“It’s the start of the end of my problems”.
These were the words of Alex Corretja shortly after being proclaimed champion of the 2000 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. At the time, winning on hard courts was unheard of for Spaniards, who had historically dominated on clay courts, where they had learnt the game. But that season he broke down a barrier in the Coachella Valley that only one of his compatriots — Jose Higueras (1983) — had overcome before him.
The truth is that for Corretja, success away from the red dirt was not unchartered territory. While his cabinet included another ATP Masters 1000 trophy from the 1997 Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, in 1998 he triumphed on hard courts at the season-ending championships in Hannover. His ability to produce his A-game on all surfaces was well known on the ATP Tour.
So, what was worrying the Spaniard before Indian Wells? What were the ‘problems’ he was referring to after winning the trophy on Sunday, 19 March 2000? The man himself answered that question for ATPTour.com 20 years after his achievement.
“It really was very important because it helped me believe in myself again,” said Corretja.
The Catalan, who just a year earlier had been on the verge of becoming World No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, arrived at Indian Wells unseeded.
“It was very important to demonstrate to myself that 1998 was a great year and that I was able to have more great success,” said Corretja. “So being able to aspire to win another big title again made me feel that I was on the right track. Indian Wells gave me back my self-esteem.”
Corretja ended 1999 as the World No. 26 and a few months later he fell outside the Top 30 for the first time in five seasons. As if that was not enough, his morale took a heavy blow in January. When he thought he was heading in the right direction after reaching the semi-finals in the first tournament of the year in Sydney (l. to Hewitt), the same rival steamrollered him at the Australian Open 0-6, 0-6, 1-6.
“I had started the year 2000 full of hope, recovering after suffering a lull the previous season, both physically and mentally, after a push to be the World No. 1,” said Corretja. “I went to Australia after completing a good pre-season, but I took a heavy blow against Hewitt. I got there feeling that I was recovering, but that match made me think I was not as good as I’d thought.”
It was a resounding blow, but not a knock-out one. Nowhere near.
Corretja made use of the Davis Cup to recharge his confidence alongside the rest of his teammates in his nation’s first-round tie against Italy (4-1). As well as sealing the second singles point for Spain, he closed out the tie with a doubles win alongside Joan Balcells. But, above all, the ATP Tour event in Scottsdale, Arizona proved crucial in rediscovering some harmony with his racquet.
“It’s true that I lost 8/6 in the third-set tie-break against Albert Costa in the quarter-finals, but I was feeling great as I did that,” said Corretja. “I got to Indian Wells thinking that I could do something big, because I was starting to play very good tennis.”
Corretja was feeling increasingly more like the player who had made an assault on the elite a year before, who could look any opponent in the eyes to fight for the biggest titles on the ATP Tour. However, before embarking on his venture at the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the year, he would suffer another setback.
“The day before starting, I remember in one training session I was on the receiving end of a 6-1 [set]. I was devastated,” said Corretja. “I thought I was ready to play and suddenly I took a beating that lowered my expectations a little, but at the same time it made me start the tournament playing well, without stressing myself too much.”
Between 13 and 20 March, the Spaniard put together one of his best weeks in tennis. From start to finish, he left big names in his wake in every round. The Spaniard claimed a 6-2, 6-2 win against Slovakian Karol Kucera in his opening match, but it was his 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-2 second-round victory against Patrick Rafter that marked a turning point.
“The Australian was very uncomfortable and after winning that match, I started to feel good in my legs,” said Corretja. “Indian Wells is very dry. The court is very fast, but at the same time the ball bounces very high. [It is] something that suited me very well and I felt very comfortable.”
In the Round of 16, Corretja saw off Frenchman Fabrice Santoro 7-6(6), 6-1, before the bar was raised from the quarter-final stage. Each of his remaining three opponents were members of the Top 10. Corretja defeated No. 5 Magnus Norman 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 and No. 8 Nicolas Lapentti 6-3, 6-4 to reach the championship match, where he overcame No. 10 Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
“The final was excellent. I won three sets without any difficulty against Enqvist, I was really feeling the ball,” said Corretja, who became the first Spaniard to win an ATP Masters 1000 event on hard courts (since the category was established in 1990).
“Maybe we weren’t the ideal types of players for that tournament, but looking back at these things with hindsight, I think that in my career I won tournaments that were unusual for the Spaniards,” said Corretja. “I was a player with Spanish style and character, but sometimes I produced these different things.”