Argentina have won the Davis Cup for the first time after Juan Martin Del Potro’s heroic comeback against Marin Cilic inspired a remarkable comeback against Croatia.
Heading into the final day in Zagreb, the ‘Albiceleste’ trailed Croatia 2-1. And with Del Potro two sets down against world number 6 Cilic on Sunday, it looked as if Argentina would be runners-up for the fourth time, having never won the Davis Cup in the competition’s 116 year history. But “Delpo”, playing with a broken finger in his left hand, produced a sensational fight-back to clinch the match in five, bringing the scores level again at 2-2.
Delpo’s heroics, however, would all have been in vain had it not been for a confident performance from Fernando Delbonis who swept aside the giant Croatian Ivo Karlovic in three sets to give Argentina a 3-2 victory, creating history in the process.
Delbonis, the world number 42, had produced an equally impressive display against a much tougher opponent in the form of Cilic, whom, like Del Potro, he also took to 5 sets. In that match, however, Cilic came away with victory. That five-set marathon was very much a sign of things to come in this hotly contested final, which over the course of the three days never failed to leave spectators both in Zagreb and here in Buenos Aires on the edge of their seats.
After Cilic’s triumph against Del Bonis, Argentina’s main man Del Potro took to the court against Ivo Karlovic. You don’t often see the Tower from Tandil come up against a figure who towers above him, but the 2.11 meter tall Croat did just that. Using every inch of his height to his advantage, the huge Croatian found form in the second set, producing an astonishing number of aces and clinching the set in 7-6 after a closely fought tie-break.
It felt that that might be a turning point in the match. Del Potro had previously never won a singles match in the Davis Cup, following three attempts in Argentina’s previous two finals in 2008 and 2011. As Karlovic brought this levels, you couldn’t help but feel that unfortunate record would remain unbroken. But from then on, Delpo dominated once more, breezing past Karlovic in the two subsequent sets. Victory at last for Del Potro. 1-1 going into Saturday’s doubles – everything to still to play for.
Del Potro, paired with Leandro Mayer, could not stop the impressive pairing of Cilic and Ivan Dogic from picking up the third point of the meeting as the Croatians showed their class in a three set victory. Going into the final day, Argentina needed two wins from two.
With both Croatians ranked significantly higher than their Argentine counterparts, that was a huge ask for the Del Potro and Delbonis but boy, did they deliver.
As Argentine sporting royalty looked on from the stands in the form of Diego Maradona, Del Potro produced a miniature of his 2016 against- the comeback to end all comebacks. After multiple wrist surgeries, and beginning the year outside the world’s top 1000, Del Potro’s tennis career felt all but dead and buried. But a resurgent few months, culminating in a heroic run in the Rio Olympics which saw Delpo come home with a silver medal, taught us never to doubt 2016’s comeback king.
After two tepid sets of tennis against Cilic and with the Croatians on the verge of victory, Delpo showed all the grit, determination and skill that have made him an sporting icon over this past year. After clinching the third set, the Argentine was at his powerful best in the fourth smashing forehand winner after forehand winner to bring the tie to a decisive fifth set. Deja vu? Cilic had been in the exact same situation two days before against Delbonis and it was the Croatian who triumphed on that occasion. But not this time. 2016 is the year of Delpo, and not even the classy world number six could stop this from being the Argentine’s defining moment. 5-3 in the final set, 40-0, three match points. With an unreturned serve out wide to Cilic’s backhand and a mighty roar, Del Potro completed his remarkable comeback and brought things back to all-square at 2-2.
“If this all ends well, this will be the most important victory of my entire life,” said Del Potro after defeating Cilic. And that means a lot, coming from the 2009 US Open champion. Fortunately for him, it did end well. As soon as Delbonis took to the court against Karlovic, you knew it would end well. Momentum was well and truly with the Argentines and a deflated Karlovic failed to offer much resistance to Debonis’ dominant display.
After what has been a less-than-satisfactory year on Argentine sport on an international level with the football team football team failing to produce the goods, Delbonis and Del Potro’s heroics gave the nation something pretty special to celebrate. After a 116-year wait, three lost finals and, for Del Potro, a career seemingly in the gutter, the sight of the Argentine team lifting the Davis Cup surrounded by some 4,000 Argentine fans was truly miraculous.