Spain Takes the Davis Cup as Verdasco is the Last Man Standing

Spain ruined home country Argentina’s try for its first Davis Cup title as Fernando Verdasco beat Jose Acasuso in a tough five set match.

You could say that the ATP got what is deserved. It had a year-end championship without its top player – Rafael Nadal’s knees couldn’t take the pounding anymore, its second ranked player wasn’t feeling so good either – Roger Federer hurt his back, and then Federer wore out its fourth ranked player – Andy Murray fell apart in the semifinals after beating Federer in the last round robin match.

And here was the Davis Cup final which should have featured four of the top 12 players in the world and only one of them made it past the first day. Thus it was that a third rubber (matches are called rubbers in Davis Cup, a quaint word that has all kinds of other meaning by this time in history) that might have featured ArgentineanJuan Martin del Potro but featured, instead, his teammate Jose Acasuso because del Potro hurt his leg in the second rubber. Injuries are unavoidable but del Potro had already been limping to the end of the year and it’s fair enough to add him into the “worn out” category.

I know, I’m a conspiracy theorist, but on the second point of the match between Acasuso and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, Verdasco had to stop in the middle of a point and hold up his hand and request Hawkeye. A ball that should have been called out wasn’t. For sure, the Spanish were not going to get any breaks today and if you say, “What’s the big deal?”, consider that making a bad call in the middle of the point is much harder for a player do deal with than if it comes at the end. The player not only has to think about what he’s doing in the point, in the middle of that he then has to decide whether to stop the point and call for Hawkeye or continue playing, and then he has to endure jeers and whistles from the crowd if he does stop the point.

Acauso did what he does – hit his forehand very hard. But there’s a reason he lost his serve to go down 2-4 in the first set. Whereas the 16th ranked Verdasco has developed consistency across all surfaces, the 48th ranked Acasuso is inconsistent on all surfaces, and it felt like this might be a less than satisfying ending to what looked like such a promising event. But the fast surface here rewards hard hitters like Acasuso and he somehow turned this into a memorable, if ultimately disappointing, match.

Acauso lost the first set 3-6 but he broke Verdasco early in the second set though he had help from the crowd. Verdasco served up a double fault on break point as the crowd whistled and yelled during his serve. Turnabout is fair play. If you remember, a Spanish fan did the same thing to Nalbandian yesterday. After exchanging breaks later in the set, Acasuso gave up his break advantage while serving for the set. He managed to pull it out in the tiebreaker, but it looked like he’d only delayed the inevitable and the wildness and unforced errors would sink him sooner rather than later.

Not quite. Acasuso hit a fantastic jump winner off a Verdasco overhead in the first game of the third set that belongs in the top thirty of all-time shots considering the pressure of the situation. Verdasco, meanwhile, hit his 7th double fault – not surprising as he was still hearing whistles and jeers throughout his serve – and Acasuso was up a break in the third set. There’d be four more breaks in the set as both players were kind of ragged, but the breaks were shared equally so Acasuso won the set 6-4 and found himself, improbably, up two sets to one.

After almost exactly three hours – which was part way through the fourth set, Acasuso officially joined the legion of the “worn out.” His energy flagged just enough to let Verdasco break him and that was all Verdasco needed to take the fourth set, 6-3. And then, wouldn’t you know it, Acasuso went from the worn out to the injured as he received treatment for an abdominal strain. From there it was all downhill as Acasuso went down 0-4 in the fifth set and ended up losing it 1-6.

Spain had managed to win hit Davis Cup without it’s king Rafael. And what a year for Verdasco: a career high ranking, a win in a Davis Cup deciding rubber, and a trophy girlfriend named Ana Ivanovic who is also a sweetheart. As high as he must be right now and as much as this will do for his confidence – this was only his second victory in a live rubber (one that has any bearing on the outcome), I’d have to think that David Ferrer is wondering what the hell is going in. Verdasco replaced the higher ranked Ferrer after he was ineffective in the first rubber against Nalbandian.

I thought Ferrer outperformed himself last year. While that’s a rather a ridiculous statement if you think about it, how can you outperform yourself? You can’t perform better than you are unless you use performance enhancing drugs or the spirit of some past sports warrior overtakes your body for a short period of time. These things do happen you know. But it was unlikely that he could hold onto the fourth or fifth ranking with players like Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga coming along.

The problem is that as Ferrer tumbled down the top ten – he’s now number 12, he lost the confidence that he was a top ten player. As unnatural as it sounds, if he could accept slightly lower expectations, he might be able to rebuild his confidence and get back where he belongs.

I’m glad they canceled the inconsequential fifth rubber between Nalbandian and Feliciano Lopez. In some way it makes the whole thing more dramatic. When it’s over, it’s over. Argentina is a country that truly loves its tennis. Soccer even likes tennis in Argentina. The country’s sport demigod and recently named coach of its soccer team, Diego Maradona, regularly harasses opponents during Argentina’s Davis Cup ties.

So I’m disappointed that Argentina didn’t win its first Davis Cup title, but nobody gets it handed to them. That’s why they play the tie.