March 10, 2014
Another Davis Cup starts
For the Herald
Once again, the Davis Cup — today until Sunday in Mar del Plata and Argentina's hopes are high... well, perhaps not so high! Argentina’s first round match at home against Italy should be one of the easier first round ties except that David Nalbandian, Argentina’s keenest and most effective Davis Cup player has retired and the country’s number one, Juan Martín del Potro, from Tandil, but apparently not from Argentina, again is not present, putting ambition of becoming world number one ahead of his country once again — an ambition this columnist doubts he will achieve. (He picked this week to go to the United States again to have a doctor check a wrist injury which has been bothering him for the last 18 months.) Meanwhile, today’s Argentine team (singles players Mónaco and Berlocq and doubles Zeballos and Schwank) have not shown their best form on the international circuit this year.
Mar del Plata does not have the best memories for Davis Cup fans, bringing to mind the 2009 cup final against Spain when perhaps Argentina’s best chance of winning the trophy was lost. Also, the Pati-nodromo, built for roller-skating is perhaps not the best venue for tennis, but the usual venue, Parque Roca, is being refurbished. The tie will be played on a clay court, not the best surface for the Italians, but while ranking has often little to do with Davis Cup play, the Italian singles players, Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi do have slightly higher world rankings than Argentina's Juan Mónaco and Carlos Berlocq.
The two countries have only met once before in the Davis Cup when Argentina won 5-0 in Rome. But that was 31 years ago when Argentina had two top-10 players Guillermo Vilas and José Luis Clerc.
Will Argentina ever win the Davis Cup? Danny Miche’s book Maldita Davis (Editorial Planeta) shows it has been so difficult. In almost a century of Argentina’s participation in the tournament, it has been an almost constant succession of infighting, misunderstandings with team captains, injuries and withdrawals by the country’s leading players, arguments over money, parties and womanizing, etc... and they never learned from mistakes.
Miche's book is not only a record of every Davis Cup match played by Argentina, with scores, but describes the problems in almost every cup tie which could have caused a lack of success.
Argentina arguably had their best “team” — if one could ever call Argentine cup lineups “teams” — in 1981 with Vilas and Clerc who were actually not on speaking terms once when they played doubles together in the final against the strong local US team. The tie was lost 4-1. But the two left the more lucrative tournament circuit to play for their country which today some leading players, like Del Potro, now do not do. However, Vilas and Clerc often had arguments with the Argentine Tennis Association (AAT) over money for playing in the Davis Cup. This was also the case later when David Nalbandian — considered a Davis Cup hero always willing to play for his country — spoilt teamwork with his cash pretensions, bad relations with other players and feeling himself the owner of the team.
Once a Davis Cup team trained for three weeks on the Hurlingham Club grass courts for a tie in India on that surface, which would not be possible today as players are reluctant to leave the tournament circuit for so long. Fresher in the memory is the 2009 final against Spain, played in Mar del Plata after lengthy argument over the venue, because Mar del Plata was the highest bidder and because Spain's number one, Rafael Nadal was less comfortable on a hard court under a roof than at Parque Roca's clay court where Argentina had such a good record. A mistake, Nadal did not come and a good chance was lost.
Maldita Davis also reveals a time when the AAT “sold” their higher cup ranking for financial gain and other less-known behind-the-scenes happenings. We recommend this easy-to-read 264-page book in large print. It saves this column from explaining further why Argentina finds it so difficult to win the damn Davis Cup!
Is there a better future? There seem to be no outstanding players for an immediate future, but they are pinning their hopes on two youngsters who have recently won their categories in the US Orange Bowl, the highest class junior tournament. Axel Geller won the U-14 tournament and Manuel Cerúndulo the U-12. Many junior players have gone on to do great things when grown-up, but it depends on a lot of factors and you can never be sure.
League of stars
India goes for the spectacular. They have already organized cricket and field hockey leagues among teams made up of stars from all over the world. Now Mahesh Bhupathi, India's former number one ranked doubles specialist, now 36th, is organizing an International Tennis Premier League with millions of dollars prize money to be played in Dubai from November 28 to December 20. The big stars will probably go for it, although they always complain they are not given enough rest, while the scheme will also worry the ATP and WTA.