Nicolas Massu and nine months younger Xavier Malisse called time on their tennis careers within a month this year. Massu did it at the end of August after a 5-year struggle to comeback to the ATP tour on a regular basis while Malisse announced his retirement quite unexpectedly after losing to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the first round of a Challenger in Mons (October 2). The Belgian was supposed to finish his career after the Australian Open 2014. "I'm exhausted from the effort it takes to be an elite sportsman. My Olympic medals are the greatest things this sport has given me,” said Massu. “It's something I’m very proud to be able to share with my kids and tell them I'm in my country's history.” “I liked the pressure of the game, but I’m also relieved,” said Malisse, “Now I’m going to relax with my family and friends. It is hard to leave, but we have to stop one day.”
What they have in common beside similar surnames and pony-tails? In 2004 they got very important doubles titles which were the maiden ones for them.
Even though they spent 15 years together on tour, they faced each other just thrice, but one of those meetings (Roland Garros '06) brought one of the most dramatic matches played in Paris in the previous decade. Massu won their first round encounter 6-1 7-5 1-6 4-6 9-7 after 4 hours 25 minutes. Malisse after winning two consecutive sets easily, led *4:1 in the 5th, had three mini-match points at 4:2, then saved four match points at *6:7 and another one at 7:8 before succumbed.
I think Massu may be more fulfilled with his career, he maximized his potential winning two Olympic gold medals which is an extraordinary accomplishment (especially given the circumstances) that puts him not only in the well-earned place in tennis history, but in the pantheon of great athletes of all disciplines as well. Malisse is a different case, he was enormously talented, at the end of the 90s he was mentioning alongside Federer, Ferrero, Hewitt & Safin as the most talented youngster, all those guys reached No. 1 in the world while Malisse didn't even enter the Top 10. Why? Certainly it's a matter of different factors, the easiest to fish out is connected to the analysis of his scorelines. As you can see here, trusting me a bit, Malisse was one of the mentally weakest players in the Open era among the notable ones. The inability to win tight matches often, is always reflected in the ranking. I think there are matches that define someone's career...
The most interesting MA -lisse, -ssu's matches in my subjective view:
Philadelphia 1998, 1R: Malisse - Pete Sampras 6-4 3-6 5-7
...in Malisse's case it might be that match. It was unprecedented moment in tennis history that a player experiencing his first main-level match, could beat the best player in the world! The qualifier, 17-year-old Malisse  was just two points away from defeating the No. 1 of the five previous seasons at 5:4* (deuce) in the 3rd set. "I went into the match like I didn't care if it was against Sampras or if it was a junior match," said Malisse. "He made me work very hard. He came up with unbelievable shots that surprised me. He had absolutely no nerves out there, and if he had nerves at the beginning, I helped him out. I think this kid is going to be around a while." stated Sampras.
Bogota 1998, 1R: Malisse - Thomas Muster 7-5 6-1
Malisse easily outplays on clay the king of this surface in years 1995-96, suggesting that he's got the right shots to win matches everywhere.
Davis Cup 1999, QF: Malisse - Roger Federer 4-6 6-3 7-5 7-6(5)
In a match of two teenagers (both suffered cramps) Malisse prevailed after 3 hours 30 minutes in hot and humid conditions, converting his fourth match point, and Belgium took an unbeatable 3-1 lead over Swiss in the quarterfinals. It was their first meeting, Federer won all other ones (ten in total) in the following thirteen years.
Davis Cup 2000, Santiago: Massu - Mariano Zabaleta 5-7 6-2 6-7(1) 1-3 unf.
Second rubber of a Chile-Argentina tie on a hardcourt (American Group I, SF). Copied from the wikipedia... Sections of the Chilean crowd incensed by what was perceived to be bad calls against Massú threw missiles, fruits, coins, bottles, plastic chairs among other things. Zabaleta's father was hurt in the disturbances and required 10 stitches and the Argentines did not complete the tie after they were escorted from the court by police. The rubber turned into Massu's win after a default, Chile won 2-0
Indian Wells 2001, 1R: Massu - Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 7-6(6)
The longest best of three match in 2001 (3 hours 30 minutes). In the 1st non-break set Ferrero had six break points (7th & 9th game) In the 2nd set Ferrero led 2:0, then Massu 4:2, 5:4, 6:5. The Chilean led 4:2 in the 3rd set before Ferrero forced the decisive tie-break in which was behind from first to last point. The marathon three-setters become Massu's trademark. No other player was involved in as many more than 3 hour three-setters as Massu in the 21st Century thus far.
Lyon & Paris 2001, 2R: Malisse defeats Arnaud Clement 7-6 in 3rd set twice
184 & 129 minutes respectively... It's funny because Malisse finished his career with an abysmal 7-14 record in deciding 3rd set tie-breaks, but four of those seven wins come from confrontations with two players: Clement & Isner (Houston, Washington 2010)
One of the most amazing comebacks in the ATP finals. Massu trailed 0:4, 1:5 & 2:5 (15/40) in the 2nd set! "This is the first tournament I've won. I did it in an incredible way, so I'm really happy. I dedicate this win to all of Chile," said Massu. Four years later Massu beat Calleri one again facing match points - 5, Indian Wells 6-1 5-7 7-6(10).
