Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN

“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe on playing Novak Djokovic, friendship and his career

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet @djub22 in l’Équipe.

CONFIDENT

‘Novak: I can’t wait to play him again’

‘What does it give me, concretely, to be introduced as the “anti-Djoko” solution? Pleasure, obviously. But, having beaten him twice in Slams and pushed him to the limit at other times, it especially gives me confidence. In fact, I completely shook up Novak at Melbourne in 2013 (12-10 loss in the fifth set), our Slam matches have always been very close. USO semi in 2013 lost in five sets, quarter at the AO 2014 win in five, semi in Melbourne in 2015 lost in five, and finally my Roland win (4-.6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4) of course …

‘But as I often say, you still have to play him, and considering our rankings, it can only happen at the end of big tournaments. Most of the time, he’s there and I’m not .. It’s too bad, because I love playing him. Because playing the best is what I love the most. They’re the ones who give you the most problems. Playing Roger (Federer) in the semis of the last US Open ? I loved it. I lost in three, but I loved it. Novak, obviously, I can’t wait to play him again. My regret last year was not winning my QF at Wimbledon (lost to Richard Gasquet) to meet him in the semis, because then I’d have played him in every Slam.’

OPTIMIST

‘Some sand can get into the machinery’

‘I’m not the only one who has the weapons to bother Novak in a Slam. Roger has everything necessary. Was it because of mental problems or playing level recently? Only he knows, because he’s the one who lived through the matches. He he didn’t miss by much, he had so many chances. (loss in five sets, Wimbledon final 2014, then in four, Wimbledon final 2015, US Open 2015 and the semis at the last Australian Open). How long will Novak’s grip last? One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: Roger dominated in the same way for a long period. And during the years he was largely on top of everyone (between 2004 and 2007, especially) we heard people say: “But there’s no one who will beat Federer in the next five years”. Except that didn’t happen. And Nadal, the year he imposed himself (2010), we heard them say: “OK, he’s going to win three slams a year for the next four years.” But the year after, his level dropped.

‘I think some sand can get into the Djokovic machine. When Novak is 100% and everything is working, like right now, no one can take him. What he produces is incredible. And that’s not going to change from one day to another. Just look at what happened after his Roland loss last year, he was huge (only three losses for the rest of the season) …

‘But getting back to the question: if, in 2016, finally, he only wins two slams, will we still say he’s dominating or it’s changed compared to last year? A little grain of sand, two losses in the semis at Slams and that would change his year, which would still be exceptional and he’d still be world number one. I think the change will mostly come from Novak himself. Just like Federer at the time: we didn’t see how he could lose, and the answer came from himself.

ALTRUIST

‘If I can help them, I try’

‘It’s true that I played a role in Mikael Tilstrom’s (Swedish coach) and Gaël Monfils’ association. Gaël he’s a friend, and we talked about it in August of last year. I saw that he was uncertain (about whom to work with), so I tried to add some depth to things. I asked him to name me some coaches he’d like, and he mentioned Tillström, saying he’d asked him two years ago, but Mikael had said no. And Gaël didn’t want to ask again, thinking he still didn’t want to. That’s when I acted a bit as an intermediary. I tried to convince Gaël to try again, and, at the same time, I tested the waters with Magnus (Norman, who works with Tillström at the Swedish Good to Great academy). I went back to Gaël and told him the answer might be different this time. He was trying to find himself, he didn’t know in which direction to go but he wanted to. I hope it works out.

‘Friends? If I can help them, I try. I don’t think about competition. In Chennai, at the start of the season I talked a lot with Benoit (Paire), and gave him my thoughts on a lot of things.And then Yannick (Fattebert, a friend his own age from Valais, Switzerland who follows him on the tour for a few weeks every year as a hitting partner) who was there told me: “It’s incredibly cool what you’re doing, because he’s an adversary.” Maybe, but Benoit is a friend. OK, he’s a potential adversary, but first of all, so much the better if he progresses and, secondly, how many times will we face each other during our careers? If Gaël improves because of Tillström and beats me, it won’t change my life, it can just change my week [smiles].

