The secret of the Lapenttis' success

Letter from quito, ecuador

Images of an overjoyed Giovanni Lapentti raising his racket in victory covered the front pages and television screens in Ecuador following the tiny Andean nation's Davis Cup victory over Great Britain at Wimbledon earlier last Sunday. But it was the spectacle of hero-worshipping fans overwhelming their new champion as he returned home that will linger in the minds of most people.

Images of an overjoyed Giovanni Lapentti raising his racket in victory covered the front pages and television screens in Ecuador following the tiny Andean nation's Davis Cup victory over Great Britain at Wimbledon earlier last Sunday. But it was the spectacle of hero-worshipping fans overwhelming their new champion as he returned home that will linger in the minds of most people.

Interest levels in tennis have surged here following the victory which took Ecuador back to the World Group of the Davis Cup after 15 years' absence and the Lapentti brothers, Giovanni and Nicolas, have earned themselves major celebrity status. At a recent charity function, the shirt Giovanni wore when beating Arvind Parmar at Wimbledon was auctioned off for $4,000 (£2,685).

Giovanni, at 17 years of age the younger of the two, was ranked only 959th in the world, compared to his 23-year-old brother's ranking of No 18. That their triumph came on grass, and not on clay, the most commonly found South American playing surface, made the success all the more remarkable. There is only one grass court in the whole of Ecuador, and Giovanni had only a month's experience of playingon grass before his victory atWimbledon.

Hundreds of fans swarmed outside the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador's principal seaport, to welcome home the Wimbledon winners. At the same time, on all the principal avenues of Guayaquil, Quito and far beyond, cars were forming convoys and honking their horns in celebration.

At a packed press conference at the airport, Giovanni told reporters how, when he was two sets down to Arvind Parmar, he "suddenly felt lit up by something indescribable" and began to play with a patience and cool-headed mentality, that he had never before experienced.

"I still cannot believe it. I keep seeing mental images of that game and I cannot define what went through my head. I completed my dream of playing with Nico in the Davis Cup. To start out with atriumph is very important. What I am feeling is indescribable," he said.

Raul Viver, the captain of the Ecuadorian team, said that the victory at Wimbledon was a dream come true. "I have found the ideal doubles team to play Davis Cup: the Lapentti brothers are the present and the future of Ecuadorian tennis," he said. The mayor of Guayaquil, Leon Febres Cordero, said the Lapentti brothers were an example to youth and "have let the world know that Ecuador is a land of champions".

In the aftermath of the victory, Giovanni has spoken of how the enormity of his achievement in beating Parmar is only just beginning to sink in. "The emotion and happiness I feel, which I share with the whole country, is immense," he said. "What I feel is really indescribable... the most moving thing that has happened to me in my whole life is to play for my country and defend it as I did."

As youngsters, the Lapentti brothers began playing tennis in the grounds of the Guayaquil Club, where their father played basketball. Their first great coach was Andres Gomez, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 1984 and winner of the 1990 French Open, where he defeated Andre Agassi. At 40, he still is a formidable player on the senior circuit, but is considered a clay-court specialist.

Yet the Lapenttis' victory at Wimbledon cannot be considered a complete fluke. As well as Gomez, Ecuadorian tennis has produced other great champions, notably Pancho "Sneaky" Segura in the 1950s.

Victor Hugo Araujo, a leading Ecuadorian sports writer, says that the potential shown by the Lapenttis confirms that individual sport in his country is far stronger than team games. He cites Jefferson Perez, the Olympic gold medal winning runner, and a host of others South American champions in everything from swimming to chess to prove his point. The secret? Long-term planning and investment in young athletes from an early age, the sort of priorities recently recommended by TimHenman to turn around Britain'sélitist game.

Ecuador is also consumed by football fever as the national side prepares for vital World Cup qualifiers against Colombia and Argentina, but as Giovanni Lapentti declared with satisfaction: "Football is the No 1 sport of Ecuador, with the biggest following. But it is tennis, athletics, and swimming that have scored the most victories for our country."

"Some people are comparing it to Andres Gomez winning Roland Garros in 1990", said Nicolas Lapentti. "It was a very long weekend, and it's tough to watch your little brother being down 0-2 [in sets] in the decisive match. It's completely different from watching a team-mate. After I lost to Tim Henman, I told Giovanni that he was in a situation that a lot of players want to be in and that he should just enjoy it. After the match he said that he'd seen how disappointed I was after losing, and he wanted to win the fifth match for me."

They are sentiments which are not likely to be forgotten by his fellow countrymen in Ecuador for a long time.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick