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Seville 12-07-2009 09:04 PM

The Armada- Articles
 
Comrades in Clay
Posted 12/07/2009 @ 3 :21 PM
By Steve Tignor

Quote:



When we catalog the many historic accomplishments of this decade, we’ll need a serious tennis historian to remind us of Spain’s run in Davis Cup. Roger Federer’s 15 majors in seven years is the most glamorous, and ridiculous, achievement, and it will deservedly overshadow everything else, even the Serena Slam of 2002-03 and Rafael Nadal’s 81 consecutive wins on clay. But Spain’s four Cups, won in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2009, with a wide variety of heroes, is also a record worth noting. Since the advent of the World Group in 1981, only the U.S. and Sweden had won three titles in a single decade (the Swedes did it in both the 80s and 90s). No country had won four before this weekend.

Spain's latest final-round victories was also their most dominant. They surrendered just two sets in Barcelona in sweeping the Czech Republic 5-0. The tie again showcased the primary reason for the clay-loving nation’s success: Their depth. In last year’s final in Argentina, Spain’s singles wins came from an unlikely pair of saviors, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. This time around Lopez and Verdasco sat and watched on opening day as Nadal and David Ferrer did the honors. All four of these guys were following in a tradition established earlier in the decade by two other Spanish stars, Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The latter, a former No. 1 and French Open champion, couldn’t make the first string this weekend.

It wasn’t a tie for the ages, but it did offer up its revealing moments. The peculiar pressure that comes with competing for your country can force the truth out of a player. Here’s what we learned about the guys who faced that pressure this past weekend.

Tomas Berdych

Is Berdych a dumb player? You might think so from the way he squanders so many opportunities with badly botched errors. But you wouldn’t have known it from his pre-match comments about playing Nadal. “Soderling at Roland Garros showed us the way to play him on clay, and that he’s not unbeatable,” the Czech told a Spanish website. “You have to play fast, being aggressive from the first shot and taking the pace from the baseline. It’s a bit like what Davydenko did, first in Shanghai and later in London. But the statistic doesn’t escape me: Rafa has not lost a single Davis Cup match in Spanish territory. To beat him will require the combination that I play very well and he not so much.”

Talk about the best-laid plans going awry. Berdych can obviously bring a level headed and well-researched game plan to the court, but executing it over three sets is another matter. The crucial moment came when he was up 0-30 on Nadal’s serve at 5-4 in the first set. To that point, Berdych had been dictating play with the controlled aggression that he had talked about before the match—he was taking whatever chances he got, and it seemed about to pay off. Two points from losing the set, Nadal played a delicate, risky, backhand drop shot. Berdych ran it down and netted the reply. Rafa went into a long, slow, fist-pump, Berdych stared straight ahead in disbelief, and the match changed completely.

The worst part was the way the Czech’s demise began. He missed several returns of mediocre Nadal serves in that game, handing his opponent a lifeline right at the moment when he could have drowned. Rafa hadn’t won a set in weeks; if he'd lost the first one there, it would have been hard for him to get a foothold of self-belief. As it was, he broke Berdych in the next game, began to dictate his share of the rallies, and lost a total of two more games. Tennis is a sport of the moment: An intelligent plan of attack is important, but not nearly as important as the ability to cope when that plan doesn’t yield immediate results.

Rafael Nadal

You could see from the beginning of his match with Berdych that this was a slightly different Nadal than the one who had been run off the court in London. It wasn’t that Nadal was playing well to start—he was still hitting balls inside the service line and shanking backhands. And it wasn’t that he looked all that much more confident. What was different was that he looked patient. Nadal looked resolved, no matter how the match started, to weather the storm and give himself the best chance he could to win. He looked ready to hang around, and that’s about all anyone could have hoped considering how poorly he’d been playing.

Nadal’s patience was rewarded. Getting no momentum from his own shot-making—Rafa wasn’t even attempting winners to start—he worked hard to generate it on his own. His first-pumps were forced, but rarely have they seemed so useful to his mindset. By the end of the first set, they’d begun to carry over to his play, as he finally stepped forward and used his crosscourt forehand to take the initiative in points. Nadal kept doing it, and while he never reached his top form, he found the corners again with both of his ground strokes. That’s where his best game always begins. What’s the lesson here? Just as you have to be patient with shot selection, you have to be patient with your self-confidence. Nadal knows you can’t manufacture good form, but he gave it a chance to come back, and it did.