The Belgian was two points away from loss to the former Wimbledon champion, serving at *5:6 (deuce) in the final set. He advanced to the first and last Grand Slam semifinal in which he was a favorite against David Nalbandian having beaten Kafelnikov, Rusedski & Krajicek in three consecutive matches. Malisse lost 6-7(2) 4-6 6-1 6-2 2-6 though. The match was interrupted by rain and halted because of darkness after four sets; who knows what would have happened if the semifinal had been continued with Malisse easily outplaying his opponent through two sets...
Some players notch one amazing comeback in a final to get a title. Massu repeated his Buenos Aires feat in Palermo. He was 5:6* (0/40) in the final set, not only saved the triple match point - he won 12 points in a row!
Roland Garros 2004, 3R: Malisse - Albert Costa 6-4 2-6 4-6 7-6(4) 8-6
Valuable win over the former French Open champion in 4 hours 21 minutes. Malisse saved two match points serving at 4:5 in the 4th set in near darkness. The match was suspended when he leveled at 5-games all, and resumed on the following day.
Roland Garros 2004, F: O.Rochus/X.Malisse - M.Llodra/F.Santoro 7-5 7-5
The 23-year-old Belgians become the first players to win a major, having not won a doubles title before! [The same feat will be repeating four years later by Pablo Cuevas and Luis Horna in Paris, and by a Jonathan Marray/Frederik Nielsen pair at Wimbledon 2012.]
Olympics, Athens 2004, F: Massu gets two gold medals
The 24-year-old Massu at 2:39 a.m. local time finishes his doubles final, along with Fernando Gonzalez beat Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany, 6-2 4-6 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4, saving a quadruple match point in the tie-break (!), and 15 hours later returns on the court, to beat Mardy Fish 6-3 3-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 after a 4-hour singles final. For 24 hours 43 minutes, Massu has played over 11 matches en route to winning gold in singles and doubles! Before the Olympics, Massu lost eight straight matches on hard-courts (outdoors) and did not win an ATP title in doubles!
US Open 2004, 2R: Massu - Sargis Sargsian 7-6(6) 4-6 6-3 6-7(6) 4-6
The third longest US Open match in history: 5 hours 9 minutes. Massu wastes a match point in the 4th set tie-break and starts the final set trailing 0:1* because after the tie-break he threw his racquet receiving third warning.
Miami 2005, 2R: Malisse - David Ferrer 6-3 5-5 def.
Despite a lead Malisse experienced a meltdown over the inferior player at the time. He had thrown a ball at the line judge, hitting her on the arm. He got the point penalty which made him furious, he abused an official verbally, was defaulted, then kicked over a chair and smashed his racquet. In the consequence was stripped of his prize money from the event, $13.290, also fined $7.705 and suspended for four weeks.
Chennai 2007, SF: Malisse - Rafael Nadal 6-4 7-6(4)
Nadal wasted six set points; three at 5:4* and another three at 6:5. Malisse won the title and a couple weeks later another one in Delray Beach becoming the only player to win a title other than 'Masters' being defeated en route to the title (the failed experiment with 5 round-robin tournaments)! After years of being considered as an underachiever, Malisse seemed finally to get everything together. Then injured his wrist on February 19 in Memphis and was sidelined for six months. Never returned to that form since then, but was good enough to hang in the tour another six years, occasionally playing qualifying rounds.
Davis Cup 2009 (playoffs): Massu - Stefan Koubek 6-4 4-6 6-4 7-6(6)
Fifth rubber, 5 hours 14 minutes - the longest four-set match in history that allows Chile returning to the World Group. Massu overcame his co-created record when he lost in Davis Cup '07 to Dudi Sela 3-6 4-6 7-6(3) 4-6 in 5 hours 7 minutes (the only two four-setters that lasted over five hours). Total points vs. Koubek (168-158), vs. Sela (150-161). Against Sela, Massu won 3rd game of the 3rd set after 13 deuces; it lasted 25 minutes, very likely the fourth longest game in the Open era.
Statistical comparison in singles on the main-level:
Malisse 3 won 9 lost
Massu 6 won 9 lost
Match win/loss record:
Malisse 294-274 (.517)
Massu 257-238 (.519)
Best result in Grand Slams:
Malisse (Wimbledon, semifinalist 2002)
Massu (4th round at US Open '05)
This is possibly my last thread on MTF, so I'd like to communicate you that on my website in the last two years I've gathered articles of all Grand Slam tournaments in years 1980-2013. I think something like this in one place is currently available only there. In this thread, I've started adding my stats of the Open era Grand Slam finals. There aren't stats of main-level tournaments prior 1991 on the ATP website, so if you want to check some numbers, simply visit my thread or particular majors on my website where are included links to those pictorial-stats too.
__________________ stroke <- point <- game <- set <- MATCH -> round -> tournament -> season -> career