Suitably Absurd

World Group Semifinals
Spain 4 – France 1
Argentina 3 – Serbia 2

The finalists for the 2011 Davis Cup have been decided, and Argentina will meet Spain, in Spain. That climactic tie is still several months away, in early December, though we can safely assume David Nalbandian’s preparations are already underway, since – like Lleyton Hewitt – he thinks little of forgoing vast chunks of the season to better ready himself. Of the six or so major accomplishments in the men’s game, winning the Davis Cup is among the five that have thus far eluded him, and he has lately taken to claiming it as the one that means the most. Given that he can barely last consecutive tour events without requiring surgery, it’ll be interesting to see how lightly he takes the rest of the year, which will mostly be played indoors, in cities where he has enjoyed his greatest success.

Argentina reached the final by defeating Serbia, who are the defending champions. The vibe was established early when Nalbandian saw off Viktor Troicki with little trouble, and was sustained easily when Juan Martin del Potro allowed Janko Tipsarevic no sets, displaying the ferocity his fans had been expecting on the US hardcourts. Serbia won the doubles, but the real drama came at the commencement of Day Three, when Novak Djokovic took to the court, following a team decision to protect Troicki from del Potro. Djokovic was wounded and weary, but ‘my team felt at 50 or 60 percent I would play better than Viktor’. A real vote of confidence, bearing in mind that Troicki is not injured, and is ranked No.16 in the world, one spot above del Potro. Still, given the way the Argentine was playing, their caution appeared justified, although it turned out Djokovic erred badly in taking the court. He lost the first set in a tiebreak, and then, as the second set got underway, he collapsed to the court, and would not rise. His back had gone, and he has suffered his third loss of the year, and second through retirement. Given the tears he shed afterwards, this one was rather more genuine than the last. There was a perfunctory dead fifth rubber, which also ended prematurely with a retirement (this time Juan Monaco).

World Group Play-offs
Russia 3 – Brazil 2
Switzerland 3 – Australia 2

The 2011 Davis Cup has through its initial rounds proved lamentably short on drama, and so it is with some pleasure that I note that Djokovic’s collapse was merely the third most dramatic thing to happen today. As ever, when in doubt, turn to the veterans. Mikhail Youzhny won the Davis Cup final for Russia nine years ago, recovering from two sets down to beat Paul Henri Mathieu in the live fifth rubber, in France. Today’s win over Thomaz Bellucci wasn’t quite in that league. Youzhny failed to serve out the match at 5/4 in fifth, saved a couple match points, and then took it 14/12. Russian tennis has fallen on hard times, but they return to the World Group.

As do Switzerland. Understandably and predictably, the Australian team’s approach to this tie was to contain Roger Federer, and to focus their attacks on the far more vulnerable Stanislas Wawrinka. Neither Bernard Tomic nor Lleyton Hewitt was likely to upset Federer, even or especially on grass, although certainly neither would have refused a win had it been proffered. The upshot was that for the home team to claim the tie, they would have to take the doubles, no small task against the raining Olympics gold medallists. Adapting Peter Fleming’s formulation about John McEnroe, the widespread belief is that the best doubles team in the world is Roger Federer and anyone, but the Australian duo of Hewitt and Chris Guccione set about confounding the idea that one man can constitute a team. Federer was excellent, but the Australians were, too, and Wawrinka was much, much worse.

Day Three dawned with a moribund Swiss team writing themselves off at the merest prompt. Federer would probably even the tie against Tomic, but they equally knew that Wawrinka on prevailing form stood little chance against Hewitt, whose year had been leading to this and little else. In the end, of course, Wawrinka lifted mightily, bad light intervened, the Australians complained a lot, everyone returned this morning, played one more game, Hewitt broke himself, the Swiss won the tie, and the Australians complained some more. It was tremendous entertainment, and a suitably absurd end to the most engaging Davis Cup weekend in years.

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