NO LIMITS

‘I hope to be at a very high level at 35’

‘I don’t look ahead but my goal is to play for a long time. I hope to be at a very high level at thirty-five. But is this very high level 15th in the world, and that would be good because I’m not Federer? Or is it top 10? I know how fast things can change. So I don’t set goals, but I don’t set any limits either. And that’s why I won the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland in 2015. I never tell myself: “I’d like to win this Slam” or “I’d like to win this Masters 1000”. That’s not me and, in any case, I’m not strong enough to do it. My goal is to be in top form each time I go on court. That’s my way of managing things so sometimes, like last year at Roland, something big happens. I’m not as strong as the best. They’ve been there for ten years, me, I’m new. I feel strong enough to beat everyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

‘With Magnus (Norman, his coach), we haven’t set any time limits. It’s important that we both want to see each other, to train and to look a bit further ahead. I think we’ll both know immediately when that’s no longer the case.’

Translated by MAN

 

“He gives you nothing, not even the time of day.” Emmanuel Planque, Lucas Pouille’s coach, on the improved Milos Raonic by @flaberne of l’Équipe

Translation of the article by Frédéric Bernès on page 19 of the January 26, 2016 edition of l’Équipe.

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.”

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.” I told you that just after the match against Lucas (Pouille). I was a bit dazed coming off the court. I re-watched the match several times and the impression remained. OK, I wasn’t thrilled by the way Lucas started off sets … but Milos gave us nothing. That guy doesn’t even give you the time of day. Right now, I find him fit. We’ve been talking about him as a future Slam winner for two years. Like Dimitrov? Yes and no. I’m sure Dimitrov will come back. But he’s less formidable and less well prepared than Raonic. He he has fewer weapons.

“Second serves at 220, 224, 226 kph”

“He’s super confident with his serve. At Brisbane and Melbourn, he was hitting second serves at 220, 224 and even 226 kph. At some point you don’t know how to return them: if you back up, he hits a kicker that bounces really high; if you move up to cut down the trajectory, you get a bullet at 220. The average first serve speed is often mentioned as a way to judge a server, but don’t forget the second serve. He powers it but it doesn’t mean that many more double faults. That’s tied to his current confidence and the fact that he hasn’t played the top two best returners yet, Murray and Djoko, who can bother him. The idea is to make him run so he’ll serve at between 160 and 180. Because if he serves at 130, he’ll be more accurate, more coordinated, more relaxed. But it’s hard to make him run much when he’ll try and shorten the point quickly.”

“Before, he could miss a series of returns”

“He’s improved his base game considerably. Mainly because he doesn’t have any physical problems. Last year, he had a nerve in his foot operated on. Good health means more training intensity. You can tell he’s worked on his returns. He’s much more consistent. Before he could miss second serve returns in bunches. Today, he puts you continuously under pressure without taking any crazy risks. He returns hard up the middle which allows him to take a lot of second shots on his forehand. And then it’s difficult to escape. Facing him, you get tense and you lose 10-15 kph on your serve. I think Milos has assimilated the fact that the best players in the world aren’t the best servers. His goal is to get a ratio of quality of serve/quality of return that’s much better than the others.”

“To me he’s not a Canadian at all”

“He’s part of a very strong project. To me, he’s not at all a Canadian. He’s a Yugo (born in Podgorica, Raonic lived in Montenegro until he was eight). He reminds me of Djoko with his ambition and application. Raonic is upright, intelligent, a worker. The guy could easily have been an engineer. Now he’s a tennis player, that’s his job. He’s not emotional, he’s rational. He works on his mechanics. Ljubicic (gone to Federer) helped with his serve and second shot. He leaves and he takes Moya, who’ll help him with his returns and bring him the deep parts of the game. And above all he has Piatti (ex-coach of Ljubicic and Gasquet) who’s a super coach and who’s doing an admirable job with him.”

