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.

Extract from Andy Murray: Tennis Ace by John Murray

The early January tournaments were warm-ups for the main event of the month, which was the first Grand Slam of the year – the Australian Open. With a ranking well inside the top 100, Andy was guaranteed entry into all the Grand Slams and didn’t have to worry about qualifying any more. But his debut appearance in Melbourne was short lived, ending in a first-round defeat to Juan Ignacio Chela. With that, his Australian adventure was over until the following year.

His next tournament took him all the way back to Europe – nearly 10,000 miles away – to Zagreb, Croatia. The draw wasn’t kind to him: he was up against wold No. 5 and local favorite Ivan Ljubicic, and lost in three sets.

It had been a long way to go for another first-round defeat, but that was part and parcel of being a professional tennis player. Sometimes things don’t go your way, sometimes they do – as Andy was to find out in his next event. After he had travelled another 6,000 miles to get there, of course!

Andy had a new travel companion for his trip to the SAP Open in San Jose, California. Normally he went to tournaments with his coach at the time, Mark Petchey, or his mum, Judy, and sometimes both. Neither had made the journey across the Atlantic this time; instead he was accompanied by his girlfriend, Kim Sears.
Kim, also 18, had first met Andy at the previous year’s US Open. A student at the University of Sussex, she had an artistic side, having studied drama, music and art for her A-levels at school. Yet while Kim might not have been a fellow tennis pofessional, she certainly had the sport in her blood. Her father Nigel was a top British tennis coach (in 2011 he became the coach of former world number one Ana Ivanovic).

This was the first time Kim had travelled with Andy to a tournament. Could she be a good-luck charm as he tried to win his fist ATP title? It cerrtainly appeared that way in the early rounds as her boyfriend beat Mardy Fish for the loss of only four games and was no less dominant against Jimmy Wang, conceding six games. Robin Soderling won the first set of their quarter-final clash, but Andy bounced back to book a spot in the last four.
He would need more than just good fortune to advance to the final, however, as he was up against a formidable foe in Andy Roddick – the player with probably the most lethal serve in the world. The top-seed was the highest-ranked opponent he had faced since Federer, but that didn’t bother Andy. he refused to wilt under pressure and won 7-5 7-5. It was the highest-profile victory of his career so far.

Admittedly, not many of Australia’s Grand Slam titles had come in the past 20 years, but one player who had taken home a couple was facing Andy on the other side of the net. In 2001, the year he had won the US Open, Hewitt had become the youngest ever world No.1, aged 21.
The Australian, who was now ranked 11, had not won a tournament since 2003. He began the final with the drive of someone who wanted to change that – fast. Hewitt took the first set 6-2. Murray then gave him some of his own medicine, winning the second set 6-1 to level the match.
The third was much closer. Hewitt showed incredible resolve at 4-5 and 5-6 to hold off two championship points, both times finding a thunderous serve when he needed it most. That took the match to a tie-break, where it was third time lucky for Andy: he grasped the opportunity on his third match point and became the youngest ever Brit to win an ATP Tour title.

After shaking hands with his opponent and the umpire, it was time to thank his biggest supporter all week. He went and gave Kim a kiss.

Mardy Fish and Rafael Nadal

Enjoy a few pictures of Rafael Nadal praticing with Mardy Fish, who is playing the last tournament of his career.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

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This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

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I would like to thank Tennis-Buzz for this opportunity.

Well the first Masters 1000 event of the 2013 season is now well and truly underway, with all the seeds having completed their first matches. All 32 seeds receive a bye in the first round, so here I plan to give you a succinct run-down of round 2.

Top Half

Novak Djokovic had a bit of a lapse of concentration in his 6-0 5-7 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini. Having taken the opener without any resistance whatsoever, one bad game from the number one seed, and some great slow-court tennis from the Italian saw it go to a decider. However Djokovic said that he never really felt in trouble, given the great run of form he’s currently on and the confidence that goes with it. Next up for him is Dimitrov, a straight sets winner, who could provide quite a spectacle, though he’s unlikely to pose any real threat.

In a few days’ time the winner of that one will face the victor of the Querrey-Matesevic clash. Matesevic is a name to watch out for this season, and he upset 14th seed Monaco 7-5 6-0 in R2. This could be fairly close, though I’d expect the more experienced and big serving American to come through for a presumed rematch of his win over Djokovic in Paris last Autumn.

Further down, Cilic came through in two against Ramos, and he will play Raonic who was granted a walkover by Llodra. This could be interesting. Cilic is the more experienced, though Raonic is the more upcoming player at the moment. Though they’re both big servers, I think the slower courts will favour Cilic, as he probably has a slightly more solid defensive game than the all-offensive Canadian.

Mardy Fish continued his comeback to the tour with  6-3 3-6 6-4 win over countryman Bobby Reynolds. This tournament has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past, so he will be hoping for a couple more wins. Trying to prevent that will be Tsonga – a 7-6 6-4 winner over James Blake. A very tight affair where the American held 3 set points in the opener, Tsonga did well to grit out the win, and that should give him confidence going forward. He shouldn’t struggle too much with Fish on current form.

Andy Murray overcame a rocky start, eventually rallying to beat Donskoy 5-7 6-2 6-2. It was the Scot’s first match since the Aussie Open so he was bound to be a bit rusty. He’s said that he’s expecting peak fitness over the next couple of weeks given the training time he’s recently put in in Miami. So after a couple of matches to ease himself into the tournament he should be quite a force. The slow surface should also suit him. Next up is Yen-Hsun Lu.

