Rafael Nadal, 2010 US Open

Back in 2010, Nadal was the man to beat. After his victories in Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he defeated Novak Djokovic to claim his first US Open trophy and complete a Golden career Grand Slam.

From Rafa’s autobiography, Rafa:

The secret lies in being able to do what you know you can do when you most need it. Djokovic is a fantastic player, but in a Grand Slam final, decided over the best of five sets, nerves and stamina count as much as talent. Any doubts I might have had before the match began had been dispelled by my performance in the first two sets. As for the stress of a US Open final, I’d won eight Grand Slams to his one, and that gave me the confidence of knowing that I could take it on at least as well as he. Another thing going for me was that his track record showed that he flagged physically in longer matches. He had never beaten me in a best-of-five match. He was, it was true, a player who have dazzling moments, but I was playing steadily, the diesel engine was purring. I sensed that if I won the third set, he’d be left feeling as if he had a mountain to climb.

But he got right into his groove at the start of the third set, picking up where he had left off at the end of the second. The match could not have been more evenly balanced at this point, with the tide, if anything, shifting slightly his way. I shot a glance at my team and family, who were all sitting together in a clump to my left. Toni, Carlos, Titin, my father, and Tuts, and behind them my mother, my sister and Maria Francisca, who looked especially nervous. This was only the second time she’d come to watch me play a Grand Slam final. Usually she watches at home, alone, as she did during Wimbledon in 2008, or with her parents. If it all gets too much for her, she’s confessed to me, she changes channels for a while or leaves the room. This time, in New York, she said she had to resist the urge at times to get up and leave. Right now was the moment in the match where her resolve was most tested.

Maria Francisca has played tennis and understood as well as I did that the rain break had given Djokovic a boost. He showed it in the first point of the set, playing it impeccably, pulling me wide to the left and finishing it off with an electric backhand winner down the line to my right. He repeated the trick, with a deeper shot, after a longer rally on the second point. Too good.

I took it well. Some players explode with anger when their opponent is dominating them. But there’s no point. It can only do you harm. You just have to think, “I can’t do anything about this, so why worry?” He was taking a lot of risks and they were paying off, for now, but I was managing to play at the level of intensity I wanted, hitting the ball hard and deep without taking risks, leaving myself more margin for error. “If I can’t come back on the next point, I will on the one after that.”
Not in this game, though. He won it, handing just the one point with a rather inexplicable double-fault – he seemed to want to go for a second-serve ace. OK. So it goes. Bad luck. He was ahead, and I’d have to play catch-up on my serve, maybe for a long time.

The next game was a critically important one for me to win. He’d won the previous three, if you included the last two of the second set, and I had to stop him in his tracks or risk being overrun. I played the first point intelligently, playing the ball high. If you hit it low or medium height to Djokovic, especially when his line of vision is as sharp as it was now, he strikes the ball perfectly. But if he receives the ball at shoulder height, you make him uncomfortable, you make him guess, put him off his stride. This was how I went 15-love up. Not by hitting a winner, but by bludgeoning him into making an un uncharacteristic mistake. That gave me confidence to up my game, take a risk, and win the next point with a deep forehand to the corner. He nodded, as if to say, “There was nothing I could do about that.” I don’t do that. I don’t do that. I don’t show my appreciation of an opponent’s better shots. Not because I am impolite but because it would be too dangerous a departure from my match script. But his attitude was the correct one: bow before the inevitable and move on.
I won the game without dropping a point and then, in an unexpected early bonus, broke his serve to go 2-1 up after playing one of my best shots of the match, a cross-court backhand on the run from two meters behind the base line. 

