Interview with Guga: “Brazil is more individualistic than I’ve ever seen”

Translation of this piece in the Brazilian Lance.

In his personal life, Gustavo Kuerten has every reason to smile easily. Less than a month ago, the three time Roland Garros champion went back to surfing and playing beach tennis. Being able to play sports is something he seeks.

In addition to celebrating 15 years of winning the Masters Cup in Lisbon, on December 4th, a title that led Brazil for the first time to the top of world singles ranking, the former tennis player celebrates another important victory.

Pain, the cruel consequence of being one of the most successful  Brazilian athletes, has decreased considerably in recent months. And it’s allowed Gustavo Kuerten to remain closer to the physical form that led him to be the best in the world for 43 weeks.

At 39 years old, Guga focuses on tennis promotion projects and laments the waste of talent in Brazil, as well as the current political scene in the country. But calls for optimism.

During a busy schedule, he talked to the LANCE! reporter during the inauguration of a Lacoste store, the brand of which he is ambassador, in Rio de Janeiro. During the conversation, he spoke of his recent projects, recalled his career and kept the characteristic critical spirit of his life after tennis.

Question: Who is Guga nowadays? What is his routine and what are his goals?

Tennis is still the foundation of my challenges, but in a different way. Today, my contribution is greater than 15 years ago, when I was the best in the world. We have several initiation projects, academies, tournaments and full contact with the development of the sport. That moves me, because there is much waste of talent in Brazil. The idea is to round up the athletes across the country. The number of potential players who can play with a racquet should be even less than 5%. It’s difficult to have professional and amateur tennis players. That’s what moves me most on a daily basis. I like to get involved with sports and education. I was raised this way and managed a successful career in this universe.

And in your personal life?

In parallel to the projects and partnerships, I spend time with my kids and family. Life is much more controlled now than during my time as an athlete (laughs). Before, we surfed the wave that made by the intensity of the circuit. Today, I can program the series at sea and surf in accordance with the tide, and with a cadence that I plan myself. So I think that my contribution is even higher in order to generate a return with more quality and depth, being at the right time at the right place and thus promote tennis in an interesting way. It is what has been happening in the last ten years with me.

What you do not miss at all from an athlete’s life?

Ah, hotels … packing my suitcase and going to the airport! That was the worst part (laughs). Each week, I had to do it twice. Usually, it was Sunday night, after a final. I came on the same day and on Monday, had to undo everything in another hotel room. I used to wake up confused, thinking the door was on one side, but it was on the other, because I had already changed my room and hadn’t remembered. I went to the wrong floor because I’d been on that floor the week before (laughs). This part of the athlete’s life and for a South American tennis player in particular is very hard. You go out for two or three months, not a week or two. It’s difficult…

How is your body, especially the hip, and what hurts most: the pains of a former athlete today, or the pains from the time you were an athlete?

Thank God I got back to surf three weeks ago. For the first time after a long time, I also came back to play beach tennis. I can hit some balls, but the dialogue with the court is still complicated. It is somewhat frustrating because my physical capacity is limited. But, regarding pain, things are much improved. Hopefully, gradually, my ability to exercise will expand because it is what I like to do. I love to play with my kids, run after them. I went from two, three steps to 15. It was a victory! This year, I made a brutal effort. I spent two or three hours doing exercises and physiotherapy to achieve such a condition.

Do you still have physical therapy?

Yes, constantly. It’s a consequence of my career. Recently, I spoke with Andre Agassi (former American tennis player) by message and he even asked me about the hip. It’s the price we pay for having invested so much and so profoundly to reach the limits of tennis. Sometimes, playing matches is the easiest part. Practice is very hard. In 1997, when people saw me for the first time, there were already thousands of hours on the court making absurd demands on the body. It’s also part of understanding this process. The advantage I have today is having the time for things to happen more tranquilly. If I improve ten meters every year in my performance, it will be good. I will soon be back on the court (laughs).

Do you watch Roger Federer nowadays? What goes on in your mind when you remember the time you played against him?

Federer is an example in all aspects. He has an extraordinary tennis ability. If I have to choose among the top ten in history, he’ll be there. Among the top five, three, two, he will be there too. It must be. It is difficult to define who is the best of all time, because it is unfair to compare. But he’s the guy that will always be considered one of the greatest. He’s a spectacular person, with a special charisma for tennis, a unique kindness, decency and model of conduct. And a guy who was my contemporary! When I see him today, I get the feeling that the circuit is not so far from my path.

You already said you used to stick to a greater challenge to overcome the minor one that was in front of you in the courts and have even given this tip to Thomaz Bellucci.

This applies to life, on a daily basis?

