Smith outflanked in epic battle between captains
RARELY has the role of captain been more challenging in a Davis Cup tie and for a while it looked as if Leon Smith had demonstrated his tactical mastery to winning effect in deploying his troops as he did at The Emirates Arena.
The British captain could hardly have done things much better in the circumstances, but in the end Daniel Orsanic, his wily opposite number, made the decision that mattered when sending the ninth highest Argentinian on the world rankings into the fray to replace his best player in the decisive match.
Even after Juan Martin del Potro had dropped his heavy hints after Saturday’s doubles that he was not going to play in the reverse singles, explaining how careful he has to be at this stage of his comeback, Leonardo Mayer, his doubles partner, had been by no means the obvious choice.
Indeed, by the end of the weekend, Federico Delbonis found himself in what may be the unique position of being his country’s highest-ranked singles player, yet deemed surplus to requirements having only been nominated for the doubles and then withdrawn in favour of Del Potro.
The decision had clearly wrongfooted the home team as was acknowledged Dan Evans, who had been brought into the British line-up completely fresh for that final match, albeit the Englishman was at pains to stress that he regarded that as no sort of excuse and instead praised the Argentinians for the way they had ultimately out-manoeuvred the home team when sending all of their players out to warm-up on the final day.
“We sort of had an idea, but they played it pretty well.
“That’s Davis Cup isn’t it? It’s a good way of keeping your cards close,” he said.
Smith looked to have boxed clever in leaving himself in the position of being able to field a fresh, in-form, highly motivated player, particularly when it was confirmed that Argentina’s best player had run his course, the five-hourand-four minute singles match on Friday, followed by Saturday’s doubles outing, proving as much as del Potro’s body could handle just a couple of months into his comeback from career threatening injury problems.
That seemed ever more the case when Evans registered the only break of serve in the first set and Orsanic accepted that there had been cause for concern on their side of the net.
“Leo’s match was something we believed could happen, but it was a good effort from his point of view after he played a nervous first set,” said the Argentina captain.
“He then came out with his best tennis, the tennis we used to see from him that has won us a lot of Davis Cup matches.”
Orsanic’s planning had been derailed as it emerged that even in defeat at the start of the weekend, Britain’s talisman Andy Murray had come close to turning the match his team’s way by demanding what he had of Del Potro as both played the longest matches of their careers.
“A lot has happened this weekend beginning with an incredible match between Del Potro and Murray,” he said.
“Juan Martin gave more than he had in that match so that win had a very high cost. Originally we thought he would play in the reverse singles, but after Friday we couldn’t think about that.
“There were a few cards we had to keep for ourselves to keep Great Britain thinking about what I would do.”
The decisions of the generals rise and fall on the wit and will of their men in the field, however, and while Evans, who has recently reached his career high of 53 in the world, did everything he could he rightly accepted that he had not been in the game once Mayer, who has had a devastating loss of form since reaching world No.21 status little more than a year ago to drop to his current 114th, began to feed off the confidence of having been given his captain’s trust.
In particular, his service from that point proved unbreakable as he beat Evans into submission, a verbal warning for offensive language during the closing set a symptom of the beaten man’s frustration.
Smith is right to be pleased with the way the quality of his options has improved even since his team won the Davis Cup last year, but overall it is still not a match for the talent available to Orsanic.
We sort of had an idea, but they played it pretty well. That’s Davis Cup isn’t it. It’s a good way of keeping your cards close
OVERJOYED: The Argentine players embrace at the end of Mayer’s match.