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December 22, 2014
Friday, September 21, 2012

Winning Davis Cup is further away

David Nalbandian (left) and Juan Martín del Potro react during Davis Cup World Group matches.
By Eric Weil / Sportsworld
A first victory for Pumas is closer

Argentina lost their best chance of winning the Davis Cup for the first time this year when they lost to the Czech Republic last weekend after being drawn at home in every round and, if they had reached the final, also playing at home against Spain without their top star Rafael Nadal. Yet, whenever Argentina loses, people, including journalists, find some “traumatic” reasons about internal problems, differences over money, lack of team spirit, etc. which are later denied. Rarely will they give the most important reason... that the rivals were the better team on the day.

Perhaps Argentina might have won at the stadium at which they had previously been unbeaten in nine Davies Cup series if their top two players, Juan Martín del Potro and David Nalbandian had not been injured, but too much is made of their differences and any lack of team-work. Remember, Guillermo Vilas and José Luis Clerc never saw eye to eye, but even won doubles together. Team-work is not so important in the Davis Cup, except between the doubles pair. Tennis is an individual sport, even when playing for your country. Multiple cup winners in Spain have been put as an example here for their team-work. No, they have good players and a more patriotic feeling.

One of the differences between Del Potro and Nalbandian is that the former puts his career first before playing for his country (which he does not often do). Nalbandian is a keen Davis Cup player and withdrew from the US Open to rest and try to get over his injury — but that did not happen. Del Potro should have rested his wrist, but did not, leaving his Davis Cup participation in doubt until the last moment. Then he said he played for the fans... the fans who then whistled and booed him off the court on the last day when his wrist just did not let him play. It was not fair, but then, on the whole, tennis crowds at Parque Roque never impressed for fairness and behaviour.

It is true that Del Potro was rarely close to the rest of the team, but he is a shy and introverted person which should not affect his playing standard either. People say the captain (Martín Jaite) should show more authority and fix this. Previous captains could not fix problems between players either and it is not all that necessary.

But will Del Potro play next year? Meanwhile, ever more injury-prone Nalbandian said he would decide at the end of the year what to do with his career.

Wednesday’s draw for 2013 puts Argentina at home against Germany in the first round on February 1-3. The Australian Open ends the week before — last year it was played afterwards. That means Del Potro would have to rush back from Australia to play here on clay and then move on to Europe’s hard-court indoor season.

Maybe Argentina could win this series without him. Probable quarterfinal rivals could be France, again at home, but a semifinal would probably put them against the Czech Republic again... but this time away. If, by any chance it were Switzerland (with world top-ranked Roger Federer) — they are at home to the Czechs in the first round — the location would be decided by the toss of a coin.

CLOSER TO VICTORY. When Argentina was finally admitted to the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship this year — something which should have happened years ago without having to beg for it — one thought that at least in their first year they would not be competitive and certainly not win a game. Well, they have proved competitive and could be on the verge of gaining their first victory.

Against world champions New Zealand, they did even better than in last year’s World Cup when they held them for 66 of the 80 minutes. Away against Australia last weekend, they lost by four points near the end. After a return match against New Zealand in La Plata on September 29, they face Australia again in Rosario a week later where the Pumas could well win.

What these matches have shown so far is an excellent Argentine defence, even praised by the New Zealanders. Colin Henry, New Zealand’s World Cup winning coach contracted by the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) to help prepare the team before the Rugby Championship, insisted that a more attacking mentality was fundamental, but perhaps if the Pumas had shown that, they would be weaker in defence and have more points scored against them.

Also apparent was a lack of stamina as they were defeated with late scores in some games, but one could not expect more from the players in this first year. As the Herald’s rugby commentator, Frankie Deges, pointed out in a recent Tuesday column, that in rugby at this high level, the knocks are even harder than television shows and players end the game physically exhausted. He mentioned the possibility of a longer half-time break. Perhaps these games and further training will toughen up the players for next year.

Was the battle to stage the Rugby Championship’s three home matches strange in a country where so much is the wrong way round? While provincial governors were battling with the government for money owed and say they cannot pay salaries, provinces made bids to be hosts for the games which finally went to Córdoba, La Plata and Rosario, although the International Rugby Board (IRB) wanted them to be played in Buenos Aires.

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