Nicolas Massu made history during the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. This Chilean tennis player, ranked ninth in the world at his best, won the first gold medal for his country in doubles with Fernando Gonzalez, before doing it again in singles, the first double gold medallist in tennis in the modern era. Fifteen years later, he remembers everything…
We want to go back to one of the biggest moments in your life: the Athens Olympics. What do you remember 15 years later?
Well, for me it was the best two weeks in my life. I mean, to win the first two gold medals in the history of my country was amazing. I think first that taking part in the Olympic Games is an honour, and to represent your country is an honour. To think about the medals was a dream. Many times, people ask me about the feeling, I mean the feeling is unbelievable because, when I was a kid and when I started to be close to tennis, I said to myself: “I want one day to be part of the history of this sport.”
I’m still the only guy in the history who won two gold medals in the same Olympic Games (1). So, many times I asked myself: “How did I manage to do it?” I think with the belief in yourself, working hard. To represent my country from the first ball to the last one. I played 100 per cent of what I could play, and I think that was an amazing moment. I’m also very happy, because we are a small country and everything is difficult from there. Tournaments and everything are very far from Chile, and from all of South America, not only from Chile. All the tournaments are in Europe, in the US, and we don’t have so many tournaments in South America; and I think I showed to the people of my country that everything is possible. I was born in a city where I didn’t have the possibilities that they could have in the capital. Also, my old coach, when he started to work with me, always said to me that every dream can be possible and of course, he also said that he didn’t have the key to get there. But we fought together, we trained like animals for many years and now I can look back and see what that I did. It’s amazing.
You talk about the fact you were playing every point at 100 per cent. You remember that you put all your energy into every ball, every stroke of the week?
All my career was like that. I mean, I was a player that gave always 100 per cent in my work. My personality was like that. Also, I feel very calm now because when I look back to my career now: I was number nine in the world. It’s the best that I could have done. I mean, I’m not a person who looks back and says to himself: “Ok maybe, when I was 25, 27 or 28, why did I do this? Or why this time didn’t I practise 100 per cent? Or why didn’t I give my best? No. For me, it was totally different because I gave 100 per cent and I did everything that I could do. So, if I arrived at number nine, it was at this time the best that I could be. Of course, when you are 20 years old, 25 or 30, your mind is different, it’s always evolving. Now I look back and of course there are some moments of my career that I would change (maybe a few small things), but it’s because now I’m almost 40.
But when I was 20, I had to learn from these things and you are 20 years old, you don’t have any experience But I think that everything that I did in my life was because of my work, my passion and my motivation. In those Olympic Games for example, I played singles and doubles: I arrived at 8 or 9 in the morning to play singles and then doubles. Normally, you go only for singles or doubles, or if you play both, you lose one instead of the other; but to play and win in both, you have to work very hard. At that time at the Olympic Games, I played five sets in the doubles final and five sets in the singles final. I played every day, so the pressure was unbelievable. For the other countries (like France, US, the UK, etc.) it’s normal to win medals, but for us in Chile, it’s not that common. I mean, only in tennis to win three medals (Fernando Gonzalez got the bronze in the singles): it was amazing!
I always said to myself: “I want one day to be in history for my sport.” It was a dream, a Slam, the Davis Cup, to be number one in the world or to win at the Olympics. I took my chance and I’m happy because the good thing is that, when the moment happened, I was prepared. Be-cause I played so many hours, I was prepared.
I wasn’t scared in the finals because I was prepared mentally too. For example, I played the doubles final the day before the singles final. Then I had to go to the antidoping test late at night. Then, I got a blood test in the morning, so I slept only five hours before the singles final. With all the hours that I played in the week, so I went to bed at 4 or 5 in the morning after the doubles final. Mardy Fish, my opponent, was waiting for this final two days before. With doubles, singles, there was a lot of pressure. I had the best excuse if I lost in the singles final be-cause I was tired, and I won the first gold medal in history for my country. So if I lost the final against Fish: he’s a great player and nobody was gonna say anything to me because I had the best excuse to be in the second position; but I fought for the first one and I didn’t want to satisfy myself with the second place, I wanted to win, because I said to myself: “It’s the only chance in my life,” because I was 24, and I didn’t know if at 28 I could do the same performance.
SAVING FOUR MATCH POINTS
I had a lot of pressure, but I put all this pressure into motivation: I was there because the people in my country believed in me and were waiting for me to win. I didn’t want to give me excuses before the singles final, so I got there and fought from the first ball to the last one with the best that I had at that moment. Of course, I was tired, of course I was nervous. But the difference between the top players and the others is how you manage the situations (nervousness, pressure, the ranking, the points, the money, etc.). I think I managed those moments in the finals very well. Maybe in other moments of my career it was not the same. But at this moment, I was in the best shape of my life. I was confident with my tennis, I was working hard, I was healthy; I had everything but I was close to losing the singles final. Also in the doubles, we had four match points to save in the fourth set (2), but in the singles final I won against Fish because the difference was on two or three points. If I had lost that match against Fish, I gave everything I had.
And do you still have in your mind some pictures of these moments? Which one comes first?
The whole two weeks stay in my mind. When we lived in the villa with the other guys from Chile, the Opening Ceremony in the stadium, when we played doubles with Fernando and we hugged and we went to the floor. When I won the singles and celebrated with my coach and my friends there. It was an amazing moment. If I don’t remember so much, I put on some videos (on YouTube or I look at pictures on the internet). You cannot forget these moments. Until today, after many years when I arrive somewhere, people know me because of this. I mean, it’s normal. Nicolas Massu, the winner of two gold medals. My career is behind and it’s normal. I mean, when I see some fathers or mothers in my country, they say: “Do you know who this guy is? No? He won two gold medals, he’s a world champion.” It’s normal. I mean, all my 17 years of career are less important and it’s normal. I take it like funny because I played so many years, I won nice tournaments but it’s normal. It’s because they need to understand that I’m happy because I gave a message to the kids in my country. If you have a dream, then work hard, and you can do things. I was a kid also. I started to play tennis at five. I fought for my dreams and I made it: I was Top Ten and my dream was to be in the Top Ten, to make history in my sport: I made it. And so, it’s a message to the kids: everything can be possible but you need to work hard and to believe in yourself, and this is the message I gave to my country.
Today, you are a coach, with Dominic Thiem, an Austrian with a different culture. You are a Latin. Is it easy to work with him?
Well, it’s not the same culture, but we both get big potential together. I think we have got big potential because we are different. You learn from other people and the other people learn from you. It’s been a short while that we’ve worked together, and after a few weeks, he won the best tournament in his life in Indian Wells, thanks to hard work. And then he won Barcelo-na, he went to the finals in Roland Garros and now he’s number four in the world. So at the moment, we are happy to work together and I hope that he’ll continue in this direction. I’m happy to work with him because he’s also an unbelievable player, an unbelievable talent, he’s a great personality and he has a great family and a great team around him. We’ve known each other for a short period, but we have a great connection. We know what we have to work on, and I will try to give 100 per cent of my efforts to make Dominic the best player that he can be. Now he’s world number four, and he knows and I know that from now till the end of his career, he has the chance to fight for number one.
(1) In the modern era. Tennis went back onto the official Olympic programme in 1988. In 1896, 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1924, the same player won singles and doubles ti-tles: J.P. Boland, H. Doherty, B. Wright, A. W. Gore, C. Winslow, A. Gobert and V. Richards.
(2) They beat the Germans Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler in the final.