Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Miracle in Mar del Plata
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Miracle in Mar del Plata 11/24/2008 - 2:32 PM

FvOr will it forever be known as the Massacre in Mar del Plata? That depends on your point of view, of course, but clearly this weekend’s Davis Cup final in Argentina meant many things to many people.

As the fifth set unfolded between Fernando Verdasco and Jose Acasuso on Sunday, you only had to glance at the faces around the arena to see how raw the emotion was. David Nalbandian, who had seemed ready for a career-redeeming weekend after his straight-set singles win on Friday, sat mournfully with his chin on his hands. Juan Martin del Potro, who had set the disaster in motion by losing his opening singles match, stared blankly into the middle distance. Argentina’s captain, the fire-hydrant-like Alberto Mancini, stood stone-faced and tight-lipped with his hands on his hips. The home crowd fans, on their feet for most of the day urging Acasuso on, singing his nickname, “Chucho,” and giving him very specific advice—one guy in the front row would tell him to be calm before big points; another guy in the same row would advise him to get fired up—now sat stunned. When Acasuso was broken to open the fifth set, the men in the audience sat down and put their hands on their foreheads. The women sat down and put their fingers over their mouths.

On the other side of the net, Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, the surprise hero of the tie, strained forward with a look that mixed extreme hope with extreme anxiety. His captain, Emilio Sanchez, couldn’t sit down; after each point, he leaned forward, his hands pressed together under his chin, to exhort Verdasco on. The dimunitive Sanchez looked less like a Cup captain than he did an excitable Olympic gymnastics coach or a high-school drama teacher during rehearsals for the school play.

You could forgive the little man his excitement. Left for just-about-dead two days earlier, making do without their best player in front of a hostile crowd that, according to Sanchez, uttered many “things I can’t repeat here,” his team was about to pull off one of the great upsets of recent Davis Cup history. Afterward, the Spanish players talked about how the hostility of the Argentine fans had inspired them to play better. Looking back at the tie, I can point to one instance when this seemed to be true. It also happened to be the most important point of the weekend.

It came during the second rubber on Friday. Nalbandian, hitting through the relatively quick indoor court, had cleaned David Ferrer’s clock and stoked his country’s high hopes for their first Cup victory. Del Potro had kept the momentum going by winning the first set over Lopez and staving off break points in the second with gritty, on-the-run passes from behind the baseline. While the underdog Spaniard was playing more loosely and finding his range on his slice approaches, it seemed like del Potro was going to have what it took to hold him off. As they got set to begin the second-set tiebreaker, I said to Pete Bodo, who was watching with me, that this was the “last stand” for Spain. Yes, it was still the first day, but could Lopez really come back from two sets down? And if not, could Spain then win three straight rubbers, including a final one over Nalbandian? Pete agreed, this might be the whole shootin’ match. It was, but not in the way we expected.

On the opening point of the breaker, Lopez missed his first serve. The crowd booed and whistled with a collective emotion that might be described as joyous scorn—they could see Spanish blood in the water. Lopez, who has never been known as a clutch performer, walked back to the baseline, set up immediately for his second serve, and drilled an ace down the middle. This isn’t an uncommon play for him, especially at crucial moments. Lopez seems to think, correctly, that his serve is his biggest weapon so he might as well use it while he has a chance, even if he risks double-faulting. It doesn’t always work, but this time it did, and it seemed to me he had been more focused and determined than normal at that moment.

Whether the crowd had roused him or not, Lopez had quieted the Argentines with one swing and taken the sense of inevitability out of the building. He never trailed in the tiebreaker and won it 7-2. The momentum from that ace added a sense of foreboding to the tie, both in the stands and in del Potro. The third set went to a tiebreaker as well, and del Potro jumped ahead 4-2. On that point, he was presented with a putaway mid-court forehand; instead of hammering it the way he normally would, del Potro slowed down his racquet—the ultimate sign of nerves—and sailed the ball long. Lopez won the next four points and the fourth set to even the tie and remove all joy from the audience. Their fears had been realized; for the first time, they had to contemplate losing this final. All that was left for the rest of the weekend was the foreboding, which would eventually turn to self-immolating scorn as the tie slipped away.

As for del Potro, he was fighting an injury at the end of his match with Lopez, one that would keep him out of the singles on Sunday and reportedly inspire the wrath of an angry Nalbandian, who thought del Potro should have skipped the Masters Cup to concentrate on this final. But the young Argentine also let the pressure get to him against Lopez. This doesn’t mean del Potro isn’t a big-match player after all, or that the grit and resolve he showed in breaking into the Top 10 this season were mirages. While the rest of the tennis season is an accumulation of clutch wins and anxious defeats from which we can separate the courageous players from the chokers, Davis Cup is a series of individual and transitory moments. They appear suddenly, and the players who rise to them can seem randomly chosen. After all, Mark Philippoussis clinched two Davis Cups for Australia; Guy Forget did the same for France in 1991 with a win over a young Pete Sampras. This weekend Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco were the heroes, del Potro the goat. Perhaps it means that the Argentine’s rise was just a little too good to be true, and that there is still mental work for him to do. But he won’t always be a goat, just as Lopez and Verdasco won’t always be heroes.

Still, Verdasco is one for today. Subbing for Ferrer, he clinched the final against another sub, the luckless Jose Acasuso. Their five-set match was hardly a thing of beauty; if it had been played in normal tour situations, maybe on an outside court in the first round in Cincinnati, there would have been more crickets than humans in attendance. And you couldn’t have blamed the humans—both Verdasco and Acasuso dumped easy volleys into the net and sent gimme forehands flying wide on a regular basis. As announcer Barry Cowan said at one point, this was the Davis Cup final, but much of the play was “club standard.” Acasuso went for too much on his serve, spent too much time patrolling the area behind the baseline, and consistently let his opponent back into the match. Despite all this, the Argentine found himself up two sets to one.

The change came with Acasuso serving at 2-3 in the fourth. He sent a sitter backhand 10 feet wide on the first point, and hit another wildly to be broken. The air had come out of Acasuso, and out of the crowd. Verdasco said afterward that after losing the third set, he had relaxed and gone back to basics. From then on, he reined himself in, keeping the ball safely inside the lines, aiming his strokes at the faltering Acasuso backhand, and coming forward on important points to force the Argentine to pass him (he couldn't). This is the advantage that the Spanish had all weekend. Deep underdogs on the road, they played more loosely once they got behind. In all three of their winning matches, they came back after trailing by a set.

