Italy returns to the Davis Cup World Group after 11 years in the Europe/Africa Zone Group, including four failed play-off attempts. It is a wonderful feeling for a nation with such a proud tradition and history in tennis - and which won the Davis Cup trophy back in 1976, against this weekend’s opposition and at this very venue.
It has been a tie with many reminders of that final. Both current captains were players then, and many of the players from 1976 were present for a tribute on Saturday before the doubles match. However, other things are not so similar.
The 1976 Italian team had a strong leader in Adriano Panatta, and good players that supported him very well. That is not the case now. Even Italian legend Nicola Pietrangeli has said that what the 2011 Italian team needs is a big champion, a Top 10 or Top 20 player who can build a strong team around him. They have Fabio Fognini, a very talented yet unpredictable force who was key in winning this tie, but is the youngest among his companions and needs to prove a couple of things before he could be considered a leader.
Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali are in their 30s, so Italy will need to find new blood to be able to support Fognini and Bolleli if they want to stay in the World Group long term. Next year they will surely have to face a seeded nation, a major challenge which they seem happy to face.
Chile, on the other hand, face more serious problems. Both Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu have been the heroes of a whole nation for more than a decade, winning Olympic gold medals in and ATP titles. All good things have to come to an end though, and many people will ask if this tie was the swansong of a golden era in Chilean tennis.
It may sound a little too much at first, but there have been signals along the way. In the ATP World Tour rankings Gonzalez is around No. 300 and Massu around No. 500 – in the case of Gonzalez, hip surgery and other injuries have not allowed him to play much this year, while Massu’s ranking is reflected by a mix of injuries and low performances.
Massu failed to survive his dead rubber against Bracciali, retiring with a pulled abdominal muscle when trailing his opponent 4-3, while Paul Capdeville managed to secure a consolation point for the hosts in the fourth rubber by overcoming Simone Bolleli 76(3) 62 to leave the final score at 4-1.
The younger Chilean players have still to make a big impression on the ATP Tour, so the expectations are weighted firmly on the shoulders of the 2010 Under 14 World Champions – a tournament where Chile defeated Italy 2-1 in the final in Prostejov last year.