Rain in Spain Doesn't Dampen Spirits
It may have been raining outside in Seville today but it didn't dampen the mood of either the Spanish or American teams, as they appeared before the world's press.
The local media are already out in force, and Spanish newspaper Marca carried a hefty six pages on the tie - and it's only Tuesday. The visiting media are also starting to arrive, and all talk excitedly of a clash that will be big on atmosphere and tension.
Pre-draw press conferences, especially before a final, can often be nervy affairs, but both sets of players were relaxed and talkative. The Spanish do not appear to be unduly burdened by expectation ahead of this massive event, and say they are looking forward to playing in front of so many fans. Indeed, with 26,600 expected to pack into the Estadio Olimpico, it promises to be the biggest crowd ever to watch a sanctioned tennis match.
Carlos Moya in particular has reason to look forward to this final. He has been World No. 1 and won a Grand Slam title (1998 Roland Garros), but has never won a Davis Cup title. In 2000, when Spain won its only previous Davis Cup crown, Moya was suffering from a debilitating back injury, and wasn’t able to play.
Then last year in Melbourne in the final against Australia, he recorded a fantastic win against Mark Philippousssis in the second rubber. It looked as if he would play a decisive fifth rubber against Lleyton Hewitt, but Philippoussis managed to pull off a five-set win over Juan Carlos Ferrero to seal the Cup for Australia.
"After I won the Grand Slam and was No. 1, it [the Davis Cup] is the one that is missing," he said. "It would be a great feeling for me to win at home, and hopefully it's going to be this year."
The other members of the team all have strong motivation to perform well here. For Juan Carlos Ferrero, this year's final provides an opportunity to lay to rest the demons of last year's final, when he lost two five-set rubbers, to Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis. Ferrero has also had a disappointing 2004, beset by injury and loss of form and confidence, but a Davis Cup title would go a long way towards salvaging something from a poor year.
Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo meanwhile are the rising stars of the Spanish camp, and have done well in singles and doubles in 2004, their first full year of Davis Cup action. Looking at them alongside their two more experienced colleagues, Moya and Ferrero, as they faced the press today one wouldn't have guessed that this is their first Davis Cup Final.
And should anything untoward happen to any of the nominated four players, Spain has Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco to call on. These two talented youngsters are here practising with the team, underlining the team spirit within the Spanish as a group of players, and also the strength in depth that they have at their disposal.
In the face of such an array of strength both on court and off it, one could forgive the Americans for feeling a little overawed or at least uneasy, but that certainly doesn't look to be the case. All the players said today they were looking forward to playing in front of such a big crowd, an experience Andy Roddick said would be 'humbling'.
And when it comes to team spirit, the visitors are not lacking in that area either. Much has been made of the idea that Roddick must win both his singles rubbers for the Amnericans to win the Cup, but neither Captain Patrick McEnroe, nor Roddick himself, buys that theory.
"I don't think about it in terms of what I have to do," says Roddick. "The team has to win three matches, and if I'm part of that then great, but if the team wins and I lose both my matches I'll still be happy."
While Spain have Lopez and Verdasco to call on in an emergency, USA have Vince Spadea. After his open letter to McEnroe stating his case for inclusion in the squad, Spadea has been invited here as a practice partner and possible substitute for Mardy Fish in the second singles spot. Although McEnroe still says he is leaning toward playing Fish, there is no doubt that the Americans see Spadea as part of their team, even if he isn't nominated, as they made sure he sat with them at the press conference today and got a piece of the photo opportunities.
The doubles selection for McEnroe is more straightforward than his second singles spot, with the Bryan brothers - fresh off their successful Tennis Masters Cup defence and undefeated in Davis Cup - certain to be named.
"From when we came on tour in 1998 our biggest goal was to make the Davis Cup team," said Bob today, "so we were so pleased when Patrick called us up this year.
"This is going to be the biggest match of our lives."
And that statement could equally apply to the six other players who will take to the court this weekend.