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Davis Cup Final, Nice 1999 - Tour Review

"Well, I guess we’re going to Nice now"...........................

These were the words spoken by team and supporters alike after the fantastic DC victory in Brisbane in Sept last year. However these same words echoed around the world on different occasions too, such as after the Rugby World Cup victory, the Netball world champs, The Hockey worlds champs, The Surfing Pro Am, the Athletics, Swimming, Sailing worlds, Rowing worlds … and every other world sporting event in which the Aussies competed and won (I’m not forgetting the cricket, its just that it was earlier in the year and there were other events after its conclusion before the Davis Cup Final).

Also these were the same words spoken by a hardy band of Aussie backpackers travelling around or working in Europe. The scene was set… Sport was our religion and Nice was our Mecca.

In a funny sort of way it seemed fitting that The Aussie DC team should have to endure another away game, on another continent, on another surface. Not just any surface, but clay at that - the French DC teams favorite. And lets face it, if there was a crowd in the world who could match it (at times) in the passion stakes with The Fanatics it was the French.

They had picked up the Soccer World Cup and were coming off the back of a loss against the Aussies in the Rugby World Cup final (although they played the match of the WC against the wee wees). They felt it was to be their finale to the year…...

So Newks boys would have to prove their mettle for this one. They say the harder the battle the greater the victory…………

Things kicked off on a balmy Thursday night at a place called Waynes Bar (funnily enough run by a guy called Wayne!) in downtown Nice. The formula was pretty simple: Stroll on in (actually it was more like push and shove – it was packed), get a beer (OK two. God gave us two hands for good reason) and turn around and say G’day to the person next to you to which the response was usually G’day, but sometimes was, well, I’m not too sure but it wasn’t Australian. You see, even though this was to be the Fanatics social headquarters for the weekend and thus had a great band of Aussies of all ages there, it also contained a fair sprinkling of Germans, Belgians, Americans, Poms, and even a few Israeli’s, all of whom support Australia over their own countries!!. I guess that earnt them the right to be part of the Fanatics.

By the number of people already wearing face paint and Fanatics T-shirts this night was not just a warm up. It was the real thing and everybody threw themselves into the fray as best they knew how. Afterall we had to pay sacrifice to the great sporting Gods to invoke their pleasure before tomorrows hit off. This formula had worked all year so we couldn’t deny our responsibilities now! So it was into the beers, yarning (at a yell), cutting up the (packed) dance floor and generally getting serious about getting silly. Now I guess I have been to the odd sporting event in my time, but I would have to say that it was never easier to meet new people than here. Everybody was in top form. The scene was set. This was already a great tournament! I guess lights out for the early birds was around 3am… as for the rest………………well.

Day 1. Meet up at the Famous Scottish restaurant on the promenade by the Mediterranean. It seemed like a ridiculously early hour to be getting out of bed to meet - I think it was around 11am and the sun was as bright as John Howard isnt. Now Nice was going about the usual Saturday morning thing… you know drive around and blast your horn for some unknown reason; walk your dog (usually a poodle – perfect for grabbing by the legs and using to wash your car with) and let it go about its business where ever it is likely to cause the greatest inconvenience to the most amount of people; walk into the smallest shop you can find and smoke etc etc.

Yeah just the usual sort of Nice day… except for the band of about 250 people (and growing by the minute) dressed in anything green and gold and adorned with everything from the Australian flag to wattle.

There were banners, bright green and gold wigs, hats of all shapes and sizes with kangaroos and koalas stuck on them. Hell, there were even two full sized kangaroos there! I was immediately homesick!

This was a chance to see what the people from last night actually looked like in the cold hard light of day! Yep I was at home amongst this crowd. Those that hadn’t already done so were painting their faces. Yours truly did so in the confines of my (surprisingly up-market) hotel. The look on the staff at reception as I casually handed over my key was worth painting. Hell it was worth sculpting!! I guess it wasn’t everyday that two Aussies swagger out of their Hotel with Australian Flags draped around their necks, bright yellow afro wigs, gold T-shirts (collectors items actually), and green and gold face paint a la Braveheart.

And I thought the French knew about fashion! I had learnt all I knew from Sir Les Paterson (cultural attaché to the world!) and he wasn’t going to be denied!
Anyway back to the Promenade.

Although everybody had gone into battle the previous night most people were surprisingly in good spirits… Now why was that… hmmmm,…… ahhhh, I see….. Beer! Woz had thought of everything. Just what the Doctor ordered to get the voice box in tune. We were ready! By the time we set off for the stadium we must have numbered close to 400. Old women were grabbing their children from the streets and shopkeepers peered nervously from their shops. (I guess the French had a little trouble understanding what we where all doing there, so they were naturally nervous! By the end of the weekend that nervousness was replaced with genuine hospitality. Afterall, "if it wasn’t for the Aussies"………).