DnAcasuso didn’t have that luxury. The way his shoulders were slumped by the end, it looked like the weight of the country was on them. Unfortunately, it was. By the fifth set, he was missing every way he knew how. He pummeled forehands 15 feet long—on TV, you couldn’t see the balls as they flew off-screen—despairingly flipped backhand returns into the bottom of the net, and floated routine ground strokes long for no reason. Down 4-1 but with a last flicker of hope at 30-30, Acasuso made two ugly unforced errors, sending one forehand over the baseline and the next one into the middle of the net. The crowd was beyond stunned by this point. The antagonism that had been aimed at the Spanish all weekend was now left to float freely through the arena.

You had to feel for Acasuso after his opponent's final winner flew past him. When the handshake was over, the Argentine gave a tiny, red-eyed wave to the crowd. He had lost the clinching match of the 2006 Cup final in Moscow, to Marat Safin. That time Nalbandian had rushed onto the court to console him, and he was there again on Sunday. But there could be no consolation. Acasuso walked out of the arena alone, head down, empty-handed, his hair a sweaty nest. As he passed the waist-high wall that surrounded the court, he brought his fist up as if he were going to punch it. But he pulled back at the last second and gave it just a tap of frustration. This only made it a tougher moment to watch—there was futility, along with anger, in that gesture.

You had to feel for Verdasco as well. He found Acasuso after the celebration with his Spanish teammates and offered an embrace. The Spaniard, who has been overcome with nerves on many occasions, could relate. I’ve never enjoyed watching him play, and his hair can be a little rough on my American sensibility, but Verdasco has always seemed humble for a professional athlete. Like Lopez, he banished his reputation as a head case this weekend. And like Lopez, he seized his Davis Cup moment when it unexpectedly appeared in front of him.

“The Cup should be held every two years.” “There should be byes for the champs.” Both of these suggestions are good ones, but there's one advantages to the overloaded format we have today: It offers up so many of these transitory and completely unpredictable moments, ones that can make or break the careers of so many otherwise unremarkable players. Another Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, played a match destined to live forever at Wimbledon this year. He and his opponent that day, Roger Federer, have removed all miracle wins from the men’s game over the last four years—together they’ve won 14 of the last 15 Grand Slams. Verdasco can never hope to do anything that immortal; Spain’s ownership of the Cup could last only a few months, before another one-day hero emerges. But no matter how long it lasts, he'll always have this moment.

On second thought, it’s been a pretty good few months for him—first he starts dating Ana Ivanovic, now he wins the Davis Cup. After rifling a forehand winner on match point, Verdasco first fell to his knees and then planted his face on the court. I wondered if he had had a similar reaction when Ivanovic said she would go out with him. As much as I like to imagine him doing that, he probably saved it for the Cup. In his post-match interview, Verdasco called Sunday’s clincher the “most beautiful day of my life.” In the aristocratic world of men’s tennis today, where the prestigious titles are hoarded by a few, Davis Cup remains a democratic counterbalance. Transitory or not, it keeps spreading those beautiful days around. When we do remember this one, let's remember it as Feliciano Lopez's and Fernando Verdasco's Miracle in Mar del Plata.


Posted by SwissMaestro 11/24/2008 at 03:02 PM

Feel it for Nalbandian and the way Argentineans are so passionate about their sportsmen. What a crowd...

Posted by Master Ace 11/24/2008 at 03:13 PM

Feliciano Lopez win over Juan Martin Del Potro was the key rubber this weekend as it put Spain in a good position to win the doubles as expected and the first rubber on Saturday without having to face Nalbandian in a winner take all singles battle.

Fernando Verdasco finally managed to win a big match in his career against an opponent who has a losing record on hardcourts and have not played a match since Basel.

Now, will this miracle propel better things for Lopez and Verdasco.

Posted by SwissMaestro 11/24/2008 at 03:36 PM

Unlikely I think. Lopez is dangerous if he gets on a roll on faster surface but is too volatile to keep the level and consistency up. Verdasco has an interesting game and a great forehand but I think is a bit too late for him to find that extra gear needed for an important leap frog jump in quality to be a consistent top tenner.

Posted by linex 11/24/2008 at 03:44 PM

Chucho, was too low on his confidence, he can sure hit the backhand better than yesterday. Even in hard courts he has some good wins against quality opponents and even this year in 2009.

The loss against Soderling in Bs As did lowered his confidence too very low levels. I think he only won three games in that Davis Cup match in his favourite surface clay.

I know Steve for one reason or another as most Argentines likes Chucho and can even enjoy his game when on. Who can hate Chucho Acassuso? Although there are many who would rather have Willy Cañas with a more compact game and a warrior mentality in that match.

For Anglo speakers, chucho means fear ...

My father a good club player, says that while watched the match and even when Chucho was ahead he always thought that Fernando was the better player.

As I was following Coria´s comments, Coria as soon as the fourth set started said that Chucho was not moving well. At that point I thought Chucho had a chance for his second service was better´s than Nando´s. But as Coria knows, sometimes movility and solid groundstrokes can do more harm than a powerful serve.

Posted by Aneirin 11/24/2008 at 03:58 PM

I had told a friend that Lopez had to be an excellent choice for that surface.

I still remember him giving Roger fits at the USO 2007, and he always has great results indoors. He looses to gifted players, yes, but he is there.

Playing for one's country is a beautiful feeling, as Verdasco and Lopez just showed.

Posted by sonya 11/24/2008 at 04:11 PM

gosh steve, since when is dating ana ivanovic an achievement?:)
overall great article, your writing is just amazing.

Posted by Syd 11/24/2008 at 04:56 PM

With all due respect:

"You could forgive the little man his excitement."

"Little man" is pejorative term. I don't think that's the way a journalist should be describing Emilio Sanchez.

Posted by Libby 11/24/2008 at 05:14 PM

Is it wrong to say that I've been looking forward to your write up all weekend? Thank you for (another) great read.

