Friday, November 28, 2008

From losing to Spain to playing in Spain

From December 5 - 7, David will play the "Málaga Master Internacional" exhibition event at Málaga in southern Spain. It's the first time he'll take part in this particular event, usually preferring to play exhibitions in South America. And what a moment to change this schedule...
The field at Málaga will consist of six players, competing in three rounds. David will play his first match (quarterfinal) against Carlos Moya. If he wins, another meeting with David Ferrer awaits in the semifinal. Should he make it to the final, David would face the winner of Juan Carlos Ferrero or Feliciano Lopez versus Marat Safin.

Only two weeks after the Davis Cup final, David will not only travel to Spain, but also meet David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez again. David has, among various other things, been accused of being a sore loser. But I think if he really was, he wouldn't be playing this exhibition.
Let's hope he has a good time at the Costa del Sol.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Aftermath

Barely two days have gone by since Argentina lost the Davis Cup final. But some of the changes a defeat as momentous as this is always likely to cause have already taken place. Alberto Mancini has resigned from the office of team captain. His successor might be Martin Jaite, who has by now confirmed that he's no longer David's coach. Most importantly, however, a scapegoat has been found, the one person whose fault, and whose alone, all of this has been - David.
At least, that's the conclusion several international commentators arrive at (e.g. Peter Bodo for; Chris Bowers for Their numerous accusations range from selfishly campaigning for Cordoba to having too much of a say regarding the court surface at Mar del Plata, painting the picture of an Argentine team that has all of its decisions made by David, whether concerning the venue, or even the choice of players getting nominated.
It's true that David did want the final to be held at Cordoba. After the semifinal, when the venue nomination had to be made and it still looked like Rafael Nadal would be leading the Spanish team, to play the final on a fast indoors court was a decision quickly reached (and defended against the AAT, who still wanted it held at the Parque Roca) by the entire Argentine team and Alberto Mancini. The only available indoor venue at Buenos Aires was soon ruled out, due to its size and major traffic problems holding the final there would've caused. Bearing in mind that there's only a very limited number of large indoor venues in Argentina, and one of them happens to be at Cordoba, I fail to see what was so wrong about David suggesting the Orfeo Superdomo and then campaigning for it. He also argued that Cordoba's altitude (comparable to Madrid), making the balls travel through the air a bit faster, would be advantageous for his and for Delpo's play.
As for David's influence on determining the court surface and its speed, during the three days the whole team spent getting it right, it became clear that David wanted it to be faster than the other players. A point had already been reached where he was perfectly happy with the speed. And yet, the surface was changed again afterwards, because of what the other players wanted. As Alberto Mancini said time and time again during those days, "we're getting to the point where all the guys agree".
David has also been held responsible for keeping Guillermo "Willy" Canas from making the team. How come then that Lucas Arnold Ker didn't get nominated although he would've been David's preferred choice as a doubles partner? Because it was Alberto Mancini who made that decision, and not David. Though I understand why Mancini didn't pick Ker. That would've meant relying 100% on David playing doubles, as Ker has no experience playing with Calleri or Acasuso. Mancini couldn't possibly foresee that David would have such an easy match against Ferrer. Therefore, he went for the safer option. And as for Canas, he's completely out of form at the moment, having just crashed out in the first round at two Challenger events in a row. How he could've helped the team in his current state, I really don't know.

Probably the worst allegation, however, and the one it all boils down to in the end is that David was the one who poisoned the atmosphere within the team, because of how "obsessed" he was with winning the Davis Cup for himself and his glory alone. In short, those who usually call him "disinterested" and "unmotivated" now accuse him of taking the Davis Cup way too seriously.
I'm not sure if those who wrote these articles have any idea of the situation the whole team found itself in, playing this final. Representing a proud sports nation that won its last big sports title back in 1986 (World Cup). For three days, tennis was as important as, if not more so than football. Winning the Davis Cup was a matter of national importance and pride, the expectations gigantic, the pressure for the team insane. In a situation like this, nobody can be expected to guard their emotions (and togues) at all times. After Delpo lost to Lopez, David reportedly snapped at him that this happened because he played Shanghai. Of course, that's not a nice or helpful thing to say. Other reports claim that on Saturday, either David and Delpo, or alternatively David and Calleri almost got into a fight after the doubles match. These reports have been denied by those involved and also by Alberto Mancini. It's impossible to know what really went on behind the scenes. All I can say is that I noticed how after the first day, David and Delpo stayed away from each other, apparently on non-speaking terms. Which could mean that there really was some sort of argument. It seems that David did make mistakes during this weekend, that he said things he shouldn't have said. But to blame him for single-handedly ruining the atmosphere is surely going way too far.
As mentioned in an article I translated for this blog, since first making the Davis Cup team in 2002, David has played 16 of the last 19 ties Argentina competed in until this final. To accuse him now of being a glory hunter, only after winning the title to achieve a maximum of fame in Argentina is simply laughable. Unlike other top players who only grace their Davis Cup teams with their presence if it fits in with their other plans, or if it's to keep their team in the World Group, David only once asked to be excused from playing (first round 2007, after losing the final 2006). Apart from that, only an injury can stop him from playing Davis Cup. Because it's an honour and not a duty to him. When he's talking about "defending the colours" he really means it. This kind of patriotism, this desire to play for the glory not of himself but of Argentina is something these commentators obviously don't understand (just as they're obviously unaware of the fame and reputation he already enjoys in his home country).
The English-speaking press have a long history of potraying David as someone who has no sense of humour, is invariably monosyllabic and generally bad-tempered. A judgement that's clearly, as well as exclusively based on his press conferences. And yet, I am at a loss to understand where all this hatred for David suddenly comes from.

After all the chaos during the weekend and not talking to the press after the doubles, David held a press conference at Mar del Plata yesterday (where the photo above was taken). Here are some quotes:

"We never had any problems in the dressing room. I did not like it, neither did the team, nor anybody else what was said about that. I'm very hurt by the defeat as a player and as a fan. Because of the passion with which I live Davis Cup, it hurts a lot. It's a shame that these things get distorted. I've been friends with Agustin for a long time. We have trained together, playing doubles on the Tour. I came from the match, did the doping test, and went to the hotel, because I felt bad, I was distressed. To arrive at the hotel, turn on the TV and hear that the Argentine team is fighting is a shame and it puts the players in a bad light."

