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05 September 2013

Half century for Viver


By Kenny Castro

Photo: Daniel MaurerNicolas Lapentti (ECU) and captain Raul Viver

Back in 1994 when Raul Viver got the call to take charge of the captaincy of the Ecuadorian Davis Cup team, he never thought it would be for such a long time. It has now been almost two decades since he took to the helm, a reign that has for the most part, comprised more moments of satisfaction and joy than of disappointment or sadness.

In September "El Flaco", as he is affectionately known, will record his 50th Davis Cup tie as captain when Ecuador travels to Switzerland for its World Group play-off.

Viver, 52, represented Ecuador as a player for over a decade in the 1980s, a career that culminated in a World Group appearance in 1983. Later as a captain he twice led the team to be among the elite, the 16 best nations of the world, after Ecuador recorded victories over Great Britain at Wimbledon in 2000 and Brazil in Porto Alegre in 2009.

How have you enjoyed your tenure as captain of the Ecuadorian Davis Cup team?
Time has gone really fast, I can't believe that it has been 20 years. I remember my first tie - when as visitors we played Puerto Rico back in 1994 - like it was yesterday. Back then we had a very young team which consisted of Luis Adrian Morejon, Pablo Campana, Andres Alarcon and Nicolas Lapentti, who as a 17-year-old debuted as a singles player. We won that series 4-1.

I have always had great support from the different presidents of the Ecuadorian Tennis Federation who have asked me to continue and I believe such support is a result of the trust and support I receive from the players. I've been fortunate to have great players - as a matter of fact I had the pleasure of being Andres Gomez's captain, who shared his invaluable experience and had been my teammate before.

What’s the difference between being a Davis Cup player and captain?
Being in the captain's chair there is a lot of suffering. You are practically playing the match and at the same time you are not. Therefore there are things that from afar might seem easy, situations that look like they are easy to change but they’re not. It’s not easy to execute what you’ve been told. Sometimes you are able to and for some different circumstances/motives you are not, may be because your rival doesn’t allow you to, or because at the precise time because of pressure, you can't.

When you are a player your responsibility is to play and in the end you are the one who wins or loses the match. As a captain all you can do is help and guide them towards winning a match, but the player is the one who has the most pressure.

You have led two teams to World Group level, something quite remarkable for a country that does not produce many elite tennis players. How have you achieved this?
I think a lot of the success is based on the fact that these players have grown up together. They know each other really well and there is a great deal of unity among them. Right now all the teams in the World Group play-offs have players ranked in the world’s Top 50.

Our best player - Julio Cesar Campozano - is not in the Top 200. In addition we have a young team with young players that are just starting to compete professionally and are attending universities, such as Emilio Gomez and Roberto Quiroz.

When they play for Ecuador, they are able to play above their individual level, it's a tradition that our country has. Players like Andres Gomez and Nicolas Lapentti makes those who wear the country's colours feel the weight of the national colours. They know what it means to represent their country, they know that they have to arrive well prepared, they know that they will have to leave it all on the court. I believe that all of these reasons have helped us achieve results beyond what many people have expected.

You recorded a great victory over Great Britain at Wimbledon in 2000. What are your memories from that tie?
I remember when the former Davis Cup captain of the British team, David Lloyd, said that playing on grass against Ecuador was like playing against a school of blind people. I believe that’s what really motivated us.

After Nicolas Lapentti lost his match against Tim Henman the tie was even at 2-all, Giovanni [Lapentti] was to play the deciding fifth rubber. How was the atmosphere in the locker room?
Firstly, Nico was devastated about the loss - he wanted to clinch the series. Secondly, we knew that giving that responsibility to 17-year-old Giovanni Lapentti was going to be very difficult. Nico couldn't hold back the tears, he was disappointed. I told them we will forget it, we will win this series. I saw that Giovanni had incredible will and conviction even though he had lost the first two sets, he kept believing until the end that he could win.

What was your highlight of Ecuador’s victory over Brazil in Porto Alegre?
That final was played at the "Gigantinho de Porto Alegre" with 8,000 people screaming. Nicolas Lapentti brought all of his experience and all of his class as a Davis Cup player, even though he was not playing in a good tournament rhythm due to injuries.

In the fifth set versus Marcos Daniel, Nico was down to his last energy reserves. After being up 2-sets-to-love the match had turned complicated on him. Finally he won 10-8 in the fifth. I remember giving him leg massages during the changeovers and I could feel his muscles cramping. He would say "don't worry about it, I will manage it." That was Nico's temperament that always defined him. He was a warrior, a gladiator.

What comes to your mind when you think of sad moments as a captain?
When Nico Lapentti lost to Tim Henman in 2000 and when we lost the series to Romania in Quito in 2003 (all five matches were extended to five sets). Everyone cried in the locker room, players and coaching staff alike. As a captain, that series loss to Romania was the most painful.

You often hear that some players have Davis Cup pedigree and others do not. What is Davis Cup pedigree?
There are players that in individual tournaments have a great level of play but in Davis Cup do not produce the same results, their level of play drops while others players react differently. These are the players that enjoy playing for the "camiseta" (national team shirt), for their country, for their team. These things motivate them and there are others that the pressure overtakes them, they think “I am playing for my country, it's not only me, if I lose…” Plenty of doubts invade them.

Do you have any rituals before or after a tie?
One ritual we have with the team is that before every match we gather together in a circle and we hug letting out a warrior like scream "Tres Ra por Ecuador" (3 Ras for Ecuador). Generally Dr. Tyrone Flores our team doctor leads it; he has been with us for many years. From there we get a lot of positive energy - the player that comes onto the court after that moment comes out with more will, they believe everything is possible.

Even after all your years and experience do you still suffer from anxiety and nervousness in the chair?
I feel the same now as on the first day, sometimes more even. Although time passes those emotions do not leave you because you live it. In the chair you suffer a lot because you are outside and you are paying attention to everything that is happening in the match. You know you need to be able to share it during the changeovers in that precise minute that you have with the player. The tension is the same now as it was in the first series versus Puerto Rico.

What is the most hostile crowd you have faced?
As a player without a doubt in 1985 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and as a captain in 2000 in Peru. It was really hard in Asuncion too but the most difficult was in Lima. Mostly because they all saw the series as if they had already won it, they practically had it in their hands, and the public ended up frustrated and were doing everything possible to disrupt our players

Facing Switzerland is Davis Cup tie number 50 as the Ecuadorian captain. What does that mean to you?
I really didn't know how many series it has been, but in truth it is a number that sounds great. I am really happy for that, I feel privileged that I've had the opportunity to represent my country for so many years. First as a player and later as a captain, I believe that only those who have represented Ecuador can appreciate and truly value what it means to represent the colours of our country.

Ecuador plays Switzerland on 13-15 September with a place in the 2014 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group at stake. Play starts at 1pm local time (11am GMT) on Friday 13 September.

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