A parameter that I find common between my professional life and now is to have a positive outlook on every aspect. In tennis, it helped me a lot. We already live through so many complicated situations that if I try to see the bad scenario, an avalanche of pessimism comes over me. It works to always look at things very positively. Even my injury. Looking enthusiastically, with hope, facilitates and reduces the negative impact of situations. There are few cases where we really suffer. Sometimes we mourn for bullshit. The difficult thing is to practice it in everyday life, but it’s what I’ve been trying to do (laughs).

The political unrest country currently faces makes you reflect?

I am increasingly convinced that the only way for Brazil to reach a transformation is through education. People tend to think it’s the poorer classes who need it, but our main political figures shows that from largest fortunes often come the worst examples. Education must rinse the country, with decency and respect. People should understand their responsibilities, not just from the aspect of law. Brazil increasingly tries to compress society with laws and obligations to escape crime, diversion, corruption, but does not promote good conduct or decent ways of living. For those who have the conviction that they need to deviate from the straight and narrow and create shortcuts to advance, there will be no law in the world that can stop them. And there’s no money in the world that can build projects with all this going on. So we need to invest in people and think long-term educational projects to have larger ranges of answers.

And the Olympics? It is a response?

We have a positive moment and an interesting result possibility. I believe that Brazil will break the record for medals at the Olympics. But it’s always little. Our achievements are small compared to the opportunities that are there. We are limited by a too drastic and dramatic national scene. You cannot demand that the Olympics work well if the country is not doing well in education, health, infrastructure, safety. The basic requirements have to be the great transformations. Sport, cultures and arts will suffer the same positive interference, but as long as we stay in this mantra to invent laws, do by force and compel people to follow certain rules, things will not work.

What to do in the current scenario?

You have to guide, teach people how to position themselves, to know their rights, obligations and responsibilities. Thus, look for a more collective benefit. I venture to say that Brazil today is more individualistic than ever before. Previously, the country had no money, but it thought more collectively. Today, I see country in more favourable economic condition, but everyone wants it all to themselves. We are infected by a huge lack of public services and good examples coming from the government. People see the differences around them and it’s reflected in their actions. It is sad to see our country suffering all these difficulties and know all the potential that exists in this nation.

After eight years out of professional tennis, you still attract the interest of brands and media. How do you explain you are still a target?

It is still an opportunity to convey values and concepts with which I work such as sports and education. I seek no shortcut or misconduct that leads me to achieve results without merit. I got where I am with effort and discipline. This is an asset and a fundamental background that I need to share. Brands give me that possibility. Because it’s hard! We paddle, row, row and go nowhere. Getting a hug is good (laughs). It is a great challenge. You cannot make a transformation alone, so it is a privilege to count on big brands and deliver a key message to the country today to cultivate persistence in people. We all tend to get tired from the day-to-day and want to throw in the towel. But we must persist and endure the almost unbearable, with the current situation of our country, but we must move on.

His career

World No. 1

Former tennis player led the ATP rankings three times, between December 2000 and November 2001. There were 43 weeks in total, with 30 weeks the most consecutively.

Awards

In 2010, Guga received the Philippe Chatrier Trophy in recognition of the work done by the Guga Kuerten Institute and his three titles at Roland Garros. He also joined Maria Esther Bueno in the tennis Hall of Fame.

Unprecedented feat

Guga is the only player to have beaten American Pete Sampras (semifinal) and Andre Agassi (final) in the same tournament. It was in the Masters Cup in Lisbon (POR) in 2000.

The Goodbye

Guga made his farewell from the courts as an ordinary tennis pro on May 25, 2008, losing in the Roland Garros debut for Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu by 3 sets to love, 6-3, 6-4 6-2.

Olympic involvement

In 2011, Guga was the godfather of Olympic Tennis Project Rio-2016, under the supervision of his former coach Larri Passos. But a year later, the initiative failed after consumed $ 2 million from the federal government and was marked by allegations of irregularities in the use of funds by the Brazilian Tennis Confederation (CBT).

The Surgeries

February / 2002

Guga underwent an arthroscopic surgery on the right side of his hip made by the American doctor Thomas Byrd in Nashville (USA). The goal was to remove the worn cartilage due to an inflammation.

September / 2004

The Brazilian returned to the operating table under the care of Dr. Mark Philippon in Pittsburgh (USA) to treat a bone problem that blocked the movement of the hip and caused pain.

March / 2006

Guga was again operated, this time in Vail (USA), by the same doctor from the previous surgery. The procedure was only revealed last year in his biography.

March / 2013

The former athlete underwent a procedure for implantation of a hip prosthesis in his hometown Florianopolis, due to severe pain.

Translation by Sara Tavares.

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