In a sport individualistic by essence, the collective magic of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is still effective. Created in 1900, the competition is filled with great and small stories. While waiting for this weekend’s final, here are ten stories involving a Russian President, food poisoning, a suicide and even a future tennis legend acting like a child.
1) The Silver Bowl by forfeit
This is the shortest, saddest and most political final in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas’ history. In 1974, India created a big surprise by reaching the final of the tournament, after a victory over Australia. Vijay Amritraj (who would later play in a James Bond movie) became the hero of a whole country. In the final, the Indians had to go to South Africa. However, the two countries had no diplomatic relation whatsoever because of the “Apartheid” policy of the South African government. Under pressure from Indira Gandhi, the Indian Federation decided to boycott the final. Amritraj and his friends did make it to South Africa but without racquets or touching any tennis balls. The South Africans won the Silver bowl by forfeit. “We would have won this match 4-1, I’m still convinced of it” Amritraj would say after.
2) Roddick clocked at 249 km/h
The recently-retired Andy Roddick has, in his career, always been used to speeding. During an unexpected semi-final against Belarus in 2004, the American sent yet another ace scorching past the poor Vladimir Voltchkov. A routine event, except that this one was clocked at 249 km/h - a new world record. Since then, only Ivo Karlovic has gone faster, with a serve recorded at 251 km/h.
3) Gaza Malmö
Or when the Israel-Palestine war caught up with the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas... In 2009, Sweden was welcoming the Israeli team. And the choice of Malmö soon proved to be a problem. Indeed, the city hosts a strong Muslim community. Fearing that there could be trouble at the courts, the city’s mayor forced the match to be played behind closed doors. A contestable decision, and one that didn’t prevent thousands of people from demanding the suspension of the tie. Several incidents were recorded in the usually quiet streets during the rally, and four protestors were arrested. To complete indifference, Israel won 3-2.
4) Boussus, the fifth musketeer
Christian Boussus is the Lionel Charbonnier of French tennis. In 1998, the French goalkeeper became world champion with the Blues without ever taking off his tracksuit bottoms. Boussus went even better. The Frenchman won four consecutive Davis Cups by BNP Paribas between 1929 and 1932 without ever touching a ball. His way into the team blocked by the Cochet, Nectarine, Lacoste and Borotra, Boussus earned a nickname: "the Fifth Musketeer." However, he was no mean player. Finalist at Roland Garros in 1931 and semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 1928, Boussus was born in the right time to build a career, but at a bad time to get a share of the limelight. It was not until 1934 and his 26th birthday that he would finally play his first match in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
5) Hara-kiri on the boat
Patriotic pride is something that the Japanese take very seriously. The life and career of Jiro Satoh is a bitter illustration of it. In 1934, Satoh was carrying all the hopes of Japanese tennis and had to go to Europe to compete in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. Except that he never reached his destination. At the time, the trip had to be made by boat. One evening, a man jumped into the ocean. It was Satoh. To explain his action, the player left two letters. In the first, he apologized to his captain "for the inconvenience it will cause." In the other, he justified his action to his partners. Suffering from pneumonia, Satoh thought his health would not allow him to defend the colours of Japan to his best. Rather than defeat, he chose suicide. A crazy gesture, especially for a boy of 26 years old who was to get married a few weeks later.
6) Boris Yeltsin, the fan
The history of Russia and the silver bowl is intimately related to Boris Yeltsin. First because the first elected president of the Russian Federation installed Chamil Tarpichev – whose greatest quality was to be his private tennis coach - as head of the Russian Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team. Second because, in 1994, Russia competed in Moscow against Sweden in its first final. Facing Edberg in the first singles rubber, the unpredictable Alexander Volkov was poised to take victory... when Yeltsin arrived. The ovation caused by the arrival of the President caused a break of several minutes. Volkov lost his focus, wasted a match point and crumbled against the Swede. Eight years later, Yeltsin left office and attended the final against France as a very active supporter in Bercy. When Mikhail Youzhny smashed Mathieu in the fifth decisive match, the former president was one of the first to rush on the court to congratulate him. The fan finally got his revenge.
7) The 113-day tie
We know when a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas starts, but never when it will end. The tie between Australia and New Zealand in Brisbane in February 1976 broke all records. Blame it on a cyclone that swept Australian shores. Three days were needed to play three games. Australia, led by John Newcombe, held a 2-1 advantage, but the storm started raging again. Despite employing a helicopter in an effort to dry the courts, the Newcombe’ s second singles rubber couldn't resume. The world number one then had to go to the United States to compete in a tournament. Unable to return to Australia, Newcombe then played and won his match against Brian Fairlie in Nottingham just before Wimbledon. Australia defeated New Zealand 3-1, and in 113 days. The record still stands.
8) «Bernardo» Federer
In the career of the greatest player of all time, there is a before. This before is composed of smashed racquets and of ruined matches. In 2001, as part of the Swiss team, facing the Frenchman Nicolas Escude in the quarter-finals, Roger Federer was still an unpolished talent with the character of pig. More than his defeat against an excellent Escude, it's the behaviour of the 19 year-old that stuck out. He and Marc Rosset were in open conflict with the captain at the time, Jakob Hlasek. Federer wanted to show this mistrust. For four sets, he didn't address a single word or a glance to his captain. Annoyed, Hlasek resigned and said "Roger has yet to grow up in his head." Probably the only advice of his that Federer would follow…
9) Haas poisoned?
"I spent six hours in the bathroom, I even thought my last hour had come." In September 2007, Tommy Haas lived out a nightmare in Moscow. Squaring off against Russia for a place in the final, the German suffered from a curious case of food poisoning. Defeated in his first match, Haas had to give up in the second. "It was, moreover, not a digestive problem, it was something very, very wrong," he accused. The doubles specialist, Alexander Waske, even said that he was told that Haas had been poisoned. The International Federation opened an investigation. Without result.
10) « Shut up John! »
The late Arthur Ashe was a player with an outstanding sporting attitude and with a legendary calm as captain in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. With one exception. An exception named John McEnroe. In the final against France in 1982, the American played a first, relentless match against Yannick Noah. And McEnroe made a classic McEnroe. Protests, insults and thrown racquets. Even his own captain wasn't spared. Ashe then took his player apart and told him: "Shut up John! I don't want to hear you anymore." Despite the victory of his player, the American captain forbade him access to the changing rooms and refused to speak to him during the whole weekend.
By Alexandre Pedro