Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Charlie Goes Deep
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Charlie Goes Deep 11/18/2010 - 11:39 AM

Cm Carlos Moya, who announced his retirement from tennis this week at age 34, was a lot of different things as a player. He was a physical force, with a low-to-the-ground solidity, a talent for backpedaling, and a live right arm; the Spaniard was an early adopter of the sleeveless look. I’ve been told that he was, and, I suppose, still is, handsome. So much so that he inspired one former female employee of Tennis Magazine to travel from New York to Key Biscayne for the sole purpose of attending his press conferences (and sitting on the beach during the hours when he wasn’t giving one). At the same time, there was an Old World reserve to the way Moya carried himself. In that way, he was the opposite of his fellow Mallorcan Rafael Nadal, who lets you know what he’s feeling with every snarl and eyebrow-raise. Moya kept things back.

His record could be seen as surprising. He finishes with 575 match wins, which puts him fourth on the ATP career list (can that be right?). That’s a testament to his longevity and his consistency over 15 years on tour, but the fact that the number is surprising is also, unfortunately, a testament to how little Moya did at the majors for most of his career. After reaching the Aussie Open final in 1997 and winning the French Open in 1998, he never threatened at another one. He turned, mysteriously, into a perennial quarterfinalist. Something, or someone, always got in his way in that round. That might make you think of Moya was a “transitional figure,” that the physical baseline game he brought to the sport in the late-90s quickly passed him by. It’s true, except that every tennis player is a transitional figure to some extent. From an historical perspective, Moya may be remembered best as the guy who made Rafael Nadal believe he could be a pro.

I liked to watch Moya play. He was calm but not boring, a little remote but still engaging. He played classic baseline tennis but he wasn’t robotic about it. It was fun to see how far he would go to his left to hit a forehand—would he climb into the stands? That, I suppose, is why he didn’t win more majors. He had to throw himself so far out of position so often that his game became riskier and more easily exploited than it should have been.

Seeing him over the years, it became clearer that Moya held back a lot. Like my former colleague, I liked to go to his press conferences, too. He had his monosyllabic moments, but I was always surprised by how articulate he could be in English. He came across as reasonable and mature. And funny—this week Moya said that he had “played his best tennis last century.” And maybe even goofy. I called his phone in Mallorca once for an interview and was greeted by an answering-machine message that he and his roommate—Carlos Moya had a roommate?—did as a back-and-forth rap. He liked to have a good time, and that may also explain why he fell from the heights he reached so young.

Two moments stick out, though, that showed how emotional Moya was about the sport, whatever his flaws or shortcomings. A few years ago, he won a minor tournament in South America. He hadn’t won anything for a while, and it was clear how much it meant to him. He didn’t just celebrate; he exulted from somewhere deep—he looked moved by winning a tennis match, as if it was a gift he never expected to get. (There’s some of that in the way Nadal celebrates as well.) But as deeply emotional as Moya was in victory that day, it paled in comparison to the depths of pain that registered on his face after he lost to Guillermo Coria in the quarterfinals (of course) at the French in 2004. Staggering to the sideline after shaking hands with Coria, Moya looked simply broken, his eyes hollow. It went past disappointment to . . . I don’t know, somewhere I never want to go myself, that’s all I can say.

Moya was first upstaged by the overweening excellence of Roger Federer (Moya called him “Feddy” and said, with a smile, that deep down he was “crazy”; takes one deep character to know another, I guess). And then he was upstaged by the brilliance of his kid brother, Nadal. It was in talking about Nadal, though, that Moya made my favorite comment of his. He was asked whether his willingness to practice with Nadal when Rafa was very young had helped his friend get better more quickly. Moya immediately answered, “Well maybe, but he helped me get better, too, even then.”

'Dios, Charlie. Thanks for showing us how deeply tennis can cut, in both directions.



Posted by wilson75 11/18/2010 at 12:05 PM

Steve: Thanks for the very nice article. Yesterday, he said he wished he could've said goodbye at one of the big tournaments. It looks like he's going to get his chance because he's going to be in London, he actually left with Rafa. So hopefully, the ATP will give a nice send-off.