Feeling psychologically at my strongest in the match so far, I felt I was beginning to edge ahead in the mental battle. In our past encounters Djokovic had shown a tendency to grow frustrated as the game progressed when he saw he had to push himself to the limit on every point. He also tended to tire more quickly than I do. That’s what I had in the back of my mind. In the front, I was only thinking of the next point. (…)

He was battling to hold his serve; I was winning mine comfortably – as I did now, at love, to go 4-2 up. Another chance to break him and what felt like another thousand game points to me, but again I failed to make the decisive breakthrough. I was playing better, undoubtedly, and he was on the ropes – but holding on. We each held serve the next two games, and I found myself serving at 5-4 for the set. 
Now I became nervous. It is when victory appears to be in sight that I so often seem to suffer an attack of vertigo. If I won the game and I went two sets to one up, I’d be two thirds of the way to winning my fourth Grand Slam. Djokovic would then have to win the next two sets, and he could see that I wouldn’t be giving him an inch. Much as I tried to banish the thought entirely from my mind, there it lurked, inhibiting me. That was why it was important to keep playing safe, sticking more than ever to my natural defensive game, hoping his nerves would be more frayed than mine. 
We started out the game with two very long rallies, more than twenty shots each. I won the first one when he hit the ball long; he, the second, with a terrific forehand winner. It was fifteen all and I felt the tension rise, yet I remained just about composed enough to register that, satisfied as he might have been at having won the point so well, he also grasped he’d have to dig very deep to get the upper hand against me. 
I lost the next point with a reckless forehand but bounced back to 30-30 with a great serve high and wide. Typically, I would have played safe on the serve. I’d have concentrated on getting the first one in, sparing myself the prospect of handing him the possible gift of a hesitant second serve. But I’d never been more confident in my serve than in this tournament, and I felt the moment had come to go for broke. It was the correct decision. My next serve was an ace, which gave me set point, and the one after that was just as good – wide, hard, and unreturnable on his backhand side. I had won the set 6-4.

Here was crystal clear vindication of the philosophy of hard work that had guided me in my twenty years of tennis life. here was compelling cause-and-effect evidence that the will to in and the will to prepare are one and the same. I had worked long and hard before the US Open on my serve. And here it was, paying off when I most needed it, saving me at just the moment when my nerves threatened to undermine the rest of my game. I was on the brink of something truly great.
The fact that I got to this point was the culmination of long years of sacrifice and dedication, all based on the unbreakable premise that there are no shortcuts to sustained success. You can’t cheat in elite sports. Talent enough won’t get you through. That’s just the first building block, on top of which you must pile relentlessly repetitive work in the gym, work on the courts, work studying videos of yourself and your opponents in action, always striving to get fitter, better, cleverer. I made a choice to become a professional tennis player, and the result of that choice could only be unflagging discipline and a continual desire to improve. (…)

Novak Djokovic is one of the contemporary greats, no doubt about it, but, with darkness falling in New York, I was beating him two sets to one. It was nine fifteen when he served at the start of the fourth set. He was playing well, but I was playing very well. I knew he had to be feeling under a lot of strain, having been obliged to play from behind right from the start, at no point finding himself in the lead in the match. And now he was falling further behind. If I went ahead in this set, it was going to be very hard for him mentally. The pressure was on me too, but I had sufficient experience of Grand Slam finals to be confident my game would hold up.

At 1-1, on his serve, I smelled blood. The momentum had been with me since the beginning of the third set, and I was not going to let it go. My legs were fresh and I felt a surge of confidence. He, on the other hand, was tiring in both mind and body, and it showed in the first two points of the game, which he lost badly, with the lamest shots. his first serve kept working, throwing him a lifeline, but after I ripped a forehand winner past his defenses, he surrendered the game at thirty. I had my break and I served to go 3-1 up. (…)

I didn’t have to push myself as hard as I’d expected to break Djokovic’s serve a second time. He failed a forehand on the first point, hitting it long, and I hammered home the advantage by winning the next one with a forehand drive that caught him way out of position. Then he doubled faulted to go 0-40 down. I missed my first chance, looping a forehand long, but then surrendered the match, yelling in despair after he mishit a simple forehand into the net. I was winning 4-1 two sets to one up and about to serve. (…)

