Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Prince of Abu Dhabi

I honestly don't know how much of a correlation you can make between the winner of this weekend's exhibition in Abu Dhabi and who is going to make some noise at the upcoming (yes, really) Australian Open, but if there is any correlation, all signs are pointing to Novak Djokovic being in fine form once again in 2012. He was dominant in Abu Dhabi, just as he was dominant in 2011.

As for Roger Federer, he'll still be "officially" riding a 17-match winning streak when he takes the court in Doha vs. Nikolay Davydenko next week, but the 6-2, 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Djokovic probably won't do much for his confidence (nor will the straight sets loss to Rafa in the consolation match). Then again, maybe he's forgotten it already. I guess only Roger truly knows. And similarly, probably Rafa only knows what the fact that he was beaten in straight sets by David Ferrer means for his chances in Melbourne, bad shoulder and all.

So here's my question regarding Abu Dhabi: Should we pretend it never happened, even though it did? I'm confused.

That said, you can have a look at some of the highlights and form your own opinions.

Here you go:




And you can keep an eye on Federer and Nadal next week as they make their way to Doha for their first official event of the year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Rafa" The Book: Understanding Uncle Toni's Profound Influence

I've spent the last few days curling up with Rafa's recently published book "Rafa," by Rafa himself and writer John Carlin. It's been a surprisingly entertaining read about one of the most compelling personalities of the sport, and I must say, it has only made me appreciate all of Rafa's remarkable character traits even more.

There are a lot of topics discussed in the book, but for me the most interesting and eye-opening content concerns Rafa's unique relationship with Uncle Toni and Rafa's symbiotic relationship with the rest of his family.

I'll focus on Uncle Toni in this post, because I felt that the book was particularly revealing in that regard, and, anybody who hasn't read the book might not fully understand or appreciate just how significant the bond that Rafa and Uncle Toni share is.

First, I was struck by the similarities between Rafa's relationship with Uncle Toni and Andre Agassi's relationship with his father Mike. There are certainly differences, but the similarities struck me immediately. Like Mike Agassi, Uncle Toni believes in discipline; more specifically, in making practice almost unbearably difficult, so that tennis matches would seem comparatively easy.

"Yes, he might have gone too far, but it's worked very well for me," says Rafa of his Uncle in the book. "All that tension in every single coaching session, right from the very start, has allowed me today to face up to the difficult moments in a match with more self-control than might otherwise have been the case. Toni did a lot to build that fighting character people say they see in me on the court."

While Agassi developed a keen sense of contempt for his father, Nadal, due to the strength of his family life (which provided him with balance and joy, and kept him from getting too tightly wound) and perhaps his docile nature, never rebelled against Toni. "By pushing me always to the edge, he built up my mental strength," said Rafa. "But the intensity of his desire for me to triumph was complemented in a healthy way by my father's relaxed attitude to the whole thing."

The book certainly raises questions about the best way to build a tennis champion. Families such as the Williamses, the Agassi's and the Nadal's have used familial relationships to bend the rules of discipline and to push the coach-player dynamic beyond acceptable societal limits. In doing so the relative/coach gains entry into the deepest parts of their pupil's psyche, which allows them to push buttons that other coaches with less access might never get to push.

The player-coach dynamic wasn't always so simple for Nadal, and Toni's role in Rafa's tennis did not always go unquestioned. "Toni was hard on Rafa because he knew Rafa could take it and would eventually thrive. He would not have applied the same principles, he insists, with a weaker child," wrote John Carlin in the book. "This argument prevailed in the family at least to the point that no one, not even Rafa's mother, ever really confronted Toni and told him to ease up on the child. They understood that spending so many hours and hours with Toni was wearing in the extreme, but that the two of them had reached a point where they could not live, much less succeed in tennis, without each other."

It wasn't always pretty, but Toni, strong-minded ex-tennis player that he was, had his plan. More importantly, he had the families' support when it came to Rafa's tennis, even when things got awkward, as they did quite often.

