"This defeat was my biggest success"
The tennis pro Nicolas Kiefer was said to be arrogant and aloof. The he lost the Olympic doubles final and emotionally moved the whole nation when he cried.
An interview with a changed person.
Herr Kiefer, the doubles final was one of the most emotional highlights of these Olympic Games, it was a drama in the middle of the night. You and Rainer Schüttler had four match points against the Chileans Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez and you still lost. How often are you thinking of this?
Virtually every day. I enter my flat and the first thing that I see is my silver medal.
Where do you keep it?
That's different. Most of the time I have it in the living living room, but also in the workroom or in my sleeping room. I take it with me where I am. Then I look at it and I'm thinking: silver medal - it could have been as well a different colour. But what would have happened if we won 6:1 6:1 6:1? Then I would have never experienced these emotions.
Why was this match all of a sudden so emotive? For tennis players Olympic Games are rather unimortant, aren't they?
I was looking forward to Athens the most of all because I could trade pins there, but not because I'm playing tennis there. I already knew that from Sydney: every country has its own pin and you can trade that with athletes of other countries. I felt at once very comfortable at the Olympic Village because the whole team was together. I knew perhaps ten people. But all of them wore this Germany suit and you could see who were your people. With the final, I couldn't do anything with it at the beginning. I was in so many finals, but I couldn't get a proper feeling for it what it really means. Not until one quarter of an hour I really realized what it means, that it is worth a lot.
Can you still remember the end of the match?
Match point, the return of Rainer was out, and then... we couldn't say anything, we headed directly towards the locker room, broke down all rackets, everything the full program. Normally I'm trying to stay quiet after a defeat. But if we had even more rackets I would have smashed them as well.
Then came the winners ceremony.
I'd liked it best if I didn't even go there out. On the court you're thinking: that's not possible, if you just make one of these four match points then you are standing in the middle of this platform. Then we go out on the court and we stand behind this frigging silver medal ring. I don't know how many tears I cried.
Did you feel embarassed that so many people saw you crying?
At best I wouldn't have cried, but that was not possible. I couldn't hold it back. Something like that never happened to me before. I wanted this gold medal any price. This passing shot at 6:2 in the tiebreak, the first match point. I was returning the serve and I said to Rainer: Look out, if I return crosscourt, then you change the side. And Gonzalez swung at it and hit exactly the line. This shot can be a homerun, it can go out for good or only a little bit, but he exactly hit the line. Such a little piece was missing (clicks his fingers indicating it). That's the most disappointing thing.
How often did you watch the match on tape since then?
I can't saw how often. But the ball doesn't go out, it is again and again on the line. I can't change it anymore.
Did your relationship to Rainer Schüttler change because of this experience in Athens?
The first time we met again in New York at the US Open. I went into the locker room, I saw Rainer and thought what I shall do now? Rainer probably thought the same at this moment. I looked at him, he looked at me and started laughing first. That was the first thing. We simply laughed and said: Hey, silver medal, it was close, this volley here and there. What can you do about it? It's a pity that we had never the time to properly celebrate after the final. Not only with Rainer, also together with the whole team.
Would you have been in the mood to celebrate at all?
Not in this moment. This was a strange situation. We were eating all together in the cafeteria of the Olympic Village at four o'clock at night in a room that was twice or three times as big as a football field. Our silve medal meal was a piece of pizza and ribs, we clinked glasses with cola.
Did you talk while eating?
Rainer and I couldn't talk. We looked at each other and were just shaking our heads. I didn't sleep since the morning. I had the medal in my tennis bag. Three hours later my flight already went back to Germany. I was sitting in the terminal hall of the airport and I noticed that I'm getting tired. I had my hand always on my bag that nobody touched it. Every five minutes I woke up and looked if everything is still there.
So all of a sudden the medal was of value for you.
Yes, it was very, very valuable for me. But I couldn't indentify with it yet because I didn't win gold. Then I arrived at home, my girl-friend, my parents and lots of relatives and friends were there. All of them wanted to see the medal. The next day I'm immediately off to the US Open. Then I noticed how important the win of this silver medal really was. I was very sad because I left it at home. Of course I had lots of pictures of my medal that I had with me and I looked at them every morning and every evening. The first thing that I did as I came home from New York was going straightforward to the medal, viewing it and then putting it on around my neck.
Did you hide who you are so far? People never saw you like that after the final, you showed your innermost feelings for your outside world. So far you were rather said to be arrogant or aloof.
Sure I was a bit more closed and a bit unsure. But I became older and more mature. I also talked a lot with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. We met in February or March. I was having a difficult stretch then, I lost four times in the first round. And Steffi simply said: Go out there on the court and have fun, enjoy it. Then everything came by itself. And I said to Steffi that it's easy to say that, but I had no idea how to realizse it on the court. But still these talks helped me a lot.
Did the Olympic Games change your attitude towards life or sports?
When I getting up for running practise at 6 o'clock in the morning and minus 10 degrees celsius I know now for what I'm getting up and why I'm practising. I'm still only 27 and I can yet play for five, six years. Formerly, I had to more things the "you have to" attitue. I'm a bag of energy and a bag of nerves at the same time. And sometimes I want something too much. Then came Athens what is my biggest success so far and even a Grand Slam match couldn't top this. So many positive things happened in this match and I can use them for my future career.
And what are these things?
That you can reach a lot with fighting. If Rainer was down I motivated him again. And I was down, he made the points.
Is Davis Cup comparable to Olympic Games because there also the team matters?
That I couldn't play in Davis Cup in Bratislava against Slovakia, that was the biggest disappointment after Athens. I even had washed the same clothes that I was wearing in Athens. At Davis Cup, the whole team is together, this reminds me of the Olympic spirit. Then I got my wrist injured in fifth set of the fourth round against Tim Henman and had to retire. When I was back home I immediately called and said: Okay, I can't play, but I will accompany the team. I wanted to support the team.
Formerly you were known as not having much interest in Davis Cup.
I set other priorities. It developped so. Now Olympic Games and Davis Cup have first priority. You are an alone player the whole year, sometimes with your girlfriend, with the coach, with the trainer, with a small selection of people. Week and week, day and day. In Athens I felt how fine it is to be part again of such a team.
Would you like to do a team sport?
Yes, I would like that very much. I practised with the team Hannover 96 once, Fredi Bobic invited me for that. My dream is to play a game some time in the Bundesliga; just being subsituted for 10 minutes and playing on the right wing. I played football until "C-Jugend" [I guess that's the class not older than 14...] And then I had to decide between football and tennis. That was my first big decision in the age of 15 or 16. I thought that football is perhaps a bit dangerous and physical with all the tacklings.
You want to continue playing tennis for some more years. Didn't you already play the match of your life?
Yes, emotionally for sure. I think that's a safe thing if I say that I will never play again one match with so ups and downs.