SEVILLE, Spain—Argentina signed up for tennis' version of a triathlon when it lost both of its singles matches on Friday, and while another, entirely different challenge awaits tomorrow, the team has made it through the first leg with a surprisingly efficient, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win in Saturday's must-have doubles rubber.
Today's competitors at the Estadio Olimpico included bandana-donning David Nalbandian (ARG) and Feliciano Lopez (ESP), and their lower-ranked partners, Eduardo Schwank (ARG) and Fernando Shank (ESP). I mean, Verdasco. It was a horrific day for the 2008 Davis Cup hero, who couldn't outlast either opponent in cross-court rallies, missed a number of overheads—including a very costly one to begin the third set, which would lead to a back-breaking Argentina break—shanked quite a view balls and didn't volley well. His day ended in fitting fashion, at net, wondering how he could miss an elementary volley.
But it wasn't like his partner was a marked improvement. Lopez's play during points was only better in comparison to Verdasco's shortcomings, though the greater issue was Feli's serve, typically his money shot. But it didn't earn many free points today; overall, Spain was broken five times, while Argentina never lost serve.
Which brings us to the unlikely dominance of Schwank and Nalbandian, who had never before teamed up in the Cup. Add in the fact that Nalbandian hadn't played since October, and it seemed like today would be, at the very least, a feeling-out process for Argentina. But its pair found success early, winning a less-than-taxing opening set and giving its raucous supporters even more reason to sing. By the third set, for the first time in the tie, Spain's colorful and flag-toting fans looked defeated, already contemplating the almost certain Nadal-del Potro match.
How Nalbandian figures into Sunday remains to be seen, if at all. But he was brilliant today, placing his backhand wherever he wanted, serving extremely well (he saved two of Spain's three break points in one game) and hitting touch volleys that would make doubles stars blush. If only he dedicated himself to doubles (or singles?)...
The actual doubles presence, Schwank, was a fine foil for Nalbandian. If he wasn't serving with confidence, Schwank restored confidence in his fans with a gutsy hold. I noticed him at net most of the time, putting away many points started by Nalbandian, but Schwank found success all over the court, hitting deeper, harder balls than either of his Spanish counterparts. Relatively unknown, Schwank's lack of star power suggested he might be the weak link, but he turned out of be one of Saturday's stars.
Less than two hours of play elapsed during this match, giving Argentina's fans a long night to celebrate and hope for something nearly unprecedented—no team has rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the Davis Cup final in 72 years. Spain's fans will have time to think about what's likely to come, or, what might come. The Cup is still within their grasp, but, if ever so slightly, Argentina has inched closer.