Photo: Davis Cup
Spain took a commanding 2-0 lead here Friday over Argentina in the Davis Cup final after Rafael Nadal breezed to an easy victory and David Ferrer rallied to win a five-set marathon in the opening singles matches.
In the first contest, Nadal, the world No. 2, took no mercy on good friend Juan Monaco, breezing to a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory in a relatively short, two-hour, 27-minute baseline slugfest.
Monaco started off the match with a service hold, albeit after saving three break points, but the 10-time Grand Slam champ then reeled off six consecutive games to take complete control in the early going at Seville’s Olympic Stadium.
The Spaniard’s serve proved to be an effective weapon throughout the set, allowing him to easily hold serve and put extra pressure on the Argentine’s service games.
The rout continued in the second set, as Monaco once again managed one service hold but could do little against a focused opponent who remained solid on serve and virtually unplayable in the baseline rallies.
Known for his tenacity, Monaco seemed unusually deflated by the difficulty of just getting games against Nadal, who made precious few unforced errors and inevitably came out on top of all the long exchanges.
Even when Monaco seemed to have a point won, Nadal would track the ball down, transition from defense to offense and finish off the point with either a drop shot, a punishing down-the-line forehand or backhand or the occasional volley winner.
In the second set, Monaco was once again only able to hold serve in the first opportunity, as Nadal then broke serve in the next two tries to race away with another 6-1 win.
Monaco managed to make Nadal sweat a bit more in the third set, staying even until 2-2 and even threatening the Spaniard’s serve for the first time in the match.
But the world No. 2 secured yet another break in the fifth game and one more two games later before finishing off the comfortable victory on his first match point.
The six-time French Open champion, who has struggled in the past two months on hard courts, said he was happy to be back on his beloved clay.
“Sometimes you can hit two bad shots in a row and still steal the point,” Nadal, who is 16-0 on clay in Davis Cup competition, said. “That’s one of my best things on clay, while on hard indoor if I hit two bad shots in a row the point is done. Clay gives me a chance to play more relaxed.”
The Olympic Stadium also should have brought back pleasant memories for the Spaniard, who made his first big mark on the tennis world there in the 2004 Davis Cup final when he led his country to victory over the United States as an 18-year-old.
“I felt like I was playing well but, frankly, it’s Rafa Nadal,” Monaco said in his post-match interview. “Where can you win a point off this kid is what you’re left wondering a lot of the time.”
The second match figured to be the more tightly contested of the two and it did not disappoint, with Ferrer winning a four-hour, 43-minute battle of attrition over Argentine Juan Martin del Potro 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Both players - the diminutive, speedy Ferrer and the six-foot, six-inch Argentine - put on an impressive display of powerful baseline slugging in what the former described as one of the best matches of his career.
The 29-year-old Spaniard came out on fire in the first set against an opponent who seemed to be feeling the pressure of a must-win match for the Argentine side.
But the 2009 U.S. Open champ was his normal, formidable self in the second set, blasting powerful forehand and backhands to earn a momentum-shifting break of serve in the fifth game.
The feisty Ferrer kept fighting, however, and managed to get the break back and even the set at 4-4, forcing Del Potro to expend valuable energy before wrapping up the set in a tiebreaker and finally giving the sizable Argentine contingent reason to cheer.
With the momentum on his side, Del Potro took an early lead in the third set and, even though he only made 42 percent of his first serves and surrendered one service game, was able to ride his ground strokes to a two-set-to-one lead.
It was during the fourth set, however, that fatigue started to weigh on the towering Argentine.
He managed to escape trouble in the eighth game when Ferrer made a mental error on break point by not playing a ball that landed on the line, but two games later a Del Potro double fault gave the Spaniard the set and the match was all even once again.
The Argentine called for the trainer for help with apparent cramps but he was unable to summon enough energy to compete in the fifth set with Ferrer, who raced off to 5-1 lead before eventually wrapping up the match two games later with a forehand winner.
In the post-match press conference, Ferrer, the world No. 5, rated his performance as “almost perfect.”
“I was expecting a very tough match, but not that tough. It was long with a lot of tension, with tough moments. (Juan) Martin played a great match. I was almost perfect because, if not, I wouldn’t have won,” the Spaniard said.
Spain’s Davis Cup captain Albert Costa, winner of the 2002 French Open, also hailed the quality of play of the second match, calling it one of the best he had seen in his career.
With the two singles wins, Spain is now just one match away from adding to its four previous titles at tennis’ most prestigious international team competition: in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009.
The Spaniards will look to Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco to seal victory in Saturday’s doubles, while Argentina will counter with Davis Cup veteran David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank.