Coria, Vilas, Gaudio at Roland Garros 2004

From Tennis Confidential II by Paul Fein:

If 1970s champion Guillermo Vilas is a god in Argentina, Guillermo Coria is the current people’s choice. He’s so beloved in his homeland that when he appears in restaurants he gets standing ovations? Ironically he’s far less popular with other players, including his fellow countrymen whom he nearly always (23-5) beats. Coria has been known to mock his opponents after he wins and seldom, until recently, gives them credit when he loses.

Like oil and water, Coria and Gaston Gaudio will never mix. They are too different. They come from different family backgrounds, and they have different approaches to tennis and life. Like Andre Agassi, Coria was pressured since he was bon to be the greatest tennis player of this generation. His dad, a tennis coach, named him after Vilas; the cake for one of his first birthdays was racquet-shaped; and he has played tournaments since he was too young to remember. Gaudio enjoyed football and rugby in his childhood, and only picked up tennis because his older brother was playing it at the same time. He discovered he liked it and was good at it. Gaudio decided to turn pro only after his father had a heart attack and his family experienced money problems: he thought tennis could be an excellent way of making money to help his family.

Like Connors, Coria needs and feeds on the rivalries, the feuds to feel his competitiveness. His anger pushes him. He looks for other players to beat. Only someone with a superiority complex would rent a hotel for the anticipated victory celebrations before the 2004 French Open final, as Coria did. Lo and behold, he lost to heavy underdog, No. 44-ranked Gaudio, who was so shocked that he confided,

“I don’t know how I win. I can’t believe it yet. This is like a movie for me. And I don’t even know it, but I’m the star.”

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Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2005

From Nadal autobiography Rafa:

The Argentines are like the Spaniards, experts on clay. And Puerta played better than me for long stretches of the match. I had not yet mastered the trick of isolating myself from my environment and from my fears. You never do fully, otherwise you wouldn’t be human. But back then building the emotional defenses necessary to win consistently remained a work in progress, and the nerves tampered with my thoughts processes more than they would later in my career. What I didn’t lack in that final was energy.
Puerta was playing well, well enough to win the first set 7-5. But I think of that game now and what comes to mind is a sense of never having paused for a breath. I was fighting and running as if I could fight and run for two days without rest. I was so excited at the thought of winning that I never felt a moment’s tiredness, which in turn tired Puerta out. I held on, I was steadier on the big points, and I won every set after the first one 6-3, 6-1, 7-5.

In the space of barely six months I’d climbed three peaks, one higher than the next. The Davis Cup, my first ATP win at Monte Carlo, and now, the headiest of all, the French Open, my first grand Slam.
The emotions I felt were indescribable. At the moment of the victory I turned and saw my family going nuts, my paents hugging, my uncles screaming, and I understood immediately that, for all the years of hard work I had put in, this victory had not been mine alone. Without thinking, the first thing I did after shaking hands with Puerta was rush into the crowd and clamber up the steps to hug my family, Toni first among them. My godmother Marilen was there and she was crying. “I couldn’t believe it“, she told me later, recalling her reaction to the final point. “I looked at you there, a big, grown-up champion with his arms in the air, and suddenly my mind leapt back in time and I saw an image of a deadly serious, skinny little boy of seven, training on court back home in Manacor.

I had similar thoughts. I had battled so hard and long to get here. But into my mind there also came images of home with my family, and more than ever before, I understood that day that, however great your dedication, you never win anything on your own. The French Open was my reward, and my family’s reward too.
I also felt relief. In winning a Grand Slam I’d taken a weight off my shoulders. Anything else that life bought would be a welcome bonus. Not that I was going to ease up on my ambition. I had tasted victory at the highest level; I had liked it and wanted more. And I had a sense that after winning a tournament of this magnitude once, it would be less difficult to do it again. It was now, after winning at Roland Garros, that the idea began to take shape in my mind that I would win Wimbledon one day.

Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro, Barcelona Open 2013

Rafael Nadal captured his 8th Barcelona title, his fourth of the year by beating Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-3.

Final Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Trofeo Conde de Godó

Final Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Trofeo Conde de Godó
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Australian Open 2005 Mens Final

The 2015 edition will mark Lleyton Hewitt‘s 19th attempt to win his national title. Love him or hate him, he always tried his hardest whatever the draw or whether recovering from illness or injury.
Yet he has reached the final only once (in 2005) and otherwise never passed the fourth round.

In 2005, Hewitt looked like a man with a mission. He genuinely believed he could go all the way, and set about doing so with guts and determination. Among the opponents he swept aside were Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian and Andy Roddick.

Marat Safin was just as convinced it was his year. The big Russian had saved a match point in beating Roger Federer in a marathon semifinal, and thought the gods were on his side. He won 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-4.

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Marat Safin

Read Best of Marat Safin – part 1

Part 2:
7 – Toronto 2004: Marat the hippo
6 – Hopman Cup 2009: Marat kisses the net cord lady
5 – Australian Open 2002: Marat and the Safinettes
4 – Davis Cup 2002: Davis Cup hero
3 – French Open 2004: the pants
2 – Australian Open 2005: the relief
1 – US Open 2000: the future of tennis?
Note: it’s not a ranking of Marat’s achievements, these are just 15 moments of Marat’s career which reflect “Marat being Marat”.
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