"I am a tennis player, very passionate for my flag. And Agustin and I did have some heated exchanges on Saturday because we lost. You have to understand the pain it means losing a point so important in a Davis Cup final. That came with a lot of anguish and with a lot of pressure. I hope you can understand that anguish."

"I'm upset that it has been doubted whether I'll continue playing Davis Cup. Representing the country is an honour that goes beyond having differences with the AAT, the press, people, whoever. My results are more than decent, at least for me. I will continue to represent the colours and the people, which is the most important thing. I hope that the next captain will consider me for the team."

"I wanted to tell you [the journalists] that I feel bad about the defeat. I apologize if I did not inform you and didn't attend the press conference. Those are tough moments and full of tension. I'm very passionate about the flag and reacted accordingly, but you have to understand the pain of a player who could not win an important point in a final. You have to understand the anxiety and discomfort at that moment. "

"It would be very productive and good to be able to hold these conferences. It is not easy to always do that. I understand the work you [journalists] do. You have to understand my bad moments, when you want to rest, train, or do not want to talk. I am a public person, about everyone wants to know something or read some news. I try to reflect everything that happens on court. Words are like the wind, they get carried away but what remains is my results. I'm not talking to you in order to calm down or be more focused on what I do, which is playing tennis, although it is true that there should be better communication."

"I'm not the one who has to say if someone's guilty, or not."

"I think an analysis is good. If we don't do the 'mea culpa' we cannot build up something for the future. It is true that once a year we have a meeting with Luli [Alberto Mancini] and there, the players say whether they want to play the Davis Cup, or if they don't want to... There are players who don't want to play Davis Cup and they have told Luli. It's a personal choice and agree completely."

"The Davis Cup has a huge influence on your personal calendar. Because it's not just three weeks. Playing against Sweden, at the end I was dead. For two months I could hardly play on the Tour, until after Wimbledon I couldn't really move. Even later, until the Olympics I couldn't play. It takes a lot more than three weeks. Against Sweden I played on all three days, ending with the match on Sunday which went to five sets, I played on one leg and it almost killed me."

After the final, Clarin did an internet poll, asking if David is still indispensable for the team. Here's the result:

(Photo and quotes: La Nacion, further quotes from Clarin.)

David looking forward to Sydney

The website of the Medibank International Sydney tournament is featuring an article on David. Some excerpts here:
Passionate Argentine Davis Cup star and world No. 11 David Nalbandian believes the Medibank International Sydney is the key to a successful Australian Open and 2009 season.
“The Medibank International has always been a strong tournament and I know it is going to be strong again in January but I hope to do my best. It will be great to start the season of with a win,” said Nalbandian.

Nalbandian has played in Sydney before but January will be his debut in the Medibank International.

“I am looking forward to playing in Sydney again. I have been there for Davis Cup (in 2005) but I have not played the tournament. I know the stadium so it should be great going back there,” continued Nalbandian.

“Sydney is a great city. I am looking forward to starting the New Year at the Medibank International. Other players have told me they have a good time at the tournament.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Staring at defeat

David is pictured here staring at the imminent defeat of Argentina to Spain in the final of the Davis Cup.

From the Davis Cup website write-up:
Verdasco ended Argentina’s 13 home tie unbeaten record in Davis Cup, defeating Acasuso 63 67(3) 46 63 61 in the first of the reverse singles on Sunday, having been substituted in for Spain’s No. 1 player David Ferrer that morning to play his first ever live decisive rubber.

Jose Acasuso put up a fine fight as the results show but he showed signs of exhaustion in the fourth set and come the fifth, a fit and fiery Fernando Verdasco put an end to Argentina's - and David's - dreams.

He can come away proud to have contributed the single victory in this final, his stunning dismissal of David Ferrer in the first rubber.

We hope that he will renew his dream in 2009 and that Juan Martin Del Potro will have matured and developed sufficiently to make a more substantial contribution to Argentina's Davis Cup hopes.

For 2009: Vamos David! and Vamos Argentina!

(Photo credit: Reuters Pictures)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

David & Agustin Lose the Doubles, Spain now in the Lead

Argentina's campaign to win their first ever Davis Cup has suffered a big blow today: Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco defeated David and Agustin Calleri 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-3 to give Spain a 2-1 lead after the second day.
After winning the opening set, David failed to hold serve at 5-6 in the second, allowing the Spanish team to draw level. The dramatic third set saw David and Agustin come back from 1-5, but only to lose the eventual tiebreak (after having led 5-1). In the final set, Lopez/Verdasco again went up a double break. Verdasco lost his serve, serving for the match at 5-2 but David proved unable to hold afterwards, sealing the defeat with a last forced error at the net after 3 hours and 18 minutes.

A very brief summary

Set 1. David began this match extremely confident, playing and especially returning well. The first set didn't see too many rallies, with both teams holding their serves fairly easily. Agustin struggled a little at the beginning and hardly put any returns back in play. But as the match went on, he found his rhythm. At 5-5, David & Agustin had their first breakpoints on Verdasco's serve and after saving 2, Verdasco double-faulted on the third. Serving for the set, David went down 0-40 but the Argentine team managed to win the next 5 points in a row and consequently the set.
Set 2. David & Agustin had 2 chances to break the Lopez serve at 2-2 but the Spanish team saved both of them. After Agustin had successfully served to stay in the set at 4-5, at 5-6 it was David's turn. What followed was a rather bad game from both. David couldn't get any first serves in, also threw in a double-fault. Agustin hit an easy smash into the net, followed by a an equally lazy volley into the net on break/set point. So the second set went to Spain.
Set 3. It was again David who lost his serve first, still struggling to find his first serve and winning far too few points on the second (1-3). But Agustin got broken as well, thanks to a slew of errors the two of them were producing during that phase, 1-5. And yet, even up a double break, Verdasco didn't manage to serve out the set. After a great lob from David had set up a break point, Verdasco double-faulted again to give one break back, 2-5. David held serve to make it 3-5. Now Lopez had his chance to close the set - and also failed to make it, missing a volley at break point. Double re-break, 5-4. Eventually, the set went to a tiebreak. David & Agustin played 4 amazing points to immediately go up a double mini-break. But at 5-1, the trouble began with a double fault from David. At 5-4, he then missed a very makeable volley and their lead was gone. A lob winner from Verdasco gave Spain set point and they took it, as Agustin made a forehand error.
Set 4. After the great comeback but the bad tiebreak that followed, the wind was clearly out of David's & Agustin's sails in the fourth. They managed to stay on serve until 2-2 but then another poor service game from David gave Spain the first break. Which then again turned into a double break, as Agustin lost his serve as well. Verdasco served for the match at 5-2 and at 40-15 already had 2 match points before facing 2 break points, the second of which Agustin converted with a backhand winner. But this last flash of hope went out quickly again. Serving to stay in the match, David quickly went down 15-40, giving Spain 2 more match points. The first he managed to save. But on the second, Lopez' return off David's secons serve drew his error at the net.

