Friday, 8 May 2009

Worthy Of Mention

As Rafael Nadal heads towards another dominant year on clay, cementing his position as the finest clay-courter of all time, I notice the announcement of the retirement, at the age of 27, of Guillermo Coria.

It's easy to forget that Nadal has only been at the top of the sport since 2005. In the previous year, Coria, a 21 year-old Argentine, reached number 3 on the ATP rankings off the back of a 31 game winning streak on clay, only ended by Federer in Hamburg. He was, for an 18 month period, 'King Of Clay'.

He went to Roland Garros as favourite to take the 2004 French Open, and reached the final with the loss of just one set. And then came the defining moment of his career, as he took to the court as overwhelming favourite against his unseeded countryman, Gaston Gaudio.

At that time, as a big tennis and soccer fan, I'd been considering internet betting, and had just taken delivery of a new computer. I'd had a look at a few bookmakers sites to see what bets were available, and noted in-play betting as a possible interest. I distinctly remember checking the odds of the final on the Sunday morning. I actually listened to most of the match on Radio 5 Live whilst working on the kitchen table. What transpired put me off in-play betting on tennis for a long time.

Coria dominated the early stages, breaking Gaudio six times in taking a 6-0, 6-3 lead. Gaudio's game improved, and he pressurised Coria into making unforced errors in taking the third set 6-4.

At this point, the match moved into bizarre territory. During the fourth set, at 1-1 Coria called for the trainer, and then as cramp kicked in he was unable to serve properly or move around the court. Gaudio took the set 6-1 in front of a stunned crowd and incredulous BBC commentary team. Coria called the trainer again, and the game looked to be over.

But Gaudio was now in the position of clear favourite, and his nerves kicked in. The fifth set drifted into farce, as both players choked under pressure. Coria's cramping improved, he took a 4-2 lead, nerves took hold again and the cramping came back. Gaudio was simply falling apart. The set reached 4-4. Coria broke to go to 5-4. Another break - 5-5. Another break - 6-5 Coria. 2 match points came and went, the commentary team were apoplectic, 6-6. When Gaudio finally held serve to lead 7-6, the game was up. Coria had gone mentally, and Gaudio crawled over the finish line 8-6 in the fifth.

Neither player ever reached these heights again. Don't doubt the mental damage done to both players during the match.

Coria pulled out of Toronto in the September and required shoulder surgery. He actually had a good 2005, despite hitting a Nadal-shaped brick wall on three occasions, but in the latter part of the season, the service yips took hold. In 2006 he had further physical (shoulder) and mental (yips) problems, and his ranking dropped from 6 to outside the top 100. He played just 2 matches in 2007, and with a 3-11 record in 2008, the recent announcement was no surprise.

His statement upon retirement said he'd lost motivation to compete, rather than had any particular injury issues. I wonder how much of the damage was done at Roland Garros that fateful day.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rob, You left a comment on my blog earlier and have added your link to mine, I was wondering if you could do the same?

    Many Thanks