“It’s lousy, it’s not sexy? I don’t agree”

“Would it hurt tennis if Raonic became number one? I don’t agree with that sort of pessimism. I hear people say Raonic is dull, isn’t sexy, he’s boring … No! It wouldn’t be dull because those chasing him would be interesting. It would be really exciting. Sure, the tennis of tomorrow will be guys 1.95m moving like guys 1.75 and who can return too. Can these criticisms affect Raonic? I sense he’s there to win. The rest …”

Translated from the French by MAN

Umpiring: Aurélie Tourte, a woman in the chair

Translation of this online article

Aurélie Tourte
Aurélie Tourte,  standing on the left, the most highly ranked French umpire when she got her Silver Badge in 2014, travels around the world at the beck and call of tournaments.

It wasn’t love at first sight between umpiring and Aurélie Tourte.

“Me, I liked playing tournaments or team matches for my club in Plaisir (the Yvelines),” she explains. “I discovered umpiring via the ITF Futures organised by TC Plaisir and during team matches. Without being completely seduced.”

Around 20 at the time, Aurélie was taken in hand by two umpires who give her the chance of umpiring in Deauville during the ATP Rennes Challenger. It was the turning point.

“I was able to see professional umpires at work, and it started to interest me. Gradually, encouraged by Maryvonne Ayale, President of the CRA (Regional Umpiring Commission) and the Yvelines League, I got taken with it and started passing my certificates.”

In 2014, Aurélie umpired for 26 weeks (Roland Garros, US Open, Monte Carlo,  ATP 250s, the WTA tour, ATP Challengers), which led to her being granted the Silver Badge in December of last year.

“I was proud about getting it, but it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as I’d umpired quite a few matches and got good evaluations.”

In 2015, her programme up to June was just as busy: Feucherolles, a Fed Cup in Sweden,  then Marseille, Acapulco, Monterrey, a break in March, the Saint Breuc Challenger, Monte Carlo, Marrakech, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg (WTA) then Roland-Garros. The objective was straightforward: getting to know the Top Ten players of the WTA and ATP. “I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. So I need to learn to talk to them, to get ‘run in’.”

Temping as a nurse

Despite careful planning, expenses (travel, hotels, food sometimes covered) paid, Aurélie still hasn’t made the choice between professions. A nurse by training, she takes advantage of the shortages in French hospitals to work as a temp when umpiring gives her the time. Of course, in daily life, the travel isn’t easy to manage.

“Sure, my apartment is more of a furniture warehouse,” smiles the 31-year-old woman who still lives in Plaisir. “And as a woman it’s difficult fitting it into family life.  But now that I’m the highest ranked French woman, I’d like to see where it leads, as there have been only two French Gold Badge umpires in history (Anne Lasserre and Sandra de Jenken).”

Among the necessary qualities required she cites, randomly,  excellent sight, good communication with the players and the public, but also being able to make quick decisions. And especially a strong character. What’s not obvious: “Promoting women’s umpiring is complicate in France as it is elsewhere. You need to find your place in a man’s world. But you learn about yourself, you discover countries, people, ways of life. If you have a passion for it, you must grab on to it.”

This passion has allowed Aurélie to experience some big moments such as the 2012 Olympics, where she was a line umpire for the five finals, and being in the chair for the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros in in 2013.

 

Translated by Mark Nixon

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.

Curaçao proud of its tennis hero: Jean-Julien Rojer

Curaçao proud of its tennis hero

TEXT by Eline van Suchtelen @Elinevsuchtelen
Translation Nicole Lucas @TrouwNLucas
Published in the printedition of Trouw November 24th 2015, page 19

A few months ago Court No 1 of tennis club RCC in Willemstad (Curaçao) got a new name. ‘Court Jean-Julien Rojer’ it’s called nowadays. A green sign along the side of the court honours the only professional tennis player from Curaçao, the world number one in doubles as of this week.

