Albert Costa finally managed to transform himself from Mr. Nobody to a VIP on Sunday evening in the space of just two and a half hours by winning the French Open title.
The 26-year-old, who has amassed over US$5 million in his eight-year career, had by his own admission rarely caused a ripple of excitement preferring instead his long-time supporting role amongst the Spanish armada of clay court battlers.
But fed up of being on the sidelines and not having won a title in three years, he finally fulfilled his dream of winning a Grand Slam crown to add to the 11 career titles he has already collected on clay.
It was that ambition which kept him going through a grueling seven rounds and 20 hours and 38 minutes on court culminating in Sunday’s relatively easy victory over fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3.
“Now maybe it’s my moment,” said Costa who admitted that he used to find it incomprehensible how his countrymen had such success on the slow red clay here while his best performance were two quarter-final finishes.
It was the image of people like Carlos Moya and Sergi Bruguera winning the Roland Garros title and seeing contemporaries like Alex Corretja making the final that spurred him on.
“When they played in the final I was thinking ‘Oh what’s happening with me? They are playing the final and I’m not. I was feeling ‘I’m never going to win in Roland Garros. This could not happen to me.’”
Costa, the new number two in the ATP Champions Race as a result of his performance here, said that it was his negative thoughts and lack of self-belief which had dragged him down in the past.
“During those other years I was maybe as good as the others from a technical point of view, but not as good mentally.”
Costa said that the moment of truth came last year at the Rome tournament followed by him crashing in the first round of Roland Garros for the first time since 1994 and dropping to 40th in the world rankings.
“I was completely down,” admitted Costa. “I couldn’t play. I started to think ‘I don’t want to feel like this’ any more. I just want to be relaxed and enjoy tennis. I need to play the way I know how.’”
It was also the birth of twin daughters Claudia and Alma in April last year which brought about a radical change in his attitude.
“You start to think about other things. Before tennis was 100 percent of my life and now it’s not. I have my two little babies. I love them a lot and when I lose a match I think ‘I’m going home to see my babies.’ It’s not a drama, it’s more natural,” said Costa.
Despite the years of trying but always coming up short, the man from Lerida in Catalunya who makes his home in Monte Carlo, has never doubted that the big breakthrough would come one day.
And he proved it as he eliminated defending champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil and last year’s runner-up Corretja on his way to the final.
“The most difficult thing is to believe in yourself, to believe you can win. And now I’m believing. I know I’m going to lose matches and everything, but now I have different feelings about me,” said Costa.
And he admitted that Sunday’s performance was the greatest of his career.
“I was a little surprised. I was in the final and I wasn’t nervous and playing unbelievable tennis.
“Today I had probably the best match of my life. I was playing so hard, looking for the point all the time. It was really unbelievable.
But Costa, who marries girlfriend Cristina Ventura next Friday, added: “I can’t say from a personal point of view this is the best day of my life. But from a tennis point of view, yes, it is. It’s the most intense day for me. It’s a big, big day for me.”