He’s neither a coach nor really a manager, and his work takes him four weeks per year at best. A captain of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas is that man sitting on a chair that supports and advises his players. It may look like an easy job, yet there are many ways of doing it.
Davis Cup captain is maybe not a full-time job, but some have done it for long enough - and with the success that goes with it - to claim the label of specialist. With six victories to his name between 1939 and 1967, the Australian Harry Hopman (who gave his name to the Hopman Cup) is the unsurpassable record holder. It must be said that at the time, the defending champion was facing his challenger directly in final. Since then, no captain has ever managed to win the Silver Bowl more than twice in a row. The latest to do so was Jaroslav Navratil. Modest doubles player, the Czech managed to lead the Berdych-Stepanek duo to victory in 2012 and 2013. A beautiful prize list for a virtually unknown man. Patrick McEnroe on his part, had a famous last name, but the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas allowed him to make a first name for himself. In 2000, he succeeded to his older brother John, who resigned, and seven years later, he led the United States to victory against Russia, ending twelve years of scarcity. He left his job in 2010 after 10 years on the chair. A longevity record for an American captain.
With four victories in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and two in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, Shamil Tarpischev would also deserve to be classified as a specialist. But when other captains seem agitated, write on notebooks or never stop talking to their players, the Russian, on his part, always remained impassive. As if what happened during the match didn't matter to him. Successful coach of Maria Sharapova and Anastasia Myskina, Tarpischev is also famous for being the tennis coach of Boris Yeltsin. In 2002, the former president of Russia attended the first final of his country against France in Paris. To everyone's surprise, his friend decided to use the young Mikhail Youzhny in the fifth and final match, instead of Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Led two sets to none against Paul-Henri Mathieu, Youzhny reversed the situation and gave the victory to Russia. Some said to have even seen Tarpischev crack a smile for the occasion.
Yannick Noah deserved a category all on his own. Runner-up in 1982 as a player, he agreed to be the successor of Patrice Dominguez nine years later as captain, alongside his growing singing career. Noah was very different from the traditional captain stuck on his chair. He loved jumping, gesticulating, trying to convey his energy to his players and contributed to the show. Noah has always been instinctive as when he chose Henri Leconte for the 1991 final against the United States, while the latter was just recovering from back surgery. A winning bet. France won the Silver Bowl for the first time since 1932. The Noah magic operated again in 1996 when Arnaud Boetsh won at the end of the night the point of victory against Nicklas Kulti's Sweden. A few days before the final, he gave his vision for the job: "I couldn't care less about the technique. I don't tell them: 'turn your shoulder on your backhand.’ The most interesting thing is to understand what is wrong in their game. Why is he not into it? Why is he not pushing at the right time? My goal is to understand their problems. And to help them escape from them."
The good mate
Tennis is a strange sport where a player can fire his coach. In the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, he also has a word to say to engage or disengage the captain. If Carlos Moya was the head of the Spanish team, it was because of his record as a player (former world number one and winner of Roland Garros), but also because of his friendship with another Majorcan: Rafael Nadal. But Roger Federer did even better. The Swiss put his personal coach, sparring partner and friend Severin Lüthi on the chair of the Helvetic team. Former 622nd in the world, the Bernese has always defended his friend and employer, even when the latter didn't seem very dedicated to his national team. And when Federer asked to be exempted from the doubles this season against Italy, Lüthi accepted without protest. "I haven't really tried to change his mind," he admitted. A cool mate.
The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, they loved it as players, and thought they would have the same kind of pleasure on the other side. But the job of captain sometimes holds some surprises. Even when your name is John McEnroe. In 1999, "Big Mac" took charge of the US team and had with Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras what we could call a dream team. But deprived of his two stars in the semi-final against Spain, he planned to... go on the court himself before retracting. A 5-0 defeat later, the New Yorker decided to resign. Michael Stich suffered the same fate in 2001. While Germany had to pass through a play off against Venezuela to stay in the World Group, the captain wanted to impose his old rival Boris Becker to play the doubles (and get a little more money with the TVs rights for the match). Facing the reluctance of his players, Stich decided to resign. A fate almost enviable compared with that of Jacob Hasek that year. Angry with Marc Rosset and especially with the young and impetuous Roger Federer, the Swiss captain lived a nightmare against France. Federer didn't say a word to him during his defeat against Nicolas Escude. "I had no pleasure on the court today" said Federer in the press conference. Hasek drew the only possible conclusion and proposed to resign. Suffice to say that it was quickly accepted.