September 16, 2012

A Chance for Revenge

This past U.S. Open was a little different from other Majors we've seen the last several years. With Rafael Nadal out of the picture and Roger Federer sent home in the quarters, we saw a few less-familiar faces in the final weekend. And while the most experienced and most decorated were the ones eventually vying for the title, you have to think the others may have squandered a huge opportunity to play for a big trophy.

This weekend was their chance to swing the pendulum back in their favor.

The pressure was high on David Ferrer to carry Spain's mantle in New York with Nadal missing, and in making his second semifinal there, he arguably delivered. But he failed to capitalize on a one-set lead over Novak Djokovic and delayed his first career Slam final by at least another couple months. So he was sure to change things when he led his country in their Davis Cup tie this weekend. Playing on home soil, the defending champions were already at an advantage, and with Ferrer fired up their edge was that much greater.

Ferrer got off to a slow start, dropping his first set to resurgent American Sam Querrey on Friday, but rebounded quickly to get the first point for the Spaniards. Teammate Nicolas Almagro had a slightly tougher day, forced to his fourth five-setter of the year against big serving John Isner. But Nico was able to stay ever so slightly stronger and gave his country a two tie lead going into the doubles match. Things got a little tense over the weekend -- with the Bryan brothers finally putting the U.S. on the board, the tide very well could have turned. But Ferrer took the court again on Sunday, this time facing off against Isner, who'd actually won their last meeting less than a year ago. He lost the first set again, dropping a tiebreak to his opponent, but regrouped quickly to close out his match. The win put Spain in their fourth Davis Cup final in five year, but more importantly for their leader, redeeming his loss from just a week ago and putting him in a place to do even more amazing things the balance of this year.

Tomas Berdych had been in a slightly more precarious position all year. A staple in the top ten, he'd nevertheless been rather spotty this season, going winless on the grass and squandering match points versus Isner in the Winston-Salem final. In New York he'd pulled off the upset of the tournament, dominating world #1 Roger Fededer in the quarters, and even took a set off Andy Murray in the semis before the wind-torn match shifted the momentum. He needed to rebound quickly too, leading his Czech team against the three-time runner-up Argentines, and he more than performed.

He had to come from behind, though, even more than did Ferrer. Juan Martin Del Potro, himself on the mend this year, had given the South Americans an early lead with a fairly routine win over Radek Stepanek. Berdych, then, fell to a 1-2 set deficit to veteran clay courter Juan Monaco and lost a break lead in the decider. Momentum seemed to be on the home team's side, but the Czech stayed tough to even the score on Friday, then teamed with Stepanek to take the doubles tie and the lead into Sunday's play. With DelPo sitting out the reverse singles with injury, Berdych was able to dominate against substitute player Carlos Berlocq and clinch the win for the visiting team. And playing at the top of his game again, he might have erased a bit of the sting from his loss in the Big Apple.

The weekend's action sets up a repeat of the 2009 Davis Cup final, one which the Spaniards fully owned. Things may be a little different this time, with leaders on both teams looking as sharp as they have in some time. And with the pain of recent defeats hopefully gone, we're sure to see everyone put up some exciting fights when it really matters.

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