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Davis Cup Important for Top Tennis Stars; Davis Cup History; Mexican Tennis Star Leo Lavalle; Mexican Tennis Legend Rafael Osuna, High Altitude Tennis Balls

Aired October 13, 2011 - 05:30:00   ET





PAT CASH, HOST: Hello and welcome to OPEN COURT, this month coming to you from San Luis Potosi in Mexico. I'm here coaching the Australian boys junior Davis Cup team, and they're just four of the kids here this week that are hoping at some stage to represent their country, just like the biggest names in the sport, who are making Davis Cup their priority. Here's Pedro Pinto.



NOVAK DJOKOVIC, WORLD NUMBER ONE: The feeling that you get -- the goosebumps that you get walking on the court in front of the -- your people, wanting you to fight for your country. And when you win, there's no better feeling.


CROWD: Djokovic!

PEDRO PINTO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: A rousing, rock star reception for world number one, Novak Djokovic.

CROWD: Serbia! Serbia!

PINTO: The Serbian takes the floor at this year's Davis Cup semifinal against Argentina.

DJOKOVIC: When you're playing, you're alone on the court, you're playing one-on-one, but if you win a game, the chair umpire says "Game Serbia," not "Game Djokovic."


PINTO: World number two Rafa Nadal enters the bull ring, determined to lead the Spaniards past France.

RAFAEL NADAL, WORLD NUMBER TWO: Play in front of our crowd is always a big emotion and big motivation.


GUY FORGET, FRENCH DAVIS CUP CAPTAIN: What's wonderful this year is that Rafael is playing. Novak Djokovic after winning -- the finals in New York, flew to Belgrade to play the semifinal match against Argentina, and that's great, you're the best players in the world. Everyone played that competition, and I think that that's wonderful for Davis Cup.

PINTO: For four weekends a year, tennis is transformed into the largest international team competition in the world.

NADAL: Most important thing is to represent my country just the way I represent my country every time when I go on court around the world, when I'm playing Davis Cup, the most important thing for me is to be here with my colleagues, with my team.

CROWD: Espana! Espana!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the feeling of a nation together doing this thing.


VIKTOR TROICKI, WORLD NUMBER 16: When I know when I'm going to play Davis Cup, I cannot wait for that time to come, and it's really -- we're all great friends, and that's why we maybe play so good when we are together.

GILES SIMON, WORLD NUMBER 12: The Davis Cup, it's different, you can feel it, you can feel that the people want you to win, the people want France to win. And so, it's -- you're just exhilarated to be on the court and trying to be -- to play your best tennis.

JANKO TIPSAREVIC, WORLD NUMBER 13: You know that no matter what happens on court, 20,000 people are going to scream, "Serbia!" Or your name or whatever, and then, if you start playing good, that's an amazing feeling.

PINTO: This team competition can serve as a springboard to individual success. Novak Djokovic notched together a 43-match winning streak after leading Serbia to their Davis Cup title in 2010.


DJOKOVIC: That's when it all started, in -- definitely the Davis Cup title. That was the priority, the number one goal for 2010, we wanted to win that badly. For the first time in Serbian tennis history, we did, in front of 20,000 people. It was just the best feeling ever for all of us on the court.

Because -- why? Because we get to share with each other. It was not an effort from individual, it was for the team.

JIM COURIER, FOUR-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: It's made him a different person on the court. It's given him a different sense of what he's capable of.

And that's what Davis Cup can do for a player, because particularly in those home ties, when you're an iconic player like he is in his country, those moments are even more meaningful, more heightened as far as pressure goes, and he came through with flying colors.

DJOKOVIC: I think Janko and Viktor and Zimonic are following the success, as well, because they are having the best years of their careers, as well, and I'm very glad. And I think that all of us will probably give the same answer, why do we have the best years? And one of the big reasons is the Davis Cup final.

TIPSAREVIC: First, of all, I feel that the Davis Cup helped all of us. I can -- I remember I traveled the next day to Kenya to do my pre- season for the next year, and I was thinking, if we would have lost that last match, I really wouldn't see myself having the same motivation to practice and work hard.

I like to call it positive jealousy. Seeing Novak do what he's doing on the court kind of motivates you to be a little bit better, you know?

PINTO: Serbia's bid to defend their title fell short. It'll be Argentina and Spain who face off in December's final.