David Ferrer

Do you think Ferrer is boring, a style-less grind, a man who approaches tennis as nothing more than job to get done? I’ll admit that a match-up between him and a fellow baseliner like, say, Robby Ginepri, will never stay saved in my DVR. But put him across from a creative attacker like the man he faced on Friday, Radek Stepanek, and Ferrer can almost seem like a showman.

My particular appreciation for the guy is not aesthetic; it comes mainly from my experience as a player. What I like about him, and what eventually wore down Stepanek, is his ability to hit the most economical—some might call it blue-collar—backhand imaginable with absolute precision and sure-handedness. Where his forehand is just a little too plainly utilitarian for me, his two-hander is a thing of underrated beauty. He can take it either direction with pace. He can put it a centimeter above net level when his opponent rushes forward. And when the fifth-set got tight on Friday, it only looked more impenetrable. Yes, flair and creativity are what we hope to see in tennis. But for anyone who has ever struggled to hit the ball in the court five times in a row, ironclad accuracy can be awe-inspiring as well. Ferrer gave it to us at the highest level, under the greatest pressure. It was nice to see this workhorse rewarded for it with the biggest win of his unsung career.

Radek Stepanek

I’ve always loved seeing what the Worm will come up with next. What kind of angle will he create with his next volley? What head-scratching, rhythmically challenged maneuver will he use to celebrate it? But after Friday I have to believe that his antics only hurt him in the end. After looking nothing less than Federer-esque for two sets against Ferrer, Stepanek’s game dropped a notch while his opponent finally worked out his nerves. But rather than push hard to the finish line, Stepanek kept going to the drop shot well and kept finding new ways to preen. He seemed as caught up in his own act as he was in the match.

Feliciano Lopez

No part of Davis Cup benefits more from the team setting than doubles. I don’t watch much of it otherwise, so I’m always pleasantly surprised by its entertainment value in DC. If nothing else, it shows just how versatile today’s pros can be when they have to be—who knew Fernando Verdasco owned such a spectacular topspin lob? He never gets a chance to hit it in singles.

The guy who was most surprising to me on Saturday was Lopez. While Verdasco and Berdych played singles on a doubles court, blasting ground strokes at each other, Lopez held up the cause of classic touch-based dubs. The lob-volley is not a shot you see often, especially over an opponent who’s 6-foot-5, but Lopez could place it an inch from the baseline in his sleep.

***

Davis Cup may reveal certain truths about players, but it still comes across as a strange alternative tennis universe. The vast majority of the time, the pro game is about opposition. You see two guys, and they’re competing against each other; there’s no place for comradeship, which is such a big part of the team-sport experience. Suddenly, in Davis Cup, comradeship gets equal time with competition. We see Nadal cheering himself hoarse, Ferrer sharing a laugh with Ferrero, Costa lending fatherly support.

We know athletes like to play on teams—I've always loved Magic Johnson’s reason for coming back to the Lakers in the mid-90s, years after he’d retired: He just wanted to be with the guys, he said. Tennis players may like teams even more, because we rarely get to be part of them, we rarely get to experience anything other than opposition when we play. Yes, Spain’s historic Davis Cup dynasty was forged because they’ve had great players. But it couldn’t have been sustained if they—their superstar, Nadal, included—hadn’t loved the comradeship enough to keep coming back for it year after year. Look what they did when it was all over: They packed themselves together and jumped deliriously, just like a winning soccer team. For every tennis player not born in the United States, that must be the ultimate dream come true.
http://tennisworld.typepad.com/.a/6a...b1e1970c-800wi

Seville 12-07-2009 09:09 PM

Re: The Armada- Articles
 
Team of the Oughts
Posted 12/06/2009 @ 9 :35 AM
by Peter Bodo

Quote:



Tomas Berdych and Radek "the Spent" Stepanek tried to go back to the well once again, as the unsurprising surprise substitute doubles team for the Czech Republic, but it couldn't stem the flow: Spain swept the Davis Cup final with a straight-sets win in the doubles, becoming the first team in 11 years (following Sweden) to defend the title successfully.

That sealed the narrative: Spain is officially a Davis Cup dynasty nation - clearly the team of the first decade of this new century, the team of the 00s, thanks in large part to the handiwork as well as inspiration provided by Rafael Nadal. But - and this is important - Spain captain Albert Costa explained the success of his squad best when he remarked: “We didn’t expect to win it this quickly. The key to this team has been its unity.”

