Argentine tennis’ golden years have passed and seem to be long gone. There was 2004, when three of the four Roland Garros semi-finalists were ours. Or 2009, when a young Juan Martín del Potro beat the legendary Roger Federer to get a win of the US Open and make us think we had a number one on our hands.
But 2015 started to take a turn for the better, as del Potro slowly made his way back from injury and was on the sidelines for this weekend’s Davis Cup round-of-sixteen match.
Argentina was to face eternal rival Brazil. Without veteran Juan Mónaco, it was Leonardo Mayer, Diego Schwarstman, Carlos Berlocq and Federico Delbonis who emerged victorious and reminded everyone why Argentina has a permanent spot in tennis’ Olympus.
The series didn’t start so well. Although Brazilian Joao Souza lacked Berlocq’s experience and had a lower ranking, he showed no signs of pressure and hit the ball like never before in his life. After 5 hours, Souza won the first point of the series.
Right after, Argentina’s highest-ranked player, Leonardo Mayer, (29th in the world) took the court by storm and beat Thomas Belucci in 4 sets to even things up. On Saturday, the always-key doubles game saw the experienced Brazilian team play like there was no one on the other side of the net. Diego Schwartsman and Carlos Berlocq didn’t pose any threat to the Melo-Soares team and left Argentina on the verge of facing the playoffs for the second year in a row.
But that’s when things started to go right. Mayer faced Souza for the 4th point to keep the team alive. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t short. 6 hours and 42 minutes were needed to see who was the victor in what was the longest Davis Cup game in history. Luckily, Souza fell first. “I played cramped up for four hours” stated “El Yacaré” when interviewed right after a game that had a final score of 7-6 7-6 5-7 5-7 15-13. He actually needed fluids and was taken to the hospital after taking part in the second-longest tennis match in history (the first being an eleven-long one in Wimbledon 2010 between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner).
Federico Delbonis and Thomas Belucci starred the fifth and decisive point. 8,000 Argentines, pumped up after Mayer’s victory, stood behind the Argentines and lifted him into winning the first set, but the lack of light stole his thunder and made the umpire suspend the game until Monday.
Key Monday and free tickets to watch the series’ end. Again, 8,000 fans crowded a stadium that had to shut its doors to prevent more people getting in. At first, it looked like Belucci had a better night’s sleep, as he won the second set by 6-3. But Delbonis showed how much the cup means to most Argentine players, and why despite maybe not having the best-ranked players at the moment, Argentina is always the final stages. He went right through his rival. 6-2, 7-5–pop the champagne.
Chants and cheer erupted from all sides of the arena, and the Argentine team fell into a huge, long-awaited hug. Of course, all the cameras aimed at Mayer, who was advised to rest in the hotel but didn’t want to miss the game and ignored the doctor’s orders.
Now the quarter-finals await. The opponent? Mighty Serbia, led by world-best Novak Djokovic. But now there’s a different scenario. With a healthy Del Potro and the advantage of playing at home, Argentina has nothing to envy in the European team. The series will take place between July 17-19, and will open another chapter on the country’s journey to get a trophy that has been dodging us for way too long.