Colombia will play host to Japan in a Davis Cup World Group playoff Sept. 18-20, a fact that brings back memories for University of Miami men’s tennis coach Mario Rincon.
A Colombian native, Rincon remembers playing Davis Cup tennis on Sept. 20, 1998 with a full head of hair. But one day later, he was bald.
Here’s what happened:
“My brother (Eduardo, who now coaches men’s tennis at Kennesaw State University in Georgia), myself and Miguel Tabon had talked about shaving our heads if we beat Uruguay,” said Rincon, referring to two of his teammates from that Davis Cup team.
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Rincon said he was “very nervous” early on, losing the first set of his initial singles match. However, he recovered to win that match. Tabon won his singles match. Rincon and Tabon then won doubles to clinch the tie before a joyous home crowd in Bogota.
The Colombian players celebrated that night – there might have been some wine involved – and had their heads shaved before returning to the court the next day to complete a 4-1 win that had already been guaranteed with the first three wins.
Rincon, 47, a former NCAA All-American at Kentucky, won’t be able to make it to Pereira in Colombia for the match against Japan, but he will be rooting hard for his country.
Colombia, which began playing Davis Cup in 1959, has never made it to the World Group final 16, but that’s exactly where they will be if they can knock off Japan.
Colombia is ranked No. 24 in the world, 10 spots below Japan.
But home court, which rotates and is awarded depending on which team last played in its country, means a lot in Davis Cup.
For one thing, Colombia gets to pick its surface, and they will play on red clay courts, suiting their team.
Secondly, you can expect the fans to be a factor, and that goes for the U.S., too. While Colombia plays host to Japan, the 13th-ranked Americans will travel to No. 27 Uzbekistan in another World Group playoff.
“Winning on the road is rough, especially in South America because it’s not necessarily a tennis crowd,” Rincon said. “People go there to cheer for their country, the music is loud, and there’s a lot of name-calling.”
In some places, Rincon said, fans throw coins. He also said that he once played a Davis Cup match in Uruguay in which fans found out where his team was staying and made sure to blast firecrackers outside their hotel windows to keep them from having a good night’s sleep.
Rincon, who played in nine Davis Cup ties for Colombia, believes this year’s team is the best his country has ever had.
He hopes they can enjoy a day as sweet as the one in 1998 when Colombia beat Uruguay.
“I will never forget that day,” Rincon said. “It was a lot of fun – a beautiful day.”