Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, Davis Cup 2004

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.

Marc Rosset, Barcelona 1992

It’s something that’s special because I’m proud to be Swiss. I love my country and when you have the national anthem, like when you play Davis Cup, you feel something special. It’s unique, because you have the gold medal, and the fact it was the only medal for Switzerland in ’92 meant it was even bigger. You feel proud.

For sure, it was surprising (that I won). I’m not stupid. I saw the draw and I said the first match was okay, it was against Karim Alami. The second match was a tough match against Wayne Ferreira, but I managed to win in straight sets. And then I had Jim Courier, two-time winner at Roland Garros and No. 1, so I was like, “Okay guys, you know what, soon I’m back home,” and I beat him in three sets. And then I started to say, “Whoa!”

I was starting to play more and more my best tennis, and then I was one match away from making a medal. It was against Emilio Sanchez, he was the matador and, for sure, I didn’t want to lose that game. Then I beat Goran [Ivanisevic] in the semis and then I ended up in the finals. Against [Jordi] Arrese I was two sets up but physically, I was roasted, but I managed to finish in the fifth. I can tell you honestly that after the match point, my first feeling was not, “Whoa, I won,” but it was like, “Whoa, it’s over.” I was exhausted and I didn’t realise I won the gold medal, it was, “That’s it, no more tennis to play,” because it was more than five hours I played.

It’s my No. 1 achievement, not only in my career, but I would say in my life because it’s 24 years ago and still now, I meet Swiss people, and they come back to me, “Congratulations for your Olympic medal.”
The funny thing, and the weird thing is, they come and say I remember I was in Spain, or in Italy, or in Switzerland, I was somewhere, and I remember that day. You have the feeling to share one day of your life with plenty of these people.

All of those people remember what they were doing on that day. It’s a title you keep for all of your life. They can always introduce you as a gold medallist and you will be forever an Olympic champion.

Before the Olympics you receive all the materials from the Swiss (Olympic) Committee, the training suit, the t-shirts and this and that. I received two training suits and it was 35 degrees in Barcelona, so I called the Swiss
Committee and said, “I’m sorry but this is the first time I come to the Olympics, do I wear the suit from the Swiss Olympics or can I bring my own stuff.” It was military and they said, “You have to wear this, you have to wear that,” and I said, “Okay.”

Then I was in the Village and I met Dano Halsall, he was a Swiss swimmer, and it was his third Olympics and the guy is wearing his own clothes. I was wearing the training suit and he said, “No need to do that.” So the first day I went to the physio and I ask for the scissors and I cut my training suit to make it short. When I saw the face of the chief responsible for Swiss Olympics, it was like if I was in the army and I forgot my gun.

I really enjoyed the Olympics, being in the atmosphere in the Village. It’s the thing I remember the most, maybe even more than the victory because it was a good occasion to be with other Swiss sportsmen that I never met all year long. For ten days, two weeks, you can talk about their career, their sports, you can share things with them.
It was a nice feeling. For me it’s what was helping me to win. I took this fun energy that I was happy to meet other guys, see other athletes; I was super happy to be there and I think that’s why I won the Olympics because I took this energy.

Source: ITF Olympic book

When he was king

Bjorn Borg

By Tim Pears, the Observer, Sunday 5 June 2005

They called him the ice man, but there was so much more to Björn Borg than cool detachment and a wispy beard. Twenty-five years after the Swede’s last and greatest Wimbledon triumph, award-winning novelist Tim Pears offers a remarkable portrait of the rebellious teenager who became an accidental Nordic mystic – and an all-time great.

‘I think Björn’s greatest victory was not the way he came to master his ground strokes, but the change he underwent, with terrible determination, to tame his passionate spirit.’ Lennart Bergelin, Borg’s coach

Was ever a great champion so misunderstood, even in the broad light of his glory, as Björn Borg? By the time of the Wimbledon championships of 1980, when he was 24, he had won the grass-court competition each of the four preceding years, as well as the French Open, on clay, five times. On contrasting surfaces that required radically different approaches, this was an achievement without precedent. And yet the calm young master was widely regarded as an automaton, a robot. The Swede had is i magen: ice in his stomach. In the British press he was the ‘Iceberg’. His admirers no less than his critics described a man with cold blood running through his veins.

How wrong they were. Borg was not blessed with abundant talent, but the talent he had he surrendered to, with the devotion of an instinctive faith, until he achieved liberation. Borg was an inspiration and I wondered how others could not see that his heart was filled with joy for this game and that he hid this joy not to deny it, but rather to nurture its presence within him.

Eyes

Born on 6 June 1956, Borg was brought up in Södertälje, an industrial town of 100,000 people 30 minutes drive south-west of Stockholm, the only child of Margarethe and Rune, a clothes-shop assistant. He first appeared at Wimbledon in 1972, winning the junior title, a lanky Swedish youth with a straggle of blond brown hair. He had blue eyes that were so close together they appeared slightly crossed. He kept them averted from other people, betraying the shy evasion of a teenager who believes everyone is looking at him – the one object he focused on was a tennis ball when about to hit it. He had a sharp nose in a thin, feral face, with a long pointed chin; his wide shoulders were stooped and he walked with a rolling gait. And yet everywhere he went he was pursued by mobs of schoolgirls. Less a Viking, really, than an Arthurian knight, Borg was embraced by England. We were drawn to his modesty.
Read More

John McEnroe, 1981 US Open champion

From John McEnroe‘s autobiography, Serious:

Borg and I split the first two sets, and he was ahead 4-2 in the third. He had broken me twice, and was serving to go up 5-2, but I hit two great topspin-lob winners over his head in that game, and after the second one I could have sworn I saw the air go out of him.

From there on in, it looked as if Bjorn was doing something I had never seen from him before: throwing in the towel. After having been down 2-4 in the third, I wound up winning that set 6-4 and cruising through the fourth, 6-2. In the last set, it looked to me as though he was barely trying.

“There are times – usually in exhibitions, but sometimes even in big tournaments – when you feel so bad physically or mentally that you’re simply not able to go all-out. It’s a tricky situation. You don’t want to lose by just missing every ball, so you hit a shot and leave a part of the court open.
At that point, your body language clearly says “I’m not going to cover that – just hit it there, it’ll be a winner, and the people will think, “Look, he was too good”. That’s what happened with Sampras when he played Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the 2001 Open: Pete had just run out of gas – he looked as if he had glue on his feet.
And that’s what happened with Borg in 81 – except that it did’t look physical to me.”
Read More