Serving for the match at 5-2, the nerves returned. They are always there. As difficult to conquer as your opponent across the net, and, like your opponent, sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down. Right now they were the biggest remaining obstacle between me and victory. I looked up at my corner, saw the old familiar faces, elated, shouting encouragement. Inside I wanted so much to win this for them, for all of us, but my face – a good face – betrayed nothing. 
The nerves were getting to everybody. Djokovic hit his return of serve long on the first point, and then the line judge declared one of his balls out that had clearly hit the line. We had to replay the point. Everything was life-and-death now, and this changed call was a blow. I had to put it out of my mind immediately and keep reminding myself to play steadily, nothing clever, give him plenty of room to make mistakes.
On the second point he went for another drop. This time I did tun for it, and made it. He reached the volley, and I, my nose almost touching the net, volleyed the ball right back to win the point, 30-0. The crowd, unable to stay quiet during this point, as in many previous points, went nuts – Toni more so than anyone. I looked up and saw him over to my left. He was on his feet, fists clenched, trying not to cry. I did cry. With the towel I wiped the tears away from my eyes. Through the blur, I saw it; I saw victory now. I knew I shouldn’t, but I did.
Not quite yet, though. He got a lucky net cord on the next point, and the ball dribbled over my side of the net. Inwardly, I cursed. I could have been 40-0 up and in a position to play the next point calmly, knowing it was all over. Instead, more stress. And then he made it to thirty all after I hurried my shot, missing an attempt at a forehand winner. My heart was racing, nerves battling with elation. Just two more points and I’d make it. I tried hard to stay focused, saying to myself, “Play easy, no risks, just keep the ball in.”
This time I followed my script. The rally was a long one, fifteen shots. We exchanged a dozen hard baseline punches, and then he came to the net behind a deep drive to my backhand corner. This time it was me who got a touch of luck. The ball skimmed the top of the net, and as he managed to stab it back over, I ran diagonally across the court and scooped up the forehand. He was expecting me to hit cross-court. Instead, I went down the line, and the ball, heavy with topspin, looped in. Djokovic couldn’t believe it. He issued a challenge; he was wrong. The screen showed the ball had gone in, by a millimeter, brushing the outside of the baseline. Djokovic crouched down and bowed his head, the image of defeat. Toni, Titin, and my father clenched their fists, screaming “Vamos!” Tuts, my mother and my sister applauded, laughing with joy. Maria Francisca had her hands on her head, as if not believing what seemed to be about to happen. 
Match point. Championship point. Everything point. I glanced up at my team, as if imploring them to give me courage, seeking from them some measure of calm. Fighting back tears again, I served. Wide to the backhand, as instructed. The rally lasted six shots. On the sixth he hit the ball wide, well wide, and out. My legs buckled and I fell to the ground before the ball had even landed and  I stayed there, facedown, sobbing, my body shaking.

For all the passion and work I had invested for so long in trying to make myself as good a tennis player as I could be, this was truly something I had never imagined. As I held the US Open trophy and the cameras flashed and the crowd roared, I understood that I had made the impossible possible. I was, for that brief moment, on top of the world.

Leon Smith and Andy Murray

Colin Fleming:

“I was part of the tie when we lost away to Lithuania in Group Two, and that proved to be John Lloyd’s last match as captain.

Then, Leon came in and we played Turkey in Eastbourne. The pressure was on because if we had lost that, it would have been Group C, which is a totally different format, and not where we would want to be at all. The tie went really well, we won 5-0, then next up we played Tunisia in Bolton, and I remember Leon doing a presentation to the guys in the team hotel.

The main theme was that we were on a journey back to the World Group. At the time, it seemed quite ambitious and optimistic, but it has proven to be a reality. Andy coming back on board has been a key thing. It makes a huge difference having him there, but it is amazing the journey from those days. It would be unbelievable to end it by winning the Davis Cup.

Obviously, the team struggled for a while without Andy. There is no doubt about it, but it gave certain people a real chance to step up and play. Over the years, a few people have proven themselves in this arena. James Ward, obviously, while Dan Evans had some amazing Davis Cup results too.”

