While the 2015 edition of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas kicks off this weekend, focus on the match Mauritius vs. Togo in 2001. With the participation, off the cuff, of a very unexpected player.

The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, it’s not only the World group. Over 100 countries play it every year. Not all of them have in their ranks world-class players, which means there are sometimes a few absurdities. While the 2015 edition is kicking off this weekend, focus on the match Mauritius vs. Togo in 2001. With the participation, off the cuff, of a 60-year-old who was living in a hut without electricity...

 

His opponents, aged 17 and 19 years old, first thought that it was a joke. "When I saw a guy with grey hair, I thought that he was the coach... but then he took a racquet. So I thought: 'Ok so he's actually going to play!" remembered one of them, William Desvaux on Tennis.com. In May 2001, this member of the Mauritius team in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas was facing Togo during a match of the Euro/Africa Group III. Very far then from the Belgium vs. Switzerland taking place this weekend. The score? One all after the two singles, the doubles was then decisive because, in contrast to the global group, the tournament is played in the best of three matches, not five. On the other side of the court, the presence of Gadonfin Koptigan Yaka, captain of the Togolese team, was however not voluntary. This was as a last resort that he found himself forced to self-select. The reason? Guilty of oversleeping, one of his players had missed the plane. Problem: Gadonfin Koptigan Yaka, a former librarian, hasn't touched a racquet for five years, was over sixty years, and was living most of the year in a remote region of Togo. Without water or electricity. "The audience thought that I was just helping the players warm up and were awaiting the arrival of the 'real' player."

 

You played against Andy Roddick, right?

 

Under the blazing sun of Beau-Bassin Rose-Hill, one of the largest cities in Mauritius, the Togolese were playing on clay for the first time in their lives. Suffice to say that the match quickly started looking like a charity match. "We even wondered if we should play more gently," confessed Guillaume Desvaux. Who, after a quiet first set, accelerated in the second only to conclude the match, in three short sets. After the match, the audience, touched by the story of this player against his will, eventually warmly applauded the Togolese. Beyond the defeat, Yaka made history for beating the record for the oldest participant in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. "But I have been told that years later. At the time, I didn't know" he confided in 2010. His record has been actually beaten since, in 2007, by San Marino's player, Vittorio Pellandra, who played a doubles match at the canonical age of 66 years old. In 2005, after leaving Togo to follow his son in the United States, Gadonfin Koptigan Yaka also fled poverty to work as a security guard and a factory worker. A great memory in his suitcases. "One day, I told my colleagues that I had played the Davis Cup and they made fun of me... They didn't believe me and told me, 'Oh, you played against Andy Roddick, right?'" Not really, but almost.

 

By Julien Pichené and Victor Le Grand