Posted by elbisdi 11/18/2010 at 12:19 PM

Moya was a gentleman, an example of balance in tennis and life! He never lost himself in being a star!!! One more that will be missed!!!

Posted by BarbInCanada 11/18/2010 at 12:41 PM

575 wins def doesn't make him 4th all-time, not even top ten. Roger has 738-ish and is ninth all-time from what I can see.
Maybe Moya is fourth active??

Posted by Larry in the Silicon 11/18/2010 at 01:16 PM

Moya was great
Moya was weird,
Carlos the half-Picasso, half-Rodin,
Tattoed Carlos the Mallorcan Thinking Man
with the racquet in his hand.

I remember seeing Moya at IW in that last century. We were both young, Charlie. You always had style.

True, Steve, Carlos perfected the bizarre left-alley forehand, about as recommended on a tennis court as unprotected s&x in real life. That hollow look, yeah - but I never could tell if he was deep or faking deep. :)

Posted by abbey 11/18/2010 at 01:18 PM

what a lovely send-off to moya, steve.

he was my first tennis crush :) it was the 1997 AO that turned me into a tennis fan. i have very little memory now of moya, his game and his personality (plus the internet that could feed your "obsessions" wasn't big yet back when i started following tennis), but reading your post, i find myself nodding and remembering. thanks!

Posted by Jay 11/18/2010 at 01:36 PM

Very nice read, Steve.

I think of Carlos as a John-the-Baptist to Nadal's....Sorry I don't mean that. No offense! Just joking.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/18/2010 at 01:55 PM

While I won't miss him in the same way I miss Safin, Carlos Moya was one of those players who spanned generations and simply seemed like he was always "there" and would always be there.

I also hope he gets a fitting send-off in London. And maybe in the future he'll decide to be a mere tourist in Umag, which I believe was the tournament he won most often. I'll have to check-out what Croatian papers have to say, as he's long been a favorite over there.

Posted by Me 11/18/2010 at 02:03 PM

Te extrañaremos...

Posted by Texastennis 11/18/2010 at 02:34 PM

Are we having a kind of tribute to every retiring player now? lol.

Moya didn't do much for me. I don't think the bulk of his career stands out much in fact - the last 12 years, he was a very ordinary player by the standards of the top players (although not by those of us ordinary mortals of course). I'd be amazed if he's 4th in match wins on the ATP career list although he did play a long time.

Moya (like Hewitt) had an early but brief rise, and then was never able to regain those heights or really come close to them. That's an interesting phenomenon - or mysterious as Steve says here. Did they just seize a opening (good for them) but never really had the stature to stay at that level? Did they have some minor loss of mental edge that makes all the difference? (The latter struck me as a possible reason for Courier seemingly inexplicably falling back after a great early run - far ahead of either of those two but likewise couldn't sustain it.)

The turning point for me for Moya looking back seems to have been the 99 FO - he'd got to #1 seed & was defending champion. In a match almost everyone expected him to win, he lost to Agassi from being ahead in what was it - the round of 16? Seemingly he was never the same player, certainly nothing like comparable results after that. Whereas Agassi really never looked back from there.

It can be a strange game.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 11/18/2010 at 02:46 PM

Awesome piece of work, Steve. It was like reading poetry, hardly a word wasted, and very little embellishment, as none was needed.

I always viewed Carlos Moya as a bit of a tragic figure, in the sense that he, like Chang a decade before him, had ascended so high so young, only to never reach that peak again. Yet, unlike Chang who clawed his way to a perennial top-3 ranking (an earlier incarnation of Djokovic, perhaps?), Moya seemed doomed to succumb time and again to his and the public's inflated expectations. For him it seemed, despitee what he has said publicly, seemed to have lost some of its sheen after seeing Agassi and then Hewitt and then Roddick and then Federer and now his own protege (if you'll allow me the indulgence) to steal the stage.