Posted by Vanessa 11/24/2008 at 05:17 PM

Steve you had me right until the end with the mention of Ivanovic (I will chose to think you were only joking)

Posted by Contracturado 11/24/2008 at 05:30 PM

I disagree, i think Steve really appreciates what Emilio accomplished. Come on, i'm a spaniard and it stands out that he does given his description of Emilio.

Posted by rafadoc 11/24/2008 at 05:32 PM

"Their fears had been realized; for the first time, they had to contemplate losing this final" a fan of many sports (and a Cub fan to boot), this line really hit me...this is when, as a fan, you start to set yourself up for the pain of the loss....(note Cubs 2008 post season), but as a player, this is deadly thinking. It reminds me of watching the Wimbly final this year...I was confident of Nadal's win, not as a KAD, but his aura really did make it seem inevitable...I watched almost the entire match, even when it was evident it would not be the 3-setter, with total confidence he would win...until a moment in the 5th set, with all even ONE MORE TIME, I started to consider the loss..Nadal obviously did not. I wonder what was going through JMDP's mind in the tie-break...did he let that little window of doubt enter his brain? Maybe not, but interesting to contemplate, none the less.

Posted by rafadoc 11/24/2008 at 05:33 PM

...oh and by the way...I loved this write-up Steve...thanks!!

Posted by 11/24/2008 at 05:50 PM

"and his hair can be a little rough on my American sensibility"

Posted by embug 11/24/2008 at 05:55 PM

Great story. Your writing is superb. I feel a bit sorry for Argentina, not having won ever. Next year with points the mesmerizing love of their players and the sport will be watered down... if only a touch. Lopez and Verdasco have all the reason in the world to be proud. You never know in Davis Cup.

Posted by NDMS 11/24/2008 at 06:04 PM

Thank you for the write-up Steve.

Though I don't have an emotional investment on Argentina winning, one has to be callous to not understand what their fans and the supposed to be just-give-them-the-Cup team (when you consider all the luck that went for Argentina this year) are going through.

Argentina played all ties (first-round against Britain, QF against Sweden, SF against Russia and F) at home. Their two-man anchor, Nalbandian-Del Potro is one of the strongest pairing this year. They were up essentially against a two-man Spanish front, Lopez/Verdasco, who will not exactly be offended when you call them "underachievers" to their handsome faces.

If I can be blunt: Argentina blew it.

Posted by Carrie 11/24/2008 at 06:08 PM

rafadoc- I am a Cubs fan too...and I get the same feeling sometimes when I watch the Argentine players- many of whom I have been a fan of. I saw the Cubs fans and players lose hope and the plan when I saw Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS live at Wrigley- and saw that with the team again this year in the play offs. (Last year they were not expected to do that it it was a different feeling.)

Like the Cubs, sometimes when watching the Argentine players- I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am sorry if I am lumping a whole nation like this- and for exceptions- when Canas was at his best I did not feel this way and even with JMdP this summer. And Argentina is not alone in this trend in tennis. Heck- Hott Sauce had a reputation of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory up until....last weekend. But with Argentina and tennis- I do get the feeling sometimes that I do with the Cubs in some years. The talent is there- things are lining up- and yet....there is this expectation that once again, things will fall short. It is still nuts to me that since Vilas there has only been one Argentine GS winner- who won in part because of the collapse of his opponent- a countryman- and that the country has never won a DC. I am perhaps being unfair- and it is never good to generalize- but maybe that is why I am so drawn to Argentinian players- because it reminds me of my Cubbies.

Enjoyed your writing Steve, as is usually the case.

Posted by Shannon 11/24/2008 at 06:16 PM

"After rifling a forehand winner on match point, Verdasco first fell to his knees and then planted his face on the court. I wondered if he had had a similar reaction when Ivanovic said she would go out with him."

See, that's funny, because I always figured she probably had that reaction when he asked her. Dude is smoking hot, you know. :)

I'm a big fan of all the Spanish players, so I was thrilled with this result. Especially since they did it without Rafa. I'm an even bigger fan of his in particular but it was great to see these guys step out from his shadow and do something really impressive.

Posted by rafadoc 11/24/2008 at 06:58 PM

Carrie-loved your post-glad you made the Cub fan connection (and it is always good to commiserate with another fan!). You know, I kept thinking of the body language too...the Cubs dugout was so, serious/grave in the post season...I kept thinking they needed to do some fist pumping or chest pounding (a la tennis players) or something! There are indeed parallels...the Argies had that same kind of look on the sidelines (as noted by Steve)...oh and the crowd-remember how -quiet-it was at Wrigley at times....I commented here on TW -that I had never heard the fans so subdued...much like the silence that came over Mar del Plata-interesting parallels, no?

Posted by Sher 11/24/2008 at 07:06 PM

I love this post.

Particularly for this tidbit:

[You had to feel for Verdasco as well. He found Acasuso after the celebration with his Spanish teammates and offered an embrace. The Spaniard, who has been overcome with nerves on many occasions, could relate. ]

And also for this sentence, which is so true!

[he'll always have this moment.]

Posted by Sher 11/24/2008 at 07:07 PM


vertically challenged? :)

Posted by My Perspective 11/24/2008 at 07:36 PM

Just curious, how is playing at home vs away decided for these Davis Cup Ties ? For instance how did Argentina get to play at home - is it based on the number of matches won, or some luck of the draw ?


Posted by 11/24/2008 at 08:15 PM

nice article, particularly your points in the final grapsh.

but please... "his hair can be a bit rough for my american sensibility?

i'm american and the variety and diversity of hairstyles in the US is immense.

"american sensibility"? pray, what exactly is that?! this could be interpreted in various ways. condescending, narrow-minded, american hubris (why does he have to mention his nationality?.....
really disappointed to see that.

'little man' - agree with syd. it does come off as pejorative.

Posted by Andy 11/24/2008 at 08:21 PM

Nice post. I don't have the Tennis Channel, but your article gave me a good sense of the drama.

As Thanksgiving approaches, how about another piece about a coach who helped you develop your own game? I still remember last year's holiday post about the Western-music-loving coach who taught you the kick-serve.

Any similarly interesting characters behind your groundstrokes?


