The Report Card hands out grades for the best and worst from the week in tennis.
Rafael Nadal: A. Yes, Nadal won both of his singles matches in the Davis Cup final, including the clinching point for Spain against Argentina in Seville. But Nadal earns top marks more for his sportsmanship. After dismantling good friend Juan Monaco 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 on Friday to give Spain a 1-0 lead, Nadal expressed a bit of remorse about the lopsided score. On Sunday, after rallying past Juan Martin del Potro 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (0) to wrap up Spain’s third title in four years, the world No. 2 broke away from his team celebration to console a tearful Del Potro at the net, then walked over to the Argentine bench to shake hands and exchange hugs with every member of the losing team.
Let’s face it, Nadal doesn’t have to be mindful of his opponents. No one would fault him if he just carried on with his celebration, as he would have every right to do. But the fact that he doesn’t lose himself in the moment and takes the time to compose himself and console his foes (let’s not forget his arm-around-the-shoulder of a tearful Roger Federer after the 2009 Australian Open final), is what elevates him from a great champion to an even greater sportsman.
Juan Martin del Potro: B-plus. It’s easy to forget that Del Potro was ranked as low as No. 485 this year after missing much of 2010 with a wrist injury. Now, the 2009 U.S. Open champion has finished the season just outside the top 10 (at No. 11) and, given his game performances against David Ferrer and Nadal (neither Spaniard has ever lost a Davis Cup singles match on clay), he seems poised to head into 2012 with his forehand blazing. That is, of course, if he can get over the heartbreak of the weekend.
If the Spain-Argentina tie turned on any match, it was Friday’s second singles rubber between Del Potro and Ferrer. I can’t say that this is a match that Del Potro should have won, but it’s definitely one he could have won. When he was unable to close out Ferrer in the fourth and let the set slip away, the big man just didn’t have anything left in his tank, shrinking in the fifth. From the tears he shed at the net to the shots of him sitting alone on the bench with a towel over his head, it was clear that Del Potro knew the loss meant a near-certain Davis Cup victory for Spain.
But, to his credit, Del Potro, after Argentina won Saturday’s doubles point to stay alive, came out Sunday and immediately put Nadal on his heels, taking the first set 6-1. Even more impressive was the fact that Del Potro got himself in position to serve for the fourth set at 5-4 after Nadal had raised his level to win the third 6-1. But perhaps the most eyebrow-raising, smile-inducing aspect of the match was the return of that monstrous Del Potro forehand, which he hit with laser precision in small bursts throughout the weekend. That shot, when firing, made even the likes of Nadal look ineffective on clay.
Unfortunately, Del Potro couldn’t sustain it. His footwork got sluggish, causing him to snatch at the ball and sail it long. But if Del Potro can overcome the emotional letdown from the weekend and channel that disappointment into working on his lower-body strength and fitness, he could be back in the top five next year.
David Ferrer: A+. The Little Man Who Could, did. His grueling five-set win over Del Potro effectively sealed the title for Spain and provided a great display of his fortitude. Belief has always been a big question mark for Ferrer, but he has shown recently in London (at the ATP World Tour Finals) and Seville that, maybe, just maybe, he believes he can, and should, beat the top players.
Tito Vazquez: B. I can’t give the Argentine captain an “A” when his side didn’t win. But he had some very tough decisions to make in this tie and, in the end, he made the right ones and put his men in a position to win. From choosing Eduardo Schwank over Juan Ignacio Chela in the doubles (Schwank turned out to be rock-solid when teamed up with David Nalbandian), to sending out Monaco against Nadal on Day 1 in order to save Nalbandian for later use, to using Del Potro instead of Nalbandian against Nadal on Sunday, these were tough calls that probably didn’t please everyone (Nalbandian was rumored to be unhappy riding the pine). But the Argentines had a chance here, and their captain did everything he could to get them there.
But it doesn’t look like Argentina’s tennis federation agrees: ESPN Deportes reports that Vazquez will not have his contract renewed for 2012. It’s a curious decision (assuming Vazquez wanted to return) considering Argentina’s strong run this year capped by a valiant performance in a final that it wasn’t expected to win.
Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez: D. “Oof.” That is all that can be said about the Spanish doubles team’s performance against Nalbandian and Schwank, as the Argentines staved off elimination with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win on Saturday. The score line is deceptive — it wasn’t even that close. Verdasco and Lopez, who play with each other frequently throughout the year, put on a clinic of how not to play doubles. The volleying, the returning, the lack of tactics — it was evident why the two had lost 10 of their last 11 matches together.
It will be interesting to see if Verdasco and Lopez stick together next year in a bid to represent Spain at the London Olympics. Are they really the best doubles team Spain has to offer? Nadal has won doubles titles with his good friend Marc Lopez, and Verdasco seemed to pair well with Marcel Granollers when the two took a set off the Bryan brothers during their Davis Cup tie in Austin, Texas, in July.
Oh, and let’s not even talk about Verdasco’s odd choice to wear the Spanish flag as a sarong on the podium as he accepted the Davis Cup trophy.