Friday, December 2, 2011

Singing Hearts, Bleeding Hearts: Ferrer Trumps Del Potro

David Ferrer's five set win over Juan Martin del Potro was replete with emotional gravitas.

After the final ball of David Ferrer's 6-2, 6-7(2), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Juan Martin Del Potro was struck today in Seville, Spain, I found myself resonating emotionally with the players as they went to their respective chairs, one crying in anguish, the other in the throes of heartfelt euphoria. For those who rejoice in more than strokes and strategy, and look for the sublime in every match, today's epic struggle was an insta-classic, plain and simple.

Whether you chose to root for Juan Martin Del Potro and his almost deceiving gentle aura or you were rooting for David Ferrer, the indefatigable warrior who deserves so much more recognition for what he brings to the ATP Tour, you had your moments. And whether you took it hard in the end or were sky-high in the sweetness of it all, when it was said and done I think we can all agree that this match was more a collective work of tennis distinction than a singular statement of success or failure by either player.

When viewed against the backdrop of all that has taken place between Spain and Argentina over the years, and when placed in context with the spiritual similarities of the two competing nations (and the two competing players), one could easily sit back and feel sweet joy for one and sweet sadness for the other, simultaneously. Either way, it was sweet, which is nice.

As a neutral, with only the purpose of reporting on the match, I felt an ebb and flow throughout the tilt, and was constantly reminded of how much respect I had for both players involved on an almost per-game basis.

With regard to Ferrer: How is it that the top 4 players can defeat him so regularly? I think if you took a person who had never watched tennis before, and told them that Ferrer was the greatest player in the history of the world, they would believe you after watching only a few points.

With regard to Del Potro: Is there any player on tour with a higher OMG quotient? The brute force he puts behind the ball is staggering. It is a testament to his fitness and strength yes, but I also believe it is a testament to his will. In other words, it is impossible to hit a tennis ball with Del Potro's might unless you want it badly, oh-so badly.

Both Ferrer and Del Potro are notorious for having a big, brave heart, and neither disappointed today during this 4-hour and 46-minute slugfest. Each worked the rowdy crowds into a frenzy at regular intervals, and each was improbably resilient when things looked to be turning sour.

It was a classic struggle, with Ferrer jumping to an early and decisive start only to see Del Potro strengthen his resolve in the second set and second set tiebreaker to draw even. Then in the third set, they wrestled for control again, each dishing out their most noteworthy body blows. For Ferrer it was the punishing mid-court forehand and the dropper that often put him in position to pass Del Potro; For Del Potro it was the filthy forehands that whizzed through the court like weapons-grade fire.

Throughout the match, as they soldiered through exchanges and jockeyed for control, the two were in contrast to one another physically, but almost identical in spirit. There was the 6'6" Argentine, gritting it out, struggling to defend the court with everything he had. And there was the 5'9" Ferrer, a Tasmanian Devil in tennis shoes, part wrestler and part sorcerer, gritting it out as well.

The end was a splendid culmination and the emotional high point that all had hoped for. Ferrer's post-match celebratory scream was silenced by the thunderous growl of the crowd, but the look on his face was louder than love. Del Potro stood slumped at the net, a spent warrior in agony, yet he still managed to dignify Ferrer with his final gesture to him as they shook hands.

For a moment, it felt as if everybody had won. Even Del Potro's sadness seemed sweet.

But we know in the end there can only be one winner. Ferrer gave Spain a 2-0 lead, and Argentina has its back against the wall again. For the fourth time in four finals, the Argentine squad appears to have missed out on a chance to win its first Davis Cup title. Ferrer is overjoyed, the valorous hero. Del Potro is downtrodden, the lamentable loser.

We know in the end it's only going to be about one team, Spain or Argentina, when we check the record books. But today it felt like it was about all of us. The beauty of the sport and the heat of the moment. The power of desire and the heartbreakingly poignant feeling of loss. It was about Spain. It was about Argentina. It was about tennis. It was about us.

And now I hear the familiar refrain in my head: If you leave it all out there on the court, you can never lose.

And, for the first time in a while, I believe it's true.


  1. What a great writeup. I was there and you've very well captured the emotional toil for both players and fans and the roller coaster the crowd was on. What a night, what a match!

  2. Steph, thanks. Congrats on being there! I envy you.

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