Eventually the stadium loomed upon us, and so did about 100 riot police - or so it seemed with metal helmets and axes (barbarians!). Well it seemed appropriate to get a photo of myself amongst these guys, after all they looked really stupid!

This wasn’t received in the best light but there is no stopping the paparazzi and the snap was taken (turned out they were actually firemen protesting about something or other). Well if it was a lack of work that was all going to change, because the Scud was about to set the place on fire!

Well once inside the stadium it seemed appropriate to have another beer as one of the bars was conveniently located close to our stand and anyway the French were having a few so why not! The stadium was actually huge being fully enclosed including the bars, stalls, shops and private areas around the stands. This was some setting. But we couldn’t miss the appearance of the Aussies onto the court so it was "to the seats boys and girls". Just in the nick of time for as soon as we were seated on walked The Scud, Lleyton, Newk, Rochey, and the boys to which we gave them a huge welcome and a thundering rendition of Advance Australia Fare.

The young girl (teenager) sitting the row below me with green and gold face paint and wattle in her hair was as happy as Larry and cheered as loud as she could… But was that an accent I detected???? Turns out she was French but desperately wanted to be an Aussie! Her father dropped her off each day at the tennis and would read her the riot act about not talking to any strangers. She loved us… or was it the other way around??? I guess in all we (Aussie supporters) number about 1000 and with only a few exceptions were seated in the one block in the stadium directly behind the Australian bench.


Well the Scud started off fast and just got faster. The clay was not a problem for him and his game was right on form. So were the lads seated around me. At one point early on I declared I was going to the bar. Next I heard " can you get me one", "and me", "and me" "and………" Nine beers later….. what an ugly shout.

Well the better the Scud was, the better voice the Fanatics were in! Every point was cheered, every point saved or gallant attempt made was applauded. The comments from the bench were that it sounded like there were 9000 Fanatics and only 1000 French supporters, not the other way around. Three sets to one and the Scud and Australia were up!

Fantastic. What a start.

However this was the number 2 (Sabastian Grosjean) French singles player and their number1 was next.

It was to be a tough match and in many ways was extremely important to the end result. Lleyton Hewitt went down but went to a tie break in every set. And his opponent (Cedric Pioline) was obviously drained by the fight. The action and support in the stands did not waver however, (which amazed the young American I was seated next to who, incidentally, had told her husband and children in the States that she was off to Nice to support the Aussie DC team….. go figure!).

And so it was that after 7 hours of tennis we left the stadium 1-1 with the French. Well, straight to Waynes Bar. That night was simply out of control as we partied like there was no tomorrow. People were hanging from the rafters (literally) and getting it on (and off!) The place was wall to wall Fanatics! Again it was a great atmosphere as you could walk up to anyone and start talking/dancing/singing or what ever! The very few French who were there (all girls of course) were completely overwhelmed! We were at our best and proud to be

Australian (even those from other countries!). Its amazing how far you can get with a sweat laden T-shirt and bright yellow wig on, on these sorts of nights! Back to the Hotel around 4am. It took a full 10 minutes to convince the door man to let me in!

That night was a late one and there were a few sore and sorry heads the next day at Maccas for breakfast on the promenade. Still the enthusiasm was there along with the crazy gear and face paint. (I received the same look from the staff at reception again). Today was important and was going to be a real test. The Woodies were to take the court together for the first time in 6 months due to Todd Woodbridge dropping himself from the team before Boston. Furthermore the Woodies had lost to this particular French pair on their two previous occasions and the jinx that surrounded having to win the doubles to win the Cup hung heavy.

Still this was no time to be down.. Fire up boys and girls we’re doing it for Australia. Onwards to the Stadium. Now halfway there one of the lads stopped us all and declared he had an announcement to make…"like what" we all said. Was it to be he had scored last night?… or that he was mugged? Or that he had lost his wallet?…. No, it was the results of the World Fly-Fishing Championships! Yep that’s right… Fly-Fishing. This was bizarre enough to stop us all and look at him in amazement. Well, he held up a press clipping and read out the results….…"The team that came second was...France!!!"…………… "And the Team that won was …………………………. Australia!" (Huge cheering)

The was the sign from the Great God of Sport we were looking for and made us all a little easier as we made our way to the stadium signing "We won the Fly Fishing" complete with casting actions. That was the ambush the French were not expecting and took them by complete surprise! Anyway, at the stadium there was quite a line up to enter and security had tightened considerably since yesterday. However with typical French flair a band had been arranged to perform for all those waiting in the queue (i.e. us).