When Rafa was 12, he returned home from an important victory in South Africa to a big party at his Grandparent's house. But before he could begin to celebrate, he was ushered away by Uncle Toni, who then said to the Grandmother: "What are you trying to do to Rafael? You'll ruin him. Don't give what he does so much importance."

Another example, from Rafa's 11th year, is also telling. After winning the Spanish under-12's, Toni took the initiative to phone the press to get the list of the previous twenty-five winners of the tournament. "Then, in front of the rest of the family, he read out the names and asked me if I had ever heard of any of them," writes Rafa. "'So and so, do you know him? No. This guy? No. And this one? No.' There were just five who had reached a decent level as professionals, whose names meant something to me. Toni was triumphant. 'You see? The chances of you making it as a pro are one in five. So, Rafael, don't get too excited about today's victory. There's still a long, hard road ahead. And it all depends on you.'"

Toni's influence over Rafa, and his ability to motivate him, has not wavered over the years. Even now, his words are what motivates Rafa to never be satisfied with himself, to always be humble, and to keep sharpening his mental focus in order to defeat opponents who are believed to be more naturally gifted than he is.

"Whether he's made me a better player, or I him," writes Nadal, of his rival Roger Federer, "it's hard for me to say. Toni has never ceased to remind me -- and I know he is right -- that Federer is more technically gifted than I am, but he does so not to cause me despondency, but because he knows saying so will motivate me to sharpen my game. I watch Federer playing on video sometimes, and I'll be amazed at how good he is; surprised that I have been able to beat him."

Tennis fans have always known that Rafa and Uncle Toni shared a special bond. After reading "Rafa," we now know some of the quirkier details of the union. John Carlin aptly calls them the "Dynamic Duo,", and the compelling book that he has co-authored with Nadal pays heed to their unique relationship, and the undeniably important role it has played in Rafa's success on the ATP Tour.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perspective: Ryan Harrison Needs a Stabilizing Coaching Relationship

A lot has changed with regard to Ryan Harrison's coaching situation in the last nine months; then again, a lot hasn't. For Harrison, the coaching carousel continues to spin. He's beginning a relationship with Grant Doyle as of this week. That's great news for Doyle, who did some fine coaching work with Sam Querrey and has also made a name for himself running a high performance academy in Austin, Texas.

As far as what it will mean for Harrison, I guess we'll have to wait and see. Will Doyle stick? Will he be able to gain the trust of his young charge and really make a difference, or will he play the role of chaperone, while Harrison's father steers the career of his son from a distance?

I hope it's the former. I think that Harrison would benefit greatly from a trusting coach-player relationship. Here's what Harrison said about the subject in March (which was two coaches ago, fyi):

Q: Is having your coaching situation, or having it in flux -- has that affected you at all?

Harrison: Obviously we're looking to get the coaching situation sorted out as soon as possible. You want to have that stable environment around you, and that's exactly why it's taken so long. Because it's tough to just bring someone in and say 'okay, I trust this person.'

Just meeting somebody new and trusting that person is just -- you can't just do that. You have to build a relationship with somebody and get to a point where you do trust what they're saying. And that's what a coach has to do.

Nine months later, stability is still a missing ingredient. But there is hope that things might be heading in the right direction. Doyle, who was a former No. 1-ranked Australian junior, topped out in the ATP Rankings at No. 173, but he's been a dedicated coach and mentor to young players for quite some time now.

Doyle's tour results are not important here. What really matters is his ability to fill a void for Harrison. While Harrison has made great strides in the last two years, he has also demonstrated the ability to sabotage his own progress with counterproductive tantrums.

The recurring Harrison theme? Steadily improving play marred by steadily recurring meltdowns. There are some who believe the youngster should stick to his guns and play with an edge to honor the fiery American tradition, but those in the know realize that emulating the temperament of a John McEnroe isn't necessarily a blueprint for climbing the ATP ladder. Let's keep in mind: McEnroe was different in that he was able to overcome his temper issues with uncannily brilliant tennis. People seem eager to attribute McEnroe's success to his "edge," but I've always believed that he might have been more successful had he not had the volatility issues (see 1984 French Open final).

