Sports Saturday

What is a nation to do when two major sporting events take place at the same time?

At 2:00 pm local time, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro began his semifinal match against Rafael Nadal in the Olympic tennis tournament.

At 2:00 pm local time, Argentina tipped off against Brazil in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

These are two important matches. Del Potro–or Delpo–has been on a tear in these Olympics, including a victory over world #1 Novak Djokovic. And this is (probably) the last Olympics for Manu Ginobili and Argentina’s Golden Generation of basketball players. Also, Brazil is Argentina’s rival in everything.

Somehow, one TV network in the country had the rights to show both.

I had ventured up-river to San Isidro for a day of wandering. It’s a short train ride from Buenos Aires, only costing me five pesos each way, which converts to about 33 cents. I spent two hours exploring the city and its riverfront. Then I found a cafe for lunch and two hours of action.

It’s jarring to see Nadal these days. In my mind, he is still the fiery teenager with the long hair and muscles bursting out of his sleeveless shirts and too-tight capri pants. He looks smaller now, less powerful, and his hair is thinning. I’m not ready to accept Old Nadal.

Delpo, meanwhile, is 14 months removed from surgery that left him looking like this. To come back to tennis at all is amazing. That he seems to have regained the form that carried him to the 2009 U.S. Open? Well, that’s a fairy tale.

Basketball is hardly the most popular sport in Argentina. Soccer is far and away number one. In Buenos Aires at least, polo seems to be big. There is also rugby, field hockey, tennis, and even golf. Basketball ranks somewhere in that group.

People do love winners, though. And in 2004, Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, and CarlosĀ Delfino–among others, won the gold medal in Athens. Those four are making one last run in Rio.

Nadal took the first set, 7-5. His speed allowing him to track down Delpo’s vicious forehands. His spins flummoxing the Argentinean into mistakes.

Brazil came on strong in the 2nd quarter and went into halftime with the lead.

The network did an admirable job switching between the two events (even finding time to show a bit of golf and sailing). I couldn’t hear the commentary, and anyway, it would have been in Spanish. But I could imagine the tension with Argentina’s stars trailing.

Then Delpo broke Nadal and won the 2nd set. Meanwhile, Ginobili and company cut the deficit.

Brazil held a three point lead with less than ten seconds to go. A crazy sequence ensued, with Argentina’s smallest player grabbing an offensive rebound, kicking the ball out to Nocioni, and Nocioni draining a three pointer that hit every part of the basket.

Argentina defeated Brazil in overtime. Delpo won in a 3rd set tiebreak.

Bedlam? Not really, no. Some smiles, some claps, some excitement. But not what I was expecting at all.


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