What do McEnroe, Nadal, Eric Jelen and Arnaud Boetsch have in common? Find out by reading the Top of the week dedicated to the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.

Of course, there were McEnroe, Sampras, Nadal and Safin. But the honour of scoring the decisive point in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final didn't always go to the giants of tennis. Since globalization has damaged the American and Australian superpowers, legends often had to leave this great privilege to mere mortals, became demigods for the time of a match. Anthology of these names that nothing predestined to enter the Pantheon.

 

John Alexander the Great (1977)

 

The hero of heroes, it might be him. In 1977, Australia could only witness its latest prosperous generation slowly disappearing: together declined Laver, Rosewall and Newcombe, the three decades of hegemony from the continent-island were sadly over. It’s in this gloomy context that John Alexander, 26, and World No. 18, had the weekend of his life in his own hometown of Sydney, against an Italian team looking for the double. On the Friday, Alexander helped his team to break through thanks to his 2-0 win in four sets against Corrado Barazzutti, notoriously allergic to grass. Not affected by the loss in the doubles the next day, he pulled out all the stops in the fourth match, beating the Italian No. 1 Adriano Panatta at the end of the suspense, 11 games to 9 in the fifth set! Despite two victories in doubles at the Australian Open - to relativize as the world's best were sulking the event at the time - this weekend in Sydney turned out to be, by far, the most beautiful moment of Alexander’s long career.

 

Eric Jelen, Boris’ right hand (1988)

 

In 1988 and 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany defeated in final the great Sweden team of Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg twice. The main architect of these early German victories in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas was obviously Boris Becker, the man with 38 successes in 41 singles played in the competition. In 1988, for the first victory of the FRG, "Boom-Boom" yet shared the joy of scoring the decisive point with his usual doubles partner, Eric Jelen, World 18th in the specialty and 23rd in single at his best. A real player of the shadow, not even No. 2 of his team - this role was attributed to Carl-Uwe Steeb - but galvanized by the presence of the charismatic leader by his side. To the point that throughout the two successful campaigns of the FRG, Jelen and Becker won six of the seven doubles they played together.

 

Arnaud Boetsch, suspense right up to the very end (1996)

 

The most breath-taking final in the history of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, the first to be played in the fifth set of the fifth match. In Malmö, in 1996, against Sweden's superstar Edberg and the indoor terror Enqvist, the Blues were heavily relying on Cedric Pioline, ATP 21st and only French ranked among the world's top 30. But salvation came from Arnaud Boetsch in the final decisive match, not against Edberg, injured, but against Nicklas Kulti. A tense match, average technically but with maximum suspense: helpless on the opponent's service, Boetsch still managed to steal two games in the decisive fifth set. When he finally succeeded in breaking the Swedish at 9-8, after 4 hours and 40 minutes of play, it was to serve for the match and offer its eighth Davis Cup by BNP Paribas to France. A few minutes earlier, he had to save three defeat balls 6-7, 0-40!

 

 

Jonas Björkman: and 1, and 2, and 3-0… (1994, 97 and 98)

 

Of course, Jonas Björkman has a very different resume that the other players in this selection:  semi-finalist in a Grand Slam, world No. 4, titled nine times in Grand Slam doubles... The prize list of the serve- and-volley player with a shark teeth necklace is actually pretty impressive. Yet, it’s enhanced by the fact that he scored the decisive point in final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, not once, not twice, but three times! Cornerstone of the Swedish team that won the silver bowl in 1994, 1997 and 1998, he closed the case each time by scoring the 3-0 point on the Saturday, alongside Jan Apell the first year and with Nicklas Kulti the following two (healing Malmö's injury in the process). In the Open era, only John McEnroe can boast of having done better by winning the decisive point on four occasions.

 

 

Nicolas Escude, grass gives him wings (2001)

 

In 2001, France went to Australia to defy Lleyton Hewitt, then World No. 1, and Patrick Rafter, No. 7, on the grass laid for the occasion on the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne Park. The France team could count on Sebastien Grosjean No. 6 in the ATP rankings, and Arnaud Clement, finalist at the Australian Open and briefly World No. 10th in the spring. But the hero of the match will actually be called Nicolas Escude. Preferred over Clement because of his abilities on grass, the World No. 27th will compensate brilliantly for the failed weekend of Grosjean. On the first day, the "Scud" defeated Lleyton Hewitt in five sets, as he already did in the second round of Wimbledon a few months earlier (besides, over the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Escude will be the only player to beat Hewitt on grass). And during the last decisive match, played against Wayne Arthurs due to Rafter's injury, the French man didn't let himself disturbed by his status as favourite and won in four sets The best episode of a career mostly disrupted by injuries.

 

 

Mikhail Youzhny, not even tsar (2002)

 

January 2002: Mikhail Youzhny was still a complete unknown as world 70th. December 2002: he's promoted saviour of the country after scoring the final point of the first Davis Cup by BNP Paribas won by Russia, at the expense of France. But was the young Youzhny then promoted national hero? Not even. Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were taking too much space for this: the first completed a wonderful campaign, while the second has always been an icon in the land of Boris Yeltsin, despite a decline then well underway. Moreover, it’s this last factor that led the team captain, Shamil Tarpischev, to prefer Youzhny for the decisive fifth match against Paul-Henri Mathieu. And even if his demonstrations of joy could make us forget about how calm was Youzhny's during the match, it was still an amazing feat succeeded by the World 32nd, propelled in the headlines after defeating "PHM" in five sets, while he was led two sets to none and came within two points of defeat in the fourth set. The founding act of a beautiful career that would see him rise to the eighth place worldwide.

 

 

Viktor Troicki, hero for a day... and one day only (2010)

 

The greatest paradox about Viktor Troicki is that Serbia's victory at the 2010 edition of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas permanently transcended all team members... except him, yet the man who won the fifth decisive single against Michael Llodra. While Novak Djokovic was having a fabulous season in 2011 and Janko Tipsarevic was making his way into the Top 10, Troicki has never regained the high level that he reached in the weeks before the final, when he had to earn his place as Serbian # 2 at the expense of "Tipsy". His only ATP title, won in Moscow, also dates back to that period. He then limped along between the 20th and 30th place in the world, before scooping of a one-year suspension in 2013 for refusing to sacrifice to a doping control at the Monte Carlo tournament.

 

 

Radek Stepanek pushes the limits of age (2012)

 

At almost 35 years old, it's been a while since Radek Stepanek stopped playing the leading roles in singles on the ATP tour. But the Czech has always been very clever and, aware that he will never return nor to the Top 10 nor to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam - two feats achieved in 2006 - he intelligently stuffed his prize list on the side: two Grand Slam titles in doubles, and especially a Davis Cup by a BNP Paribas won last year, the first of Czech Republic since the early years of Ivan Lendl. Now lieutenant of Tomas Berdych, the man with horrible t-shirts even became the hero of the final by beating the Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, who was nevertheless 20 places above him in the rankings (11th against the 31st). At 33, the Czech then became the oldest player to have ever scored the decisive point in the final of the centenary event. If he doesn’t improve this record at the end of the weekend…

 

 

By Guillaume Willecoq