Let's face it: having a temper is a liability. Harrison needs to get the memo: temper tantrums are so 1980. The players who are winning Slams in this day and age have the ability to compartmentalize their stress. Elite players are zen in the modern era. If Harrison wants to earn elite status, he should pay heed to the temperaments of the Federer's and Nadal's of the world.

Doyle's mission will be threefold when it comes to his budding acolyte: 1. Let Harrison's game continue to blossom (that's the easy part, as Harrison has all the strokes and heightened tactical awareness) 2. Develop the trust and stability that Harrison spoke of in March and 3. Get the kid to stop blowing up on the court.

Is Doyle qualified for such a mission? And even if he is, will Harrison deem him so?

With Harrison only 13 spots off his career-high ranking and still six months from his 20th birthday, he's in a nice position to start 2012. He's a feisty kid with the burning desire to improve.

Maybe a little too feisty at times, but that is -- hopefully -- where Doyle can help.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Droppers: Becker Asks Ballgirl to Sub For Him Vs. Agassi

Now that there are finally no tennis scores to check on livescore, I've been spending my time perusing the voluminous YouTube tennis library a bit more than usual. You know what? It's pretty damn fun. Okay, okay...REALLY DAMN FUN!

Look at this clip of Boris Becker, having a terrible time of it in a match against Andre Agassi in Florida. Becker finally becomes so disillusioned with his game that he hands his racquet to a ballgirl and asks her to have a go at the young "rebel" on the other side of the net. The kid is clearly amused, but she's not quite sure what to do with the racquet (no doubt it's heavier than the ones she's used to), but Becker urges her on.

Finally the happy kid takes to the baseline to receive Agassi's serve. Of course, Andre, long hair and all (can you say wig?), was up for a little walkabout at the time too. He entertains the girl with a half-speed first serve (which she returns) and the crowd goes wild. Eventually he lets the smiling ballgirl win the point, and she walks back to a furiously applauding Becker, hands him the racquet, and takes her spot against the back fence, still smiling.

She's probably still smiling now, decades later. What a classic moment.

Droppers: Nice Video of Lendl Almost Killing Emilio Sanchez

Was doing some late night tennis viewing on YouTube, and came across this hilarious video of Lendl nearly decapitating Emilio Sanchez in a mixed doubles match. Even when you watch it on slo-mo, it looks like the ball is traveling at light speed. It's a good thing that Sanchez took that first split step backwards or it might have been worse.

Seems like everybody got a good laugh out of it, so I guess all was well that ended well.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Second Serving: Looking Back at Spain's Davis Cup Triumph

Wow. Next time you hear me calling for a drastic revamping of the Davis Cup format, just tell me to kindly shut my trap. After this weekend's rousing final between Spain and Argentina, it's painfully clear that if anything needs to be wiped off the men's tennis calendar, it certainly isn't an emotionally gratifying event like La Copa Davis. Take off a few 250 events, even scrap the World Tour Finals if you have to, just leave the Davis Cup alone.

It's a total 180 for me, as I've been in the Davis Cup revamp camp for quite some time, but after being moved to tears on several occasions over the course of an amazing Davis Cup weekend, I now realize that having an international team tennis competition has to be a priority of massive importance to the tennis powers that be.

Granted, this weekend's final was a perfect storm. We had the forlorn Argentines, desperate to pull the miracle on Spain's home dirt. We had probably the best clay court player of all-time, looking to cement his Davis Cup legacy. We had young (Nadal, Del Potro) players looking to carry the old and grizzly veterans (Ferrer and Nalbandian) who were questing for swan songs. We had tennis-mad fans of every age, singing, dancing, laughing, crying.

You don't get this perfect storm anywhere else in tennis, and there lies the hidden unassailable beauty of the event. Even in a Grand Slam, there isn't quite the magnetic pull for the players, but with the pressure to perform for country, for family, and for your peers so high in Davis Cup, it provides the impetus for more soul-churning, gut-wrenching effort than any other competition.

