With defending Davis Cup champions Great Britain meeting Argentina in the World Group semi-finals at Glasgow, all eyes were on that all-important opening clash between the two Grand Slam champions Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro. Having witnessed their fireworks just a month back in the final of the Rio Olympics, an enthralling battle was always on the cards and the two stalwarts totally lived up to the expectations.
Del Potro, ranked only 64th, avenged his Rio Olympic defeat as he edged past his long-time rival, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 in a contest that lasted five hours and seven minutes. It was a result that did not go in favour of the crowd, who kept on rooting vociferously for the three-time Grand Slam champion, born in their own city. They ultimately could not prevent the second-ranked Murray’s first loss in 21 singles matches played at home.
But there’s no denying that the two men made every minute of this epic encounter worthy of a Davis Cup duel.
Credit should be given to the towering Argentine’s tenacity and perseverance. He was the one always under pressure after the World No. 2 took a two-sets-to-one lead. But he refused to give up, bringing back memories of that crucial 2009 US Open final which started it all for the 27-year-old. He was one set away from succumbing to the top seed Roger Federer in that clash too.
But he turned it around in a remarkable fashion to clinch his only Grand Slam title till date.
If anything, today’s Davis Cup match brought out those same qualities from the Tower of Tandil, who had to miss a major chunk of his last two seasons due to two wrist surgeries. Those hard months away from the competition and grind of the game had not diminished his passion for his sport even a bit. And we, as tennis fans, should be thankful for that.
Underlining thoroughly what we had missed the past few months, Del Potro embarked on a mission to make up for lost time. It was not easy considering Murray’s flourish this summer which presented him with a Wimbledon as well as an Olympic title for the second time in his career. The 29-year-old also led their head-to-head meetings, 6-2 prior to this.
But Del Potro had nothing to fear. Being the underdog, he was the one absolutely pressure-free whereas it was up to the Briton to lend an edge to their title defense.
The Argentine made his intentions quite clear from the outset. He broke Murray twice after coming back from 0-2 down. The backhand is still a work in progress but his display of aggression was enough to steal the first set 6-4. Andy’s count of 13 unforced errors did not help his cause at all.
Murry gets back in the game
In an arena where chants of “Andy we love you!” reverberated in the air, it was only fair that the Scot made a comeback.
And he did just that as hearts of the Murray fans kept on pounding. The second set was a hard-fought affair where none was eager to give the other an inch of space. With Del Potro misfiring a backhand, the World No. 2 levelled matters at one set apiece.
The third set was where the drama reached its peak. In a break fest, it was the Argentine who had the clear advantage after leading 5-3. Del Potro even held a set point but Murray used his guile to outfox his lanky rival by hitting a lob that saved the set point.
That turned the tide towards the homegrown hero and there was never any doubt that the Briton would let go of the momentum. He broke back and sealed the 85-minute third set in a tie-break (7-5).
It still did not discourage Del Potro to keep on trying. He has, after all, a renewed confidence and vigour after such a long hiatus. He put the pressure back on his higher-ranked rival right from the beginning of the fourth set.
The weary Murray cracked as his first serve percentage dropped to a paltry 50 and Del Potro capitalized on it immediately. The World No. 64 did not waste any time in sealing the fourth set and forcing a decider that was so deserving of such a captivating clash.
As Del Potro grew in confidence, his forehands became even more devastating. Murray was not the same player anymore. The Tandil native could sense a dip in Murray’s level who appeared more exhausted than Del Potro even though both of them needed a massage in this physical battle.
Del Potro finally struck one of his seven deadly forehands at a critical juncture of the decider from where Murray found no way to return. On break point in the seventh game, it was his screaming forehand-down-the-line that earned Del Potro the decisive break. Murray then went on to save a match point with one of his 35 aces but it was only a matter of time before the Argentine closed it out.
In a span of around six weeks, Del Potro has now accounted for three heavyweights of the game – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the Olympics and now Andy Murray. We can only hope that in no way, the former World No. 4’s health again becomes a hindrance to producing such magic on the court. If this is the kind of performance that he can put up in just seven months back, he can surely match his pre-injury days, if not better it, when he returns to full strength.