Posted by Master Ace 11/24/2008 at 09:31 PM

My Perspective,
Here is how teams know they are home and away and I will use USA and Russia for example:

First meeting : Choice decided by lot(say USA wins home tie)
Second meeting : Russia home
Third meeting : USA home and it continues to alternate like that

Argentina had a good DC draw this year as they played all those teams away in their previous tie

Posted by Heidi 11/24/2008 at 10:42 PM

Steve, great post. I've been sick and missed most of the last two weeks of life, let alone DC -- this was a really great one-stop analysis of the finals. Hilarious musings on Verdasco celebrating Ivanovic...

Posted by tenniscrazed 11/25/2008 at 12:01 AM

sorry headless at 8:15pm.
how about personal sensibility (not american sensibility)?
i am an american living and working abroad so possibly i am a bit more sensitive to (or aware of) american (or any other nationality, for that matter) parochialism.

Posted by jewell 11/25/2008 at 02:40 AM

I am giggling quietly to myself over the comments on Verdasco's hair and his joy on Ana agreeing to go out with him.

But seriously, interesting close analysis of the matches and their turning points.

Posted by rg.nadal 11/25/2008 at 02:43 AM

Steve, great article and a fantastic title.

Posted by Tony 11/25/2008 at 04:50 AM

Question: couldn't have Nalbandian played the first match on the third day of the competition? If Nalbandian had played the first match and won, then it would have been two all, and the fifth match would have been there for the Argentines to take, given their home court advantage. That this was not what happened is what I do not understand...

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 05:42 AM

very nice article. only one objection especially as i think you mention you were not "in situ" but watching on TV (?) and an objection i feel entitled to make as i am Spanish.

You say the crowd was hostile and make more than one reference to crowd hostility. the Spanish repeatedly said over and over that they thought the crowd was awesome and that they felt no hostility. Argentina is a football nation and their way of expressing support is very much that of the avid football fan. They are passionately vocal and tireless. Ferrer and Verdasco both were overcome by the magnitude of 10,000 voices roaring as one. That does not mean they felt hostility,only that they were overwhelmed by sheer force of crowd support for the opponent. Lopez handled it better and has since reported that he actually enjoyed all the energy he felt flowing from the crowd and often found himself chanting along with them

Much has been made of the " lyrics" (if such a poetic term can be allowed for what was a gross use of the gutter vernacular) of one particular chant. In fact,it earned a public reprimand. Most of he Spanish players pooh-poohed the offending word and understood that it was just an Argentine thing that is bandied about all the time.

I take with me the scene where a euphoric Lopez chants "AR_GEN_TI_NA!!" at the end,whipping the whole Spanish contingent including their musical band into joining him in homage to the tireless Argentine crowd. The crowd rose in standing ovation to the Spanish. That was no scene of hostility.

Posted by Roger for President 11/25/2008 at 06:22 AM

Did nobody see Nalby a little to heavy?You can´t say fat, which is an ugly word for a tennis player, but he didn´t seem to fit, or did he?

Spain did deserve the Cup. I agree with what everybody says about Feliciano´s importance in this final. Without our outstanding Nadal, we, Spain, still have good players!

Although the 4 matches where deeply fought, when the dust dissapeared and the final was over the public were quite gentle with the spanish team, and that´s something we must thank to the argentinos!We are still close and familiar "hispanos"!

As a spaniard I must say I feel very proud that Anna Ivanovic, such a beuty!, is dating an ordinary "Fernando" (of the many we have!). I think every man on the circuit (and every man in general) feels envy of his success in all fields this 2008!Let´s recognize it, we are all "a little in love" with Anna Ivanovic!

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 06:53 AM

free translation of an interview with Feli Lopez that came out in El País this morning with JJ Mateo that I post here to prove my point about the choice of the word "hostile" or "hostility" used to refer to the Argie crowd:

Q: You are the DC champions winning as the visiting team to the very difficult Argentina and without your friend,Nadal.

A: Even with Nadal it looked complicated for us. From the beginning we were clear about one thing-they were the favourites. When Rafa confirmed his absence it simply made everything worse. These are things that happen in tennis. But we tried to believe in ourselves and our possibilities and to train as hard as we could and, later, events even seemed to start going our way. We knew how to compete. But it's not only training well and believing in yourself. On the given day of the competition things have to work out in your way and we were lucky;they did!

Q: You speak in the plural. But this time the hero was Feliciano lopez.

A. Yeah,I was somehow able to get a hold of my match which wasn't going my way and turn it around after the first match was lost. Doubles was really complicated too. We found a way to to get over the problems we were having. In sport that sort of thing pays off.

Q. Boy how life can change in the space of a year....You were included in the first eliminatory against Peru in the last minuteonly as the substitute. And you have ended up being the decisive player in the Final.

A: That's all part of being a team. There are a lot of good players in Spain. It depends on the surface and the circumstances of each eliminatory match,the "capi" has the final word and he has to pick and obviously some of us are going to be left out sometimes. I'm thinking of all the players who played decisively for Spain in the preliminary matches that got us here to the finals and yet were excluded from this Final.
Emilio has said, and rightly, that we owe a huge debt to them,in fact,they are a part of this Dc win too. Our Doctor,Angel Ruíz Cotorro, tells us that Tennis expects a lot of sacrifices from us but, in the end, it also gives us back great satisfactions.
Every one of us feels awful when we aren't included on the squad but ... as for me,I participated in Germany and then Madrid..and finally Argentina and I won two matches. I can't ask for anything better!

Q. What was it like playing against such a passionate crowd as this one?

A: An utterly unforgettable experience! It's a very beautiful part of the game: 10,000 people all singing the same songs at once... it actually helped to motivate me and helped me concentrate even more on the job ahead of me. The ambience was so beautiful that I felt enchanted to be able to play in it. Yes,it had its downside too,of course,because it is overwhelming and sometimes at crucial points it could be a negative distraction but ,on the whole, I was floating in the exciting ambience they created during the three days.