But I also liked and admired Carlos for the good man that he was on the court and to his fellow competitors and the public. He'll be missed, even if it was rare to see him into the second week.

Posted by Justin Side 11/18/2010 at 02:54 PM

Good article.

Posted by bobby 11/18/2010 at 02:59 PM

I met an experienced spanish tennis coach coaching a young female tennis player in 2004, at an airport in London. I asked him why, considering moya appeared to have more natural talent (whatever that is) then juan carlos ferrero,
he was achieving a lot less (at that time ferrero was doing very well).

He smiled and answered that Moya always liked the nightlife and the young female player with him laughed and nodded. I thought it was an interesting observation.

Posted by bobby 11/18/2010 at 03:00 PM

Moya was a great asset for tennis with his game and personality.He deserves praise and tribute even though he was not a multiple slam winner.He just was unlucky with his injuries.

Posted by Mike Romeling 11/18/2010 at 03:20 PM

Very good article---and as we've recently seen--besides Moya--other unique and memorable players like Santoro and Dementieva move on--it's a great reminder how much more tennis is than just counting majors.

Posted by reckoner 11/18/2010 at 03:45 PM

didnt this guy d*ck over flavia p ? or was that some other guy ? regardless, i always liked moya... it also says alot about the state of the game nowadays that we cant write a 15-yr tour veterans tennis obituary w/o making mention of nadal or federer

Posted by skip1515 11/18/2010 at 03:46 PM

I'm sorry to see Moya leave the stage, but then again he hasn't really been on it for quite some time. I always enjoyed watching him play.

It's entirely possible that my memory isn't that accurate, but my recollection is that he moved forward and volleyed quite a bit, and quite well, in that big Australian showing. I always wondered why he never seemed to play that way again; if anything he became more dependent on his forehand and more backhand adverse. Go figure.

Posted by cool h 11/18/2010 at 04:32 PM

Moya-never thought of him as a threat to win major or masters.The fellow Blake-only in the draw for some thrills and then lose.nEVER thought that he was dangerous.mOYA WAS AN ordinary player,just another one of the 128 in a slam who did not fancy himself winning the thing.Very ordinary player,a Todd MARTIN.

Posted by Edie 11/18/2010 at 04:41 PM

Most of us women will remember Carlos Moya for the horrible way he treated that wonderful Flavia Panetta
They wetre engaged to be married, even picked out furniture, and he cheated on her--- at best he did not have the basic decency or guts to tell her that he was not ready!
Good luck to the woman that had the baby with him!!

Posted by dollymix 11/18/2010 at 05:10 PM

Some of us men also remember him for cheating on Pennetta - as in, "what kind of idiot would do that?"

Nevertheless, I remember enjoying watching him play as a kid, enough that I bought the same kind of shirt he was wearing at one US Open. I also remember that great match against Henman from Wimbledon a few years ago. Good luck to him.

Posted by Ari 11/18/2010 at 05:29 PM

Always thought of Moya as an overachiever before the rise of Federer and Nadal. He didn't have a powerful game. He didn't have a very creative game. He was just steady and consistent. Yet, he is a Grand Slam Winner, a former number 1 and a Davis Cup champion. That's pretty overachieving for a guy with limited weapons and talent.

Posted by Kelechi 11/18/2010 at 05:36 PM

I really did enjoy watching Moya play. He was always a sentimental favorite of mine in every match he played. Who can forget that epic with Henman in the first round of wimbledon 2007? Now as he walks away from the sport, I wonder which was his best achievement. Winning the FO, achieving the No 1 ranking, or being the mentor of Nadal. In any case, I wish him the best in his tennis after life as it were.

Posted by Yama 11/18/2010 at 06:10 PM

Moya had regal presence, and visually impressive game. He always had "great player" aura around him. He had huge forehand (one of the best in the last 20 years), big serve, moved pretty well for a big guy, and wasn't afraid to volley. He was not a grinder like lots of the '90s claycourters.

