Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, Davis Cup 2004

2004 Davis Cup: Spain defeats USA

After victories over Czech Republic and the Netherlands, Spain defeated France to reach the 2004 Davis Cup final.

From Rafael Nadal’s autobiography, Rafa:

Until then I hadn’t felt as nervous as I should have been. If I had been older, I would have been more aware of the national weight of expectation on my shoulders. I look back on it now and I see myself playing almost recklessly, more adrenaline than brains. But I sobered up and gulped when I saw the stadium where we were going to be playing the final.
It was in the beautiful city of Sevilla, but not in the most beautiful of settings. The Centre Court at Wimbledon it wasn’t, nor was I going to be hearing the echo of my shots once the hostilities began. Silence was not going to be on the agenda.
They’d improvised a court in one half of an athletics stadium around which they were going to seat 27,000 people: the biggest audience ever to watch a game of tennis. Add to that the Sevillanos’ famed exuberance and you could well and truly forget the hushed reverence of Wimbledon, or for that matter anywhere else I’d ever played before. This was going to be tennis played in front of a crowd of screaming football fans.

Although, going into the final I was only down to play one doubles match, and although I was going to share the load with Tommy Robredo (who, as a senior partner here, would actually be carrying a disproportionate share of the responsibility for success or failure), at my eighteen and a half years I felt more pressure and more tension than I had ever felt in my long decade of relentless competition. Although, going into the final I was only down to play one doubles match, and although I was going to share the load with Tommy Robredo (who, as a senior partner here, would actually be carrying a disproportionate share of the responsibility for success or failure), at my eighteen and a half years I felt more pressure and more tension than I had ever felt in my long decade of relentless competition.

Our rivals were the twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, the world number one and quite possibly the best doubles pairing ever. We were not expected to win, but the sense of occasion just in the buildup, the mood in the city, the excitement every time people saw us, was unlike anything I had ever imagined witnessing on the eve of a game of tennis.
I had far from given up hope, but the calculation our captains made was that we’d lose the doubles match, giving one point out of a possible total of five for the Americans, and that much would rest on Carlos Moya, our number one winning both his single games. He’d beat Mardy Fish, the American number two, but beating Roddick was by no means a foregone conclusion.

The advantage we had was that we were playing on clay, our favorite surface – not Roddick’s. But he was a formidable competitor, a high-voltage American, and he was a formidable competitor, a high-voltage American, and he was world-number two, ahead of Carlos, who was then number five. The betting was on Carlos, who would be playing before his own fans, but it was by no mean a safe bet.
Juan Carlos Ferrero, who was 25 in the rankings (but he was better than that, injuries that year had brought him down) was expected to beat Fish but against Roddick the odds seemed fifty-fifty. The critical thing was to win both our matches against Roddick, because we really did think we had the beating of Fish, twice. […]
So the big game, as we saw it on the day before the matches began, was the one between our number two and Roddick. And our number two was supposed to be Juan Carlos Ferrero, French Open winner and US Open finalist in 2003. Except that it wouldn’t be our number two. It would be me; me against Roddick.[…]

So I played, going on court after Carlos had done me the additional favor of winning the first match. If I beat Roddick, we wouldn’t win the Davis Cup, but we’d have a big foot in the door; if I lost, it would all be up for grabs.
I was as motivated as I had ever been, fully aware that this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest match of my young life. I was also afraid that I would not be up for the challenge that Roddick would give me the same beating he’d given me at the US Open, that he’d win 6-3 6-2 6-2 something like that.[…]
But then I went out on court, the adrenaline pushed the fear away, and the crowd swept me along on a tide of such emotion that I played in a rush of pure instinct, almost without pausing to think. Never has a crowd been more behind me, before or since. Not only was I the Spaniard flying the flag in one of the most fervently patriotic cities in Spain, I was the underdog, the David to Roddick’s Goliath.

I’d never achieve my childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer, but this was the closest I’d ever get to feeling the atmosphere a football player feels walking out onto the stadium for a big match, or scoring a goal in a championship decider. Except that every time I won a point, practically, all 27,000 people erupted as if I’d scored a goal. And I have to admit that I quite often responded as if I were a footballer who’d just scored. I don’t think I’ve ever pumped my arms in the air or jumped in celebration more often during a game of tennis. […] I’d always known about the benefits of home advantage, but I’d never felt it before; I’d never quite known the lift a crowd can give you, how the roar of support can transport you to heights you had no idea you could reach.

I needed the help. Blood wasn’t spilled, but it was a battle we waged out there, Roddick and I, in that amazing amphitheater, in the warm winter sunshine of Sevilla. It would be the longest match I’d played in my life up to that moment, 3h45 of long, long rallies, constant slugging back and forth, with him looking for opportunities to charge to the net and me almost always holding back on the baseline.
Even if I’d lost, I’d have done my bit for the cause, exhausting him for the match two days later against Carlos, who’d won his first game comfortably. And I did lose the first set, which went to a tiebreak, but this only encouraged the crowd even more, and I ended up winning the next three sets, 6-2 7-6 and 6-2. I remember a lot of points well. I remember in particular a return I made to a very wide-angled second serve that went round, not over the net, for a winner. I remember a backhand passing shot in the tiebreak of the third set, a critical moment in the match. And I remember the final point, which I won on my serve when he hit back a backhand long. I fell on my back, closed my eyes, looked up, and saw my teammates dancing for joy. The noise in my ears felt like a jumbo jet flying low overhead.

We were 2-0 up in the five game series; we lost the doubles, as predicted, the next day; and on the third day Carlos Moya, who was our real hero, and who had been chasing this prize for years, won his match against Roddick – and that was that.
I didn’t have to play Mardy Fish. We’d won 3-1 and the Davis Cup was ours. It was the highlight of my life and also, as it turned out, the moment when the tennis world stood up and started paying close attention to me. Andy Roddick said something very nice about me afterward. He said that there weren’t many truly big game players, but that I was definitely a big game player. It had certainly been big pressure I’d had to overcome, after the controversy of me being chosen to play Roddick, and it gave me new confidence on which to build for when the time came to play big games Grand Slam finals, all alone.

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