The Argentine team. Photo via Clarín

After winning the Davis Cup in 2016 for the first time, the Argentine Davis Cup team is off to a rocky start in its road to defend the championship even before playing the first point of the first game.

The refusal of two of its best vetted players — Juan Martín Del Potro and Federico Delbonis — to take part in the round 16 series against Italy this weekend has forced coach Daniel Orsanic to put up a B-squad that will definitely not be a crowd favorite, even having the advantage of playing at home with the support of the always loud Argentine fans. On top of everything, the next best ranked player, Diego Schwartzman (53rd in the ATP ranking), is struggling with a minor injury with his right foot and might not be available to play either.

As of now, the Argentine roster is comprised by Schwarzman, Guido Pella (84th), Carlos Berlocq (81st) and Leonardo Mayer (147th).

Italy did not just take an 11-hour flight to enjoy some empanadas, they came to win. In contrast with Orsanic’s struggle to assemble a roster, Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti is counting on his three top-70 players Paolo Lorenzi (43rd), Fabio Fognini (48th) and Andreas Seppi (68th), as well as skilled doubles specialist Simone Bolelli.

Despite all of this, coach Orsanic remains optimistic. He confirmed that 24 year old Renzo Olivo (88th) will step in for Schwarzman in case he doesn’t make it, and said of ‘the four players who will end up representing us, we are confident they do it with dignity.” He is bringing both older and younger players, balancing fitness, and experience on the court.

Coach Orsanic. Photo via La Nación.
Coach Orsanic. Photo via La Nación.

26 year old Guido Pella (84th) is physically fit to play, but Orsanic may have to think long and hard about whether to send him to the court in the end: the Bahía Blanca born himself admitted his mentality — arguably as important as athletic prowess for tennis players — has been weak since the Davis Cup final: “It tore me apart mentally, now I’m paying for it” he said in an interview with Clarín after losing in the first round of the Australian Open.

However, as contradicting as this may sound, he believes that playing for his country once again will enable him to regain his confidence: “After Australia I took a couple days off to clear my head. Thinking about representing Argentina again made me recover very quickly, I’m very happy to be here,” he said. On the bright side, both Carlos Berlocq and Leonardo Mayer bring maturity and a lot of experience to the court.

Even though the team is confident, they definitely do not underestimate their European opponent. Berlocq explained, ”To win the trophy was historic, but it was in the past. Now we have to think about this year. Yes, it’s a special series, but that’s good for us, it’s forcing us to put in the maximum and a little more.” “We certainly hope their hard work will lead to another historic win,” he added.

It will definitely be an uphill battle, but Argentina’s Davis Cup team is no stranger to heroic victories. This roster expects the stadium that will be set up at Parque Sarmiento will witness yet another one.