He suffered a major injury in 1999 but he made it back to top 5 and was very solid top-10 player for quite some time after that - very impressive and much underrated achievement. Most players fade for good after that. He beat peak Hewitt at Cincinnati finals, when Hewitt was undisputable master of hardcourts.

But he never was a great Slam player...his one Slam win came against his good friend Corretja who really wasn't fighting tooth & nail in that match. He nearly always seemed to blew big matches. And yeah, he was popular with the ladies, and that led to his downfall - at least with Flavia...

Posted by Charly´s funny moments 11/18/2010 at 06:12 PM

Moya making fun of young Rafa, in one of Nadal firsts Us Open, (story told by Nadal in a radio interview a few weeks ago)

..Years ago in New York, Nadal wanted to watch a Formula 1 race,to watch Spanish car driver Fernando Alonso, it was 6 or 7.00 am in New York, and he called Moya to watch the race because in the USA the Formula One, is usually in pay per view, and Moya told Nadal: How? You are not watching the race, I´m watching it in my room,in channel 63 but you need a special remote control, you have to call reception and ask for the special remove, so Nadal called reception with his great English of his first years in the ATP, "I need the special remove to watch Formula One" but in reception is Nadal that they did´nt have the special remove, so Nadal called back Moya,asking him to watch the race in Moya´s room, but Moya was with his girlfriend at the moment, and told him that she was sleeping, so he couldn´t come up, after 30 minutes of Nadal fighting in the phone with Moya commentating the race to Nadal, saying unbelievable race, you must watch it,ends with Nadal going up, and Moya was at the door rolling on the floor laughing because of the joke.....,he was watching it with his girlfriend of the moment, by internet and not by the tv with the special remove.

Posted by ender83 11/18/2010 at 06:47 PM

Great article for a great champion

Posted by Nach 11/18/2010 at 08:13 PM

I watched him live at the Luanco tournament, Spain (a tournament played on the beach after the tide has gone out) and I thought his style was majestic. It really impressed me watching him live. However, I don't know if that means much in order to win majors... It was fun to see, though, and he will be missed a lot.

Posted by claudia celestial girl 11/18/2010 at 09:09 PM

Thanks Steve for this lovely send off for a classy guy on court. You're right, he was surprisingly articulate in English! I love that moment on Tennis channel where he says how he admired Stefan Edberg, even though his game was nothing like Edberg's, and then he laughs. (Though charming, I always thought that was the strangest comment, and wonder now if it had anything to do with his not really advancing in his career).

Carlos Moya and Guillermo Coria seem like two tragic clay court figures to me. Your comment about the emotion that ran deep was also true of Coria. Coria was simply brilliant on clay. A maestro. So maybe there is something in the tenacity it takes to play Spanish-style clay court tennis that takes a huge toll on a player emotionally?

Posted by jackson 11/18/2010 at 09:29 PM

Thanks Steve. Excellent article. Rafa's been very fortunate to have a mentor like Carlos. Here's a video of Rafa and Carlos moments through the years. It's in Mallorqui but the pictures tell the story.

Posted by jojo 11/18/2010 at 10:36 PM

16 players have won 600 or more matches in the open era. Goran Ivanisevic won Carlos is up there with Brad Gilbert, Bjorn Borg, Roscoe tanner, and others in the 500, but less than 600 club.....far from Jimmy Connors's 1200+ or Ivan Lendl (2nd place) just over 1000.....Guillermo Vilas had over 900, Sampras and Agassi in the 800's, and the other 600+ included Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith, as well as Edberg and Becker....but not Wilander (I'm doing all this from memory, so I better look it up) terms of top 4 ACTIVE.....obviously Fed is ahead of him, but who else? Rafa? Probably Roddick, maybe Hewitt...I'll check.....

Posted by jodiecate 11/18/2010 at 10:56 PM

I think Rafa was very fortunate to have a "big bro" like Carlos.
We've been hearing a lot about Moya saying he had very little to do with helping shape Rafa's tennis ability, but i'm guessing he's had a lot to do with shaping Rafa's values.

