Monday September 19th, 2011

Rafael Nadal

Days after losing the U.S. Open final, Rafael Nadal led Spain past France and into the Davis Cup finals. (Julio Munoz/Zuma Press)

Rafael Nadal was dominant in leading Spain past France in the Davis Cup semifinals, setting up a final against visiting Argentina later this year. Nadal headlines the list of heroes from the weekend's Davis Cup action, but a few of his countrymen lead the goats category.

HEROES

Rafael Nadal, Spain: No one knew what to expect from Rafa when he arrived in Cordoba, Spain. Was he too physically exhausted? Was he so mentally tapped as to lack the focus necessary to fend off an inspired French team? Would he even play at all?

I, of course, found myself slapping my own wrist for even doubting his ability to refocus. In two matches, he lost a total of 10 games, breezed through two bagel sets and demolished two quality players in Richard Gasquet (6-3, 6-0, 6-1) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6-0, 6-2, 6-4). He didn't drop a single point on serve in the first set against Tsonga, and lost only six points on his serve for the match. Neither Frenchmen played well, but given the circumstances, no one expected that level of domination from Nadal.

Of course, the result is a bit of a double-edged sword for the Spaniard. Having booked his country into the Davis Cup final, Nadal has now prolonged his season. The final is scheduled to take place during the first weekend of December.

So much for taking a break, huh Rafa?

Vasek Pospisil, Canada: What a run for the 21-year-old. Before this weekend, he was best known (if known at all) as one half of the doubles team that beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in the first round of Toronto in 2010. But if you didn't know Pospisil before, you definitely know him now.

The young Canadian turned in a hero-making performance this weekend as he single-handedly propelled his country back into the World Group, securing two points on his own and teaming with Daniel Nestor to get a third. He kicked it off with a five-hour epic on Friday to beat Dudi Sela, then turned around to join Nestor in pulling off a shocker over Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich on Saturday. The accomplished Israeli duo had dropped only one match at home in almost 10 years. The tie went to a decisive fifth rubber on Sunday, and the young man they call "Vashy" summoned all the strength he had in his young legs to finish it off in straight sets over Amir Weintraub. Three matches, three points and Canada will compete in the elite World Group in 2012.

As they say north of the border, "Go Canada Go."

Mikhail Youzhny, Russia: Youzhny is known for his post-match Russian military salute and he is no stranger to Davis Cup heroics. He led Russia to its first Davis Cup title in 2002 by becoming the first man to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a decisive fifth-set rubber. He added to his Davis Cup resume on Sunday, outlasting Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci 2-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 14-12. Youzhny saved two match points and fought through leg cramps to win the match and force a fifth and decisive rubber, which Dmitry Tursonov was able to win. Thanks to Youzhny's battle, the Russians will keep their spot in the World Group.

GOATS

Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, Spain: After Nadal and David Ferrer turned in overwhelming performances on Friday to build a 2-0 lead over France, Lopez and Verdasco had a prime opportunity to not only secure the tie for Spain but also ensure that Rafa wouldn't have to play another match over the weekend. Granted, it wasn't going to be easy to beat Michael Llodra and Tsonga, with Llodra being an experienced doubles player and Tsonga being the explosive athlete that he is. But Lopez and Verdasco turned in the worst doubles performance of any Spanish duo in Davis Cup history, winning a measly three games in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 loss. For such an experienced doubles team, that's just embarrassing.

Sunlight: As if the Australia/Switzerland tie couldn't get odder, the fifth and decisive rubber between Stanislas Wawrinka and Lleyton Hewitt was suspended for light with Wawrinka up 5-3 in the fifth set. Aussie captain Patrick Rafter was on the referees for most of the match, complaining that the match should have been suspended early in the second set. Roger Federer didn't exactly disagree, noting that the match probably should have been suspended earlier in the fifth set when it was even at 2-2. Either way, it's just one more curiosity to add to this tie, which will resume in the morning with Hewitt serving to stay in the match.

Injuries: Injuries ruined what could have been an epic weekend of competitive play. Serbia was effectively knocked out by Djokovic's ailing back and ribs, depriving the Belgrade crowd of an opportunity to celebrate its hero's return and a chance to watch the highly anticipated match with Juan Martin del Potro. Of course, Djokovic wasn't the only one whose injuries derailed his country's Davis Cup campaigns. Chile's top man, Fernando Gonzalez, was felled by a leg injury, and let's not even talk about the number of players who were playing sick or injured over the weekend. It's a broken record, obviously, and we all know the season is long and grinding. It's just a bummer to see a premier competition affected.

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