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Top 20 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas players: Rafael Nadal (5th) and Yannick Noah (4th)
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Top 20 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas players: Rafael Nadal (5th) and Yannick Noah (4th)

5. Rafael Nadal - SPAIN

We’ve seen Rafa extatic on the Parisian clay so often that we sometimes forget his other major feats, and especially the first one! Let’s get back to December 2004, when Spain welcomed the US at the Seville Olympic Stadium. Nadal had yet to play a single match at Roland-Garros but was already considered to be a prodigy, with a confidence and mental resources rarely seen at this age. During the second match played on Friday in Seville, the kid - who was 18 and 5 months at the time - survived the pressure and defeated Andy Roddick (6/7 6/2 7/6 6/2) in front of 27 400 stunned Spaniards. Two days later, once Spain had officially won (3-2), the young Hercules couldn’t help himself from crediting the “extraordinary crowd, which produced 50 % of this win.”

 

The crowd didn’t play a role, however, in this incredible series started by Nadal in Seville. After one inaugural defeat, on February 8th, 2004, against the Czech Jiri Novak, the Mallorcan started an unbelievable series : 23 wins, and 0 defeats ! Among the marking memories ? In 2009, he only lost 9 games against Novak Djokovic… Same thing for Alexander Zverev in April 2018, who got lost in the Spanish storm. And let’s not forget his second final, in 2011, during which he crushed Juan Monaco and outfought Juan Martin Del Potro, winning the fourth set 7/6.

Spain has never lost a Davis Cup game with Rafael Nadal in the team. How many trophies would Spain have won if its champion hadn’t missed so many weekends, because of injuries, or simply to focus on other goals ? Since his first call-up, the Spaniard has missed 23 games out of 40 played. A big regret, without a doubt, for the numerous Spanish captains in the last fifteen years. The same regret felt by the crowd, knowing that the matches between Spain and Switzerland in 2010 and 2007 were played without Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer...

 

4. Yannick Noah - FRANCE

At the end of November, in Lille, Yannick Noah will put an end to his story with the BNP Paribas Davis Cup which will have lasted 40 years and 4 months. Having just turned eighteen during his first call up in July 1978 at Roland-Garros against England, “Yann”, who was young but was already the leader of the French team, played his first match in the competition in front of empty stands. Sad ! In France, the Davis Cup no longer attracted crowds, as stars refused to play, and the team had very low chances of winning it. Jean-Paul Loth, who had been named captain in 1980, still believed, and conviced his “new star” Noah to get involved “to the maximum” in 1982, and convice all of his colleagues to do the same. After that ? The leader Noah gave everything for the French team, and alongside Leconte, Tulasne and Moretton, managed to reach the final. Which they lost in Grenoble against John McEnroe’s USA (4-1). Nevertheless, they managed to revive a passion which had been asleep for half a century. To sum things up, Noah and Loth managed to make the Davis Cup popular again in France, where the competition had been, during the Musketeers era, the number 1 sporting event of the year.

After lighting up the fire, Yannick Noah decided to distance himself from the competition at the start of 1983. He even skipped the 1986 and 1987 editions, as things weren’t going so well with Loth. But that was to come back even stronger on the captain’s bench in 1991, the year in which Saga Africa, his first hit single, was released. And it’s for all his almost magical tricks which followed that Noah deserves this fourth spot in this ranking. For betting, during the 1991 final, on the injured Henri Leconte, to who he gave very simple but clear instructions : “Now, you’re going to show your balls and defeat Sampras”. For having turned the nice Arnaud Boetsch into an unbelievable fighter who never gave up in Malmö in 1996. And for being the big brother of Tsonga, Gasquet and Pouille, and getting them to finally lift a major trophy in 2017. With a bit of luck. No resurrection like Leconte this time, but a lucky star which protected the French team at every game, or almost. France played Japan without Nishikori, Great-Britain without Murray, or Serbia without Djokovic. This lucky star is still here today, as France played Spain without Nadal in the semi-finals. For the captain / big brother / shaman Noah, yes, it’s luck. “But you have to seize the opportunities as well, and whatever happens, I want to make the most of this luck”. After all, only losers are eternally unlucky.