Tennis is probably the toughest of all games. In terms of nerves, at least. Difficult to avoid the game, the stakes, the opponent, the wind, the public or the pretty girl in the stands. Alex Corretja remembers the most important day when he lost it in his career: the final of Roland Garros 2001.
In 2001, you played the final of Roland Garros against the already double winner Gustavo Kuerten. You lost in four sets (6/7 7/5 6/2 6/0). What does this game means to you today?
Well, it’s clearly the worst memory of my career. I had already played the final of Roland Garros three years earlier, in 1998. But this time I never felt like I could win. I didn't play badly, but Carlos (Moya, note) was always the best. Honestly, I think I was just happy to be in final. I never felt like I was in control, that I could ever have the cup, as was the case in 2001 (is this meant to be another year agy??). That year, I was ready to win. Let’s put it this way: 1998, my first Grand Slam final. In 2001, it was the biggest chance of my life.
This match clearly reached a turning point at 5-5 in the second set, when you won the first set in the tiebreak...
Yes. I started the match very well. "Guga" was the best player in the world on clay at the time. He beat me pretty easily in our previous matches, three consecutive times in Rome. To win that first set in the tiebreak was ideal. The second set was also tight, and then there was this break point at 5-5, which, if I had managed to do it, would have allowed me to serve for the set in the aftermath... It was a very long exchange and at the end my backhand went a few inches too far out into the hallway. A few minutes later he was the one to break and win the set.
Until then, the match was highly contested. Then Kuerten was everywhere. How could one point change the face of the game so much?
Maybe not the point only, but the loss of the set, definitely. I took a shot behind the head by losing it. Psychologically, I was stuck. The disappointment of losing the set was stronger anything else. I could not pull myself mentally. Suddenly, I saw in front of me the player who was consistently beating me for three or four years.
Despite what was at stake and knowing that at one set all the title was far from being gone?
I should have gotten a grip, but I just couldn't do it. I didn't feel able to reverse the trend. I gave up. It was hard to tear myself away from this idea: I was so close to leading two sets to zero, which is such an advantage for a match on clay. "Guga" used to win this kind of final. But I wasn't a great champion, and to win Roland Garros just once in my life would have been a dream. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. We have to accept it.
Have you ever talked about this match with Kuerten?
Yes we did. We have a good relationship. We talked about it again, about the playing conditions, it was very windy... He told me that he didn't think he could have come back if he had led two sets to none. Perhaps this final was played at an inch backhand... But it’s part of the past now. "Guga" deserved to win. And I try to pass my experience of good and bad times to my players (he's captain of the Spanish Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team, ed.)
When you come back to Roland Garros every year, do you still think about it, or is it long gone now?
Not that much. Good memories took over and going back to Roland Garros is always very nice. I know so many people there, people who work in the organization, players, current or former... For me, Roland Garros is first and foremost synonymous with all these faces that I see with pleasure. Everytime people are happy to see me. It's what I remember first. Failing to win the tournament, it at least means that I left a good memory there as a person.