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'Something spectacular' for Spain Add to ...

In the great operatic production that is tennis in Spain, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco are mere spear-carriers. Until now better known for their matinee idol good looks and the lack of the mental toughness it takes to get to the very top, they had their centre-stage moment on the weekend as the visiting Spaniards defeated host Argentina 3-1 in Mar del Plata to win their third Davis Cup since 2000. After Argentine stalwart Davis Nalbandian got the home side off to a strong start with a one-sided 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over David Ferrer in the opening singles on Friday, Lopez used his potent serve and accomplished net play to defeat rising Argentine star Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-3 in the second match. He and Verdasco, both lefthanders, then overcame Nalbandian amd Augustin Calleri 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-3 in Saturday's doubles to give Spain a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five match final. That set up Sunday's fourth match between Verdasco, subbing for Ferrer after his poor performance against Nalbandian, and Jose Acasuso, replacing del Potro who injured his groin near the end of his loss to Lopez on Friday. So it all came down to a confrontation between world No. 16 Verdasco and the No. 48-ranked Acasuso. At the end of the year that has been marked by much talk of fatigue and injuries on both the men's and women's tours, Verdasco defeated Acasuso 6-3, 6-7(3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a match that took its final turn when the Argentine pulled a stomach muscle late in the fourth set. "Chucho," as he is known to the Argentine crowds, started feebly in the final set and, though he later had moments of appearing to play reasonably pain-free, Verdasco was too solid and was soon on his back on the court with his team-mates piling on top of him to celebrate his victory. Best known of late as Ana Ivanovic's boyfriend, Verdasco scored a win that capped a sensational year for Spanish tennis - with Rafael Nadal winning the French Open, Wimbledon, and Olympic gold as well as reaching the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career. Unable to play because of ongoing tendinitis in his right knee, Nadal was contacted at home in Majorca by the Spanish TV network shortly after Verdasco won. "We've achieved something spectacular and unforgettable," he said. "Argentina has had many ties (13) without losing at home. Fernando was great, especially in the fourth set, and Feli (Lopez) had a terrific final." A significant factor in the final was Nalbandian, long known as a miserable cuss on the men's tour, and singularly unpopular with the media for his consistently churlish temperament. After the doubles loss on Saturday, he left without meeting the media and was fined $10,000 (U.S.) by Davis Cup officials. It was also reported in various media that he had some kind of argument with Calleri following the match. Lopez and Verdasco are both from Madrid and good friends. That may have made the difference in the doubles, as Lopez noted afterward. "They began to help each other less and less," Lopez said about Saturday's match. "I was physically down in the third set and Fernando helped me. They did not do that, maybe it's because we know each other better." Nalbandian, who would have played Lopez in the fifth match had Acasuso prevailed against Verdasco, did sit courtside beside Calleri at times yesterday but it is rumoured that he does not get along with some other team-mates, including the emerging del Potro. A man who once declared, "tennis is a profession not a passion," Nalbandian had hoped winning the Davis Cup at home would provide a certain validation for what is widely perceived as an under-achieving career. But fate did not go his way. His aloof and egocentric behaviour stands in stark contrast to the familial feeling among the Spaniards, who spent a lot of time, after winning Sunday, acknowledging the contributions in earlier 2008 rounds of absent team-mates Nadal, Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo. For captain Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, big brother of three-time French Open champion Arantxa, it was a reward for putting his faith in Lopez and Verdasco. According to Davis Cup radio, to inspire his team before the final began, he wrote, "Yes We Can - president Emilio Obama" on a board in the locker room, referring to a campaign slogan of the United States President-elect Barack Obama. The camaraderie of the Spaniards was evident after their victory as they frolicked on court following the presentation ceremonies. At one point Lopez, through Spanish television, was connected to Nadal in Majorca and the two revelled in the victory via a satellite connection. Later, Lopez stood holding a Spanish flag and displaying it as if it were a bullfighter's cape, pretending to be a toreador as Sanchez-Vicario, Ferrer and others playfully charged through it. It was a disappointing weekend for Acasuso, del Potro and Calleri, as well as Nalbandian. But, unfortunately for the Argentines, the latter's conduct makes it look as if it was the good guys who won this year's edition of the Davis Cup. LIST of CHAMPIONS - 1900-2008 United States 32 Australia 28 Great Briton 9 France 9 Sweden 7 Germany 3 Spain 3 Russia 2


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