A look at Team GB’s journey from World II group to Davis Cup final:

2010 British Davis Cup team

Great Britain’s journey to the Davis Cup final started 5 years ago after a devastating loss to Lithuania.

GROUP II EUROPE/AFRICA 1ST ROUND: LITHUANIA-GREAT BRITAIN, Vilnius, hard

A new low for British tennis, as the Davis Cup team suffered an embarrassing loss to Lithuania who had just three world-ranked players. Despite holding a 2-1 lead going into the Sunday’s action, James Ward and Dan Evans both lost their reverse singles. Grigelis, ranked 269 places below Evans and who had never played on the ATP tour, won the deciding rubber.

Andy Murray had withdrawn from the tie, so young players could gain international experience:

“It think it’s been 10 years or something since a British player outside myself, Tim (Henman) and Greg (Rusedski) won a live Davis Cup rubber. It’s time for the guys to get used to winning in the Davis Cup, rather than having so much pressure on them every time they play.”

John Lloyd, who lost 8 of the last 11 ties as a captain, resigned shortly after the tie:

“I am very proud of my time as Davis Cup captain and grateful to all the players for their support. I’ve been a Davis Cup player, captain and now it is time to become a fan.”

James Ward defeats Laurynas Grigelis 6-4 6-2 6-4
Ricardas Berankis defeats Dan Evans 6-1 4-6 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3
Colin Fleming/Ken Skupski defeat Laurynas Grigelis/Dovydas Sakinis 6-0 6-7 7-5 6-3
Ricardas Berankis defeats James Ward 7-6 6-3 6-4
Laurynas Grigelis defeats Dan Evans 6-7 7-5 6-0 2-6 6-4
Read More

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros magazine

Prior to Roland Garros 2015, Rafael Nadal talked to Roland Garros Magazine about his past decade at Roland Garros. Here are a few extracts:

2003 and 2004: injuries

In 2003, I was high enough in the rankings (No. 87) for direct acceptance into the main draw but I hurt my elbow, so I had to withdraw.

In 2004, I had a bad left foot injury and I was off from April until July. This time though I came to Paris as I was invited by one of my sponsors. It was the first time that I’d been at Roland Garros. I was on crutches, but it didn’t stop me from going all the way to the top of the stands at Philippe Chatrier Court. I sat on one of the seats to the right of the court to drink in the atmosphere. It’s a fond memory for me. I was disappointed not to be able to play but deep down, I knew that sooner or later I would be able to take part in the tournament.

Tennis on clay:

Tennis on clay is the most complete expression of the sport as far as I’m concerned. The rallies are longer since the surface is slower, so you have to construct every point and implement a strategy to try to grind down your opponent. You need to be more patient, know how to defend and find a way to take control of points. And if you like this surface and feel at home on it, Roland Garros is obviously the temple of clay. It’s a unique point in the season.

2005, first Roland Garros trophy:

I’d won a lot of titles on clay – in Brazil, Acapulco, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, so I had a lot of confidence. I knew that I had the game and the strength to go deep. During the tournament, I just took one match at a time, but I knew that if I played my best, I could achieve something.
When I see myself in 2005, I see a player with an incredible energy and enormous powers of concentration. I was on such a good form. I played with real intensity and passion. I was young and I had a carefree attitude you would expect of a 19-year-old. In the final against Mariano Puerta, I knew that it would be a difficult match and that’s what it was. But I knew that anything was possible. This win will always be a key moment in my career. In the space of two months, I went from No. 50 in the world to winning Roland Garros. I handled it well in my head, because after this win, I stayed the same, I carried on working hard to keep on the right path as best I could.

It’s true that after that first win, I thought “That’s it, my dream has come true, so now the rest of my career, I will be calmer.” But I’d got it all wrong. Because each season, it was the same thing – you’re nervous, you want to win because you want to get back that indescribable feeling of emerging victorious at a Grand Slam tournament. So this feeling of calm that I thought I had got with that win turned out to be very temporary because a few months later, the tension and the desire to give it my all came back – stronger than before.

