David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank, partnering for the first time, eased to a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Spanish pair Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez at Olympic Stadium.
The South Americans broke five times and repelled each of the three they faced against their Spanish counterparts to extend the tie into Sunday. The visitors need to sweep reverse singles to become the first team in 72 years to rally from a 2-0 deficit.
“We played a great game. We’re in very good shape, and the series is still alive,” Nalbandian said. “Our hope is intact.”
But such an achievement appears difficult with Nadal, unbeaten on clay in the competition, opening for the four-time champions against Juan Martin del Potro. The 11th-ranked Del Potro has to bounce back from his exhausting near five-hour singles loss and hand 10-time major champion Nadal his first loss on clay in 16 Davis Cup matches.
Nadal and Ferrer trained normally on Saturday. The pair is a combined 27-0 on clay for Spain, which hasn’t lost a tie on clay since 1999.
“I’m not pessimistic. Tomorrow we have Nadal and Ferrer to win one point,” said Spain captain Albert Costa, who expected Nalbandian to replace Juan Monaco should the final stretch to a fifth match. Nalbandian improved his cup record to 34-10.
Lopez and Verdasco again failed to follow up an impressive sweep of the opening singles by Nadal and David Ferrer. They also lost in the semifinals against France in which they won only three games.
“Today was one of those days I’d like to forget,” Lopez said. “It was my worst ever Davis Cup match.”
The Argentine section of fans was boisterous throughout, with Nalbandian volleying home the winner to break Lopez’s serve in the fifth game as the visitors served out the set.
Nalbandian, playing for the first time since October, and Schwank were barely bothered after that as they got out to 4-0 in the second to take command of the match.
In the third set, just when the Spanish pair managed to get the crowd of over 20,000 fired up with a break chance in the sixth game, Argentina saved two break opportunities before Schwank ended the suspense with a volley at the net to hold serve.
Schwank served out the victory in just under two hours when Verdasco volleyed into the net.
“They made the effort to get here as best as possible so we can’t complain,” said Costa, who defended the decision not to use reserve Marcel Granollers after his pair’s doubles record fell to 7-6. “The last two matches they weren’t their best ones but you have to think Davis Cup is a team and we are here because of them.”
Argentina has never won in three previous final appearances, including in 2008 when it lost to Spain in Mar del Plata.