By Clive White
The name of Domenico Vicini may not roll off the tongue as readily as some of those he rubbed shoulders with on Saturday when the International Tennis Federation presented its Davis Cup Commitment Awards at the O2 Arena in Prague, but the man from San Marino clearly loves the game and the competition every bit as much as the celebrated likes of Manolo Santana and Nicola Pietrangeli.
It’s hard to believe that anyone could have played more Davis Cup tennis than Pietrangeli, whose name has long been associated with the competition. He played in a record 61 home and away ties at the highest level between 1954 and 1972, but Vicini is on 87 ties at any level and still counting.
“I was lucky enough to play every day, lucky to come from San Marino, and lucky to start to play Davis Cup,” he said. “I played every day, every day, every day, and arrived at these 87 matches.”
Vicini fell in love with the sport at the age of four while on a camping holiday with his father and some of the ties he has been involved in since making his debut in 1993 have been staged in similarly unsophisticated surroundings.
He recalled a tie in Zambia where the composition of the court seemed to constitute “something like sugar with water” and the lines, which were crookedly painted, kept disappearing. His other abiding memory of that tie was when the water ran out and they had to replenish themselves with Coca-Cola. In humid conditions and 40 degree temperatures it wasn’t ideal.
At 41 years of age, Vicini restricts himself mainly to singles these days. He never had a proper coach and never attended an academy, but he is indebted to his father for “transmitting only the love of tennis - not the pressure to succeed – and that I carry with me for my whole life”.
A day in the life of a competition winner
By Kris Dymond
I was lucky enough to win tickets to a Davis Cup fixture of my choice on the ITF website in February.
My girlfriend and I elected to attend the 100th final, whose teams were not determined yet and so it's fait to say we watched the semifinals with interest!
So here we are in Prague, for the match between the Czech Republic and Spain. It's November, and it's cold outside. We catch the Metro from town to the O2 arena, which is similar to the London venue.
Two hours before play, and the train is quite full. As we arrive at our stop, we can hear singing and trumpets and drums already. We know we're in for a good day.
We get to experience hospitality as part of the event, so after a nice lunch and some Czech beer, we make our way out to the court for the opening ceremony. Flag bearers re-enacted the draw from the World Group, before the team introductions and national anthems. The home team got a very loud reception.
The first match was three hours long, and Ferrer quietened the crowd with a straight sets win over Stepanek. The Czech seemed to be in a temperamental mood, contesting line calls and rejecting new balls at changeovers. Ferrer was business as usual, chasing everything down.
The second match was much more fiery. The crowd really came alive when Berdych won the first set against Almagro. The funniest moment of the set saw two of the ball kids collide as they chased a high bouncing ball.
The umpire, Carlos Ramos, had a really tough job to control the trumpets, drums and vuvuzelas. It's definitely a different volume to a normal tournament, more like a carnival.
We were sitting between the two most noisy sections of fans; the Czechs and their instruments to our left, and the Spaniards with their chants of 'Ole!' and flag twirling to our right.
In the third set, with the score tied, the crowd became much more involved as Almagro appeared to try to influence a line call on the baseline, forcing the point to be replayed. Every shot he subsequently missed was cheered to the rafters, causing long delays between serves and between points. The controversy even made Lendl crack a smile, from the front row.
There was still a healthy crowd at 10:45pm, when the match went to a fifth set, after a tense tiebreak, won by Almagro.11:25pm, and the crowd erupted, as Berdych broke for a 4-2 lead.
Moments later, Almagro's backhand gets a dead netcord and trickles over the net, which makes the crowd whistle at him as loud as they can. How do they sustain the volume for nearly seven hours of tennis?!?
At 4-3 to the Czechs, Berdych broke again after a bad challenge from Almagro, and the roof came off at the O2! Berdych served out the last game, and the party started. Play finished with three hours 58 minutes on the clock, at 11.45pm.
That was only the end of day one, and with the score level at 1-1 we knew it wouldn't be decided until Sunday.
Thanks again to the ITF for the opportunity to experience this historic final...there's a long way to go until we know who the winners will be!
by Eleanor Preston
There is a tendency amongst tennis pundits - this one included - to celebrate flamboyant shotmaking and coo in admiration at every flurry of winners. Swashbuckling tennis has its place, no doubt, but sometimes we would do better to show some appreciation for the more artisan virtues of David Ferrer.
Ferrer, whether or not he beats Tomas Berdych in Sunday’s first reverse singles in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, deserves every bit of praise. He is a player who combines deceptive athleticism, sometimes miraculous retrieval and old-fashioned gumption and it is taken for granted by his fellow pros that Ferrer will refuse to give them an inch, let alone a free point, if he can possibly help it. Chances will be snuffed out, passing shots will be made and lost causes will be chased from one set of tramlines to the other.
“I knew from the back of the court he was going to be like a machine. That's what I expected,” said Radek Stepanek, who lost to Ferrer in Friday’s first singles rubber. It has become something of a chorus - the wearied words of Ferrer’s vanquished opponents, who have trooped into their press conference looking footsore and frustrated but full of admiration for the man who had just worn them into submission.
Ferrer will end the season as No.5 in the world, which is no mean feat given the strength of the four players above him. He was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros (beating Andy Murray en route) and had chances to beat Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the US Open.
Typically, he was actually stronger at the end of the season and won ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Paris to pick up his seventh title of 2012 - the best haul of any player in Tour events. How typical of Ferrer to show his best form just when his rivals were starting to show signs of tiredness.
Ferrer seems a modest sort of chap. He has an unusual humility about him and appears happy in the shadows of countrymen and teammates who are either more accomplished at Grand Slam level (Rafael Nadal), more prone to controversy (Nicolas Almagro) or more glamorous (Feliciano Lopez).
Ferrer’s English is limited and while he is, understandably, far more at ease in Spanish, his demeanor is still softly-spoken and thoughtful. On his official website, he lists his interests as reading and cooking and includes a section on books he recommends.
There is indisputably a hardness beneath that gentlemanly exterior though. According to one story - possibly apocryphal - one of Ferrer’s early coaches used to lock him in a cupboard to discipline him. He also took work as a bricklayer in his early days when he wasn’t sure whether his tennis talent would pay the bills.
He is light on his feet and keen-eyed on return of serve but it is Ferrer’s sheer relentlessness which often inflicts the most damage. There is seldom anyone harder to beat than a man who refuses to lose and Ferrer’s intransigence deserves our admiration.