UNQUILLO–Argentina (Reuters)–Argentina was left celebrating the performance of tennis player David Nalbandian on Sunday despite his crushing defeat by Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the Wimbledon final.
Hewitt–the world number one–overwhelmed Nalbandian 6-1 6-3 6-2 to win his first Wimbledon title in the most one-sided men’s final since John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors for the loss of just four games in 1984.
But after the match Nalbandian’s family and friends took to the streets in a pick-up truck covered with national flags for a lap of honor in this tiny town of 15,000 inhabitants–a 10-hour drive from Buenos Aires across an endless Pampa plain.
"It is certainly a respite from the day to day slog of real life. This is a dream for us–an unexpected one. Obviously–a win would have been nice but just looking at the television and seeing my son is sufficient," said Norberto Nalbandian–the player’s father and a motorbike mechanic–at his modest white-washed home.
During the match–the family drank homemade wine as they huddled by a television set resting on a shelf cluttered with Nalbandian’s trophies. Locals–excited by what they call "Nalbandamania," gathered outside the home to cheer him on like a soccer hero. Nearby–a local hot-dog stand had been renamed "King David" and buses dropped townspeople off at a stop next door now called "David’s Corner."
The 20-year-old Nalbandian was playing in his first Wimbledon tournament and had never expected such a successful run.
His surprise passage to the final delighted Argentines struggling in the country’s worst ever economic crisis which has seen five presidents since December.
"Only years ago he was practicing on the town’s humble concrete court," Norberto added. There is only one court in the whole town."
In front of the Nalbandians’ bungalow–a homemade big screen was erected for the crowds who came to join the party. Gauchos on horseback stopped to look and cars hooted as they passed the home.
A horse and cart were parked in front of makeshift screen of white cloth where images of the game were projected for the crowd. When the screen soon broke down the family brought out their own TV set for the crowds and the party continued.
"Win or lose–he has done something unheard of," Nalbandian’s father added. "It has been nice to give the people some happiness in these hard times. The pride we feel is just indescribable–an unforgettable moment for the family and town," his mother–Aldi Nalbandian–said.
"He has been sent from God," said Jorge–a flag salesman–as he clutched a home made banner in the shape of a tennis racket.
"The football team failed to come up with the goods–but David had done us proud," said local history teacher Lazarete–referring to Argentina’s shock first-round elimination from the World Cup last month.