They weren’t too bad but it was going to be our day so we had to take the upper hand. One of the lads borrowed their guitar and guys and girls flocked around to sing Waltzing Matilda, then Advance Australia, then We’re Happy Little Vegemites. That was the edge we were looking for. The queue suddenly was allowed to enter without the slightest hassle from the security. But once inside we were to be thrown completely by a wobbler. They were not serving beer today!!!!!!! "WHAT THE……..!!" Crowd confidence was rocked! The French had fought back with an under hand blow. "Alright. Rally round boys and girls……. to the stands".

The Woodies took to the court amongst great cheering from us, as well as more rounds of the National Anthem, Waltzing Matilda, and other Aussie tributes. Now as I said this was going to be a test, as Mark Woodford dropped his opening service game and straight away the French targeted Todd Woodbridge. Todd then proceed to drop his next three service games!!!!!. In no time at all the Aussies were down one set to love and 1-5 in the second set! Now I have heard of giving a bloke a fair chance but this was pushing it a little too much. This was the Woodies afterall, five times Wimbledon champs, and we simply had to win this match! What was happening??

Enter the Newcombe factor.

Dear reader, take your mind back to all those Rocky movies and just think about those defining moments when down and out Rocky would look up to his coach (I and II) or Adrienne (III-V) and would receive advise that would pierce his heart and give him the strength of ten men etc etc. Well as we know that is all movie bullshit, but what panned out in front of 10,000 spectators in down town Nice was truly amazing.

Newk got up close to the boys, very close, so much so that that famed moustache was tickling the noses of both Woodies and no one other than those three will ever know what was said. Maybe it was to look deep within themselves and seek that ANZAC spirit that sent the troops over the top in the face of a torrent of gunfire in Gallipoli. Maybe it was to seek that determination that Phar Lap had in the 1930 Melbourne Cup when in spite of a conspiracy to handicap him out of the race, Big Red just fired up even more and left no doubt that he was a champion. Maybe it was just to pull their fingers out and start hitting the ball hard and in!

Whatever it was it had the desired effect. Two very angry and determined Woodies took to the court. 1-5 down became 2-5. Then 3-5. Soon it was 5 all. One almighty effort had them over the line at 7-5. Fanatics one and all cheered, and sang, and yelled, and jumped and danced, and hugged. There was something in the air!!!!! And it smelt good!

The Boys took to the court with more than a little spring in their step - It was more like grizzly, merciless determination. Now as I said the French were targeting TW supposedly for his lack of form and confidence. Bad mistake France. The more they tried to trick, deceive or simply blast him off the court, the better he got. When he started winning his own serve that lifted him to a new level and all those skills he is famed for came to the fore. He simply played better and better. MW had steely determination in his gaze and an air of superiority in his game. Nothing was going to stop the Woodies now (not even the French hecklers in the crowd yelling out on our serves) and the next two sets rolled Australia’s way.


It will be talked about for years to come.

So it was back to the Hotel to change clothes…. This had been a very stressy day and the days clothes were not fit for another night at Waynes Bar. That night was huge (again) and Wayne Arthurs, Sandon Stolle and others from the entourage joined us. Again Waynes Bar was packed to the rafters and dancing on the bar seemed like the normal thing to do. That night a mate (Matt) and I befriended two girls from the ITF who were on the job chaperoning two blokes from Tennis Australia. Closing time at Waynes saw us join them at another bar for a while before all six of us then made our way to a swanky nightclub. The doorman wanted a sheep station from each of us before we could enter! The two Girls just strolled up and had a few polite words with the lads on the door, and before we knew it we were all inside under the guise of having to buy drinks at the equivalent of $150 each (True). Anyway again the two girls came to the fore and simply passed the credit card across the bar. "What would you like fellas?"

This was too easy. Now this nightclub was something to behold, with all of Nice’s beautiful people writhing around and a stunning Go-Go dancer on stage strutting her stuff! (Yep this was THE nightclub, and more particularly, THE dancer that was to become famous with The Scud and the Australian press in just 24 hours hence!) Lights out that night was late. Very late!

Day three and the notable thing that morning was that a fair proportion of us had lost our voices. Not good for this was to be the day of reckoning. Still, we had all done this before at stadiums of all types of sports throughout the world this year, and we were not going to be denied. Onwards to the Stadium.

First thing that we noticed was that the French in their wisdom had re-opened the bars in the stadium. Funny that the French Tennis Association could only get a 2 day temporary alcohol license for the event in a nation where you can smoke everywhere, including hospitals, and where dogs poo across the whole city at will. None the less the day was off to a good start.

The first match was the Scud versus the Pioline, the French number 1 and a clay specialist. First thing to do was sing the National Anthem…. A few times. Then every other Australian song/anthem/ ditty/commercial we could think of. We just had to provide as much support for the Scud and the Bench as possible. It was also quite noticeable that the French supporters had fired up as well due to the amount of red, white and blue and their very stirring renditions of La Marseillaise.