Q. How did you prepare to face this? Anything special?

A. Emilio insisted that we do so and that we should realise what we were going to be up against. Although there are times that, once on the court(no matter how well you have prepared yourself) the reality is beyond anything you could have imagined. That happened in the case of some of our players and it was hard for them to control the emotions and feelings under those circumstances. We had seen a bit of the video of the semifinal Arg vs Russia but since it was on a DVD it didn't really give us an idea because we didn't hear anything well. Until you really are there and under fire ,nothing can prepare you for what it is like. I guess I was particularly lucky because I was able to make it work for me to the point where it even motivated me more than I already was.

Q. You have a reputation for being indolent but yet all your coaches and trainers say that this isn't the case at all and that you are anything but indolent.They praise your capacity for work. In fact,your past and present trainers agree that your main problem is that you demand too much from yourself.

A. To form an opinion about someone you should really know that person well and work with him on a day to day basis. I guess people on the outside have formed this idea about me but I sincerely try and do EVERYTHING I have to to get to the top. There have been moments in my career when I have lost matches that I never should have lost because mentally I just wasn't there but there have been equally as many moments, such as these last matches, where I have been able to overcome difficult situations. I hope that this will help me in the future.

Q: How did all of this start? How have you come around to now training under José Perlas( NOTE: credited with taking a psychological approach and helping Feli deal with his severe case of autocriticism)

A. My father was stationed in Melilla(overseas Spanish city) in the military and until I was 10, I used to play tennis at the military club. I was formed as a player between Madrid and Barcelona until I left the tutelage of the Spanish Federation and went out to earn my own bread and butter and my own trainer. I have worked with Francis Roig and Albert Costa and now I'm with Perlas. Each one of my trainers has given me something and formed me and I am very grateful to all of them for that...

Posted by embug 11/25/2008 at 07:35 AM

'his hair a sweaty nest'

Absolutely and positively the best-ever description of Jose's hair! He can't even wear a hat. Why... cuz is a 'sweaty nest' even before he starts to play.

We should have a contest for "Best Image of the Year" by a tennis writer or poet.

Posted by maedel 11/25/2008 at 08:33 AM

GV, thank you for translating that interview. I read it in the original but didn't dare try to render it in English.

I like so much about what we saw of Feli this weekend (much of it new to me)--his chant for Argentina, his remembering his friend who had died, his unwavering loyalty and generosity, his sense of humor. In this interview, I especially liked reading about his awareness that he often comes across as indolent and his explanation of why that might be. I've always enjoyed looking at Feli, and it's great to discover the genuinely fine person he truly is. I respect him as well.

I agree with headless @ 8:15 that Steve's analysis is marred by his unnecessary remarks about Verdasco's hair and Sanchez's height.

Posted by nica 11/25/2008 at 09:32 AM

Great summation of the final.

Going into the tie, I was hoping Argentina would win because they had never won the Davis Cup. At the same time, I had the conflicting hope that I didn't want the Spain (especially Verdasco because he has had cases of the yips) to succumb to nerves and blow it. In the end, it was great to see Spain step up and win it while sad for Argentina. They had a great chance and didn't take it.

For the last month or so, this seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen. Juan Martin del Potro chase to make the Masters Cup and surpass David Nalbandian as Argentina's #1. It is easy to see that Nalbandian could easily decide not to make the Masters Cup if he made the cut (he's won two of these), whereas this was del Potro's chase to make his first.

As a young player it must be a difficult decision: choose to not attend your first Masters Cup you qualify for and give up the money and prestige this entailed. Obviously, I don't know if del Potro is motivated by money. You could also wonder if in his quest he played more tournaments than he should have. Knowing that he had Davis Cup for sure a week after the Master's Cup maybe he could have lightened up his load pre-Masters Cup to be a little less banged up.

Perhaps del Potro was subject to a youthful naivete: there will be many chances to win it. Nalbandian, Vilas, and their Argentinian predecessors would probably know that this chance could have been one in a lifetime.

I do agree with some of Bodo's analysis that maybe the blame should lie on Nalbandian and I would add to Mancini for not being able to build the same team spirit that Sanchez did. I saw somewhere that one of the first things the Spanish did was to post a sign saying "Si, se puede" in their locker room.

Spain lived up to the exuberance of hope.

Posted by nica 11/25/2008 at 09:37 AM

Oh, forgot the hair bit. I seem to recall Andy Roddick sporting the mohawk hairdo was it in last year's finals. Just shorter than Verdasco's.

This is just a slight nitpick on a great post. I don't think you meant anything offensive with it or the "little man" comment. As others said, personal sensibility may have been a better choice.

Posted by 11/25/2008 at 09:47 AM

little man Emilio and the hair of Verdasco! In Spain we are happy Tignor and Bobo dont respect us. We are smiling

Posted by Carrie 11/25/2008 at 09:59 AM

Thanks for the translation GV. Since he first made it to the Wimbledon quarters around three years ago, I have found myself becoming more fond of him as a player. But his attitude over the past weekend shows that he has some nice character in addition to a nice game. There is some substance behind that often commented on face.

It was interesting to read his comments on how his coaches/trainers view him versus those who do not know him. I do think he has more talent than just having one tournament win suggests and I hope DC is a springboard for some better results for him in 2009.

Posted by linex 11/25/2008 at 10:03 AM

I wonder if Coria thought after commenting the match between Chucho and Verdasco that perhaps, as long as you do not make double faults, the serve is not the most important shot in tennis.

Coria lead Lopez 6-1 in the head to head (2 of these 6 matches were won in carpet). The only match won by Lopez was a retirement by Coria in Montreal.

Coria lead Verdasco 2-0. Both matches on clay.

I just hope that this horrible defeat of the argentine tennis inspires him to return.

Posted by SwissMaestro 11/25/2008 at 10:12 AM


You still owe us the wrap up for the year post.

Posted by MMT 11/25/2008 at 10:54 AM

Great post. Absolutely spot on. Well done.

Posted by sonya 11/25/2008 at 11:18 AM

thanks Gabriela for the interview. i'm really liking this new feli or perhaps i should say the feli that was always there but who i wasn't interested in.
Carrie, do you have more news on JMDP's health? And has he been treated unfairly by the argentinian's press?

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 12:00 PM

the following was posted about an hour ago on the other thread(Aftermath) but I'm reposting it here for CARRIE and SONYA and MAEDEL

ignoring the nabaldian bruhaha(spelling?) and hoping the man is enjoying a spiffing holiday at some place like Punta del Este.