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO, WORLD NUMBER 14: We never win the Davis Cup. We almost -- very close every year, but still waiting to win the trophy. And everybody in the country wants to win the Davis Cup, so we are good players and we are trying for that.


CASH: Now, the Argentinians have been very close before, but have never won the Davis Cup, and they would love nothing more than to be part of the Cup's rich history.

The competition started 112 years ago when Harvard University challenged the British to a duel.


CHRIS BOWERS, TENNIS HISTORIAN: The Davis Cup started when an affluent Harvard University student, Dwight Filley Davis, decided that he wanted to start a team event.

So he invited a group of people over from Great Britain, the best players from the British Isles, went to a New England silversmith, bought a cup, got it engraved with the name International Team Tennis Challenge.

And in a way, that was what it was called originally. But after the success of the first event, it was nicknamed the Davis Cup.

The biggest thing in the 1920s was the emergence of the French quartet known as the Musketeers, four French players, three players who could play singles and doubles and a doubles specialist.

And really, without the Musketeers, you wouldn't have the stadium Rolland Garros, which is now the home of the French Open.

The French were eventually knocked off their perch by the British, who had the legendary team of Fred Perry and Bunny Austin and one or two supporting cast.

After the second World War, you have the great Australian era. It means that Australia have 28 Davis Cup titles, which they probably wouldn't have had had it been a completely competitive era the way it is now.

Once tennis became open, the Americans, British, French, and Australians were never going to have it all to themselves the way they had up to then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more good serve from --

MATS WILANDER, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE: I would never trade a Davis Cup victory for, let's say, another singles Grand Slam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Davis Cup goes to Sweden again.


WILANDER: For us to have everybody around us, like Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd and Joakim Nystrom, I can't -- you can't really put a number on how important that was for everyone. But we work together, we're friends, we're still friends, and yes. It was a very special time.

STEFAN EDBERG, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE: It was a fantastic era of Swedish tennis, and obviously we were a golden generation and we had a lot of success and it's quite amazing the success that we had from such a small country.

BOWERS: McEnroe was one of these players -- there are a lot of them - - whose natural talent was in an individual sport, but whose heart was in team sport.

He even wore his Davis Cup track suit when he walked out at Wimbledon. He was very proud to play for his country. He didn't even always talk about Davis Cup, he talked about playing for his country.

McEnroe knew his career was coming to an end at the end of 92.

JOHN MCENROE, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE: Oh, I played doubles only that year. So, I was sort of on the fringe of the singles, but these other guys had gone by me. You've probably heard of them, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier.

I still felt like I could make an impact in doubles, and given the fact that personally I was going through a tough time and an eventual divorce from my first wife, it was a very emotional time for me, very difficult. The Davis Cup was the perfect remedy for me.

I never felt more part of a team, sort of our dream team, if you want to call it. It was something, certainly, that running around that court with the flag, wasn't the only time I did it, but I think that was the biggest one I ever ran around with, it was an amazing moment.


CASH: Well, you can see how much it means to the players to be playing for their country in the Davis Cup. And for me personally, winning the Davis Cup was as important as winning a Grand Slam.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Success in five sets! A fantastic effort from Pat Cash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It certainly was, Peter. Really put himself in the champion's class today.


CASH: Well, it really is nice to be reminded about all the great Davis Cup history there is. And while I'm here in Mexico, I can't help but be reminded myself, because I played here, and I played against a friend and a foe, Leo Lavalle, one of the great players in Mexico Davis Cup history. Mate, lovely to see you here.


CASH: Here we are, coaching the youngsters there. You want to have a hit?

LAVALLE: Yes, let's go. Let's do it.

CASH: Yes? Come on.

LAVALLE: Let's go.

CASH: So, what do you think about the Davis Cup? I mean, is it going in the right direction? It's -- it never -- got as big as, say, the Ryder Cup and Americas Cup. Can they -- what can they do about that, do you think?

LAVALLE: Well, I think for us tennis players, Davis Cup is so meaningful that we can play every year, and we don't have a problem with it. But for the public, it can be -- maybe if you do it like a Ryder Cup or like a World Cup every three, four years, that will be a little bit more interesting for the -- for the public.

CASH: The thing about tennis players is that we don't have much team competition, do we? We're --

LAVALLE: Yes, I think team --

CASH: -- we're such individuals.

