Buenos Aires is quite different than Moscow. Clay is also a surface in which Russia does not feel very comfortable, indeed. Definitely, Nikolay Davydenko is not Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov is no longer the amazing player he used to be. These are the main reasons why the new edition of the memorable ties between Russia and Argentina is not as balanced as it was only seven months ago.
Argentina easily obtained the first two points in Davis Cup quarterfinals after David Nalbandian swept 3-0 Nikolay Davydenko and Gaston Gaudio did the same against the legendary Kafelnikov. Now Russia faces elimination and has to win the doubles rubber on Saturday if still wants to progress in the series. However, with Marat Safin still in doubt it will be a hard boat to row.
There were no worries for Argentina in Friday's victory over Russia. From the outset, it was clear that the Russians were going to have their work cut out for them. Without Marat Safin in the court, an inexperienced Nikolay Davydenko made his best to challenge ATP's tenth David Nalbandian. The Argentinean went ahead very soon securing the first two sets 6-2, 6-2 and the third 5-1. Then, the rain came and the match had to be interrupted for thirty minutes in which Davydenko, as he admitted later, was asked to "resist at least ten services." He did it and balanced the set 5-5 taking Nalbandian out of the game. However, Davydenko lost his service after two consecutive non-forced errors paving the path for the first Argentine triumph of the day, 7-5 in the last set.
Russian delegation looked disappointed after the first defeat but started recovering hopes when Kafelnikov begun to play at good level. However, the enthusiasm vanished soon as his opponent Gaston Gaudio started showing why he never lost a game playing Davis Cup in Buenos Aires. He caught up Kafelnikov's level and took the first set 6-4. Since then, Gaudio played at his highest level and Kafelnikov did not find neither technical nor physical answers to challenge his rival. As Kafelnikov faded, Gaudio secured the rubber 6-0, 6-2.
After the game, Kafelnikov told PRAVDA.Ru that he did not feel tired and, even when during the game he had complained about court conditions, he lost the game because Gaudio had "overwhelmed" him. "I feel good. The problem for me is the lack of official games I've played this year", he added.
On Saturday, Russia will play the decisive doubles rubber. However, it is not clear whether the appointed Kafelnikov and Safin will take part of the game or not. Safin is said to be still injured on his right ankle and could be replaced by Mikhail Youzhny. "We have not many variants for the doubles rubber; you know what is the situation", told Kafelnikov to reporters. No matter the case, Russia has to win if still wants to have chances to repeat 2002's title.
Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina
Photo: Overwhelmed Yevgeny Kafelnikov: "Gaudio did not let me play at my level", admitted later.