More than 11,000 kilometres separate Argentina and Australia. But for Guido Pella, Diego Schwartzman and the rest of Team Argentina, the Argentine fans have made that distance feel significantly smaller.
“[It] was an unbelievable feeling. It's like we are playing at home,” Pella said of the crowds inside Ken Rosewall Arena during his win against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic on Thursday evening. “So it's amazing to step into the court and feel that, because we not only play for our country, it's like we play for everyone. This is a very nice feeling.”
The Argentines needed to defeat Croatia to win Group E, and their fans certainly helped the cause. From playing the drums and vuvuzelas to endless cheers — “Ole! Ole Ole Ole! Guido! Guido!”, for example — there was plenty of motivation for the players to leave everything on the court.
“[Wednesday] I was really, really focussed and not thinking about that,” said Schwartzman, who defeated Borna Coric to clinch Argentina’s win against Croatia. “But [in] the second match against [Dominic] Thiem, a few moments I was enjoying a lot. Those moments you need to enjoy. You never know when it's going to repeat, playing in Sydney with more Argentines than maybe Australian people in the court.”
Nobody competing at the ATP Cup needs extra motivation to represent their country. But hearing screaming fans supporting the players for hours on end certainly doesn’t hurt.
“When you step into the court and there are a lot of people watching you, you feel a little bit of pressure, more than maybe in the regular tournaments,” Pella said. “But I think tonight I felt very good, I felt better than maybe the previous days. So I think I played very good, very solid from the baseline, and I think I did a very good job to get the win.”
When Pella arrived in Sydney for this inaugural event, he expected to invest his own emotions into competing for his country. But he didn’t think fans from home would turn out in swarms to sing his name.
“I never expected that at all. I think it was a huge surprise not only for me, for the entire team, because it was not only here at the venue. It was on the streets. There are a lot of Argentines living here, having vacation here,” Pella said. “So it's very nice to chat with them, because we are very, very far from home right now. So it's very nice to see Argentines.”
The player hotel is in the city, while the venue, Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre, is in the suburbs. But everywhere the Argentines have gone, they have had fans come up to them for pictures and to wish them luck.
“We took a lot of selfies the other day. It was very good, because like I said, we are very far from home. And to find a lot of Argentines who are here, who are living, who are on vacation in Australia, is very nice,” Pella said. “And also because I love this country. I like to come here a lot and it's very special when I come here, because I like to play.”
Schwartzman shares the same sentiments. The World No. 13 has enjoyed the support throughout the city, on and off the court.
“We knew already since a few years ago what to expect here, because of the Argentine people,” Schwartzman said. “In the street, it's really nice. In the beach, it's really nice. In places around Sydney, it's crazy how many Argentines we have, and here on court the same happens.”
Argentina will hope to parlay that support into success in the Final Eight. On Thursday evening, the Argentines will play Russia, the Group D winner, led by World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev. And although it will be a tough tie, they hope the crowd will give them the edge they need.
“It was amazing the past three days, a lot of people from our country,” Schwartzman said. “We are really happy to be here and playing like at home.”