To Spain the supreme go the spoils. If there is a tighter knit, less self-absorbed team in the world of tennis, then the Net Post is yet to be in its company. Spain deservedly won the Davis Cup for the fourth time in the first decade of the 21st century in Barcelona over the weekend and, unless Roger Federer pulls on the red cloak of Switzerland in March, they may well bring home a fifth next year.
The Spanish won the Cup inside two days, defeating the Czech Republic, a fine if limited team by comparison, when Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco teamed up to defeat Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych in straight sets in what was to be a conclusive doubles. David Ferrer, a marginally surprise pick for second singles, recovered from two sets down to defeat Stepanek in the second singles on Friday. What that might do to his confidence in the next year is nobody's business.
In next year's world group, Switzerland have to travel to Spain in the first round in precisely the same week as Great Britain fly to Lithuania for their Euro Africa Zone II match in Vilnius. Remarkable that the last time Britain won a tie in the world group was 23 years ago. The defeated nation? Spain. Since when the two nations have drifted poles apart. As Britain's influence, Wimbledon aside, wanes, so Spain's waxes.
It was fascinating, at the recent Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to see Rafael Nadal hitting each day in practice at the 02 with James Ward, the British No 3, coached now by Spaniard Tony Colom, who was seated next to Toni Nadal, Rafa's uncle and coach, through his three matches in the championship. A few days earlier, Colom had been speaking at the Registro de Professional Tenis (RPT) National Conference at the LTA National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.
He defined the way forward for tennis players everywhere in three words, simplicity, desire, respect. Using Nadal, the current world No 2 and a six time grand slam champion as his model, Colom explained: "Rafa isn’t one of the most gifted players, but because he has been taught to be a technically correct player, he has the perfect foundation to use his different tactics dependent upon the player (he is facing)."
"Many coaches teach players how to win but our method was to ensure he was technically sound, that he had the ability to perform under the most difficult conditions before anything else. This was proven by the fact that he was once only considered to be a clay court player and then beat Federer on grass for the Wimbledon 2008 title in one of the best matches ever played."
The belief, Colom added, is that if you are totally technically competent, you should be able to rally under virtually any circumstances. "We have players who have 1000+ ball rallies. It sounds boring but the ability to concentrate, cope with changing weather, fatigue and so on makes a good player great."
As for desire, Colom pointed to Nadal's enormous want to achieve and improve. "He works every day on his game, indeed when he flew into London for the finals he watched late into the night matches of himself playing against his seven opponents this week. Refreshing his mind, thinking about his game plan, he has passion to be the best," he said. "Even though he has huge wealth, he wants to be better. This stems from wanting to repay his family’s investment in him as a youngster. Unlike GB players who receive cash as young as under 12, Rafa had no support from the Spanish Federation because the cash simply wasn’t there. Its annual budget is just under £4 million compared to £29 million (in 2009) from Wimbledon alone."
Saying that he was 'amazed' by the NTC, Colom said he was stunned more by what he saw as the lack of respect players had for it. He had to clear tennis balls from the court before starting his session as if previous players felt it was "beneath them". Respect and desire were two reasons why Colom agreed to work with Ward showing the conference a text from James saying he wanted to work with Toni because he “wanted to improve as he hadn’t reached his potential."
Adrian Rattenbury, the RPT's UK Director said: "Toni’s insight and comments on the game were a revelation. You can’t argue with the guy. He has seen it, done it and has total respect due to his work with Rafa. He is also working with Javier Marti, the youngest, highest ranked player in the world and I hope his work with James will bear fruit. We also hear that Dan Evans (the British No 5) may be off to Spain. That means that out of the current GB top five, three have or have had RPT training".
The harder I practice …
The quote of the week came from Rafael Nadal in the wake of Spain's triumph, just to sum up everything stated above: "I am lucky to play tennis. Is my hobby and at the same time my job. So for me is not very difficult wake up every day and practice hard. Always the motivation is important, wake up every day with the goal to improve something. The day when I wake up and I don't feel this thing, I going to play golf or another thing."