The atmosphere was thick with expectation. This was going to be no ordinary day.

The Scud opened fire with a great barrage of serves that would have depressed most opponents. Lightening! He should have a license for that serve! Soon it was the Scud up one set. So far so good. But the French were not going to be denied either. Pioline fought back in the second to level at one set all. The tension was unbelievable at this stage. Could the Scud take it out and etch his and Australia’s name on the Salad Bowl or would the French level at two matches a piece and then have the showdown between Lleyton Hewitt and Sabastian Grosjean.

Now as we all know champions are champions for good reason. They can defy the laws of gravity, physics and logic and do the impossible. It was the Scuds turn.
Whether it was his amazing angles that he played or the power in his game or those little moments of brilliance that separate legends from mere mortals or the sheer tenacity it is difficult to say, for the rest of the match simply rolled into one. And even though the Scud was poetry personified, to a man, woman and animal (don’t forget the two full sized Kangaroos as well as half a dozen blow up "recreational" kangaroos) we did not think the match was ours until the last. Then, in that split second of recognition that we had actually done it, time seemed to stand still. Actually it was more like a series of still scenes. The Scud threw his arms up and arched back. The crowd had gone over the top. The bench had jumped to their feet with arms in the air.

The next scene was of the Scud racing over to Newk for an embrace that seemed to last forever. This was one of those moments. Maybe it was the relief to have won. Maybe it was the realisation of what the team had achieved and all they had overcome. Maybe it was the return of the prodigal son and the heart felt acceptance by Newk and the team. Whatever. This is another of those issues that will be debated for years to come and will be remembered by all who were privileged to be there. The next scene was of the entire Bench lifting firstly the Scud, then Newk, then Rochey, then the Woodies, then Lleyton around the Court. Finally, the players and bench striped their T-shirts off and replaced them with Fanatics T-shirts with the additional words Champions and then came over to our stand and thanked us for the support. Again another special moment, although it would be true to say that we did not stand there and take in the significance of it all as we were still going absolutely ballistic, dancing, yelling, clapping, screaming, jumping, hugging, kissing,(get away with it while you can I say)

What a victory. After about 20 minutes or so the players and bench retreated to the dressing room and the Fanatics to the bar. We all needed a few stiff drinks to calm down.

Once in the bar area many of us were mobbed by the French offering Gaelic congratulations. It also seemed appropriate that the lads should get their photo taken kissing the Aussie flag. But not just any flag but one that was painted on the rather skinny tummy of one of our bronzed Aussie babes! Actually there was a lineup waiting to get their photos taken!

It then seemed appropriate to have ones photo taken with as many different French babes (for the guys) and Frenchmen (for the girls) as possible, afterall we were Australian and could do no wrong!!! The carnival had begun!
Time still had no meaning at this stage. We could have been at the bar for 10 minutes or 2 hours?? But it was only when someone called out that Lleyton was taking the court that we left for the stands again. LH was put in the worst of positions. He had to try and play a dead rubber knowing he and the team had just won the Davis Cup. Still, he forged on. Some time during the second set a Mexican wave stared up and circled the Stadium again and again and again. It must have been on its 7th or 8th time round when Lleyton simply gave up and decided that a bit of batting practice was in order as he faced up to one of the ball girls. Two or three minutes later he simply sat down and watched as the wave just kept on going and going each round as loud as the first. Eventually when everyone remembered that this was keeping all of us (LH as well) from some really serious partying did it stop. LH went down in three sets but he was already a hero.

That night at Waynes Bar was completely out of control as anybody and everybody threw caution to the wind and saddled up to do it again as we all waited for the players.

Now it must be said that before too long with a mixture of laryngitis and alcohol, speaking was difficult to do, and even harder to understand. So the lads simply took to holding up signs as the only form of communication! This night was a bit of a blur as afterall it had been a huge weekend for all and today had us all tilting on the brink of emotional collapse. Still when Newk, Rochey and the entire team and entourage arrived, the already packed and sweaty place erupted.

This is what we had waited for… to slap a few of the lads on the back and say fantastic and well done… except it sounded more like fsansticsweelleelmatefuskthatwasgrate. You get my drift.

That night kicked through until breakfast for many, and in some cases even longer as all hope of making early morning flights was abandoned. Without a doubt it had been a truly magnificent victory and many converts to Davis Cup tennis were made. On more than a few occasions people were later to remark that it was the biggest weekend ever and that they were completely shattered. But what a victory.

It was an amazing win even though the team had to play on four continents and on four different surfaces with no less than seven players having to line up for Australia due to injury. But in the most inspirational fashion possible all the palyers came through it.

This had been an amazing year for Australian sport.


Wed 13/04/2005 Henry "h" vaughan 70 views

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