SEVILLE, Spain—Prepare to see the words "Spain" and "reign" in the same sentence for another year. The Davis Cup power has added another title to its collection thanks to Rafael Nadal's 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (0) win over Juan Martin del Potro.
I don't think anyone knew what to expect from del Potro before this match, but we found out quickly that it wasn't going to be an easy day on the clay for Rafa. After being broken in the first game of the match, the Argentine unleashed a barrage of powerful shots from both sides; if I must point out one shot above all others, del Potro's cross-court backhand was a bold beauty for most of the match. Couple that with some nimble del Potro defense and a surprisingly lopsided first set ensued. But it still took an hour to complete, and you had to wonder if del Potro could keep up his exceptional level of play over the entire contest.
The possibility of an upset entered my mind when Nadal was broken to start the second set. But the next few games served as a prelude to a turning point: Nadal fought back from multiple game points down to break del Potro and level the set at 1-all, then held serve—for the first time in the match—despite facing another break point. It was Rafa's best game so far, but he was still under duress. But holding serve was immense, and Nadal gradually began to round into form thereafter, picking his shots with his forehand and denying del Potro from behind the baseline. After a series of holds, Nadal earned set point on del Potro's serve and won it with a smash. The stadium erupted, as did Rafa, and a new, best-of-three-set match had begun.
The reset button seemed to reset del Potro's game, as winners gave way to errors. Nadal quickly took the third set, in large part by del Potro's own undoing, and then won the first two games of the fourth. At this point, del Potro had lost 10 of the last 11 games, and the fans in Seville broke into louder and louder song. This included the Argentine group, the more vocal of the two, who I sometimes thought were delusional but came to admire for their relentless spirit.
Del Potro finally held serve to get on the board down 2-1, and when he walked to the bench, he motioned to those fans to keep loud. They listened, and before you knew it, del Potro had control of the set, up 5-3. The dictating forehands and backhands returned, and Rafa, like early on, experienced trouble holding serve. This time, nerves surely played a part in that.
The back-and-forth nature of the match didn't stop there. Nadal prevented a fifth set by breaking serve with some touch play, and after a love hold, the Spaniard broke again on four del Potro errors to lead 6-5. It seemed the Argentine had wasted his incredible opportunity, having rallied from a break down early in the fourth set, facing defeat.
Three points from the Cup, Nadal then lost three consecutive points, and when del Potro blasted a forehand past Nadal, a tiebreaker was necessary. In perhaps the only straightforward portion of the rubber, Nadal raced to a 3-0 lead—again, three points from the Cup—and then won another three to earn six match points. He'd require just one, taking the tie with a forehand winner, silencing the Argentine fans only temporarily.
Both men impressed today, as did the entire ESP-ARG series. After a Spanish sweep on Friday, this tie didn't end with a whimper. And with that, we finally conclude the 2011 tennis season—I would say on a high note. But if you're already pining for more, just tell yourself this: Spain will be defending its title in just over two months. Incredibly, that's true.
P.S. Back shortly with a Davis Cup final wrap-up.