Rafael Nadal had no trouble against Richard Gasquet on Friday in Cordoba. (Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters)
Some observations from a busy day of Davis Cup action:
• Argentina strong on the road: The Argentines are in position to win a Davis Cup semifinal on foreign soil for the first time after sweeping the two singles matches on Friday in Serbia.
David Nalbandian, a Davis Cup stalwart, led off by winning in four sets against Viktor Troicki, who replaced an ailing Novak Djokovic. Juan Martin del Potro followed Nalbandian's victory by playing what he described as "maybe one of my best matches of the season," defeating Janko Tipsarevic 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Argentina can eliminate the defending champions with a victory in Saturday's doubles match. Juan Ignacio Chela and Juan Monaco are scheduled to face Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic. But don't be surprised if Argentina captain Tito Vazquez subs in Nalbandian on the double team. Nalbandian is an inspirational figure for the Argentines and a player who is 33-10 (including 11-5 in doubles) in Davis Cup play.
• The healing power of red clay: France's Richard Gasquet wasn't at his best to say the least, but that shouldn't take anything away from Rafael Nadal's performance in Cordoba, Spain. Just four days after a physically exhausting and emotionally draining loss to Djokovic in the U.S. Open final, Nadal stepped onto his beloved red clay and thrashed Gasquet 6-3, 6-0, 6-1. He was quick, efficient and devastating. He was all three things because he had to be.
“I’m close to the end of my energy,” Nadal told reporters after improving to 13-0 on clay in Davis Cup competition. “I’m not in perfect condition physically, I know that. If the match stays longer, it will be very difficult for me.”
Nadal may not be needed over the weekend, in part because French captain Guy Forget's gamble backfired Friday. Forget benched Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in hopes that Gilles Simon could beat David Ferrer like he did in their last matchup, on the Cincinnati hardcourts in August. Then, the thinking went, France could win the doubles point and have a fresher Tsonga ready to meet Nadal on Sunday.
Spain foiled the strategy. Ferrer dominated Simon 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 to put the Spaniards one victory away from yet another final. If Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez can win the doubles rubber and thus render the reverse singles meaningless, there will be no happier Spaniard than Rafael Nadal. My guess at his celebration of choice? A nice long nap.
• Australia hangs with Switzerland: For about four hours, Australia's decision to play its World Group playoff against Switzerland on grass was looking genius. Bernard Tomic knocked off a slumping Stanislas Wawrinka 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and Lleyton Hewitt built on the momentum by taking the first set and going up an early break in the second against Roger Federer. The Aussies clearly appeared comfortable on the low-bouncing grass at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, where they had practiced all week before the Swiss arrived.
Federer, however, eventually turned it around and rallied past Hewitt 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3. The teams head into the weekend tied at 1-1, with former Olympic doubles gold medalists Federer and Wawrinka set to take on Chris Guccione and Hewitt. But perhaps the most exciting prospect for the weekend: Tomic, 18, will take on his idol, the 30-year-old Federer, in the reverse singles on Sunday. Asked about his prospects, Tomic gave a typically blunt and unassuming answer. ''I just pray that he doesn't like my game, that's it," Tomic said. "If he likes it, then I'm screwed.''
True, but here's one positive for the youngster: He made it as far as Federer did at Wimbledon this year (quarterfinals). It should be an interesting contrast of styles.
Can you imagine if the Aussies actually won this tie? Coupled with Sam Stosur's U.S. Open win, that would be quite a week for Australian tennis.
Here's the weekend schedule for the World Group semifinals:
ARGENTINA 2, SERBIA 0
Venue: Belgrade Arena, Belgrade, SRB (hard – indoors)
Saturday: Janko Tipsarevic/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) vs. Juan Ignacio Chela/Juan Monaco (ARG)
Sunday: Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)
Sunday: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) vs. David Nalbandian (ARG)
SPAIN 2, FRANCE 0
Venue: Plaza de Toros de los Califas, Cordoba, ESP (clay – outdoors)
Saturday: Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP) vs. Michael Llodra/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
Sunday: Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs Gilles Simon (FRA)Sunday: David Ferrer (ESP) vs. Richard Gasquet (FRA)