After a good start, David struggled a lot in this match. Most of all with his serve. But he also sometimes looked slow and heavy-handed at the net. His returns were another problem, after the first set, he didn't make too many, whether off Lopez' or Verdasco's serve.

After the match, David was apparently (and understandably) not in the very best of moods. He left the venue a mere 15 minutes after the match, without giving any interviews or even so much as taking a shower. His failure to appear at the press conference means he'll be fined. But I guess that's the least of his concerns, right now.

With the tie now standing at 1-2, the first reversed singles tomorrow will decide whether Argentina can manage to stay in the tie. Olé reports that it has now been decided that Delpo will not be able to play tomorrow. Instead, José "Chucho" Acasuso will have to face David Ferrer, or whoever Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez picks for this match.
This is probably an even bigger blow for the Argentine team.
And it makes it very difficult to even think about a live fifth rubber for David...

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(last two and first: Reuters Pictures)

Friday, November 21, 2008

David Wins the First Point - But Delpo Loses

David won the first point of the Davis Cup tie for Argentina today, beating Spanish #1 David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in just under two hours. Despite their history of epic battles, the match was neither long, nor tight and instead saw a very focused David playing a tactically clever, solid and in patches even brilliant match.
Unfortunately though, Delpo wasn't able to extend Argentina's lead. He lost to Feliciano Lopez, plagued by cramps (or what may have been an injury) at the end of the match.
After the first day of play, the tie now stands at 1-1.

A brief summary of David's match

Set 1
Ferrer began this set and immediately faced the first 2 break points but managed to hold in the end. David then held to 30 and during those very early stages of the match it seemed like this would turn into yet another of their huge battles, with long rallies and both having to fight extremely hard for each and every point. But already in the next game, David had the next 2 break points on Ferrer's serve and this time, he took the first with a good return off Ferrer's second serve, forcing the error. Break, 2-1 David. Which he consolidated, holding his own serve to love and now taking more and more control of the rallies. At 3-2, however, David's first serve suddenly went missing. His serve game went to deuce three times but in the end, he came through, playing a wonderful half-volley drop-shot he rightfully celebrated. 4-2. Ferrer's following serve game went to 15-40 again, with David seemingly playing more freely in his return games. But at that moment, he didn't need to do too much. Ferrer double-faulted, giving him the double break, 5-2. Serving for the set, a couple of unforced errors quickly saw David down 15-40, granting Ferrer his first break points. These 2 David managed to save and even had his first set point. But he squandered it with a forehand error. Another error off that wing gave Ferrer his third break point. And then David's backhand landed wide - re-break, 5-3. Now serving to stay in the set, Ferrer found himself down 15-40 yet again, 2 more set points for David. On the first he mishit a forehand. But on the second, it was Ferrer's forehand that landed wide. 6-3.

Set 2
David began this set. They stayed on serve until 2-1, when David fought back to deuce after Ferrer had already been up 40-0. Then followed a deuce battle which saw David waste two more break points until on the third he hit a magnificent forehand winner that earned him the break, 3-1. - But it was short-lived because then followed what was easily David's worst service game today, including 2 double faults and the only really bad attack at the net from him today - on break point. The result: re-break, 3-2. But David stayed focused and obviously unimpressed, immediately had 3 further break points in Ferrer's next game. He took the third with another great return and went up a break again, 4-2. In the following game David struggled to hold serve again, having to fend off 2 more break points, but eventually pulled through, 5-2. Serving to stay in this set, Ferrer once more went down 15-40. On the first set point, David failed to make the return. But on the second, his backhand down the line drew the error from Ferrer. 6-2.

Set 3
Again, David served first. At 1-1, he faced 2 break points but saved both of them, one with a great combination of a short slice cross and then forehand long-line, and afterwards held, 2-1. At 3-2, a great return brought David his first break point of this set. Ferrer had every chance to save it but his attempt at a spectacular forehand winner almost landed in the stands... Break, 4-2. David's next game saw some drama and another break point, which he saved with a backhand long-line, forcing the error. At deuce, David stopped playing to challenge a ball from Ferrer he thought had gone long - and the HawkEye proved him right. He followed it up with an ace, 5-2. Serving to stay in the match, Ferrer did hold his serve. Though David played one of his best shots during this game, just a little chip cross, short behind the net, which caught Ferrer completely off guard. But he held his serve, 5-3. Then David served for the match. Which looked like this: ace, 15-0. Service winner, 30-0. Ace, 40-0, 3 match points. Service winner on second serve - 6-3.

David has struggled against Ferrer in the past but today, he seemed to have a clear plan of what he needed to do, playing against him. First of all, he often attacked Ferrer on his forehand. Which is his stronger side but also the one he's more likely to make errors on, while his backhand is very solid. David also went up the lines a lot, often suddenly changing direction and also pace, refusing to get entangled in endless exchanges with Ferrer. And he moved Ferrer well, not just left and right but also up and down the court, drawing Ferrer to the net with short balls, where he's clearly way out of his comfort zone. The variation in general was great on David's groundstrokes today, constantly changing between topspin, slice and flattened-out strokes in order to keep Ferrer guessing. I also liked the way David played at the net today. Not taking too much risk with the first volley and always prepared to play a second or third. But the biggest surprise perhaps was his forehand today. 14 winners (compared to only 2 with the backhand), some of them absolutely astounding. And the forehand was also more solid that usual, today.