The "there are plenty of things more important than tennis" plus the
"he never lost himself in being a star" that someone mentioned above seem really fundamental parts of the way Rafa operates that it's impossible not to make that connection. I mean, it's all very well to come up with these grand ideas, but having someone modelling how it's done - that's a rare gift.

Loved the video, thanks Jackson!!

Posted by Jorge 11/18/2010 at 11:29 PM

*Steve, he also made the semis in US Open, where he lost in a great match against Todd Martin.

I had the chance to interview Moya and to see him behind the scenes in Acapulco and he was always the same guy, gentle and humble, with a great personality, a very strong presence.

I think his game, when on, was as powerful as it was exquisite, a Letal forehand (defenetly one of the best of all time), powerful serve, beautiful and deceptive drop shot and good volley. Of course when he was stretched to a limit, it was his backhand the one that betrayed him and let him down. But overall i think his main enemies, where the injuries... he had a couple of great comebacks after major physical letdowns but then there where too many.

He is gonna be missed, specially in Mexico where he was a regular, i expect a great goodbye for him in London in a similar fashion than the one given to Dementieva. Nice article by the way Steve...

Posted by SR 11/19/2010 at 01:40 AM

I enjoyed watching Moya too and I know he continues to be a positive force in Rafa's life. But ever since I read about what happened with Flavia, I have struggled to maintain a high opinion of him. It's funny - what he does in his personal life shouldn't affect our perceptions of him as a tennis player. But these days, character seems to count for more in our regard of athletes (see Woods, Tiger). When you read this article and realize how much Moya derailed not only Flavia's life but her game and her career, it's hard to be too sympathetic toward him. Still, I wish him the best in his new life.

Posted by Truth 11/19/2010 at 06:59 AM

You know, Steve, you can directly refer to Moya as handsome. Writing that you've been told he is handsome, when you have seen him countless times yourself, and in person, is ridiculous and immature. You have eyes. You can see that he is a handsome man. That's not a reflection on sexuality. It's a reflection of how Moya is viewed.

Posted by Miss Sydney 11/19/2010 at 07:13 AM

Grand slam winner, former number 1, Davis Cup Champion & Rafa's mentor......I am sure Carlos will look back & be happy with what he has achieved.

Not many players can have a resume that looks like that!

Great article & all the best to Moya.

Posted by TennisFan2 11/19/2010 at 07:45 AM

Nice article Steve.

Posted by FloridaPaul 11/19/2010 at 07:54 AM

Time flies: I watched Moya beat Nadal at Key Biscayne a few years ago. The controlled violence of his forehand was a beautiful thing to watch up close ...

Posted by Charly´s funny moments 11/19/2010 at 08:33 AM

Doing a cameo in a Spanish funny film
Mentoring with the serve

Posted by raine 11/19/2010 at 11:01 AM

Not every player can win multiple (or even one) slams; or stay at #1 (or even get there) for a record # of weeks. That doesn't mean they aren't champions and don't make the sport better or more entertaining. Moya did that. He was a champion, a gentleman, a great player. He had a great career and he will be missed.

Posted by mike 11/19/2010 at 11:17 AM

let's celebrate moya as the player he was in his own right. no need to bring up his legacy as it relates to nadal. it seems like youre punished for helping people out in this world. when you do get recognition, it comes with caveats. i say lets stop it here. moya reached no1, was first player from mallorca to win a gslam, 575 match wins, not too shabby.

Posted by cl 11/19/2010 at 01:16 PM

Great article Steve. I had heard that Moya is natural lefty playing with his right hand. Do you know if this is true? If it is, how ironic that he mentors Rafa who is a rightie playing with his left.

Posted by Kris 11/19/2010 at 03:11 PM

He may have a Grand Slam title last century but it seems Moya's mark will be his influence on Nadal.

Posted by reckoner 11/19/2010 at 04:08 PM

touche... not as abrasive a pt to make as you make it sound.. that line does come off self-consciously homophobic, although im sure steve isnt

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