Smith out­flanked in epic bat­tle be­tween cap­tains

The Herald - Herald Sport - - DAVIS CUP - KEVIN FER­RIE

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.

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