So David played well and won his match. - But Delpo lost his.
That's why I expect David to play doubles tomorrow. Probably with Agustin Calleri. Because I don't see how Calleri/Acasuso can beat Lopez/Verdasco. Apart from that, David's match today wasn't too long or too tiring... I'm sure he'll play.

EDIT: And he will. Alberto Mancini has confirmed now that David will play the doubles together with Agustin Calleri tomorrow.

Post-match interview with a very happy David from the Davis Cup website.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 54%
Aces: 7
DFs: 3
Points won on 1st serve: 78%
Points won on 2nd serve: 49%
BP conversion: 7/15 (Ferrer: 2/9)
Winners including serve: 54
UEs: 27

(all photos: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

David up first

Tomorrow at 13:00 local time, David will play the final's opening match against David Ferrer. Afterwards, Delpo will take on Feliciano Lopez in the second singles of the day.
For the doubles on Saturday (14:00), Alberto Mancini has nominated Agustin Calleri and José Acasuso to face Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. But it's still very much possible that David will play doubles, perhaps teaming up with Calleri with whom he has apparently practiced during the last few days.
On Sunday, starting at 12:00, the reverse singles matches will first see Delpo up against David Ferrer. And then finally, if it's a live rubber, David will play against Feliciano Lopez.
- This is what was decided at draw ceremony today.

It's probably safe to say that Mancini and the team will be be pleased with this outcome. David has played the first match for Argentina on numerous occasions (and at the last seven ties in a row) and though this final will be different from all the other ties, he still has a lot of experience to draw on. Apart from that, the fact that he'll play first means that he'd have more time to rest in case he also plays doubles on Saturday.

A brief audio interview with David (from the Davis Cup website).

Friday - a preview

David Nalbandian vs. David Ferrer

David is 3-6 for matches against Ferrer, but 3-2 if you leave out the matches on clay. And he has won 2 of their last 3 encounters, all of which took place last year. After defeating Ferrer at Montréal, David had a match point at the US Open '07 before eventually losing to him in five sets. Their last meeting took place at the Paris Masters '07. It was the only time David struggled during the fabulous week he had back then, needing 3 sets and 2 tiebreakers to overcome Ferrer (while taking out both Federer and Nadal in straights).
Looking at the stats, one thing catches the eye - whoever wins the first set ends up winning the match. And more often than not, the first set goes to a tiebreak. Matches between these two tend to be extremely arduous affairs with lots of endless, hard-fought rallies. They know each other well, both on and off the court, and they can neutralize each other's strengths, which leads to all those protracted rallies. While David can soak up the pressure and speed of Ferrer's groundstrokes, Ferrer's great defensive play can make it difficult for David to construct and finish off points. Therefore he sometimes grows impatient, going for winners too early, trying to play too close to the lines - and ending up making lots of unforced errors.
Ferrer hasn't had too many good results in the last months and especially at Madrid and Paris, he seemed out of form (to me, at least). Still, I'm sure it's going to be another huge battle. Matches between them always are.

Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Feliciano Lopez

They've played 3 matches so far, all of those on hard court, and the record stands at 2-1 in Delpo's favour. But it was Lopez who won their last encounter, earlier this year at Miami (which was before Delpo's big breakthrough). I've seen none of their previous matches so I can only speculate... In any case, it'll be a contrast of styles. Lopez likes to attack, likes to play serve and volley and, on his day, can be a very strong server. Aided by the fact that he's a lefty. From the baseline, he plays lots of sliced backhands, something Delpo isn't too comfortable with and might be a problem. Delpo on the other hand will try to keep Lopez back at the baseline and force him into longer rallies, exploiting his weak defense.
A lot will depend on how fit and well-rested Delpo will be (and how much trouble his toe is causing him). And how he will handle the whole situation.

Well, the ceremony today wasn't too exciting...

(first & last photo: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images; second & third: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

But tomorrow will be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More training photos & an article

Here are a couple of photos from the training session today. It was open to the public. After the Spanish team had trained in the morning, David and the rest took to the court in the afternoon. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

There's also a video from today's session. It starts with a minute-long shot of the Davis Cup trophy but after that there's footage of David.

(all photos: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

The following article appeared as part of a blog about the Davis Cup final on the website of La Nacion.

Nalbandian, master of the ball
(By Marcelo Gantman)

David Nalbandian shows up carrying a football and this simple fact indicates that the formal part of the training has come to an end and will now make way for the more recreational part. Which will be some football-tennis without special tricks but with a lot of fun. At the same time, Juan Martin Del Potro, tennis sensation of the second half of this season, tends to the press, who're eager to learn about his experiences during what has been the best year of his life. How it was to have been among the best at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, being one of those best players. Del Potro will tell them again that Nalbandian remains the team leader, "our guide."

The player from Tandil has accumulated his merits, but this is a team with a dual command. Del Potro is the number one, which everyday causes a bit of a clutter. And Nalbandian is the very heart of this compact Davis Cup team now facing Spain, perhaps embarking on its last tie with this line-up. Nobody dares to predict what will be the future of this part of La Legión, not even Alberto Mancini. But whether victory or defeat, in the end these are the only two options that a clash like this leaves, so it will definitely be the beginning of a new chapter.

David Nalbandian is the decisive factor of this stage in the history of Argentine tennis. He has been at the centre of Argentina's success in the Davis Cup. Since his debut in the semifinal against Russia in Moscow in September 2002, David Nalbandian has played 16 of the 19 ties Argentina competed in. He only missed those against Spain in 2003 (semifinal), Belarus in 2004 (quarterfinal) and Austria 2007 (first round). This last absence, however, took place after he expressly asked the captain for a break after the final against Russia in 2006. By then, Nalbandian was the firmly established leader of the team. The axis of decisions, from the lighter ones to the more far-reaching. The dispute over the location of the final against Spain is an example of that.

