Nicolás Massú, whose mother is Jewish, was born on October 10, 1979, in Viña Del Mar, Chile. He earned his nickname, Vampiro (Spanish for vampire), for his intensity on the tennis court.
He began his professonal tennis career in 1997. His first full-year on the ATP tour was 2000 when he was a finalist in a tournament in Orlando and competed in three of the four Grand Slam events (French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open).
Nicolás also competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the men’s tennis singles competition in Sydney, he defeated Slava Dosedel of the Czech Republic in the first round (6-2, 7-6), but was eliminated in the second round by Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain (4-6, 6-7). Massú then played in the doubles competition with Chileans were eliminated in the first round after losing to Korea (3-6, 4-6).
In 2001, he competed in the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. In 2002, he won the first singles title of his career.
Massú had an oustanding year in 2003, and his performance at the Tennis Masters tournament catapulted the player to the top 20. He won his third career singles title -- and second of the year -- at the Palermo Open in late September, and is currently the top-ranked male Jewish player in the world, holding the No. 14 spot as of August 15, 2004.
Massú won gold in both the singles and doubles event at the 2004 Athens Games. Nicolás was overwhelmed that he had won two gold medals: “I was so happy because this is my best memory in my sport career. If I look back in 10 more years, I look back on this, I’m gonna be so happy. Now I can die happy.” In the 2004 Athens games, Massú teamed up with his countryman Fernando Gonzalez in the doubles event. After an easy first round victory, the Chilean team faced Argentines Martin Rodriguez and Gaston Etlis and defeated them 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the second round. Then, the Chilean team pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the competition in the quarterfinals by defeating the top ranked team in the Olympics, Bob and Mike Bryan of the U.S. in two sets (7-5, 6-4). They played Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) in the semi-finals on August 19 and defeated them 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Gonzalez and Massú beat Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany in the Olympic gold match 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4.
Massú was ecstatic to win gold: “Well, to be here and to compete for the medal and get the gold is unbelievable. Of course, it’s the happiest day of my life as an athlete. To play tennis all week, to win a medal, to enter into the history of our country. I think it’s a dream for anyone.” The Olympic doubles was the first major title Nicolás has ever won, as well as the first gold medal by any Chilean in Olympic history.
In the singles event, Massú was ranked 10th overall and stunned the tournament by winning the gold medal. He faced former world no.1, Gustavo Kuerten in the first round, on August 16. Massú beat him 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 and was drawn to play Vincent Spadea (23 in the world) in the second round. After a very tough first set, Nicolás coasted in the second and beat the talented American 7-6 (3), 6-2. The Chilean ace played Igor Andreev (ranked 55 in the world) in the third round and beat him 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in an epic battle. The quarterfinal draw threw up Carlos Moya, ranked fourth in the world and a favorite for gold. The Chilean upset Moya 6-2, 7-5 in a dazzling display of skill. Nicolás beat American upstart Taylor Dent in the semi’s 7-5, 6-1. Massú completed an amazing gold medal double by defeating Mardy Fish (ranked 36 in the world) of the U.S. 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Chilean won Chile’s second gold medal in less then 24 hours. Nicolás looked fatigued through much of the match, as he had played more then one match on most days and played a five set doubles final the day before. However, he mustered a memorable performance in both the fourth and fifth sets, just as he seemed to be on the proverbial ropes.
Though Massú’s ranking of 131st was too low to qualify him for a 2008 Olympic seat, he was one of 12 athletes awarded special places by the International Tennis Federation to participate in the singles competition in Beijing.
Introduced to tennis when he was 5 by his grandfather, he became a competitive junior tennis player and entered the professional circuit in 1997, at the age of 18. Raised Jewish, Massú competed in the Maccabi Games in Israel in 2001.
Sources: Jews In Sports; The Forward (August 8, 2008)