More on Feliciano Lopez(did you all catch how Rafa calls him "Chiano"? This is an interview with two of his coaches(former and present)

quoting freely and loosely from JJMateos writing in El País from Argentina:

Feli is stalked by the legend that he is an indolent puppy,a man-boy surrounded by an aura of absentmindedness and lack of concentration during important matches. But the people whowork with him deny this hotly.

Albert Costa( perhaps the new DC captain?) and Feli's coach up until very recently says: Feliciano's problem is that he tends to be hyper selfcritical. He is very demanding on himself. This doesn't work out to his benefit. He has to learn how to accept himself as he is. His disappontment when he doesn't win is out of context. Everybody has to lose sometime;everybody has moments when they simply curl up and wither. That shouldn't cause disappointment to the point of paralysis. Feliciano has to learn to live with that. His will to not fail sometimes causes him so much anxiety that he isn't able to play at his best.Up until now he has been lacking the feeling of being at peace with one's selfthat allows a player to face difficult moments with a cool head. Now it seems as if he is making progress in this direction and doing important work with Perlas in this direction."

Perlas,his new trainer, with something of a reputation for being a great tactitian and even better psychologist(with two of Spain's DC wins under his belt,2000 and 2004) concurs with Costa and says:
"There is a huge contradiction between Feli's personality on court and his technical qualities. These are such that Feli should be an agressive player; an attacker but his on- court personality is such that he waits for opportunities too long;he lets the point mature to excess. In the end, it will be his tennistic qualities which are going to mark the difference and he should be giving them a free reign."

With regard to the legend that surrounds Feli,Perlas gives concrete examples of how this isn't so. Although Feli lives and prefers to live and train in Madrid ,he has opted to go and train with Perlas in Barcelona.leaving behind his comfortable life and family.

"There is a lot of confusion about who Feliciano really is. There is this Identikit drawing of Feli the playboy who is more at home on a catwalk or at the discotheques and saunas. Those of us who know him and have to work with him know that he dedicates all the time that is asked of him to his training. He never says no or gives excuses. In competitions he suffers more than that exterior would let anyone imagine; he always tries to give his all. I always believed that when it came to a crunch that he was the sort of player who would bring something extra to the match."

...and how! Feliciano returns from Argentina the way he dreamed,singing,chanting,hailed as a hero.

Posted by Andrés 11/25/2008 at 12:55 PM

Verdasco's hair is rough on anyone's sensitivy - not just Americans...

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 01:05 PM

Andrés: I agree and I'm Spanish. With Verdasco I follow the policy I use with my own kids when I volently dislike what ever look it is they are sporting. I simply choose not to look at it. I always watch a headless version of Verdasco (the hair is too painful!)

Posted by Andrés 11/25/2008 at 01:22 PM

I'm Spaniard too, Gabriela. So, for the rest, please note that Verdasco's hair style is nothing common, nor well-liked, in Spain.

Gabriela, do you think that's what Ana Ivanovic do, watch a headless version of Verdasco? I guess that's the only way she can deal with it... Or maybe she likes it???????????????????????

Posted by steve 11/25/2008 at 01:23 PM

hey, verdasco hair and ana image were jokes. i don't care what his hair looks like in reality. and isn't it kind of funny to imagine him doing what he's doing in the photo above after ana says yes?

as for emilio sanchez, he's one of my favorite people in tennis, always accessible, respectful, and good for an intelligent quote.

i don't think nalbandian could have played the first match sunday against lopez, though i'm never totally sure of the dc rules. for instance, could nadal have been brought in, even if he wasn't named to the team?

thanks, otherwise. i'll have something else up before thanksgiving, and am doing a "turkey shoot" post on espn tomorrow

Posted by sonya 11/25/2008 at 01:24 PM

thank you Gabriela, feliciano is now on my list of players i want to see have excellent results next season. But that will continue only if he doesn't beat rafa though, lol.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 01:46 PM

Andrés,si yo fuera Ana i wouldn't be wih Nando,I'd be with FELI!!!!!

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 01:48 PM

Sonya : I love both of them. I could deal with Rafa losing to Feli but I'm not sure that that is going to happen.

Posted by Armando 11/25/2008 at 02:12 PM

Steve: Standing at 5' 11", you can hardly call Emilio Sanchez "diminutive"...

If you compare him with Del Potro, of course, he's short... but in reality, he's average.

He was a warrior as a player, and now, proves to be one hell of a davis cup captain too.

Posted by Gabriela Valentina 11/25/2008 at 02:17 PM

Is Emilio taller than ferru then? I understand that ferru is 5'9"...
but why is everyone so hot and bothered about Emiio's height?

Posted by steve 11/25/2008 at 02:26 PM

it was interesting to me how small both captains, who were both top 20 players in their day, were when compared to their players last weekend. obviously the game has gotten a lot more physical.

everything is relative, of course: allen iverson, at 6-feet, is the "little man" of the nba

Posted by Andrew Miller 11/25/2008 at 03:20 PM

Mr. Tignor: your analysis is tops. Still feel that Argentina's assumptions were one hundred percent wrong. This tie could have been different on the dirt - which is basically the national surface of choice in Argentina.

Posted by maedel 11/25/2008 at 04:23 PM

GV @ high noon --

Thank you for the additional info about Feli. I like everything I read about his personal qualities, just as I liked everything I saw this weekend. For me, he's now right up there next to Rafa.


Posted by jay 11/25/2008 at 05:26 PM

I don't know why this result is being called such a big upset. Spain had the upper hand in doubles anyway. And once Del Potro was injured they did n't have a second singles player either. Even with Del Potro, this tie was close on paper. Ferrer has a winning record against Nalbandian - so if anything that is the only surprising result of the tie. Really, who expected Acasuso to win? Maybe a small upset was Feli beat Del Potro on the first day. None of the other matches were a surprise to me.

Posted by Rul 11/25/2008 at 05:32 PM

Ease up on labeling players as "chokers." Rod Laver and John McEnroe admit that they choked during their pro careers. That didn't make them chokers. Both have said everyone chokes at one time or another.

