The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week the focus is on the Davis Cup final.
The last time Spain faced Argentina in the Davis Cup final, in 2008, the Spaniards pulled off an upset on foreign soil despite the absence of an injured Rafael Nadal. The loss left the Argentines in tears and turmoil.
Fernando Verdasco was the hero that final day, rallying from two sets to one down to beat Jose Acasuso on an indoor hardcourt and clinch the third of Spain's four Davis Cup titles. It was another agonizing loss for Argentina in its quest to finally win the team competition, a title that the three-time runner-up has put on a pedestal as a prime sporting accomplishment.
The Argentines face a daunting task in this year's final, which begins Friday. Argentina will be playing in Seville, on clay, against a Spanish team that has won 20 consecutive ties at home and features Nadal (14-0 in Davis Cup singles on clay) and David Ferrer (11-0) along with Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.
Argentina will come in as the underdog, but it can't be discounted as David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro are formidable, highly motivated talents, while Juan Monaco has played well lately and knocked off Ferrer on an indoor court at the Valencia Open earlier this month. (Juan Ignacio Chela and Eduardo Schwank are also options for captain Tito Vazquez.)
Nalbandian has been a Davis Cup stalwart, going 33-10 overall, 22-5 in singles and 10-1 in singles on clay. He has made clear the importance of winning this event, and his single-minded pursuit recalls that little short story by Herman Melville about a man and a whale. As the years tick on and "El Rey" finds himself closer to the sunset of his career, the 29-year-old is likely more driven than ever to make the most of every opportunity.
The 64th-ranked Nalbandian took most of the fall season off to heal his body and train for the final. No. 11 Del Potro did the same after the U.S. Open, playing a few indoor tournaments toward the end of the season to tune up. They've clearly made Davis Cup a priority and have positioned themselves to bring their A-games. At their best, they can beat anyone. But neither has shown his best for quite some time.
As for Spain, Nadal has lost only one best-of-five match on clay in his career (against Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open), and Ferrer, like Nadal, has that spotless Davis Cup singles record on the dirt. That said, the Spanish Nos. 1 and 2 come into the tie at less than full strength, having played a long year that included appearances at the ATP World Tour Finals in London last week. Between the physical and emotional weariness of Nadal and Ferrer, and a regular doubles team of Verdasco and Lopez that hasn't performed particularly well this year, Argentina may have some openings. One of the key questions for Thursday's draw is how Argentina's Vazquez approaches the opening rubbers. Will he throw No. 26 Monaco to the wolves and nominate him to play Nadal with the intention of saving Nalbandian for doubles and reverse singles? Or does he open with Del Potro and the more experienced Nalbandian, hoping that Nalbandian can score a win? I don't envy the decision, but given Nadal's skill on clay, I have to think Vazquez will go with Monaco.