LAVALLE: Yes. Team competition, it's like -- it's like the ultimate, because if we see World Cup or we see a Ryder Cup, we love it.

And for us, Davis Cup, it's so meaningful that to spend a couple weeks a year, four times a year on Davis Cup, it's really meaningful, and it's something that you enjoy very much as a player, to be a team sport.

CASH: Well, hold on here, Leo. We're just going to go for a little break. But when we come back, we're going to have a little look at the tennis in Mexico, and I'm going to introduce you to a man fondly remembered as the original Rafa.


CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT. I'm here with Leo Lavalle, your Mexican Davis Cup legend, and a friend and an old foe.

Leo, I've got -- in Aussie, we have so many Davis Cup legends that I was inspired to be like, like Rosewell, Laver, Newcombe. What about you as a Mexican? Who inspired you?

LAVALLE: Yes, for sure, I think Rafael Osuna and Raul Ramirez. Rafael Osuna, winner of the US Open, only Grand Slam winner in Mexican history, and for him, both of them inspire me a lot.

CASH: Well, we were lucky enough to go to Mexico City to catch up with Rafael Osuna's family and hear about this amazing legend of a man.


RAFAEL BELMAR OSUNA, RAFAEL OSUMA'S NEPHEW: He was the first to open the doors for tennis in Mexico.

He showed the world -- showed Mexico that we can be somebody.

ELANA OSUNA DE BELMAR, RAFAEL OSUNA'S SISTER: He was so, so exciting. He was like a panther, really.

R. BELMAR: Rafael Osuna is the headstone of tennis in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Latin America's day of glory on the tennis courts at Forest Hills. In the near court, Rafael Osuna serves to Frank Froehling in the finals. The young Mexican is on his way to the title.

R. BELMAR: We're at the Osuna family box with Elana Osuna, my mom, Rafael Osuna's sister, and a top-ten ranked player in Mexico.

I wanted to revisit his legacy with my mother by my side, so we traveled to Mexico City to visit the stadium, which is now named after him.

Mom, what memories does this stadium bring to you?

E. BELMAR: So many, so many. I couldn't tell you all of them.

R. BELMAR: Did you play here when you were younger?

E. BELMAR: Of course, I played here when I was a junior, and afterwards, it was so exciting to see my little brother playing Davis Cup.

R. BELMAR: Was it hard for you, watching him compete in the tight matches that he played?

E. BELMAR: I was so nervous, and he knew that. So, between points, he would walk toward me. He knew where I was. And he would --

R. BELMAR: Wink?

E. BELMAR: Wink the eye. So, to say, "Don't worry. I'm going to win."

He was such a charismatic guy. He really was a boy that enjoyed life.

They started winning in Wimbledon. My goodness! And the first round, and the second one, and -- there was no television, of course, and there were -- and I remember in my house, we lived in San Jeronimo.

And I remember when it was about 7:00 or 10:00 or something, my father used to tell my little sister, "Please call the newspaper and say -- and ask if Rafael -- how he did.

And so, she would phone the newspaper, she said, "He won! He won!"

He went to New York to play the US -- what we call now the US Open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Osuna gave up tennis as a youngster, but resumed eight years ago. Today, he becomes the first from Mexico to take the US singles.

E. BELMAR: He immediately phoned my parents to say, "I won! I won!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The final game, and he aces Froehling for match point. He takes the men's title in straight sets.

E. BELMAR: And so, "I want -- I want you to make -- " the national dish here is mole. "You have to make a big mole for me."

He wanted, for once in his lifetime, to win -- to beat Australia. He was asked to play because he was almost retired, and he won. The crowd was crazy. They jumped into the court, they carried him on their shoulders.

It was a Wednesday, and he went in his job to Monterrey. But he was not supposed to stay there. He was -- he left very early in the morning, and he was supposed to get back the same day. So, even my parents didn't know he was flying.

That last day, he played chess with my father. They loved to play chess. And they played chess and they said good-bye. They didn't know it was his last chess game.

They found the plane completely crashed in the mountain.

I think his legacy as a tennis player and as a human being, I think his legacy was very big.

R. BELMAR: The USC athletic director said that on the court, he moved with the speed of a panther, but with the -- but he looked like a great matador.

E. BELMAR: A great matador. And that's the -- that's the picture I have in my mind. I always remember him as a winner. He was a winner.


