Argentina is facing Great-Britain the the BNP Paribas Davis Cup semi-final. With one goal : breaking the Davis Cup curse.

Four finals played, and all lost, a few regrets in the semi-final, with one being particularly infuriating : Here is the Argentine flop 5 in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, the only major tennis nation which has never lifted the trophy in its history, and which will be trying its luck again this year, with a semi-final being played against Great-Britain.

 

1981 : a first final under pressure

 

That year, the Davis Cup entered the modern era : for the first time, the competition is being played with a « world group » and sixteen nations entering the tournament. The two survivors to play the final are the United States and Argentina, which has qualified for the final for the first time in history. In Cincinnati, the Americans are the huge favorites, even if the coach Arthur Ashe has to deal with an important defection : Jimmy Connors, who chose to go on holiday. Fury of his fellow countryman John McEnroe, unleashed during the first match of the week-end as he smashed Vilas in three small sets. José Luis Clerc answered for the Argentines against the substitute Roscoe Tanner to get things leveled. The double was decisive and turned into a fierce battle between the pair which was number 1 at the time, formed by McEnroe and Peter Fleming (winners of Wimbledon and the US Open during that same year, 1981), and the duo Vilas/Clerc, two players who weren’t used to playing together and who didn’t go along that well. Nevertheless, they held on until the fifth set, with a marathon lasting almost five hours, which ended at 11-9 for the team USA. McEnroe did a classic McEnroe show : provoking, even insulting Vilas when he was serving, and almost starting up a brawl. On the third day, McEnroe, again, finished the job in 5 sets against Clerc. Mac’s reaction : « I absolutely wanted to win, for me, it was a question of superiority of the United States above Argentina. »

 

 

2002 : a record for nothing in the semi-final

 

After Vilas and Clerc, Argentina had a generational gap and was struggling to keep itself in the world group. They played a semi-final in 1990 (with Martin Jaite and Alberto Mancini), before spending a decade in the shadows, until this astonishing return in the world elite in 2002 : promoted, the Argentines managed, during that year, to reach the semi-final and lost by an inch against the Russians in Moscow (2/3) with a Marat Safin at the top of his game, and a doubles match which remains in the history books. Paired up, Lucas Arnold Ker and David Nalbadian defeated Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin with a fifth set finishing at 19/17, and 6h20 of playing time, a record in the Davis Cup. A pointless effort as the next day, Safin dominated Nalbandian to seal the Russian victory.

 

2006 : Acasuso’s shattered dream

 

Second final for the Argentines, second defeat. They met up with the Russians again, still in Moscow. For years had passed since their cruel semi-final and the odds were different : Nalbandian had become a top player, and Safin seemed to decline. It’s however him, again, who was the hero of his team on a carpet which wasn’t adapted to his fragile physical fitness at the time (heel, knee). Davydenko defeated Chela, Nalbandian answered by defeating Safin. The latter answered the next day by winning the doubles with Tursunov against Calleri and Nalbandian. On Sunday, Nalbandian won a tense duel against Davydenko. Everything was being played in the fifth match between Safin and the unknown José Acasuso, ranked 27th at the ATP Race at the time, and who was chosen over Chela after his feat in the semi-finals (a victory against Hewitt, who had won 11 matches in a row in the Davis Cup). The match was tight, Acasuso displaying a good performance but it wasn’t enough to dominate Safin who won in four sets. 

 

 

2008 : when Nalbandian lost the plot

 

Theoretically, this final had to be won by the Argentines. This time, they were playing at home, in Mar Del Plata, and facing a Spanish team who was affected by Nadal’s last-minute withdrawal. Logically, Nalbandian gave his team the first point by defeating Ferrer, but the confidence switched sides when Feliciano Lopez, to the surprise of many, equalized after defeating Del Potro. A simple warning ? More than that, as the next day, the same Lopez, along with Verdasco, did it again by dominating the pair formed by Nalbandian and Calleri. Nalbandian was so furious at his partner’s level of play that they hit each other in the dressing room. There was no press conference, and nervousness was intense among the Argentines who were crumbling under the pressure. On the third day, Acasuso had to try to save his endangered nation, by replacing an injured Del Potro. Verdasco, who, on his side, had to replace Ferrer, scored the third decisive point fr the Spaniards. And this time, it was Del Potro who had to face an angrier than ever Nalbandian, the youngster being accused by the veteran of not being a team player, after having lost energy by playing the Masters just before this final.

 

 

2011 : the other Sevilla nightmare

 

Three years later, it’s a replay being set between the Spaniards and the Argentines, but this time, with a double advantage for la Roja : the final was being played at home, in a Sevilla stadium especially arranged for the occasion, and with a Nadal on form this time. He effectively started his final by smashing Juan Monaco in the first match (6/1 6/2 6/2), while Ferrer made it 2/0 by defeating a Del Potro who really has no luck in this competition. Nalbandian, now only playing the doubles with Schwank, took his revenge over Lopez and Verdasco to reduce the gap. A short deferment : on Sunday, Nadal defeated Del Potro in four sets. The Argentine seemed to be on good form but, like the rest of his team, couldn’t do much against a shining Nadal, and a Ferrer who was putting an end to the best season of his career.

 

By Régis Delanoë