Argentina advanced to their fourth Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final on Sunday with a 3-2 in over holders Serbia, having taken an unassailable 3-1 lead after world No. 1 Novak Djokovic retired in the day’s opening reverse singles against Juan Martin Del Potro.
The Argentine, who had lost all his previous four matches against Djokovic and taken only one set in the process, was leading 76(5) 3-0 when the Serb went down with a painful scream and had to be helped to his bench by team mates and captain Bogdan Obradovic.
Djokovic, who won the U.S. Open title on Monday and returned to Serbia less than 24 hours before the tie started, looked a pale shadow of the player who has won three grand slam events and seven other tournaments this season, having lost only two matches during his impressive run.
Lacking the spark that saw him beat Rafael Nadal six times in as many finals this season, Djokovic somehow held on in a knife-edged first set although his body language revealed he had not fully recovered from the gruelling exertions in New York and the long trip home.
Del Potro claimed the first set after taking three of the last four points in the tie-break and then broke serve for the first time in the second game of the second set, before Djokovic blazed a forehand wide to give him a 3-0 and went down in anguish with a rib and lower back injury.
The tearful home crowd favourite embraced Del Potro and received a standing ovation from the 18,000 home crowd before he limped off to the dressing room.
"I feel very disappointed to end the tie in this way, I tried although I was only 60 percent fit and I got into the match knowing there was a risk of aggravating the injury which I first felt at the U.S. Open," Djokovic told a news conference.
"We knew my condition was not good but we believed that even so I would have a better chance against Del Potro than my team mate Viktor Troicki would, at the end of the day it was my decision and it backfired.”
"I am not saying I would have won if I had been 100 percent fit because Del Potro played at a very high level today and never in my professional career did I struggle with my return of serve as I did today.”
"The important thing now is to determine the extent of my injury and how long it will take me to recover, I was able to battle through the pain in the U.S. Open final but not today," said Djokovic.
The Serbs had never previously lost a Davis Cup tie in the Arena and Djokovic also had a perfect singles record in the impressive venue seating 20,000 fans, but their proud record was always in jeopardy after the Argentines took a 2-0 lead after the opening singles rubbers on Friday.
Nenad Zimonjic and Viktor Troicki, who won Saturday’s doubles for Serbia against Juan Monaco and Juan Ignacio Chela, briefly revived Serbia’s hopes of advancing into their second successive final, but a fired-up Del Potro, graceful in victory, shattered those dreams with an effervescent performance.
"I feel sorry for Djokovic because he has had an incredible season and I hope he recovers quickly," Del Potro said. "He must have felt a little tired after returning from New York, he made a very good challenge today but I was very confident with my serve and forehand and delighted that we have gone into the final.”
"It was a great match to play in front of his crowd who were really fantastic, I really enjoyed playing here and we are going to Spain knowing that they are the favourites but hopeful that we can win finally the Davis Cup," he said.
Three-times runners-up Argentina will meet Spain in the 2011 showpiece after the quadruple Davis Cup by BNP Paribas champions, who won the title in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009, beat France 4-1 having claimed both reverse singles on Sunday.
Interview: Del Potro