Nalbandian will play his second Davis Cup final. He'll be, along with Jose Acasuso and Agustin Calleri, the only Argentine tennis player who has achieved that. This generation of players is closing a cycle of similar results. Del Potro now represents a new era. The change is happening right now, in real time, in front of our eyes.

Nalbandian believes that the final of 2006 cannot be compared to the one that will begin on Friday. "Both are on carpet and indoors but one was an away-tie and this will be played at home. Those who were there know we have to take everything positive from that final which we lost by a small margin. We're all experienced in big tournaments, we know what it's all about," said Nalbandian, now singles player number two of the team.

It should be taken into account that Davis Cup teams usually form around one player in particular. Here, we have Spain, who're trying to find such a personality on their team, which is weakened by the absence of Rafael Nadal. Guillermo Vilas was the centre of the world for Argentina in the past. John McEnroe was the same for the United States. Lleyton Hewitt for Australia, not too long ago. The British have a fitting expression when a football team wins because of only one player: One-Man Team. In Davis Cup, Argentina had excellent contributions from its players, with their good results on the Tour that helped the whole team. But Nalbandian was the constant of this generation, the chief player who led the team during this stage of the Davis Cup, with two finals in two years. The fortunate emergence of Del Potro was necessary against Russia two months ago, and what came out if it were tears of joy and not of sadness. Nalbandian used to be the head of this team, but now the team has two heads.

That is why Del Potro, after 30 hours of flight from Shanghai, wakes from his recuperating sleep in Tandil and quickly, with his undisputed importance for the endeavour and his magnetism to attract the press, chooses to put himself once again inside the Nalbandian orbit. Who now walks up with the ball under his arm and proposes a round of football-tennis. The master of the ball always decides which game gets played.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mar del Plata update

(Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, David and the rest of the team held a news conference at Mar del Plata.
Cordoba-based newspaper La Voz Interior reports:

David Nalbandian said today that Argentina is facing a "unique opportunity" to win the Davis Cup because of the line-up of the team and the chance to choose the location and he reiterated that together with his teammates he's facing the "five most important points in history".
David Nalbandian also expressed his regrets about Rafael Nadal not being able to play this decisive event, but stressed that the team is "focused" on winning the tie. "I wanted it to be Rafa. Rafa is a friend and therefore seeing him miss the final of the Davis Cup is not nice. Too bad that he didn't come because to be up against a number one in the Davis Cup final is very motivating, but we remain focused to win the series, no matter who we face," said Nalbandian at a press conference held at the Islas Malvinas complex where he appeared with his fellow teammates.
Nalbandian's reply when asked if he was "more motivated than ever" was sharp. "I'm fine. Very good," the man from Unquillo said.
Nalbandian supported Cordoba's candidacy for the final tie and even said that there had been a "hand under the table" when the decision was made in favour of Mar del Plata. However, being asked this question again, he said that "right now, Mar del Plata is treating us very well. We are all very much content, everything is great." Again, there was some irony involved when he answered a question about whether he considered refusing to play as the #2. "Maybe in your dreams," he replied.
Nalbandian insisted that the team is well and stressed that last Friday they were able to find a "fair speed" for the synthetic court, although he would've preferred it to be ready earlier than that. "The important thing is to be united as we have always been, and more than ever in this tie where the time has come to play better, playing tennis," said Nalbandian, who admitted that the most work still has to be done by Juan Martin del Potro as he has been the last to join the training.
Nalbandian persisted that they are facing "the five most important points in history."
"I still think the same thing, these five points are extremely important. Since 2002 playing Davis Cup has meant a lot of effort and sacrifice, and this final at home is a unique opportunity."

David was also asked whether he'd rather play the first or second match on Friday (which will be decided by drawing lots on Thursday). To which he replied, "I don't have any preferences. Really, for me it's the same."
- At least, David already knows who he'll be playing against in his first match, i.e. Spain's #1 David Ferrer. But whether Delpo will play his first match against Feliciano Lopez or Fernando Verdasco still hasn't been revealed by Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez, only the fact that the decision will be between these two. Alberto Mancini on the other hand has already declared that he'll not pick a doubles team until the first two singles matches have been played. So, some very important questions still remain unanswered...

(Eduaro Di Baia/AP Photo)

(Reuters Pictures)

(Sergio Llamera)

Here's something else I found today. Delpo speaks about David and the final.
(Excerpt from an interview Delpo did with Olé.)

Q. Do you feel you're the Argentine number one?

Delpo: The number one is David. He's the decisive factor, he leads. He saved us many times in precarious situations.

Q. Did you talk to David after Mar del Plata was chosen?

Delpo: No. We all agreed about the surface, to play on an indoor synthetic. The location didn't matter to any of us except that David preferred Cordoba because he likes the higher altitude, or I don't know... Each of us would've liked to play at his hometown but no one talked about it. Before I went to Tokyo I said that the surface seemed good to me. The rest are matters that have to be decided by the team captain, who's there for doing that, the AAT, the ITF. I think all I can do is to go out on the tennis court and play my game, period.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday training photos

(Reuters Images)

Here are a couple of photos of David training at the Estadio Islas Malvinas today.
Under the intense scrutiny of Argentine captain Alberto "Luli" Mancini...

(Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

(Reuters Images)

And this is what the venue now looks like with the finalized court.
(Here seen during the Spanish team's training session.)

(Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An interview with David

Here's an interview with David that appeared as part of a longer article in La Nacion (and from which the photo has also been taken):

Q: Talk about your feelings, eight days before the final.

David: We're feeling good, still trying to find the right speed for the court. We came here many days in advance and we're going for it full throttle. We try to pass the time the best way possible.

Q: In the end, the advantage of getting here first isn't that big.

David: The point of us being able to decide the speed of the court, even if it cost us a few days of training, is more important, so it's the way we want it to be. The ideal situation would have been to get it finished sooner. We knew we would get a fast court because that is what we asked of the AAT, who told us that we could only make it slower. When we arrived, we learned that we could easily increase as well as decrease the speed and that is why we started working on it.

Q: What's different now from your experiences [of playing a DC final] in Russia?

