The most memorable matches in Davis Cup historyDecember 02, 2016
The first reverse singles rubber between Juan Martín del Potro and Marin Čilić could be among the most memorable matches in Davis Cup history. The native of Tandil returned to the tour last April after a surgery on his left wrist. del Potro even admitted that he couldn't hurt Čilić with his backhand, but Argentina's top-ranked player would play his best when he was pushed to the wall. Čilić, on the other hand, wouldn't be able to handle the pressure of a five-set match. (It happened during his match against Jack Sock in the Davis Cup quarterfinals last April, and then his quarterfinal match against Roger Federer in Wimbledon.) The team that wins the doubles rubber wins the tie, but the Argentina Davis Cup team would defy the odds this season.
del Potro rallied from a two-set deficit to stun Čilić after playing for four hours and thirty-six minutes. Federico Delbonis sealed the tie by beating Ivo Karlović in three sets. Argentina became the second team to win all their four ties away from home. (France did it in 2001.) For Argentinian Davis Cup captain Daniel Orsanic, his team waited four decades before winning the most prestigious team event in sports.
Argentina reached its first Davis Cup final in 1981, losing to the US (3-1). The finals tie was remembered for the sledging and the nail-biting doubles rubber. (John McEnroe and Peter Fleming defeated Guillermo Vilas and José Luis Clerc in five sets. The fifth set went 11-9.) Argentina is stacked with talented male players, and it has three more chances of winning the Davis Cup. Unity would be a problem, though.
The Argentinians could have won its first Davis Cup in 2008 when it faced the Spaniards on home soil. The Argentine Tennis Association chose the indoor hard court in Mar del Plata as the venue of the final. del Potro was a rising star in the ATP Tour back then, having qualified for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai the week before the finals. David Nalbandian, 2002 Wimbledon finalist, was the 2005 Tennis Master Cup champion. But there was discord among the Argentinian team. Nalbandian lashed out at del Potro for not skipping the Masters Cup. It was the finals that Argentinians could lose, and they (painfully) did. Dissolution followed Alberto Mancini's resignation as captain. It was a thing of the past.
Orsanic gave praise to his players: "Juan Martin had an incredible match and Fede played the best match of his life at the best moment."
The match between del Potro and Čilić could be ranked fifth in the memorable list. Here are the other four:
Nicolas Escudé (France) beat Wayne Arthurs (Australia). Team Australia laid the portable grass cross over Melbourne Park, as the Aussies would meet the French squad in the finals of the 2001 Davis Cup. Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter, with three Grand Slam titles between them, led the Australia team. Rafter, two-time US champion, could have sealed the tie for the fifth (and deciding) rubber, but a painfully right arm prompted Wayne Arthurs to replace him. Escudé, who upset Hewitt in the first singles rubber, did it again. He beat Arthurs in front of a partisan crowd. It was all drama, which would define the Davis Cup. The French squad celebrated their unexpected success at the expense of (a sobbing) Arthurs. No one would know what Rafter told him after the loss.
Pete Sampras (USA) defeated Andrei Chesnokov (Russia). The 1995 Davis Cup final was set in Moscow, the ties played on clay. Sampras won the 1994 Italian Open and reached the French Open quarterfinals on three occasions, but he was the clear underdog in this rubber. Nonetheless, the world's top-ranked player showed why he was the best of his generation. Chesnokov had his chances, as the rubber lasted five sets. But the crowd wasn't good enough.
Boris Becker (Germany) defeated Andre Agassi (USA). The semifinals of the 1989 Davis Cup featured Boris Becker and Andre Agassi, two young players with contrasting styles. It was played in the indoor carpet court in Munich, which would favor Becker's serve-and-volley game. But Agassi gave the three-time Wimbledon champion a stiff challenge. The play was suspended after Becker won the fourth set. No one could tell if Agassi would win the fifth (if the play didn't resume the following day), as the American won the first two sets (on tiebreaks). The different styles delighted the fans, though.
John McEnroe (USA) defeated Mats Wilander (Sweden). This was arguably the most memorable match in 1982, and many thought it was a shame that it was the quarterfinal tie of the Davis Cup. It took McEnroe more than six hours to edge Wilander, who won his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros during that year. Tiebreaks weren't introduced, and Wilander won the third set by the score of 17-15. If the rubber wasn't staged in St. Louis, then Wilander might have won this one (with the help of the home crowd). It happened long before the marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon.
There were plans to change the format of the Davis Cup, but the current one would generate excitement and drama. Patriotism wasn't dead in tennis. Fabio Fognini was among the numerous players who congratulated the Argentinians on Twitter. Italy will travel to Argentina for the opening round of the 2017 Davis Cup. Fognini's tweet might be a jest on his part.
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