Argentina had lost four previous finals when, in 2016, a jubilant Juan Martin Del Potro finally lifted the trophy. His celebration reflected the euphoria of an entire country that had finally joined the best tennis nations in the world.
1981, 2006, 2008 and 2011. Four finals... and four defeats. That's how disappointing Argentina's Davis Cup history had been until 2016. All its great players, without exception, had fought with the dream of becoming world champions, and for something even more important: to deliver a world title to the passionate fans who always made themselves heard at major international competitions.
But the celebrations that the semi-final victories provoked over and over again were followed by the disappointment – almost a curse – of seeing the title slip through their fingers once they were in the final. The Argentines had witnessed the joy of the United States in 1981; of Russia in 2006; and of Spain in 2008 and 2011. The defeat in 2008 had been especially painful; it was the only opportunity they had to play a final on Argentine soil. But Spain, without Rafael Nadal, took their dream again.
2016 was proving to be a good year; and the semi-finals against defending champions Great Britain were a real morale booster. In Glasgow, with Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund and Jamie Murray at full throttle, the Argentinians had won the fifth and final point after a 2-2 tie. If that had been possible, then beating Croatia in Zagreb was within Argentina's reach but it would take three days of enormous pressure.
Marin Cilic for Croatia and Federico Delbonis for Argentina opened the tie but it was the Croatian who eventually took victory in the fifth set. Just as finely poised was the second of the two matches, between two of the tallest players on the tour: Del Potro beat Ivo Karlovic in four close sets to set a 1-1 scoreline at the end of the first day.
The doubles was going to be decisive and both captains kept their cards close to their chest until the team selections were made public. The number one players of both teams, Cilic and Del Potro, would play the doubles, accompanied respectively by Ivan Dodig and Leonardo Mayer. And it was the Croats who, by a small margin, managed to close out victory in three sets 76 76 63.
A historic day
Sunday arrived and the atmosphere in the Zagreb Arena was electric. Croatia was one win away from a second title; Argentina had to win both matches if they were to accomplish their mission. And Cilic and Del Potro walked on to the court and served up an epic. It was a match for the history books, lasting almost five hours, which Del Potro won in five sets that included a curious fact: over the course of the match, Cilic won 162 points and Del Potro 161.
In the fifth and final match it was Karlovic against Delbonis who, with all the pressure on their shoulders, were going to play a match worthy of the title. And Delbonis did not disappoint. In three sets he imposed his game on a Karlovic whose reliable serve was not enough to prevent the Argentinians from enjoying, without a doubt, one of the greatest moments in their national sporting history.
Argentina were Davis Cup champions. The dream had finally been realised; the nation had achieved what they had been fighting for since 1923.