Wow. Next time you hear me calling for a drastic revamping of the Davis Cup format, just tell me to kindly shut my trap. After this weekend's rousing final between Spain and Argentina, it's painfully clear that if anything needs to be wiped off the men's tennis calendar, it certainly isn't an emotionally gratifying event like La Copa Davis. Take off a few 250 events, even scrap the World Tour Finals if you have to, just leave the Davis Cup alone.
It's a total 180 for me, as I've been in the Davis Cup revamp camp for quite some time, but after being moved to tears on several occasions over the course of an amazing Davis Cup weekend, I now realize that having an international team tennis competition has to be a priority of massive importance to the tennis powers that be.
Granted, this weekend's final was a perfect storm. We had the forlorn Argentines, desperate to pull the miracle on Spain's home dirt. We had probably the best clay court player of all-time, looking to cement his Davis Cup legacy. We had young (Nadal, Del Potro) players looking to carry the old and grizzly veterans (Ferrer and Nalbandian) who were questing for swan songs. We had tennis-mad fans of every age, singing, dancing, laughing, crying.
You don't get this perfect storm anywhere else in tennis, and there lies the hidden unassailable beauty of the event. Even in a Grand Slam, there isn't quite the magnetic pull for the players, but with the pressure to perform for country, for family, and for your peers so high in Davis Cup, it provides the impetus for more soul-churning, gut-wrenching effort than any other competition.
I think that we all, as tennis fans, fantasize about the event where retirements are an impossibility. We secretly long for tennis players to earn the term gladiator, letting the competition preclude health concerns. You have a pulled groin? Tough it out. You snapped your elbow on that last 100 m.p.h forehand? Get some tape. What, your leg feels like it's going to fall off? Do you not hear the enlivened cries of your compatriots?
Well, this weekend, that fantasy came true. This was tennis on a primal level. Nothing was going to keep Juan Martin Del Potro from leaving every ounce of his being out there on that clay, even as he was fighting what was perhaps the most uphill battle in the history of tennis (nobody has ever beaten Rafa on clay in Davis Cup, and perhaps nobody ever will), you could feel Del Potro being willed forward by a higher power. Amazingly, in spite of the fact that he suffered two backbreaking losses, they were not soul-crushing. In fact, I think that Del Potro's stature has risen two-fold, both in the eyes of his compatriots and in the eyes of Spain. Hopefully, in his own eyes, too.
We don't even need to mention the stature of the five-time Davis Cup champion Spaniards, or the greatness of Nadal. But I will say this: Nadal's greatest gesture of the competition might have come after the last ball was struck. After joining his teammates in a celebratory dance, he quickly moved to the net to console his downtrodden victim. When he was done, he didn't go back to partying with his boys. He headed to the Argentine side of the court and congratulated each and every person on their team in a heartfelt manner.
As the Spanish celebration continued, Spain's players quickly gravitated to the Argentine side and surrounded the dejected Del Potro, offering him kind words. Moments later, Del Potro would rise from his chair and thank the crowd to a thick round of applause, fit for a king. He wasn't the king of the clay, but he was king to many in attendance, even in defeat.
It was yet another beautiful moment that only Davis Cup could have produced, one of so many that occurred over the course of this final.