CASH: Well, what a great story about an amazing champion. Now, Leo, I'd like to thank you very much for looking after us here in Mexico. It's nice to be back.

LAVALLE: It's great to have you here in Mexico.

CASH: And good luck with your tennis academy.

LAVALLE: Thanks.

CASH: Now, after the break, why a normal tennis ball doesn't cut it here in Mexico.


CASH: So, you think all balls are created equal? Well, that's not necessarily the case. Here in Mexico, I'm with the Australian junior team practicing at about 3,000 feet above sea level. And the thinner air really messes with your game.

So the only way to compensate is with a high-altitude ball. Don Riddell will tell you about it. Go on, move those feet!


DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell the difference between a regular tennis ball and a high-altitude one?

How about now?

It's not a trick question. I can't tell the difference, either. That's why I've come to the world's biggest tennis laboratory to try and find out.

Now, I wonder if you can help me. I've been told you're the expert. I didn't even know until recently that there was such a thing as an altitude ball. Why do we even need altitude balls? Do the balls really perform that much differently higher up?

JAMIE CAPEL-DAVIES, ITF TECHNOLOGIST: Yes. So, what happens at altitude is the air gets thinner, which means that balls travel faster through the air. There's a number of things you can do to try and counteract that change. Make the balls bigger, make them bounce lower, and there's a certain type of ball that you can keep at high altitude to acclimatize.

RIDDELL: Can you show us?

CAPEL-DAVIES: I can, yes. We've got just the piece of equipment to do that.

This is a wind tunnel specifically designed for testing tennis balls, and it's the only one of its type in the world.

This is a regular ball, and so, normal size and we can measure the drag on this, and then we can put a larger ball in there and look at the difference between the two.

This is what the airstream, if you could see the winds, would look like as it moves past the ball.

So, I put the larger ball in the wind tunnel, and I'm going to start the wind up again, and we can look at how the drag changes for a bigger ball.

So, this is running at the same speed, and you can see already it's got up to drag value of 72 grams. So, noticeably different from the regular-sized ball.

RIDDELL: Simple as that. Bigger ball, travels slower.

CAPEL-DAVIES: That's right.

RIDDELL: So, what do we have here, Jaime?

CAPEL-DAVIES: So, this is how we would measure the bounce height when you give it a go and find out which is the high-altitude one.

RIDDELL: And there should be a difference.

CAPEL-DAVIES: You should be able to see a difference, yes.

RIDDELL: I get to do my own experiment! All right, are you watching, Jaime?


RIDDELL: Oh, big difference. Now that I know the difference between the two balls, I'm going to go and get changed and have a hit with a player that's achieved some success, recently, with the altitude variety.

Congratulations on your junior Davis Cup win.


RIDDELL: And you did it at altitude, as well. How different was that for you, to adjust and adapt?

EDMUND: The ball flies, which means you have to put extra spin on it, and it's just really jumpy, so your feet have to be extra quick and you just can't trust it, really, so you have to be always on the edge.

RIDDELL: I've got some here.


RIDDELL: There's no altitude here. We're at sea level --


RIDDELL: -- in London. What's it going to be like, hitting these here?

EDMUND: I'm not sure. It might be a bit slow, compared to the other ones, but we'll soon see.


RIDDELL: Well, what do you think, Kyle?


RIDDELL: Are they completely different? A little special?

EDMUND: When -- well, I didn't put any paste on it. The ball just bounces and dies, so you just have to really control the ball as much as possible. So, you end up not playing a game, you end up trying to get it in, thinking about it.

RIDDELL: Now, you've been successful with these balls. You've won the junior Davis Cup. If you have a choice, would you like to play all your tennis at altitude with these balls, or do you prefer it down here?

EDMUND: No, I prefer it down here, definitely. I got quite frustrated when I was playing there. Luckily it came through, though.

RIDDELL: Well done, mate.

EDMUND: Thanks a lot.

RIDDELL: Great to see you. Nice job.

EDMUND: Thank you.


CASH: Well, that's all we have time for for this month from the sunny skies of Mexico. And next month, we go to Istanbul, where the top eight women players of the world play off for the end-of-year championships. So, until then, good-bye.

All right, guys. First one to hit the tiger gets the sweaty headband!


CASH: Come on!


CASH: Yes! You missed.