03 Dec 2006 - Olympic Stadium, Moscow, Russia - Joanne Burnham - RUS v ARG
Safin meets his destiny as he brings the Cup home
It was the same, but different. Marat Safin had been here before, having helped Russia to lift the Davis Cup in 2002 by playing three matches in three days. But this time, he had won the third point in a decisive fifth rubber, and done so in his hometown in front of his adoring public. It doesn’t get much better for any player.
Safin defeated Jose Acasuso 63 36 63 76(5) to hand Russia the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for the second time, denying Argentina the chance to become just the 13th different nation to raise the priceless trophy. This triumph in Moscow permanently banishes the memory of painful losses in the Davis Cup Finals held in this city in 1994 and 1995. Russia is a vastly different country to what it was then, and this is a completely different team, one representative of the new Russian order. With its strength in depth, other nations should be warned: it has the potential to dominate the world’s biggest team competition for many years to come.
Safin chosen over Tursunov
“This one is the most valuable one,” said an elated Safin about this Davis Cup title. He admitted that his captain Shamil Tarpischev had had to choose between fielding him or Dmitry Tursunov in the decisive singles, but in the end went for him.
If the 2002 victory hinged on Mikhail Youzhny, who was on the team this weekend but ultimately played no part, this 2006 triumph was all about Marat Safin, the lowest-ranked but most iconic of the hosts’ line-up, who said he was prepared to play all three days and recovered from a disastrous start in this final to redeem himself – and his below average season – in spectacular fashion.
“I would say I had a rather good finish of the year,” said Safin in typical laconic fashion. “It motivates you well to stay in tennis and to continue your career. The victory in the Davis Cup is about one of the best events in one's career.”
Acasuso contributed to quality match
The fifth rubber of the 2006 Davis Cup Final was a high-quality affair, and Jose Acasuso played no small part in that. He was thrown into the fray at the 11th hour, David Nalbandian having forced the decider with a four-set win over Nikolay Davydenko in Sunday’s first singles match.
Acasuso, Argentina’s No. 2 player and the world No. 27, is just one ranking spot lower than Safin, and led the Russia 2-1 in previous encounters. But the two-time Grand Slam champion’s greater experience in big matches both in and out of Davis Cup was crucial to a win that left the Argentine shattered and in tears at the side of the court.
“We both tried to play our best game because otherwise we had no chance,” said Safin. “I had no chance to beat Chucho Acasuso because he was playing great tennis, serving well and pretty solid from the baseline. It was a big tournament for him, a big final, and unfortunately lack of experience was the key here in important moments.”
Acasuso: “I’m sad”
“I'm sad for having lost,” said a devastated Acasuso. “I'm sad because I gave it a hundred percent. I showed a great level of game. It didn't work for us. On the one hand I feel sad because we did everything, we were so close to it. On the other hand, I'm happy with the way I played today.”
This was the 20th time that a Davis Cup Final has gone to the decisive fifth rubber, and the fourth time in the last six years. With the weight of history perhaps pressing heavier on Acasuso’s shoulders, the Argentine got off to a disastrous start. Safin meanwhile couldn’t miss, his powerful serving confirming the turnaround that had begun with Saturday’s doubles victory, after his dismal loss to Nalbandian on Friday.
Opening set to Safin
One break of Acasuso’s serve in the second game of the match was enough to give Safin the opening set in 30 minutes. The Argentine looked out of his depth in what was just his third live Davis Cup rubber, having only made his debut in the competition at the beginning of 2006.
But the Argentine was getting more comfortable with his surroundings, and began to work his way into the match at the end of the first set. He started to pressurise the Safin serve more in the second, and having survived two break points when leading 3-2, used that momentum to get a break himself in the next game, sealing it with a stunning crosscourt forehand winner.
This match, by far the best of the Final, was all about winners created from angles and hit deep into the corners, about solid serving and subtle changes of pace. It was also all about the crowd – every seat in the 11,500-seater arena was full, with the majority 10,000 Russian spectators putting all their heart into drowning out the vociferous travelling band of 1,000 Argentines.
Second set Acasuso
Acasuso’s break secured him the second set, and the final was all square again. But Safin broke in the second game of the third set, and Acasuso lost his focus, using a medical timeout for treatment to his right ankle after the fifth game as a chance to regroup.
It seemed to do the trick – he held in spectacular fashion and then broke back for a 4-3 lead, but the South Americans’ joy was short-lived, as Safin immediately went up another break. A service hold for the Russian handed him a two-sets-to-one lead, and the Davis Cup title was within reach.
With the tension and the quality of the tennis cranked up still higher in the fourth set, both men were untouchable on their serve in the decider, forcing the first tiebreak of the weekend at the most crucial moment. Safin got ahead first, his 16th and final ace of the match helping to opening up a 4-2 lead, and then he had two match points at 6-4. Acasuso valiantly saved the first, but destiny was on Safin’s side, and he closed out his momentous victory with yet another unreturnable serve.
Triumph for Russia; disaster for Argentina
The Russian stumbled, dazed, into the arms of his teammates as they invaded the court and hoisted him onto their shoulders in what is now a Russian tradition. Triumph on one side of the net was balanced by disaster on the other as Acasuso sat with his head in his hands on the Argentine bench, inconsolable.
Argentina’s captain, Alberto Mancini, admitted that the doubles rubber on Saturday had probably been pivotal to the outcome of the final, and that the visitors had been surprised at how easily they’d lost that match. But after watching his team come so close to lifting the Davis Cup trophy, he said, “I'm proud of every member of the team. They did everything they could. They left everything inside the court. They really played very good during the weekend.”
Said Russian captain Tarpischev, “There is part of the truth to what he [Mancini] says because the doubles was a key to the tie in many senses. You also have to look at the whole series of five rubbers. You have to look at the work load.”
Tarpischev right again
When asked why he finally chose Safin over Tursunov to play the crucial rubber, Tarpischev responded: “What spoke in favour of Marat was the expertise he had in such matches. He went through all the trials and tribulations in his career. He had more expertise. It was clear to me that he could be playing a bit worse or a bit better, but he can't just fail in such kind of match.”
As has so often been the case as this wise captain has steered his charges to the Davis Cup title this year, Tarpischev was proved right in Moscow this weekend.