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Nino Severino: Recalling some special moments at the Australian Open

Rafa Nadal is on course for a final with fellow great Novak Djokovic in Australia. Picture: PA SPORT

Rafa Nadal is on course for a final with fellow great Novak Djokovic in Australia. Picture: PA SPORT

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In his latest column, Nino Severino talks about his time at the Australian Open, and his admiration for ‘gladiator’ Rafa Nadal.

Rafa Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Picture: PA SPORTRafa Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Picture: PA SPORT

As we are now deep into The Australian Open, one of the four tennis Grand Slams, and moving towards the finals at the weekend, I could not let my column pass this week without covering this amazing tournament.

It was a tournament I always looked forward to, I have such amazing memories of supporting Elena during her career.

The courts at Melbourne Park, the site where the tournament is held, was one of Elena’s favourite surfaces, it matched her aggressive style of play very well, and together as player and coach we reached the third round in 2010, taking the scalp of one of the world’s best players, Kateryna Bondarenko, representing Ukraine as a seeded player.

The memories for me are not only about the court, but the amazing off-court life that we all experienced as part of this fantastic tennis spectacle.

The tournament so far this year has delivered some outstanding tennis for the millions of fans watching around the world, and the hundreds of thousands that have been lucky enough to be court side to watch the matches on the stunning Aqua Blue courts of Melbourne Park.

There is a massive story building, with Novak Djokovic, world no.1, and Rafa Nadal, world no.2, on course to meet in the final at the weekend.

This match, if it were to happen, would take its place in tennis history, representing two men who have, from childhood, competed against each other and will go down as two of the greatest players of all time.

Djokovic actually leads Nadal 27-25 in overall matches played, and holds the stronger position at The Australian Open, winning six of the seven matches they have played.

The importance of this match is staggering in terms of tennis history, Roger Federer leads the Grand Slam winning list, with a jaw-dropping 20 titles, followed by Nadal on 17, and Djokovic holding 14.

Novak Djokovic in action at The Australian Open. Picture: PA SPORTNovak Djokovic in action at The Australian Open. Picture: PA SPORT

Both Novak and Nadal will be very aware of the significance of a Grand Slam win, and how it will affect their standing in the all-time greatest list of male tennis players.

As I said, I have many memories from Melbourne, from the amazing lunches spent with Judy Murray and Elena in the players’ lounge, and two great matches, supporting Elena on the biggest court in the world, the Rod Laver Arena, once playing the tennis legend Justine Henin and the other, the world No.2 at the time, Dinara Safina.

But it was in the players’ lounge where one of my biggest off-court experiences happened, and it involved the one and only Nadal.

When we talk about tennis legends, without a shadow of a doubt this man is right up there amongst the greatest, with an incredible mind blowing 11 French Open titles, 80 ATP Tour Titles, two end of year titles and an Olympic gold medal to his name.

The day of my experience was like any other day at Melbourne, both Elena and I attended our warm up session, then prepared for lunch in the players’ lounge. Once we were there, we settled down at our table, with a who’s who of the tennis world milling around, chatting, eating, resting.

In the players’ lounge, it was not only the current greats of the tennis world you would be sharing this space with, but also legends of the past, players such as Boris Becker and John McEnroe, as well as many globally known celebrities – this meant that every lunch time was an experience in itself!

As both Elena and I enjoyed our lunch and a chat, the gladiator of the courts walked in. Rafa is a humble man, and came in on his own, grabbed his lunch, and went to take his place at one of the tables. What I was about to witness next will stay in my mind forever.

Rafa went to sit down with a group of the other Spanish players, players such as David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Nicolas Amalgro.

This was an extremely rare occurrence – although they were all very comfortable in each other’s company, you would not normally see that many players at that level from one country all sitting together.

I had my back to them, and I remember saying to Elena, “I’m just going to casually turn my seat around, this is never going to happen again!”

What unfolded, was just simply magic. All the players were having such a great time, laughing like 12-year-old boys, taking this time to forget their standing on the world stage of tennis and the stresses and strains of being a tennis spartan.

What made this so very special was, that during this moment in time, they were simply a group of young men, relaxing, talking, laughing and enjoying life. As they were eating, one of the agents brought over a very attractive lady to their table for a chat, and I remember she also asked for autographs.

After she left the group to continue with their lunch the banter started, which created a larger and louder display of fun and laughter.

During this period of my life, I must admit, I took the time on the world tour for granted.

Now I realise how privileged we were to be part of this incredible world, filled with such incredible individuals.


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