can’t decide what should happen in a case like that. Should the woman who yelled have been escorted from the match posthaste, or should she be given the Prince of Asturias prize for excellence in sport if Spain ends up winning the Davis Cup because, believe it or not, by the time Nalbandian missed an easy volley and Verdasco floated a lob over Calleri’s head, Spain had another set point and, as you can imagine, the crowd whistled and booed mercilessly as Verdasco served for the set. Didn’t matter, Calleri put a ball into the net and Spain was up two sets to none.

When I went to that soccer match, we noted that opposing teams’ fans have to enter through different gates lest violence erupt before the match even begins, and though tennis is barely more rambunctious than golf, some Spanish and Argentinean fans were going at each other and security had to step in to keep peace. Each year we see more fan disturbances at tennis matches but this was probably tame for Davis Cup and any player who can’t deal with unruly crowd behavior will have trouble winning a Davis Cup match.

Not only that but it could be much worse. At 2-2 in the fourth set, Nalbandian hit a second serve that was clearly wide but was called in. You can bet Argentina would have picked up a few points right about now if Spanish players didn’t have their friend Hawkeye to keep the linespeople on their toes. The truth is that Lopez and Verdasco handled the crowd disturbance and Nalbandian and Calleri didn’t.

Nalbandian’s double fault gave Spain three break points and the Spanish broke serve. They broke serve a few more times and won the match, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-3, and now Argentina is in trouble. Juan Martin Del Potro broke down in his loss to Lopez yesterday with a leg injury and he’s supposed to play the first rubber tomorrow. There’s no official word about the status of the injury but the second and third choice to play that rubber – Calleri and Jose Acasuso – have won roughly half their matches on tour this year, not a good bet for a do-or-die match. If Spain wins that rubber, they win the 2008 Davis Cup.

Stay tuned for more fireworks tomorrow.