On Sunday the 34-year-old doubles specialist, who plays for the Dutch Davis Cup team, together with his Romanian partner Horia Tecau won the unofficial world title at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Earlier this year, also with Tecau, he won his first grand slam title at Wimbledon. Rojer’s boyhood dream came true.

His father used to call his son’s dream a ‘crazy dream’. On Curaçao Rojer’s classmates played football or baseball, the national sport. Rojer fell in love with a racket.

His road to the top began almost thirty years ago. His old club, RCC, is a stone’s throw away from his parental home. Inspired by his older brother, Jean-Jamil, who is also into tennis, Jean-Julien starts playing at the age of six. He is hooked immediately.

His passion for tennis gets so out of hand that his school results suffer. According to his father he didn’t really want to study. At school his son gets into mischief mostly. “Nothing really serious,” Randall Rojer says. “But he was a bit of a rascal. As parents we were often summoned to school”.

It’s only on the tennis courts where Jean-Julien works hard. Every day, once classes have finished, he leaves for the courts to train. Weekends included. He challenges all and sundry to a game. Just to play matches. “He wanted to be the best in Curaçao.”

When his results at school really become a matter of concern, Nazira and Randall Rojer conclude it is time for action. They themselves have always worked hard to achieve their dreams. Nazira Rojer is working as a teacher at the time and her husband has a private dental practice in Willemstad. They also want Jean-Julien to do his best for a bright future.

Therefore, on the day of his thirteenth birthday, the young lad is sent to the United States to train in Miami with a private coach. For his tennis career, but also to make him study. “We made an agreement. He really was not doing well in school, because he just wanted to play tennis. If he didn’t get good grades, he would have to return immediately.”

Rojer gets the message. In America, where he finishes his secondary school, he finally opens a book. After that, he gets a sports scholarship to the prestigious University of California, which enables him to combine his tennis career with an education.

He manages to become a pro, but in singles Rojer does not get further than the 218th spot in the world rankings. That’s why he starts to focus on doubles, where he has more success. From 2012 Rojer is a fixture in the Dutch Davis Cup team, where, alongside Robin Haase, he wins many important matches for the Netherlands.

A new experience, because his colleagues in the Antillean Davis Cup team were hobbyists who just hit a ball for fun. After Rojer leaves for the Netherlands, where he, with his Dutch passport, can play for Jan Siemerink’s team, his old team falls apart.

With only four tennis clubs on the island tennis is not very big on Curaçao. But the sport is on the rise, says Mike Debi-Tewari, president of the Tennis Federation Curaçao. It has recently began to organise international competitions for young players to enable them to compete with peers from neighbouring countries.

To them, Rojer, who regularly gives clinics in his home country, is a great example. “Thanks to him, the children see that you can reach the top, where ever you come from. If you work hard enough,” says Tewari.

People across the country watched the Wimbledon final. After the victory, there was a big party at Rojer’s old tennis club, where Tewari also still plays. Along with Rojer’s father he tries to ensure that the legacy of the only professional tennis player from Curaçao doesn’t get lost. He feels that he as president of the national federation – a volunteer job – has that obligation towards Rojer.

It’s not because of Curaçao that the Antillean got so succesful, according to Tewari. “If you ask Jean-Julien what the association has done for him, he will probably tell you: I didn’t even know it existed.” Tewari won’t blame him. “He owes everything to his parents, who have always supported him.”

Tewari hopes that things will get better in tennis. Randall Rojer has the same ambition. If only to improve the local economic situation. If a young talent, in whatever sports, can study abroad, it will benefit the country, he thinks. “It does not matter to me what sport they choose. Tennis, baseball, softball, swimming. If they can pay for their education with sports, that’s good for Curaçao.”

To today’s young talents it might look like a crazy dream. Rojer has proven dreams can come true.