Posted by Joe 11/25/2008 at 08:22 PM

It wasn't a miracle, it was because Spain played better, even much better in doubles

Posted by oscar 11/25/2008 at 09:02 PM

If Nalbie would keeped the Nr 1 of argentina and Delpo #2 , this could had change the facts. In the first day Nalbie beat Feliciano, then Delpo did the same to Ferrer. The spaniards took the doubles and the final day in the first game Nalbie beat either Ferrer or verdasco . Arg 3-1
Even with Nadal , Argentina had the same situation. First day: Nadal beat Delpo, Nalbie beat Ferrer. Doubles for the Spanish team. Last day first game Nalbie beat Nadal and Delpo beat Ferrer. Arg 3-2

Delpo with the number 1 of the team was the worst thing to the team.

Posted by Joe 11/25/2008 at 09:32 PM

If..... who knows, if Ferrer would played better, maybe Spain would won 4-0

Posted by Azhdaja 11/25/2008 at 10:05 PM

Steve you are Rembrandt of the tennis!

Great paintings of the final. Many players don't even bother playing Davis cup, but looked through the pen of yours, it was something most important in aplayers career!

Mark 10!

Posted by 11/25/2008 at 11:03 PM

"why is everyone so bothered my emilio's height?" possibly the connotation, which can carry a lot of meaning, isn't so strong for non-native speakers of english. (i'm assuming it's not your mother tongue?) the context, etc., also makes it sound off-putting. (the guy is 5,11? that's still tall!) I sometimes call my boss, whom i do not like (he's 5'4") 'that short man' - in private. Needless to say i don't like him.

Posted by 11/25/2008 at 11:25 PM

'verdasco's hair is rough on anyone's sensitivity, not just americans" 'you speak for everyone/anyone'? ! (steve said sensibility, btw, which is slightly different)

in a way, you make the point that was being made by earlier posts. it's not about nationality but personal dislikes and likes.... 'personal sensibility' would have been the much better way to express it.

Posted by C Note 11/26/2008 at 12:30 AM

Hey Steve,

Great post!

Posted by Dee 11/26/2008 at 05:04 AM

Hello from Manila, Steve. Thanks for describing in the detail the match between Feli/Del Potro. Apparently I missed watching an all-important 2nd set tiebreak which you think was the match that lit the Spanish cauldron of hope, that maybe they had an even chance after all to win the Cup away from home. It was well past midnight after the 1st rubber ended and I guess I should have stuck a toothpick between my eyelids for this match.

"Their fears had been realized; for the first time, they had to contemplate losing this final."

Right. Argentina thought they could clinch the cup after Nadal announced he would not be able to play for Spain. In the end I can still picture the wry smiles on David Ferrer, Emilio Sanchez, Feli Lopez's faces when the blue and white confetti began to rain down on red and yellow Spain. In Manila where basketball is the no. 1 game with our Phil Basketball Association (PBA) patterned after the NBA, that just does not happen during the finals. You don't rain down your losing team's colors (balloons/confetti) on the winners! I was quite amused at first, but as an afterthought the runner-ups do deserve to have their colors rained down considering the long and arduous road to the finals throughout the year, except that the runner-ups were no longer on the floor when the blue and white colors fell.

Argentina would have been number 1 in Davis Cup rankings had they won the cup this year (I read this somewhere). Instead, Spain moved up the ladder and is now in 2nd place behind Russia.

I believe playing for one's country was 50% of what carried Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco at Mar del Plata. With regard to the boisterous crowd, I tend to agree with Gabriela that the Spanish players seemed to soak in the rowdy atmosphere. It was, after all, just like being at home, except for the not-so-nice-words from some Argentine fans to the Spanish team which Emilio Sanchez would not even begin to describe to a reporter.

As for Ana and Fernando, my thoughts are clinching the Davis Cup for Spain is a hundred times more thrilling than winning the lovely lady's heart.

Posted by Dee 11/26/2008 at 08:41 AM

The picture of Verdasco embracing Calleri on was a very nice gesture on Verdasco's part. After the last shot was hit, Acasuso went to the net to congratulate Verdasco but Verdasco got mobbed on the floor by his team members. Acasuso waited for a moment then walked to his team's side. Really great of Verdasco not to forget to go to the other side after he managed to stand up.

In addition to what I said in my 5:04AM, the Argentine crowd were still clapping when the champion team members were called one by one to receive a replica of the cup, and were still clapping when Emilio Sanchez was called forward to receive the Cup.

"Little man" - I do not think there was any disparaging thought in Steve's mind when he called Emilio Sanchez "little man".

Hey Gabriela, so nice of you to post the articles above. By the way there was a Star Sports interview a few weeks ago on Feli Lopez with his team. His agent highlighted the fact that Feli has a bad habit of losing his wrist watches! Recently Feli lost a very pricey watch. Apparently he went to the men's room of a hotel, removed his watch to wash his hands then left the toilet and forgot to put his watch back on. It was a good interview with Feli walking down the streets of the suburb of Madrid where he lives, showing the sights.

Posted by F 11/26/2008 at 10:28 AM

About Nalbandian...
Nalby too heavy? No, that's how he is. In fact, he was in better shape in this Davis Cup weekend than he had been for the last 5 years. Ferrer is no bad player and he was not in the bad form many believe (I still believe Ferrer should have played Acasuso in the 4th rubber, a match Ferrer would have won in straight sets). Nalby thrashed him because simply put, he was playing as the absolute world #1 on that surface, in the same fashion as 2007 Madrid & Paris. We all know how good Nalby can be on that surface... just add two weeks of training on the surface and you get two singles rubbers clearly secured.
I feel for Nalbandian because he dedicated so much to winning the Davis Cup, and he feels let down (sometimes without reason) by the rest of his team & federation:
- The Argentine tennis federation failed to secure Cordoba (in Nalbandian's province) as the host city. We now know that the real reason behind that was BNP Paribas' veto of Cordoba after it found out that a local bank was its main sponsor. The federation should have anticipated that and arranged for a different sponsor for that city.
- Nalby feels that Del Potro should have skipped the Masters, as Nalby had announced he would do if he qualified. I don't agree with Nalby here, but still this tells of the difference in sacrifice that Nalby and Del Potro were willing to make to win the Davis Cup.
- Nalby feels disappointed that he didn't have Arnold-Ker to play the doubles with him. He suggested it to Mancini, who did not take the suggestion and brought two singles players (Acasuso and Calleri) who have played doubles together before but are in no way good enough to beat the Spanish doubles team, and also not good enough (as we saw) to sub in for an injured singles player. Nalby feels that with Arnold-Ker, he would have have a chance to beat the Spanish doubles team and remedy the hopeless situation that Argentina was left with after losing Del Potro.
It's true that Nalbandian maybe poured in too much voice and not enough leadership in his team, but we can't deny that he is the one that made the most sacrifices to play the Davis Cup and that his suggestions, although arguable at decision time, would have increased Argentina's chances.