The case was made best last December, when Spain triumphed over a bickering, morose, fragmented Argentina squad in the final. Playing without Nadal, Spain pulled off one of the great upsets of Davis Cup history, in a final played in Argentina, where sports fans bleed pale blue and white. That win remains the most critical component in the making of this dynasty, an unusual distinction given that - on paper - that was one of the weaker Spain teams of recent years, and that Spain was on the road. That's a tribute to team unity, and the disarray on the Argentina side just underscored Costa's blunt appraisal.

Nadal's own analysis, while heartfelt, remains a little hard to swallow at face value. He said of Spain's success: “First thing, you have to have good players. In Spain, we have a lot. Sure, last year was disappointing for me not to be there, but for sure the team was better. They play unbelievable and they won, so they did much better without me than with me.”

That may smack of false - or at least earnestly misguided - modesty, but it has a subtext: Nadal's success over recent years both inspired the team, and made each of its members want to demonstrate that Spain was no one-man show. In a sense, then, his absence from the Spain club last year had a liberating effect on his comrades. And he had prepared them for the success by the example he'd set over the years. That element can't be overstated, given the critical role self-belief plays in tennis, even in team competition. And that's why I think Nadal sealed his claim as the Davis Cup MVP of the decade; all it needed this week was to make if official.
http://tennisworld.typepad.com/tenni...-a-team-thing-

Seville 12-07-2009 09:17 PM

Re: The Armada- Articles
 
The Net Post: Respect and desire set Spain apart in Davis Cup

In his final column of 2009, Neil Harman, The Times Tennis Correspondent,says Britain's best young talent must embrace the techniques that are helping to make Spain world's best

Quote:



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."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/spo...cle6946550.ece
A reader's comment
Quote:

Tony Emerson wrote:
What really impresses me about all the Spanish players is their sportsmanship and good manners. I particularly remember Felicano Lopez getting a harsh umpiring decision at Queens which went on to cost him the match. Not a murmur of complaint after he queried it, and a firm handshake to the umpire at the end.

I hope these qualities are transmitted to our futures players who go over there.

Seville 12-07-2009 09:40 PM

Re: The Armada- Articles
 
Dynastic Spaniards the team of the decade

Monday, December 7, 2009
By Peter Bodo




It's official: Spain has created a Davis Cup dynasty by dominating the international team competition for a good part of this decade. On Sunday, it became the first nation to successfully defend the Cup title since Sweden 11 years ago.

Spain has now won four of the nine Davis Cup competitions held in this first decade of the new century. The only other nation to win at least two is Russia. There's another year to go in the decade, and the only Spanish "veteran," at least age-wise, is Juan Carlos Ferrero -- who's been a sub for the past few years. The nucleus of Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez could remain intact for another five, six years.

Spain is not likely to make a serious run at the benchmark Davis Cup records of the U.S. and Australia, at least not for another, oh, 50 or so years. The U.S. has taken the Cup 32 times, while Australia has claimed it 28 times. Of course, those numbers are deceptive. They also make a powerful statement about the international growth of the game since the start of the Open era in 1968, and particularly in the past two decades.

Let's remember that before the single-elimination World Group system took effect in 1981, the Challenge Round format was used in Davis Cup. That is, the winning team didn't have to play at all until the final round of the following year, when it got to defend its title against whoever emerged from the yearlong competition among the other nations. For another, the pool of legitimate contenders was remarkably small. Few nations had even the two or three world-class players required to be a contender in Davis Cup. That, of course, has changed drastically.

In tennis, in general, anything before '68 can be described as the game's equivalent of B.C. (call it Before Connors); but in Davis Cup the equivalent of A.D. didn't even begin until the World Group format was adopted in '81.

Since then, the U.S. and Sweden have won the Cup six times each -- just two more wins than Spain has amassed this decade. The Swedes outperformed the Americans, who might have won more given the players they theoretically had at their beck and call: John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. Australia has won the Cup four times in the WG era, despite a dramatic falloff in talent in the past three decades, so the Aussies at least get an A for effort.

There are two components in dynasty: talent and team spirit. The U.S. has had the talent in the WG era, but the team spirit hasn't always been there (the recent Andy Roddick years have been a high point, even though they've produced just one championship). Spain appears to have the talent as well as the team spirit, with Rafael Nadal at the point of the effort.

The question now is whether Nadal's allegiance to Davis Cup will remain undiminished as he tries to regroup for 2010. Even if he continues to burn for Davis Cup, it's not a slam dunk that Spain can add two more titles in the coming years to catch up with the U.S. and Sweden. But it helps Spain's cause that the U.S. and Sweden both have fallen on hard times, Australia is plunging even further off the radar, and the Russians are, to say the least, erratic.

