New Captains on the Block
The Davis Cup World Group is welcoming three new captains to its midst this year - Spain welcomes Albert Costa, Romania embraces Andrei Pavel and Argentina greets Modesto (Tito) Vasquez.
Without a doubt, the most intriguing leadership change has to be Spain.
Defending champion Spain promoted Costa, the 2002 French Open champion and former team coach to the captaincy when Emilio Sanchez, fresh from leading Spain to its third Davis Cup title in November, vacated the position.
Spain is a 21st Century Davis Cup powerhouse – they’ve ruled the competition on three occasions in the last eight years, winning the prestigious competition with three different captains - Javier Duarte in 2000, Jordi Arrese in 2004 and Sanchez in 2008.
Costa, however, isn’t nervous that there’s undue pressure on him to immediately deliver another Davis Cup title. He’s just thrilled to have received the vote of confidence to lead Spain’s future Davis Cup efforts.
“Well, I think for me it is an honor to be the Davis Cup captain,” said Costa. “I’m glad to do it and I know it’s a great responsibility. I think I’m lucky to have a very good team, everybody is involved."
Costa is fortunate to have a star-studded cast of characters to field his dream team, a situation that would make any Davis Cup captain envious. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 9 Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, Feliciano Lopez and Nicolas Almagro are ready to be called to duty.
“I know to do better than last year is impossible,” said Costa, chuckling at the notion of improvement. “But I am going to work hard to create a good atmosphere in the team. I know that every year Spain has a chance to win.”
Spain’s advantage in the first round is a home court advantage. Their disadvantage is drawing one of the more formidable first round encounters against Serbia, who boast a top notch squad of 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, crafty Janko Tipsarevic, and doubles impresario Nenad Zimonjic.
“Serbia is a very tough one,” Costa said. “They have very good players and they are very motivated, so it will be an interesting tie. But Spain is a very tough team, especially on clay, so we are tough to beat, especially in Spain, for sure.
“Everybody is expecting us to win the first match but I know it is complicated. People who understand about sports know you cannot win all the time, but we will do our job 100 percent.”
Romania selected Pavel as player-captain in an effort to provide the other team players with a mentor they can easily relate to.
Pavel remembers having close ties with two captains he’s played for during his career – former player Florin Segarceanu and past Romanian National champion Adrian Marku. So he understood why it was felt that this latest group of Romanian players would benefit from hearing a more generationally appropriate voice.
“The young kids coming right now don’t have the same contact with them (Segarceanu and Marku), they have it more with me,” Pavel said. “They respected that and they said, "You know what, it’s your time right now and you can help them more than we can, so that was the reason for the change.”
Victor Hanescu, the most prominent singles player for Romania today, supported the hiring of Pavel.
“I think it’s very interesting and I think it’s a very good idea for him to be the Romanian Davis Cup captain,” Hanescu said. “I think it’s very important for us because he’s played a lot of Davis Cup matches. He has a lot of experience. He knows exactly what to tell you when you are down and need support. I think he’s already a very good coach because we’ve started already to practice with him. He told us of his interest to be the Davis Cup captain and everybody was delighted to have Andrei with us.”
For Pavel, he was so moved to receive the nod he didn’t lose any time in assembling his team for a shared outing to the mountains at the end of last year. Pavel is hopeful that the early work with the team, including during the Australian Open, will help them in their quest when they host Russia in the first round.
And what will make him happy? If his team delivers the best performance they can, win or lose.
“Super heroes come and go,” Pavel said. “Maybe we won’t have a super hero tomorrow, but I want to help the ones who are there so we have a good chance.”
When it came to the 2008 final, Argentina appeared in excellent shape to reel in their first Davis Cup title when they hosted Spain for the final. They have a distinguished roster of players – top tenners Juan Martin Del Potro and David Nalbandian, as well as Jose Acasuso, and Agustin Calleri on tap. And to add to their supposed leverage an injured Nadal stayed home.
But events did not turn out as hoped and Argentine captain Alberto Mancini decided to step away from the captaincy following the emotional loss.
When looking around for Mancini’s replacement, the Argentina Tennis Association keyed in on Vasquez, their Development Director, who played two Davis Cup ties back at the beginning of the Open Era.
While there were some questions asking why someone of the stature of Argentine superstar Guillermo Vilas, a four-time Grand Slam champion, was not given the nod to take charge after showing an interest, Vasquez was a candidate who had a solid working relationship with the ATA.
“He's a good person,” said Del Potro, who is likely to be a pivotal member of the first round team who will face the Netherlands at home. “He has a lot of experience in Davis Cup. We are happy with the captain. I don't speak too much with him because I don't have time. He's very good. He has good players in his team, so we have to try to win Davis Cup for the first time.”
Davis Cup is always a special yearly adventure. The addition of watching how these new captains on the block command their team will only enhance the excitement surrounding the 2009 competition.