Carlos Berlocq caused an upset, overcoming the 22nd seed Dolgopolov 6-3 6-7 6-3. A great win for the Argentine, it’s just another appalling loss for the talented Ukrainian. He really needs to look at where his game is at and start considering where he wants to take it – the regularity of his bad performances represent the only consistency in his game. Berlocq will next have his work cut out against Nishikori, one of the brightest young hopes on the tour at the moment.

One of the best prospects for the next round is the Almagro-Haas matchup. Both came through in two sets against unseeded opponents, and both have been playing at a high level of late. I’m picking a slight upset here, with Haas to come through – he really is having a late-career resurgence!

At the bottom of the top half, Del Potro was very impressive against a dangerman in Davydenko. The Russian had beaten him comfortably in the championship match at the World Tour Finals a couple of years back so the Argentine was aware of the possible risk. But Davydenko was never given a look in. Next up is Bjorn Phau – for me the fastest man in tennis. He plays great exhibition stuff, though won’t have the necessary firepower to hurt the seventh seed.

Juan Martin Del Potro

Bottom Half

At the very bottom of the draw, the number 2 seed (he could lose his number 2 ranking if he fails to defend his Indian Wells crown this week) is Federer. He came through very comfortably 6-2 6-3 against a dangerous opponent in Istomin. After two poor losses in recent weeks, he’s in need of confidence boosting wins like this ahead of a possible quarter-final showdown with Nadal. In R2 he faces Dodig; an opponent you wouldn’t expect to cause too much trouble. 

My pick of Saturday’s matches was Lleyton Hewitt‘s gritty comeback, beating last year’s finalist John Isner 6-7 6-3 6-4. The veteran Aussie has slipped in the rankings, so big wins like this are more important than ever to him, as he looks to extend his injury plagued career as long as he can. He faces Wawrinka in a potentially intriguing clash in the next round.

Ernests Gulbis continued his fine run of form, backing up last week’s win in Delray Beach, with a devastating 6-2 6-0 win over the struggling Serb Janko Tipsaravic. Though still in the top 10, he has had a distinctly average year since the Aussie Open, and is sure to see that ranking slip if he doesn’t change things soon. Gulbis on the other hand looks as if he may finally be putting a leash on that massive game; with a bit of reigning in, he should shoot up the rankings. His next opponent Seppi, will look to make very few errors – that type of opponent is a real test for the Latvian. 

One of the most noteworthy matches was Nadal‘s 7-6 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison. Though the American went up a break in the first, the Spaniard wasn’t about to let up, and powered through, recording his first win on hard courts in 12 months. He said that his movement still needs some attention, though he feels good and is happy to be at the tournament – potentially an ominous sign for his next round opponent, Leonardo Mayer!

The biggest upset thus far came in Kevin Anderson‘s 3-6 6-4 6-3 win over fourth seed Ferrer. The South-African seemed to have too much power for Ferrer, hitting winners-galore. The Spaniard doesn’t seem to have quite recovered fromt the routing Nadal gave him a week ago in the final of Acapulco. Anderson next faces Jarko Nieminen, who conceded just one game against fellow lefty Fernando Verdasco. A great win for the aging Fin, though Verdasco seriously needs to sit down and look at the direction his career is taking as a player with his innate ability shouldn’t be suffering these losses.

Kevin Anderson

The rest of the seeds in this half all came through fairly comfortably with the exception of Kohlschreiber who bowed out to Benoit Paire 6-4 6-2. The young flashy Frenchman will look to put on another show in the next round against countryman Simon; I reckon his metronomic style might just infuriate the youngster.

Gasquet was a straight sets winner over a potential hurdle in Bernard Tomic, and sets himself an interesting first time clash with Jerzy Janowicz. I pick Gasquet to come through, though it could be far from simple. Similarly, Berdych wasn’t troubled in his opener against Zverev, and goes on to probably beat Florian Mayer in round 3. I’m really hoping for a Berdych-Gasquet R4. If Gasquet comes to the party there could be some phenomenal shotmaking!

That’s pretty much the gist of the first few days’ action. Lots more promises to be coming our way though, so check back soon for more roundups, and special features on certain players!

Photos by Tennis Buzz (Del Potro, Roland Garros 2012 – Anderson, Bercy 2012)

Risk tennis a lost art form

Earlier this year I wrote an article about the pace of indoor surfaces and the demise of indoor carpet on the ATP and WTA tours. (see article here) Quick indoor carpet has been completely phased out in favour of medium paced indoor hardcourts based on the plexicushion surface. The slowing down in surfaces has led to a convergence in style of play and allowed defensive minded players to get to the very top of the game and stay there.

Recently Roger Federer called for surfaces to speeded up once again “It’s an easy fix. Just make quicker courts, then it’s hard to defend,” Federer said. “Attacking style is more important. It’s only on this type of slow courts that you can defend the way we are all doing right now.”

Roger Federer

When I spoke to the ATP spokesman back in February, he clearly gave the view the surfaces were slowed down and carpet phased out because there were too many complaints that the big serve was dominating tennis. That is a pity because my article clearly dispelled the myth that faster surfaces were only dominated by big servers, I pointed out that many baseliners loved the quicker surfaces.

Players like Ivan Lendl won over 30 tournaments on indoor carpet, much more tournaments on one surface than most players win in an entire career. Lendl won 5 year end Masters titles (ATP World Tour) and played in 8 straight finals between 1982 and 1989. Also Lendl won these titles against the likes of John McEnroe, Boris Becker, and Stefan Edberg.

Monica Seles was another player who excelled on indoor carpet, and yet both she and Lendl won multiple titles at the French Open, the slowest surface on tour. Martina Hingis also excelled on indoor carpet. In the mens game, Andre Agassi, Gustavo Kuerten, Lleyton Hewitt and Alex Corretja won the year end championships indoors whilst Jim Courier played in finals in 1991 and 1992 and Michael Chang in 1995.
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