I think that we all, as tennis fans, fantasize about the event where retirements are an impossibility. We secretly long for tennis players to earn the term gladiator, letting the competition preclude health concerns. You have a pulled groin? Tough it out. You snapped your elbow on that last 100 m.p.h forehand? Get some tape. What, your leg feels like it's going to fall off? Do you not hear the enlivened cries of your compatriots?

Well, this weekend, that fantasy came true. This was tennis on a primal level. Nothing was going to keep Juan Martin Del Potro from leaving every ounce of his being out there on that clay, even as he was fighting what was perhaps the most uphill battle in the history of tennis (nobody has ever beaten Rafa on clay in Davis Cup, and perhaps nobody ever will), you could feel Del Potro being willed forward by a higher power. Amazingly, in spite of the fact that he suffered two backbreaking losses, they were not soul-crushing. In fact, I think that Del Potro's stature has risen two-fold, both in the eyes of his compatriots and in the eyes of Spain. Hopefully, in his own eyes, too.

We don't even need to mention the stature of the five-time Davis Cup champion Spaniards, or the greatness of Nadal. But I will say this: Nadal's greatest gesture of the competition might have come after the last ball was struck. After joining his teammates in a celebratory dance, he quickly moved to the net to console his downtrodden victim. When he was done, he didn't go back to partying with his boys. He headed to the Argentine side of the court and congratulated each and every person on their team in a heartfelt manner.

As the Spanish celebration continued, Spain's players quickly gravitated to the Argentine side and surrounded the dejected Del Potro, offering him kind words. Moments later, Del Potro would rise from his chair and thank the crowd to a thick round of applause, fit for a king. He wasn't the king of the clay, but he was king to many in attendance, even in defeat.

It was yet another beautiful moment that only Davis Cup could have produced, one of so many that occurred over the course of this final.

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.

Droppers: Wozniacki, Young, Bogomolov and More

Today in Droppers we will discuss the week's torrent of tennis news.

1. Caroline Wozniacki chooses Ricardo Sanchez as Coach

Well, what can you say about this move that hasn't already been said? Hmm...maybe I'll take a crack at that: I like the Wozniacki-Sanchez pairing because the parties have emphasized on ensuring that Piotr stays heavily involved. I think that's a good idea for the sake of stability. I also like the fact that it's reportedly a one-year deal instead of a "trial."

Before we chastise Wozniacki and her father/coach for what she hasn't done, let's acknowledge what the world's No. 1 has done. And let's not forget that Piotr has given his daughter some pretty sound fatherly advice over the years. It's clear that he's been very instrumental in Caro's rise to the No. 1 ranking, and it's also clear that the two work together exceedingly well. To keep him in the mix will only make them stronger.

Here is why I like the move: It's always good to get a new set of eyes.

I'm not sure how much we can expect Wozniacki to change her game though. The Wozniacki's seem to believe that Ricardo is valuable because 1) they know him and feel they can work with him harmoniously and 2) he is very familiar with the games of women on tour, and therefore would be an excellent scouting and gameplanning asset.

For those who now believe Wozniacki will appear in Australia next year hitting 100 mph forehand winners, keep in mind that Ricardo Sanchez's previous charge never hit very big, and never seemed to be encouraged to do so either. That said, Jelena Jankovic, who worked with Sanchez on two different occasions, did learn to become a very aggressive player who used angles and space very well.

2. Bogomolov to play Davis Cup for Russia

There has been a lot of talk about Alex Bogomolov joining with the Russian Davis Cup team, so I'll discuss my take briefly here. Remember, when Bogomolov first stated his interest in playing for the motherland, Peter Bodo wrote some very scathing commentary about it. Pete has strong feelings about the subject, and he's earned his right to speak his mind about it.

That said, I've got my own views on the subject. If Bogomolov wants to play for the moon, and if Bogomolov was born on the moon (he was born in Russia), then he should be entitled to play for the moon. If the USTA wants players to remain loyal to them for whatever reason, then they should have the kids sign on the dotted line, so their intentions are clear. Since they didn't, I think he's free to go, and while we are free to judge him, I think that we're wrong to do so.

