by James Buddell|
The journey of any aspiring player from the junior to the senior ranks is often precarious. Confidence plays as great a part as financial backing in whether a player might succeed or not. But sometimes, however great an individual’s ambition, goals can be left unfulfilled. “Robban” and “The Romanian” always dreamed of playing the big tournaments, but for one reason or other it never happened as singles players.
"The reason I play tennis is to compete at the Grand Slams."
Horia Tecau, the quiet and respectful Constanta native, who had an outstanding junior career, called time on his solo ambition “at the end of 2007, when I found myself ranked between 350 and 400 for the third year in a row. My ranking meant that I could not play qualifying events for Grand Slams. The reason I play tennis is to compete at the Grand Slams. I wanted to be there.”
Robert Lindstedt, the fun-loving Swede, questioned whether he would make it as a singles player the day he left college in 1998. “I had that doubt every day. When I was playing singles, I had the feeling that I was going to make it one way or another at the big tournaments. As a doubles player, I always knew I was good enough. I wanted to play bigger events, so the decision was easy.”
Victor Hanescu, who first met Tecau at a junior tournament at Queen’s Club and since 2003 has been a Davis Cup team-mate, says “It was a very good decision for Horia. He took the right decision. He appreciated in singles he didn’t have a chance to perform at the highest level.” Jonas Bjorkman, who retired in 2008, reveals that Lindstedt “works really hard, but initially I don’t think that was true. I believe he learnt to be a professional and made the right call in his switch to doubles.”
Tecau made it to a singles-high of No. 326 in April 2005. Lindstedt peaked at No. 309 in April 2004 and eventually switched to doubles full-time in 2005. Slowly, they began playing bigger events, stayed in nicer hotels and did more than just make ends meet. By March last year, purely by coincidence, their paths crossed.
Tecau had agreed to partner Hanescu initially at the start of the season, but “it is always dangerous to play with a singles player”. Shortly before the start of the Heineken Open in Auckland, Hanescu pulled out due to injury. Tecau requested a wild card, no longer assured of direct entry. He signed-up with Marcus Daniell five minutes before the deadline and the duo went on to lift their first ATP World Tour title.
"Robert is a phenomenal guy... but I could not share a hotel room with him."
Lindstedt planned to play the whole year with Julian Knowle. “But we had a shocking start to the year and it kept on going. After four first-round losses we couldn’t get it together. Something wasn’t working. So we decided to split, but then we started to play well making the semi-finals at Rotterdam and the Marseille final. We then decided to talk after Miami.”
After an exchange of text messages, Lindstedt and Tecau joined forces at the Sony Ericsson Open. For the 33-year-old Lindstedt, Tecau was his 87th partner in 13 years as a pro. They made a first-round exit, but both decided to play another tournament together.
“Horia is a very cool guy; very relaxed and very organised,” admits Hanescu, who has partnered Tecau in four Davis Cup doubles rubbers. “Robert is a phenomenal guy; he has a positive spirit and is always a source of fun,” confirms Bjorkman, who adds, “But I could not share a hotel room with him. He is so messy!” Their personalities and games were not meant to mesh. “We’re both strong-willed people and we like to see our tennis in a certain way,” says Lindstedt.
Two days before the start of the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Tecau’s partner Christopher Kas pulled out. “Robban” answered Tecau's call for help. They won the title beating Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in the final. “From that point on we developed our games,” says Lindstedt. “Our games did not immediately click together to form a strong team in Casablanca, but we both saw flashes of great play in each of our matches that week. Because we’re big servers, we realised that with occasional service breaks and periods of great tennis our partnership could work. It highlighted our potential.”
By lifting the UNICEF Open trophy at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in June, Lindstedt and Tecau forged a reputation as a dangerous team. But they had yet to cement their tactics, a clear game plan. “We took a step back before Wimbledon and thought about how we wanted to play,” admits Lindstedt. “Until the week before Wimbledon, we did not know how to play as a team. We were playing doubles as individuals.
"It was never a question that we could hit forehand and backhands, but it was our communication that was the problem."
To Tecau, doubles was still an unknown quantity; even in 2010. The 25 year old admits he had yet to master the nuisances of the team game. “I was playing my third year of doubles, so I felt as if I am still learning. In our partnership Robert’s experience has counted for a lot. He knows the players, the teams and strategies against certain teams. So it was helpful for me.”
Wimbledon changed all that. A run to their first Grand Slam final, tightened up their game and automatically made them a target for other teams.
“It was never a question that we could hit forehand and backhands, but it was our communication that was the problem,” says Lindstedt. “We weren’t communicating in the right way.”
Tecau adds, “At Wimbledon, we played well and beat top players such as [Mahesh] Bhupathi and [Max] Mirnyi in the third round. It was tough to win three out of five sets to reach the final, but it gave us a lot of confidence as a team.”
“With the run to the Wimbledon final, other teams started to study us more,” admits Lindstedt. “The way we communicated became more important. It is now easier for both of us to tell one another if we are doing something wrong. We’re better listeners than when we started playing together.”
In the aftermath of their runner-up finish to Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner at SW19, Tecau helped Lindstedt win his hometown title at the SkiStar Swedish Open in Bastad (d. Dlouhy-Paes). “I think it was the happiest I’ve ever been on a tennis court, putting it up with Davis Cup ties and the Wimbledon final,” the Swede confesses. They also went onto clinch the Pilot Pen Tennis title in New Haven (d. Bopanna-Qureshi).
“They had a good run for about four-and-a-half months,” says Bjorkman. “Their expectations raced and perhaps because they rose up the rankings quickly, they set their goals too high. I think they will have learned a lot.”
"The long term goal is to do well at the big events."
Despite compiling a 30-18 match record, qualification for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals was a step too far. Rather than be disappointed, both players identified areas for improvement in 2011.
Tecau, who moved from No. 50 at the end of 2009 to a career-high No. 15 on 11 October last year, says “I am really happy with last year. Personally, I grew in experience and found myself playing [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 tournaments for the first time. It was a new thing for me, but now I am getting used to playing the bigger events and I want to raise my level further.”
Lindstedt agrees. “The long term goal is to do well at the big events. We did great at the 250s, beating strong teams, but we haven’t played as well in the 500s and Masters 1000s. But we both know that we must raise our lower level.
“When we compete at our highest level, we can beat any team. We had a great year, but we had a lot of first-round losses. It is something we must work on this year. To have the results we’ve had, but still think we can do more and improve, is a good sign for building a stronger partnership.”
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