David: I'm more calm. I don't know if it's not started yet and we're very relaxed or what, but I think next week's training will add the kind of spice that's needed for an occasion like this. Compared to Russia, it's different for all of us, there's a different kind of pressure, another kind of concern. When you're playing away from home you don't worry about the court: you get what you get. And these are things that are talked about permanently, here. These are very different experiences, it changes a lot.

Q: Does the absence of Nadal have any influence on being relaxed?

David: It can help a little, because Spain with Rafa is one thing and without is another. But it doesn't stop them from being tough players, this isn't Great Britain in the first round [without Murray]. Apart from the opponent, this is a final, everybody will want to give their best and we must be vigilant and not feel too secure, because this is a singular and historic opportunity. I don't know if we will get to play another Davis Cup final at home. We have to be as vigilant as possible in order to seize this opportunity.

Q: Having experienced other ties, the feeling is that your goal is to be calmer, this time.

David: We always try to do that, sometimes it can be controlled and sometimes not. I don't recall other Davis Cup ties where we were desperate to make headlines. The way of doing things is different, as well and helps us not to run into anybody when we finish practice, for example. And I don't say this because of the people in general, but you - who are the ones that come up with all this bullshit? (Jokingly.) It's better this way, more relaxed.

Q: Do you sense that the whole country is taking part in the Davis Cup dream?

David: It's the big goal of the year and I have no doubt that the expectations are very big, we've raised them ourselves, over the years. Half the people didn't know what the Davis Cup was and we were trying to bring, to push tennis further on and we have brought it to highest levels of popularity since ten years ago when the age of Vilas ended. People get more involved, I agree with you and to be part of this atmosphere is spectacular. At Buenos Aires, we always make the most of the Davis Cup weeks there and here, because it's a final even more so. I think the whole political dimension behind it all makes it a much bigger occasion. We mustn't forget we're representing the flag and it's the same as with some artist, or whatever who defends the Argentine colours for us.

Q: Are you facing the two or three most important matches of your career?

David: Yes, and at the same time, we're taking it with a lot of calm. The reality is that the only tie we have to win is this one here. But this is far from being over yet. When something goes wrong it will affect all of us very deeply. It's true that these five points are the most important in the history of Argentine tennis. It's not something petty and we shouldn't give anything away.

Q: Will you be playing two or three matches?

David: I'm feeling good, I'll have to see how the tie goes, what happens with Juan Martin. After that it'll be Luli's decision if I play doubles or if I'll be spared for Sunday.

Q: How were those clashes with Juan Martin for you?

David: I've known him for a couple of years and everything is okay. The last few weeks we played three times in a row, something extremely rare, but still it was good for both of us. That's the important thing.

Q: There was a before and after Vilas. Do you feel that if we win the final, there'll be second before and after?

David: Yes, it's historic, it's something that hasn't been achieved before. Guillermo won virtually all the titles you can win in tennis, except Wimbledon and the Davis Cup. Now we are facing a goal not only we have, but all the players in the world. It would be historic to be part of the team that wins the first Davis Cup. If we win it, there'll be a before and after, no doubt.

Q: When will Vilas visit you guys for the first time?

David: I don't know, has hasn't so far. Neither on site, nor as a visitor. Surely, he's as excited as everybody else.

Q: If you'll win, you'll get compared to Vilas.

David: No, it's practically impossible to compare different eras. The parameters are different, different courts, different racquets, different balls, different technique. You cannot draw any comparisons. At that time, you could easily get through to the quarter final and today you can lose to anybody in the first round.

Mar del Plata update.
They've finally found the right surface speed, one that makes everybody happy. And which has been described by the players as being close to the conditions at Paris-Bercy.
The team is now off to get a little rest over the weekend (and apparently attend the wedding of Juan Ignacio Chela). Training resumes on Monday.

(photos from La Voz Interior)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mar del Plata update

While Delpo's loss to Davydenko ended his Shanghai campaign today, his teammates have been busy fighting a battle of their own - with the court surface at the Estadio Islas Malvinas. After initially wanting the surface as fast as possible (before Nadal announced his withdrawal) the team then decided they wanted it slower, after all. So a new layer was applied. But David still wasn't content with the result, now finding the court too slow. Further changes are still being made.
"We're getting closer. We're in the process of finishing the adjustments. These aren't drastic changes, but we're getting closer the point where all the guys agree," Alberto Mancini told La Nacion. The only thing certain right now is that this whole chaos has cost the team several days of valuable practice hours at the venue and they still haven't trained on the final surface.
David and the others now get the weekend off. The Spanish team is scheduled to arrive at Mar del Plata tomorrow. In the end, both teams will get the same amount of time to practice at the venue, starting on Monday.

However, there have been training sessions at a different location, with Agustin Calleri and José Acasuso spending a lot of time practicing doubles with Lucas Arnold Ker and Mariano Puerta. Which could be a sign that this time, David will only play singles.
Though with David, you never know.

(Photos: La Nacion)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spain announces team: Granollers replaces Nadal

(Reuters Pictures)

Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez named his team for the Davis Cup final today. Apart from David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, he has chosen Marcel Granollers (pictured above) to replace the injured Rafael Nadal. 22-year-old Granollers is currently ranked #56 and won his first ATP title earlier this year in Houston (on clay).
It will be his Davis Cup debut.
David has never played against him before, nor has Delpo.

Meanwhile, David is having fun at Mar del Plata:

(Foto from La Nacion)

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Nadal at Mar del Plata

At a press conference in Barcelona today, Rafael Nadal has announced that he will not be able to take part in the Davis Cup final. Despite having undergone various forms of treatment, he's still suffering from tendonitis in his right knee, which also forced him to retire at Paris. After final scans and examinations today, Nadal made his decision. "These are very difficult moments, but I have done all that I could to be ready for the final. It was a huge objective, and I’m used to playing with pain, but this is a distinct, new pain that I couldn’t control."

It's unclear now who will play the singles matches for Spain. Though with Nadal out, David Ferrer's chances probably have gone up again. And Tommy Robredo or Nicolas Almagro could be candidates for the #2. In any case, Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez will have to name his team tomorrow to meet the nomination deadline.

