May 20, 2013
Not this year, David!
Without Del Potro, there is little chance
David Nalbandian, Argentina’s top tennis player not so long ago, has an obsession before he retires — that Argentina wins the Davis Cup for the first time. Nalbandian is 31, a veteran of professional tennis, which does not give him much time... but it is unlikely to happen this year!
Nalbandian will be playing in the Davis Cup for the 12th straight year when Argentina faces Germany at the Parque Roca stadium today. He said he did not play in the Australian Open to rest for the Davis Cup, although, as he probably would not have got past the first week, he would have had a rest anyway. He may be rested, but due to injury, he has not played competitive tennis since August, except for one match in December’s Copa Argentina tournament, which he took rather lightly. If he was asked to play singles and doubles on all three days, he would, but he will play doubles with Horacio Zeballos and might play singles on the last day if it becomes the vital point.
Nalbandian never got on well with Juan Martín del Potro, who is now the country’s top player. It is the story of Guillermo Vilas and José Luis Clerc all over again... but not quite. Nalbandian’s main complaint against Del Potro is that he doesn’t always play in the Davis Cup and lets his country down. Vilas and Clerc even played Davis Cup doubles together though they weren’t on speaking terms. It is said that when Del Potro did play, these differences hindered teamwork, but as mentioned in the past, teamwork is not the all important thing in Davis Cup play. This week, the players may say they are now more of a team, but this will not get points on the court.
But Nalbandian richly deserves the prize he will be presented with by the International Tennis Federation this weekend for having played in the Davis Cup in at least 20 series at home and away. Also receiving this prize will be Argentines Clerc, Ricardo Cano and Javier Frana.
If Argentina loses, it will have to face a play-off to stay in or drop out of the world group against the loser of France versus Israel. Form tells us it will be Israel. As the last meeting between these two counties took place at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club in 1990 (when Argentina won 3-0), this year’s eventual match, according to the rules, would be in Israel.
Del Potro unpatriotically said he will not play in the Davis Cup this year to further his singles career. Actually, being dumped from the Australian Open in the first week, he would have been able to play today (if he wanted to) and team captain Martín Jaite said the door was always open for him. It has been calculated that Argentina’s players lose about US$200,000 dollars each by playing four Davis Cup series (if they reach the final) instead of playing in more lucrative tournaments (although there are actually none in Davis Cup week). But if they really lose that much in four weeks, they must be earning a packet during the rest of the year.
Yesterday’s unusual news was that the German team would not accept any of the food on offer at the usual official dinner on the night before the start of play, nor any drink that was opened before it was brough to the table, due to the fear of intoxication. This may be unusual, but it also shows that Argentines are not looked upon with much confidence in other parts of the world.
So what are the chances against Germany this time?
Nalbandian and Juan Mónaco have suffered recent injuries, but say they are now fit. Jaite says it will be close with equal chances for either team, but he realizes that Germany will be stronger than last year when Argentina won 4-1. They did not have their leading player, Philipp Kolschreiber then, who is here this time, although they miss Tommy Haas. Mónaco, although erratic, should beat Florian Mayer and the first day could end 1-1. Carlos Berlocq may not be so lucky against Kolschreiber. The doubles, as usual, could be the decisive point. Nalbandian and Zeballos have played well together, but they face Kolschreiber and Christian Kas, who won the Doha doubles tournament this year. The result may have a strong bearing on who has the better chance on the last day. No bets taken.
But there is already a loser before play starts — the Argentine Tennis Association and the firm in charge of the commercial angle of the Davis Cup. The absence of Del Potro, yesterday’s holiday — making today a sandwich day with many people going away for a long “weekend” — as well as the many still on holiday means that ticket sales have been slow. Usually, by this time the “sold out” sign has gone up and no more tickets are sold on the day of the matches. This time there are plenty left and they will be sold on match days. The cheapest day ticket is 130 pesos and the three-day ticket 300 pesos.
An Argentine Tennis Association spokesman said they do not expect many more than 5,000 people at the stadium, which holds 14,000 and was often completely full for previous Davis Cup ties. He also mentioned that it costs four million pesos to arrange a Davis Cup tie here and there will be an expected loss of one and a half million pesos.
What could hurt the position further is the weather forecast of heavy rain and/or excessive heat today. If rain makes it impossible to play, the tie could continue until Monday, if necessary, when there might be even fewer spectators, even if the remaining singles matches are due to decide the result. The remaining forecast is for a sunny Saturday with lower temperatures, but wind which would hinder play. On Sunday, the temperature will rise again slightly and with no wind. Berlocq, for one, will hope the rain will holds off and the heat will hinder the Germans.
But as this column has often mentioned, many spectators do not go to watch the tennis — as is often noted by they unruly behaviour — but to see Argentina win, and this time, there is a general feeling that they may not.