Fuengirola: A Hub for Finnish Tennis Enthusiasts
About 20 minutes by car from Martin Carpena, Fuengirola is home to one of the largest Finnish communities in the world. Only Sweden surpasses it in terms of Finnish population in a single locality. With over 6,000 residents, the neighborhood of Los Pacos stands out as a Finnish stronghold. Helsinki is directly connected to Malaga through three scheduled flights, further solidifying the Finnish presence in the area. Martin Carpena, in a way, resembles a small Finnish capital, with nearly half of its stands adorned in blue and white, as around 4,000 Finnish fans gather to witness a historic event.
A Surprising Finnish Team
Although Finland does not have a rich tennis tradition, it has produced talented players such as Jarko Nieminen, who reached 13th in the world rankings. Emil Ruusuvuori, Finland’s current number one, has achieved notable results and led his team to Malaga in a surprising fashion. They eliminated Argentina in the qualifying phase and finished first in a group that included Croatia, the United States, and the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Ruusuvuori is injured and unable to play in Malaga. Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 2022 Davis Cup hero from Canada, is also present but hindered by injury. Despite the absence of top-ranked singles players, the spirit of the Davis Cup prevails, with chants of “Suomi, Suomi” resonating throughout the Carpena arena.
A Remarkable Display of Tennis
The first match, featuring the second-ranked players, unfolds in a somewhat surreal manner. Milos Raonic, currently ranked 318th in the world, was once a formidable player, reaching number 3 in the rankings and even reaching the Wimbledon final. After battling injuries for several years, the 32-year-old Canadian is seeking a comeback. Facing him is Patrick Kaukovalta, the 711th-ranked player. Despite not being in his prime, Raonic’s powerful serve and skillful play lead him to a 6-3, 7-5 victory in just over an hour.
In the following match, Canadian Gabriel Diallo, ranked 139th in the world, takes on Otto Virtanen, the Finnish player currently ranked 171st. Virtanen, who previously defeated players from Croatia, the Netherlands, and the United States, continues his winning streak with a confident 6-4, 7-5 victory over Diallo.
Finland Triumphs in Doubles
The fate of the competition rests on the doubles match, a pivotal moment in the Davis Cup. Virtanen, joined by Harri Heliovaara, faces Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil, the latter being a doubles specialist who once ranked fourth in the world in this discipline. After a tense first set, Finland manages to break Canada’s resistance and secures a 7-5 victory. In the second set, Heliovaara’s exceptional play leads to a crucial break, resulting in a 5-3 lead for Finland. Virtanen serves flawlessly to secure the win. Despite not having any players in the top 100, Finland emerges victorious, eliminating the reigning champions, Canada. This triumph exemplifies the unique nature of the Davis Cup, as Finnish fans celebrate with beer and chants of “Suomi, Suomi.” The epic journey continues in the semifinals, where Finland eagerly awaits the winner between Australia and the Czech Republic. Once again, the Carpena arena will be filled with the fervor of Helsinki.