(Sources: Spanish newspaper Marca & Eurosport.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A little will have to go a long way - the Mar del Plata situation

Six weeks ago, when the debate about the Davis Cup final venue began, the ITF claimed that their biggest concern was to find a place that would be able to meet their required minimum of 12.000 seats. But by now it seems that the ITF is actually quite flexible when it comes to their own regulations. Argentine newspaper La Nacion reports that right now, it looks like the final will be played in front of no more than 9500 spectators. - And with perhaps less than 1000 tickets left to be purchased by Argentine fans.

Originally, the Estadio Islas Malvinas was supposed to reach a total of 11.132 seats (its normal capacity being close to 7000) but those plans seem to have overlooked security requirements and also space for TV commentators. So by now the seats are down to 9500. And with the bulk of tickets not even entering the commercial circuit (as they either go to the Spanish team, officials, sponsors, or are pre-sold by associated clubs and federations), the few fans lucky enough to get inside the venue will have to try and make up for their limited numbers by voicing an even louder support.

The La Nacion article also quotes a representative of one of the major Davis Cup sponsors as having said that Cordoba would've been better suited to host the final. But that Mar del Plata still was the sponsors' choice, made by "those who invest in tennis all year round".
- To which I can only say that David was absolutely right to be angry at the Argentine federation and the fact that they nominated both Cordoba and Mar del Plata, making it all possible. This never really was about what would be best for the players. Or what would be best for the fans. This is all about business.

Meanwhile, the court has been prepared and on Monday, Alberto Mancini and the Argentine players (except Delpo, who's in Shanghai of course) will be invited to test its surface. And get used to the very bright blue of the court...

(Source and pic: La Nacion.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

David hopes to see Rafa at Mar del Plata

At a press conference in Cordoba on Friday, David has stated that he'd like to see Rafael Nadal competing in the Davis Cup final - "even if it makes it tougher". After having to retire at the Paris Masters due to knee problems, Nadal has already announced that he will not be taking part in the Masters Cup at Shanghai. Whether or not he'll be able to play the Davis Cup final is not clear. Still, David hopes Nadal will be able to play as "he brings something different to the mix and it would be more entertaining". But David is also aware that in case Nadal does play at Mar del Plata, skipping the Masters Cup will give him an advantage. "If Rafa had gone to the Shanghai Masters Cup, he would be much more vulnerable on Friday than on Sunday. But as he has not gone, he will be refreshed and will have ten days to adapt himself, so he will be feeling great for his debut."

With David now being the #2 singles player, he'd be scheduled to face Nadal in his first match on Friday. Here are David's thoughts on what he needs to do in order to beat him. "Rafa does not give anything away, if you don't play well, you have no chances, and even more when he feels self-confident for being world's number one; it is really hard. In order to beat him, you have to attack him, and with precision since he also defends well and has good passing. With fast balls, you have to attack him, if you remain just passing balls, you can't beat him."

David has played against Nadal twice, both matches took place last year, indoors.
At the Madrid Masters, David won 6-1, 6-2.
And two weeks later at the final of the Paris Masters, David won 6-4, 6-0.

(Quotes from David's official website and Eurosport.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mancini nominates team, Delpo new #1

Argentine team captain Alberto "Luli" Mancini has nominated the four players who will try to win the first ever Davis Cup title for Argentina at Mar del Plata.

This is what the team will look like:
Juan Martin Del Potro
David Nalbandian
Agustin Calleri
José Acasuso

Having replaced David as the highest-ranked Argentine player, Delpo will lead the team into battle as the #1 singles player, leaving David with the #2 spot. This not only means that David will first play against the Spanish #1 Rafael Nadal (if he takes part) but also that should Argentina and Spain be tied at 2-2 after four matches, it will be up to David to play the last, decisive rubber against the Spanish #2.
The fact that Guillermo "Willy" Canas has not been included could indicate that Mancini might not be planning to let David play both singles and doubles, as Canas would've been the most likely doubles partner for David. On the other hand, David has played doubles with both Calleri and Chucho Acasuso before.

The Spanish team nominations have not been made yet.
They will have to be released at least ten days before the final.

(Source: Davis Cup website.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Paris Final: A Defeat with Consequences...

(Frank Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

In the history of the Paris tournament, no player has ever defended his title. And for the time being, it'll stay that way: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated David 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the final today. The match lasted exactly 2 hours, during which David never managed to get a read on Tsonga's (very impressive) serve. In the end, 2 loose service games in the early stages of the first and the third set ended up costing him the match.
With this defeat, David fails to make the final 8 for Shanghai.
And it also means that for the first time after 5 years, he won't finish the season inside the Top Ten, but as #11.

A brief summary...
David caught the worst possible start, getting broken in his very first service game (2-0 Tsonga), which included 2 double faults, one of them at break point. After that, I missed most of the first set because the stream kept breaking down on me, allowing me to never watch more than perhaps 2 points in a row. I did see that David had a break point at 4-2, but not what happened at that moment, only that Tsonga eventually held, 5-2. By the time the stream was working again, Tsonga had already served out the set to win it 6-3.
In his first game of set 2, David served another double fault that gave Tsonga a break point, but this time, he saved it with an ace and then held, 1-0. Only from then on could I really watch the match. And the huge problems David was having with Tsonga's serve, which he obviously couldn't read at all. Tsonga served unbelievably today, but it was still a little disconcerting to watch David picking to the wrong side (or none at all) time and time again. Apart from that, Tsonga's strong serve allowed him to play the way, I would've liked to see from David. Taking control early on in the rally, opening up the court and then finishing off the point at the net. But often enough, it was David who found himself at the receiving end of that kind of play. At least, he hung in there, now holding his serve more comfortably, starting to construct the points better, and waiting for a weaker service game from Tsonga. And his chance. The first came at 4-3, when, out of the blue really, Tsonga went down 0-40 but thanks to a series of great first serves scraped through to 4-4. Despite the huge opportunity he had missed, David stayed focused and held to make it 5-4. And then happened what I had least expected: Tsonga went down 0-40 yet again, giving David 3 set points. And it was at that moment, David hit the very first (or so it felt) good return off a first serve, Tsonga made the error, and David took the second set, 6-4.
He served first in the third set and held, as did Tsonga, 1-1. At that point, I thought the match was really open. But then it came, the service game that eventually cost David the match. His first serve, which had been quite solid during the second set, was suddenly gone. As was his forehand. With 3 forehand errors and a backhand error he handed the break over to Tsonga on a silver plate. And could now only hope for Tsonga's serve to break down... There were some really entertaining rallies in that third set. David played some great angles, beautiful drop-shots and 2 truly amazing backhand smashs (and also saved a further break point with an ace...). - But he couldn't find a way to get the break back. And as the set went on, he grew more and more frustrated. It showed at 4-3, when he smashed his racquet to the ground after missing a second-serve return. David's game to stay in the match at 5-3 was a little chaotic, containing both an amazing lob winner, a silly drop-shot and two deuces, but in the end, he held one last time, forcing Tsonga to serve it out. - Who went down 0-40 again. Now, had Tsonga served 3 aces at that moment, fine. But he didn't. In the following 3 points, David got a look at 2 second serves - but still couldn't win a point. Then the last of Tsonga's 25 aces today, a last forehand into the net from David, and it was over...