We don't know what it's like to be Bogomolov -- with his bills to play, his family to provide for, etc... -- so I think it's pretty wrong of us to jump to conclusions about who he owes and for how much.

The news got a little weirder today when Dmitry Tursunov called out tennis journalist Ravi Ubha, saying that he wasn't responsible for what he was quoted for in this piece about Bogomolov. Apparently Tursunov never said it; somebody who had posted a comment on Bodo's original piece had said it. It's a long, convoluted story, so you'll have to go to to Tursunov's Twitter page to get a feel for it.

The bottom line? Tursunov didn't say it. Got it? Get it? Good.

Donald Young back with mom Ilona as coach

I really don't have a lot to say about the recent reports that Donald Young is backing out of his USTA coaching agreement to work solely with his mother. This is another case where it's better to keep quiet and observe, rather than sanctimoniously rush in with judgement. I don't know the whole story, and I'm not sure who does. Reportedly, a source says that Donald was asked by the USTA to attend one of its training centers for workouts during the offseason, and he refused.

Is it true? Who is the source? What is Donald's side of the story?

I'll defer until I know more.

I will say this about Young and Bogomolov. They both had great seasons and they should both be really proud. End of story, for the moment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Deuce Court: Loving Davis Cup

On the eve of the 99th Davis Cup final in Seville, Spain, The Deuce Court is here to get you fired up.

Deuce #1: The Potential

It will be pretty hard for this year's final to top what happened last year in Belgrade, when Novak Djokovic and Co. won their first Davis Cup. That said, there is something highly intriguing about this weekend's clash between Spain and Argentina. Just hearing those two nation's names in the same sentence gets my head running with images of gauchos and matadors, conquistadors and flamenco dancers. Throw in the improbable nature of what Argentina is trying to do in Seville (break Spain's run of 20 consecutive home Davis Cup victories), add a dash of the revenge factor brought about by Spain's colossal upset of Argentina in 2008, and you have a recipe for for a clay court delicacy the likes of which we may have never seen.

Deuce #2: The Reality

Okay, now let's come down to earth, where the clay is clumpy and slow, and the footwork of the top two Spaniards is quick and decisive. Is there really any way that Argentina can do this? Neither Nadal nor Ferrer have ever lost on clay in Davis Cup play, and that's over the course of twenty-five matches. Can we realistically expect one loss from the vaunted pair, let alone two?

Ad In: The Mysticism

Ah, but there is something about the spirit of Argentina. The fire, if you will. Everybody is confident in Spain's chances right now, but you can't get through a single preview that doesn't at least mention the fact that Argentina is very dangerous, very hungry, and very talented. Juan Martin del Potro may have only gone 3-7 vs. the top ten in 2011, but is there anybody out there who doubts that the man is capable of greatness on the grandest of stages? David Nalbandian, too, will be lurking in the shadows, ready to contribute on the doubles court and, should the opportunity arise, in the reverse singles on Sunday.

Deuce #3: What about Juan Monaco?

He's been labeled the sacrificial lamb by some members of the media, one supposedly sent out to make nice with his video-gaming buddy Nadal (yes, you should click on that last link) and possibly steal a set after playing some long, physical points. But are we selling Monaco short by labeling him so? He's been playing some great tennis this autumn, and he's no doubt going to be inspired by the confidence that his coach Tito Vazquez is showing in him.

Ad In: How bad does Argentina want it?

Since none of Argentina's team members played tour events in the last three weeks, they've all been gearing up for this tie by working extremely hard on the clay. Meanwhile, Nadal and Ferrer have been playing on hard courts, and feeling quite "passionless." Could the difference in preparation have an effect on the outcome, or will fumes be enough to power the clearly superior Spaniards to the title on clay?

Deuce #4: What about Dubs?

Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco have been hit and miss in Davis Cup play, but they have won their matches in the last two finals. Argentina will need to win the doubles to have any hope, and David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank will have to find a way to beat them, in their first Davis Cup match as a team. Can they?

Ad Out: My pick

Spain is just too good, plain and simple. But they will need their big guns to close it out on Sunday.

Spain 3, Argentina 2

Is Argentina Capable of a Miracle?

