Amid debates about its popularity and relevance, and how troublesome it is to accommodate, the Davis Cup proved once more that it hits the spot few other tournaments can reach.
The final event of the tennis calendar was intensified by an Argentina team wanting this trophy perhaps more than any other nation, having been thwarted in three previous finals.
It added spice that they had fallen, at home, to a Nadal-less Spain, the last time they met—and that Spain was this time the hot favorite, back on home soil, on clay.
It injected some hope that Argentina fielded its three top players fit and injury-free and that Spain’s two top-five stars were bone-weary from their campaign at the World Tour Finals. The first of them, though, Rafael Nadal, had been here before and had proved his worth before.
He pointed out in London, “I’m lucky: If I’m not in the right condition, the captain can choose another player,” but all his compatriots—and there are six in the top 30 alone—knew that he would be first choice.
The six-time French Open champion has only ever lost one best-of-five-sets match on clay, against Robin Soderling in 2009, and his Davis Cup record was 18 wins to just one loss that came in his first ever match, as a 17-year-old, on his worst surface, indoor carpet.
Nadal had also tasted this atmosphere before. Spain is the most successful country of recent years. All four of its titles have come this millennium, including three in the last four years, and Nadal played a decisive part in two of them.
In 2009, he was part of a 5-0 whitewash of the Czech Republic, but his most dramatic role came in 2004 when more than 27,000 people saw Spain defeat the U.S.A., 3-2, in the magnificent Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla. The young Nadal beat Andy Roddick in four intense sets in the very stadium where he opened Spain’s campaign this year.
And if there were any doubts about his form after leaving the World Tour Finals at the round-robin stage, they were very quickly dismissed.