At the trophy cemerony afterwards, David looked really tired and exhausted. He got to deliver his part of the interview (with former French player and now tournament co-director Cedric Pioline) in Spanish. Apart from the usual thanks and nice words about his opponent, he mostly spoke about the Davis Cup final. And that Paris had been a good preparation for it. I'm not sure the Parisian crowd really liked to hear their tournament being called "preparation"...
But I thought it was good to see him already move on to other, and for him bigger things. And now, he'll have enough time to get some rest and then really prepare for Mar del Plata.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 61%
Aces: 4
DFs: 4
Points won on 1st serve: 74%
Points won on 2nd serve: 50%
BP conversion: 1/9
Winners: 23
UEs: 24

(From the tournament website)

(Frank Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

(Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Another Paris Final for David!

David reached his second consecutive final at Paris-Bercy today by defeating Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in a "strange and tough" match (quote David) that saw neither of the two playing at their highest level, or rather never for very long. After completely dominating the first set, David allowed Davydenko back into the match by playing too passively and paid the price having to go into a third set. There, he secured a break in the seventh game and that proved to be enough in the end.
David maintains his chances to become the first ever player to defend his Paris title. Which would also grant him a spot at the Masters Cup in Shanghai.
In the final tomorrow, David will face local hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
It will be their first encounter.

Set 1
After what felt like 5 minutes, David led 5-0 with a double break and Davydenko had only managed to win exactly 3 points by then, hardly making any first serves and way too many errors. David attacked Davydenko's second serves with excellent returns that directly drew the error most of the time. And he dictated the rallies with deep, aggressive groundstrokes and well-timed attacks at the net. It was one-way traffic. But in his next service game, Davydenko suddenly found his first serve again and held to love, 5-1. And now, he was also beginning to find his shots, and especially his returns. Serving for the set, David suddenly found himself facing what ended up being a total of 3 break points. He saved them all, but he seemed suprised and also a little confused by Davydenko playing much better all of a sudden. And by the fact that he himself was now the one under attack. Something that manifested itself in the silly drop-shot he played during this game... But in the end, he converted his second set point with a service winner. 6-1.

Set 2
Davydenko served first and David immediately had 2 more break points. But with a poor volley and an equally poor return, he wasted his chance and Davydenko came through, 1-0. David then held to make it 1-1 and with a couple of great returns in the Russian's following game, he got himself another break point. This time, Davydenko's backhand landed wide, giving David the break, 2-1. But that lead was short-lived, as Davydenko broke right back. Thanks to David's now more and more passive play. Often enough, he seemed happy enough just hitting the ball back to the middle of the court, almost as if daring Davydenko to come up with something. But although the Russian still made far more errors than usual, there were enough situations when he gladly accepted David's invitation. There were phases in this set when I thought that David had absolutely no plan of what he was doing out there... But at least, he managed to avoid getting broken. Until the final game, that is. At 5-4 Davydenko, David had comfortably held to stay in the set. But at 6-5, a return winner and a forehand winner from Davydenko and David's only double fault of the match gave the Russian 3 set points. He took the first with a return David failed to get back into play. 7-5 Davydenko.

Set 3
By the time this set began, I was asking myself if David was perhaps growing tired. In any case, my hopes really weren't too high at that moment. - But David now served better again, made more first serves, not giving Davydenko too many chances going after his second. And he also played a little more aggressively again, no longer waiting for Davydenko to come up with something, but going for more depth and angles again. It wasn't something that happened from one game to the next, it was more like the slow, but steady way out of the slump the second set had been. At the same time, he benefitted from Davydenko's erratic play today, mixing great winners (especially his running forehand was very dangerous today) with absolutely horrible errors. Then at 3-3, it was time for the game that should play a crucial part in the outcome of this match. After David had won the first point on the Russian's serve with a great return/volley combination, on the next a huge battle at the baseline ensued. Davydenko had won a lot of those during the match, but this time, it was David who prevailed, 0-30. Davydenko made it 15-30 with forehand inside-out, but in the next rally, his forehand landed wide, giving David the first 2 break points of the set. And then it was Davydenko's backhand that went out. Break David, 4-3. And finally at 5-4 the chance to serve out the match. David began with a great half-volley drop-shot, 15-0. A beautiful angled forehand, 30-0. Then an unforced error from Davydenko to give David 3 match points. The first Davydenko saved with a last great return. But he didn't make the next one... 6-4.

What a "strange and tough" match, indeed. It was definitely not an easy one to watch. I'm still not sure what that second set was all about. Though the good thing probably is that he managed to get back on track, afterwards. He didn't play great in the third, but he played solid and it was enough to win. Still, to be so utterly in command and then to let it slip away...
Can't believe he has made it to the final again.
But I'm not going to make any predictions.

AMS TV post-match interview with David.

Match Stats...
1st serve: 59%
Aces: 4
DFs: 1
Points won on 1st serve: 76%
Points won on 2nd serve: 57%
BP conversion: 4/8
Winners: 16
UEs: 30

(all photos by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)