Exclusive: “We Are Strong, Because We Are Close”
April 8, 2013 · Print This Article
You may already know that Milos Raonic helped Canada reach the semifinals of Davis Cup competition for the first time ever by beating Andreas Seppi in four sets, putting the home team in an unassailable 3-1 lead. This leaves the Canadian’s record in Davis Cup competition at 4-0 on the year, with only one set lost and two services games dropped. However, the man who left the most profound impression on me over the past three days was not the rocket-armed Raonic, but the bald, hunch-backed captain of the Italian squad, former tour player Corrado Barazzutti.
This confession may be a surprise to most. As a proud Canadian, I surprised myself when I realized this. But while the Canadian team was all-business and preferred to let their racquets do the talking, the Italians, their patriarch and spiritual leader especially, frequently let those in the press room see a truer, more human side of their personalities.
During the first match, while Canada’s Vasek Pospisil held a commanding two-sets-to-love lead against Andreas Seppi, the Italian number one, Barazzutti did nothing to let his players feel additional stress. After Pospisil broke Seppi in the final game of the second set, the Italian captain did not yell, or scream, or do anything to give his player a sense that something was amiss. He only told Seppi to “be positive.” It might something that a coach might say if his player is up two sets, or at least on equal footing with his opponent. Nevertheless, Seppi roared back to take the match in five sets.
After the second match, a straight-forward straight-sets win by Raonic over the mercurial Fabio Fognini, the mood was markedly different. Fabio wanted nothing to do with the press and looked very much like a caged animal during the post-match sit-down in the interview room. Knowingly, Barazzutti put his hand on his player’s shoulder, and cajoled him into finishing the pesky press obligations with inside jokes whispered into Fognini’s ear. While his Canadian counterpart Martin Laurendeau always seemed guarded and on-edge when speaking to the press, Barazzutti answered questions candidly. I asked him about the US Open match against Connors and the incident which made him famous for all the wrong reasons. He took pause, and I could see that he was once again reliving the pain of a point stolen from right under his nose by the American pest on tennis’ biggest stage. He looked down for a long moment, then back up at me. “Yes, I think about that moment often. Perhaps if not for that, I might have made the final that year. But Connors was also world number one. And I was very young…”
When the Canadian took the pivotal doubles rubber 15-13 in the fifth set, Barazzutti looked as crushed as his two players. They stood outside the interview room, in a light Vancouver rain, for many minutes after fielding questions. I wondered how much older a person could become in the span of four hours, because from where I sat, Barazzutti’s hunch became ever more pronounced.
On Sunday morning, at the tail end of the final practice before the Seppi-Raonic showdown, most of the Italians – Seppi, Braccialli, Lorenzi, Barazzutti and the hitting coaches – ended the session with a relaxing game of bocce ball on the stadium court, never mind that they were about to play a do-or-die match. Braccialli was the most skilled player, though each seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the distraction.
In the final opportunity I had to speak with Barazzutti, after the fourth match, I had to ask him about his coaching style. How could it be possible that he could be such a warm, caring, fatherly and downright loving coach in the dog-eat-dog world of professional tennis. Was this an Italian thing, or a Corrado Barrazzuti thing? I wondered aloud. He smiled at me and said:
“Isn’t it normal, to be supportive of each other? It is my job to create a good atmosphere for my players. This is what makes us a good team. We are strong, because we are close.”