Fernando Verdasco's summation of the mindset of his team as they prepare for the 2011 Davis Cup final is telling, and it bodes well for Spain. A healthy respect for the competition has never been a problem for the Spanish, and it has a lot to do with their success. "I think they [Argentina] will come with everything," he said. "I think it's going to be more difficult than everybody thinks."

Spain is, of course, well versed in Argentina's long and agonizingly fruitless quest for the Davis Cup; they were the thieves in the night that raced into Mar del Plata to dash the Argentine hopes of victory in 2008. To their credit, the Spaniards know to be prepared for a hungry bunch of unsung adversaries when the 99th Davis Cup final gets underway in Seville tomorrow.

In '08, Argentina was heavily favored to win its first title at home against a Spanish team that was without Rafael Nadal. But the pressure of making history amidst throngs of tennis-mad companeros proved to be to much for the squad. For the fourth time in four Davis Cup finals, the end was not pretty for Argentina. In fact, it was downright snarky, with Nalbandian and Del Potro giving each other the silent treatment as the final balls were struck. No doubt dejected about the loss, and wearied by the infighting, dejected captain Alberto Mancini resigned after the tie.

Such is Argentina's forlorn Davis Cup history, a prime example of the classic quandary: so close yet oh so far. How does a nation so steeped in brilliant tennis go without a Davis Cup title for all these years? There are 13 nations who have won the Cup. Spain, of course, broke through with a bang in 2000 and are now looking for their 5th title. Serbia won its first in remarkable fashion last year. South Africa has been crowned, as well as Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Italy.

It makes one wonder: Will the day ever come for Argentina? Not even Guillermo Vilas, the original King of Clay and the holder of tennis's longest winning streak of all-time, could take Argentina to the pinnacle of team tennis. Not that he didn't try. Vilas and Co. lost in the finals to the Americans in 1981, with John McEnroe proving to be too much for Vilas and Jose-Luis Clerc on the fast American hard courts.

But enough history. Let's talk about the here and now. Does Argentina have a shot?

At first glance the answer has to be HELL NO! When you consider the gory details of Spain's domination of this event since the turn of the century, it seems like impossible might be overstating Argentina's chances. Nadal has won 18 straight Davis Cup singles matches and has never lost one on clay; Ferrer has also never lost on clay, going 11-0. Meanwhile, Spain is in the midst of a 20-tie win streak at home that has now spanned over 10 years.

And what is Argentina's answer to that intimidating body of work? Honestly, they have none. At least on paper they don't. But when you take your microscope out and start to explore the psychological underbelly of this one, there are a few things that favor Argentina.

Backtrack, if you will, to Fernando Verdasco's comments at the top of the page. While it's prescient of he and his teammates to be aware of the fact that Argentina is a very dangerous squad to face, the fact that they do consider them dangerous means that they may believe it. The roles are reversed this year. As bad as Argentina wants this title, nobody expects them to get it, and they could benefit from the fact that they really and truly have nothing to lose.

Secondly, if there was ever a more perfect chance to exact revenge for that heartbreaking defeat in 2008, this would be that chance. We must consider the character of the Argentinians before we write them off in this one. Anybody who witnessed Juan Martin del Potro at his most inspired in 2009 knows that improbable victories are not at all out of the question.

Finally, I think it's fair to say that the Spanish, though they are taking painful strides to alleviate any worry about it, are still slightly fatigued from a long year in the trenches. Though it's hard to envision anybody outlasting David Ferrer in a battle of grinders, at this point, I'm not completely convinced that the Rafa who takes the court tomorrow is going to be the swift assassin that we have been accustomed to seeing.

That said, there may several ways to spin this thing, and some of them might make Argentina's chances look a little better than they actually are, but considering what's at stake, where they are playing and who they are playing, revenge might be a dish that never gets served.

Argentina will need a miracle to win this one, and that is a fact. For some reason (there is just something about Del Potro and, to a lesser extent, Nalbandian), I consider them to be capable of a miracle this weekend.

Though I don't expect it, I'm still excited to see them try.