Posted by F 11/26/2008 at 10:31 AM

Why did Spain win what seemed so sure for Argentina?
- The reason is not that they were a more cohesive team than Argentina.
- The reason is not that the Argentine players, international media and tennis public were overconfident in an Argentina win because of Nadal's withdrawal. In fact, both teams knew very well that chances were still even, given the below.
- The real reason is that to win a DC tie you need at least two players in top shape. This tie was 4 on 2: Spain had four DC final-worthy players: Nadal, Ferrer, Lopez and Verdasco. Argentina had only two: Nalbandian and Del Potro. After Nadal's injury, Spain was left with three, and won with the two that were best that weekend. After Del Potro's injury (which caused Argentina the loss of the 2nd rubber), Argentina was left with only one, Nalbandian. That's not enough to win a DC final. That's it, end of story.

A worthy mention to the Spanish players and coach as they embraced their disheartened and defeated rivals, and then cheered for Argentina repeatedly in the post-tie official dinner and in a disco that night. Very nice gestures that show the best of the human spirit and underscore the closeness they have with their Argentine friends.

Posted by NDMS 11/26/2008 at 11:17 AM

Steve wrote: “The Cup should be held every two years.” “There should be byes for the champs.” Both of these suggestions are good ones, but there's one advantages to the overloaded format we have today: It offers up so many of these transitory and completely unpredictable moments, ones that can make or break the careers of so many otherwise unremarkable players.

You're right about the advantages of the overloaded format, the yearly Davis Cup. One team can look like it's at the top of the heap in one year and the next year, the same team would be yesterday's news. And an almost-there team doesn't have to wait too long for another chance.

And you never know which underdogs will be top dogs. Ljubicic, severely unremarkable in Grand Slams throughout his career, owned the 2005 DC. Chronic underachievers Lopez/Verdasco are now poster boys of rising above expectations. Unfortunately, the "break the careers" cannot be overstated - France's Mathieu at only 20 years old.

It's all about the draw, where the ties are played, who's available and who's not.

Don't cry (too much) for Argentina. The DC title is up for grabs again next year.

Posted by Audrey 11/26/2008 at 12:13 PM

I am really happy, yet a bit shocked that Spain won. I was desperate for Spain to win, but I thought that without Nadal they had a very small chance. Good for Verdasco for leading his team to victory. He's been known to blow important or close matches. (especally 5 setters, remember at Wimbledon against Ancic) Anyways, congrats to Spain, it was a well deserved victory. I do have sympathy for Argentina, they had everything going for them. They didn't take advantage of their opportunity.

Posted by ata08 11/26/2008 at 12:25 PM


love this post, but i'm going to have to stop reading your blog before bedtime.
last night, i had a dream i was at a resort making out with nalbandian.
and actually, ICKY.

happy thanksgiving, all.

Posted by steve 11/26/2008 at 01:41 PM

making out with nalbandian at a resort? i hope it was a nice resort anyway

Posted by linex 11/26/2008 at 04:22 PM

Well I prefer to be with Nalbandian in a resort that let us say Stepanek who seems to be so lucky in the women department.

Although if you allow me to choose I prefer to be there with Feliciano the hero of the weekend and one of the most handsome, and after the Mar del Plata miracle, nice and charismatic ATP pros ...

Posted by 11/27/2008 at 07:45 AM

Feli has lived in San Cugat outside Bracelona, not in Madrid, for many years and he was there at the CAR (top flight sports training centre) practising assiduously for the DC final from when the Paris Masters ended until he headed for Mar del Plata. What has impressed me this year about him under his tutelage with Albert Costa is how much he has filled out, his legs in particular are stronger and more muscular, and just how fit he has become.

Posted by Daniel 11/27/2008 at 05:35 PM

I think Verdasco is good enough to be in the top 10 and even make it to London next year. Nalbanian, on the other hand, is a different story.

Posted by Nancy Sonkova 11/29/2008 at 07:55 PM

Toda la culpa de que Argentina haya perdido la Davis tiene un solo nombre: Juan Martín del Potro. Quien mucho abarca, poco aprieta; y no escupas al cielo, porque te puede caer en la cara.

Posted by MARY 12/02/2008 at 08:50 PM

I am still not over his greatness Feliciano (Chiano) and Fernando, my heroes in a hostile Mar del Plata Arena. Typical Spanish Bullfighting Spirit. The Argentines can't measure up. And has anybody seen Feli modeling and the pic of Fernando posing like a greek Olympian of the olden days. OMG. Those guys are in such great shape, no wonder chubby Nalbandian and Beanstalk Del Potro got the wind knocked out of them. Let's not forget that Rafa helped them make it to the Final (Long live the King!!!)The funny part was that Rafa lost his live feed on holiday in Mauritius and texted the team to get the scores. He was extremely nervous. Can understand that, since his coach didn't want him there 'cause he would be a distraction. Anyway, Feli and Fernando have great hair!!!(That goes to all you balding guys out there

Posted by luisa capello 12/08/2008 at 08:29 AM

In addition to yours rightly and repeatedly criticized judgments "the diminutive Sanchez","the little man" "the fire-hydrant like Alberto Mancini" and your "American sensibility" regardinng your surprisingly disturbing preoccupation for writting about hairdos, your description of Verdasco-Acasusso game was totally disgraceful:"If it had been played in a normal tour situation may be on a outside court in the first round in Cincinnaty, there would have been more crickets than humans in attendance" now completely forgotting that Verdasco was ranked 11th and that he is a very talented and popular player. That clairily shows that you don't have the most important quality of a comentator: RESPECT

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