Not only the King of clay:

Winning at Roland Garros gives you the strength and the confidence to win elsewhere. Because when you start winning, you get into a virtuous circle: winning boosts your confidence, it makes you calmer, you gain more experience and it gives you a healthy dose of positive energy. Roland Garros is therefore a unique tournament in my career because it also enabled me to win on hard courts, on grass and everywhere else. In 2005, a lot of people thought that I could only play on clay, but after I won the French Open, I went on to win the Masters 1000 in Montreal and the tournament in Madrid (then played on hard courts), so I was good enough to win on other surfaces.

2008, 2012, 2014:

Lots of things have happened to me at Roland Garros. 2008 for example was the year that I was further ahead the pack than ever before. I didn’t drop a set and think that this is the tournament where I played my best tennis.
In 2014 against Novak Djokovic, it was the toughest final physically. I’d never felt that tired – at the end of the first set as well. It was very hot, humid and muggy even though it had been quite cool throughout the fortnight. My body struggled with it. I also had some fitness problems during this tournament.
In 2012, I had cortisone injections to play because my knee was hurting. Thee was another year, I forget which one, when I also needed injections, this time on my foot. But injuries and fitness issues are part and parcel of being a tennis professional. With hindsight, I can see that the injuries led to me missing some important moments and tournaments but at the same time, they allowed me to put into perspective everything that I’ve achieved.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros Magazine

2009:

That defeat in 2009 was a hard one to swallow, I won’t deny that, but at the same time it wasn’t a tragedy. You mustn’t blow it out of proportion. I’d won the tournament in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. And I told myself that I wasn’t going to win Roland Garros every year and that’s normal, I can actually lose, I know that, so I went home and decided to prepare as best I could to try to win it again.

2010:

It was a very special victory. Even if I didn’t drop a set this year, it wasn’t as easy as in 2008. I was coming from a long way back. 2009 was a very tough year, both personally and physically. I hurt my knee before Roland Garros then after that it was my stomach muscles during the American swing. I went through some bad times. And after all that, I came back and won Roland Garros again. I was very, very emotional, and this win was the starting point of an exceptional period because I went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open. And once again it all started at Roland Garros.

Source: Roland Garros Magazine

Also read:
Roland Garros 2005: Nadal defeats Puerta
Roland Garros 2014: a fan’s perspective on Nadal’s win
Roland Garros 2015 coverage

Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon 2010

From Rafael Nadal’s autobiography Rafa:

That diesel engine image Carlo Costa uses to describe me was especially appropriate in this tournament.
I started sluggishly, but once I got going, there was no stopping me. I nearly went out in the second round, squeaking through in five sets, but the further I advanced and the tougher the opponents were the more my game improved.

I beat Soderling in the quarterfinals in four sets and Andy Murray in the semis in three. In the match against Murray the Centre Court behaved impeccably. The British have been longing to have their own Wimbledon champion since 1936, when Fred Perry last won, and the crowd made it quite clear from the start where their allegiances lay. Murray, seeded four in the tournament, was the best hope they had had in a long time. Yet I felt they were entirely fair with me throughout, not cheering my double faults, clapping after my better shots. And when, to the disappointment of the great majority, I won in straight sets, they did not begrudge me a warm ound of applause.

I had expected that if I made it to the final, I’d be meeting Roger Federer for the fourth year running. I didn’t. My opponent this time was the number twelve seed Tomas Berdych, who’d had a brilliant run in the tournament, beating Federer in the quarters and Djokovic in the semifinals.
Though complacency was not on my mind, I was not nearly as nervous as I had been before the final two years earlier. Just as never having played a Wimbledon final before places you at a disavantage, the experience of having done so – in my case four times now- provides a soothing measure of familiarity. Playing an almost perfect game, I won in three sets, 6-3 7-5 6-4, to collect my second Wimbledon championship and eight Grand Slam.