Can Spain replace the U.S. as the New York Yankees of Davis Cup? Maybe not in a New York minute, but this team isn't short on talent -- or time.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/...ame=bodo_peter

Seville 12-28-2009 02:33 PM

Re: The Armada- Articles
 
Spain emerges as new dynasty

Matt Cronin

Quote:



Spain's 5-0 wipeout of the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final showed once and for all that the competition has a new dynasty, and this time, it's not a nation that downs burgers or heavy ales that has hit the top of the charts.

The Rafael Nadal-led Spanish team hasn't wracked up the number of Davis crowns that the United States (32) or Australia (23) has, but in checkmating the Czechs in Barcelona with an extremely deep and talented squad, Spain proved it's capable of a long run of dominance.

Spain has won four titles this century with a variety of players contributing to the effort. The squad is chock full of talent, experience and desire and has shown itself capable of winning both on its beloved clay and on quicker courts.

This year alone, some six men have scored live rubber victories for Prince Felipe's favorite team, including six-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, former top five player David Ferrer, current world No. 9 and last year's Davis Cup hero Fernando Verdasco, former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, perennial top-20 player Tommy Robredo and the on-rushing doubles standout Feliciano Lopez.

The team is so strong that its captain, 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, couldn't find room for Ferrero and Robredo on the squad that faced the Czechs, even though those were the two guys who stood up tall in quarter and semifinal victories over Germany and Israel.

"To win the Davis Cup four times in nine years just says everything," said Czech Radek Stepanek, who himself had an outstanding year in Davis Cup but was on a team without depth and was forced to play both singles and doubles against Spain.

"You have a huge amount of players and tennis centers, and there's always someone coming up. The toughness and the team is so strong that you could even build a second team almost as strong."

Spain is the first team to win back-to-back titles since Sweden in 1998 and is a much more talented squad than the Nordic nation, which relied more on team spirit than ball-striking capabilities. Spain boasts nine top-50 singles players, three more than France, which is always lauded for its remarkable depth.

While a country really doesn't need more than two standout singles players who are competent on all surfaces and one doubles expert, it's nearly impossible these days to get through an entire Davis Cup season without calling for some backup because of the length of the season and the number of injuries. No country is as able to bring as many sound players off the bench as Spain.

Plus, the congenial Costa's team gets along quite well, as evidenced by the once mighty Ferrero putting his ego aside and sitting on the bench to cheer along his teammates during the final. It's hard to imagine the self-absorbed David Nalbandian of Argentina doing that.

"We are all very good friends, and that counts for a lot," Nadal said. "And we always make ourselves available because we love representing Spain."

With that said, Spain is no lock to win the title next year. It will begin its defense with a home tie in March against Switzerland, the nation of reigning French Open champion and No. 1 Roger Federer, who might just decide to compete in Davis Cup for a full year.

Switzerland has an excellent No. 2 player in Stan Wawrinka, but after that, the bottom begins to fall off. There are no confident standouts like Verdasco or Ferrero behind those two, let alone a doubles player that captain Severin Luthi is confident in. Given that the tie will be played in Spain, the Spaniards have to be favored. But if Federer and Wawrinka arrive in good health and spirit, it's almost sure to come down to a fifth rubber.

Even if Nadal and crew face down Federer, Spain might have to face a difficult trip to France in the following round. There's almost no doubt France will choose to play the tie on a super quick surface where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils can hope to serve bombs all weekend long.

It's that side of the 2010 draw that is most formidable, as former champ Russia and the revived Nikolay Davydenko are placed there, as is 2008 finalist Argentina and its new young hero, Juan Martin del Potro.

On the bottom half, the U.S., Serbia and the Czechs have the strongest teams, but unfortunately for captain Patrick McEnroe's squad, America has to travel to Serbia in the first round, where top player Andy Roddick will be forced to dig out his unwanted clay-court shoes against Novak Djokovic. While the U.S. has won on clay before, it has failed to win an away clay-court tie against a country with a top-five player since 2001. Given that the No. 2 spot on the U.S. team is very much in flux with standby James Blake having fallen out of the top 40, the Americans will be underdogs once again.

But that won't be the case with Spain, as with its rich lineup, it will be the favorite until the next time it loses. As long as the Spanish keep producing top-notch players, the world might not see that next year or even the year after that.

"There are no limits to what this team can achieve," Costa said. "They're young, there's a great atmosphere in the camp and they are committed. If they maintain their motivation there could be many more Davis Cups on the way."
http://msn.foxsports.com/tennis/stor...is-Cup-dynasty


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