Thomas Estrada of Colombia – played singles against and doubles with del Potro, and gave it all up to study and live in the US

Translated from this piece  by from El Columbiano by Luz Élida Molida Marín

He played singles against Juan Martin del Potro, was beaten, then played doubles with him.

They had parallel careers, and they both should have figured in the ATP TOP 50, but history willed it otherwise: the Argentine continued playing and got to number four in the ATP rankings, while Thomas Estrada shelved his racquet and went to study and live in the US.

The lack of support coupled with the high cost of playing tennis forced the number one South American junior to end his story before it started. “It was very difficult to continue. In Colombia in 2010 there weren’t tournaments big enough  to get points and I had no sponsors; I was living out of my parents’ pockets. It was too much and I had to quit,” explains the manager of the Fortuna Bakery in Orlando, Florida.

When he watches Juan Martin play, his mind goes back to the tennis courts and the days when he fought like a lion against del Potro and local Colombians Michael Quintero, Francisco Franco, Sebastian Gallego, Santiago Giraldo and Robert Farah.

The decision Thomas made pained not only him but also his coach of two years Fernando Rodas. ” I was desolated when he quit. His talent was impressive. I was sure that his technical and tactical ability would make him a force in the tennis world.”

He had a very tough mental struggle deciding between the financial difficulties of a tennis career and an academic scholarship, but, in the end, the scholarship won out. That’s the reason Thomas travelled to the States, where he now has economics and graphic design degrees, two professions he’s now combining.

His love and passion for tennis means he’s to be found in the stands at every US Open. From there he follows Santiago Giraldo, Alejandro Falla and his good friend del Potro.

“It’s difficult seeing them play and thinking I could have been there. I get very nostalgic,” says the Columbian, who misses the atmosphere and the competition.

A week ago he got the bug and picked up a racquet again for the first time in three years. He played against another Colombian, a wiry businessman, and he won 6-0 6-0 just like when he was at his peak.

Never mind that he was panting and and asking for time every 15 minutes to hydrate, he felt good.

“The truth is, he was the one who was dead and I told him to take a water break to let him catch his breath,” laughs the Antioquian native, holding like a great treasure the racquet which last was used in 2010 when, at 22, he decided to quit.

For more on the financial difficulties, read this piece, an Équipe interview with Gilles Simon, this piece from l’Équipe on wealth and poverty on the tennis tour, this piece in l’Équipe about Antoine Benneteau’s problems making it on the ITF Futures tour, and this piece featuring Pauline Parmentier talking about the problems on the ITF Challenger tour.

Translated by MAN

18-year old Québecker Françoise Abanda is unhappy with the start of her 2015 season

Translation of this online piece from Le Journal de Montréal April 16 2015

The Québecker Françoise Abanda, only 18, is probably her own worst critic.

‘In the last six months, I haven’t met my own expectations when it comes to my goals, my objectives,’ she affirms after a practice session up to the Fed Cup meeting in Montréal April 18-19. ‘There have been some matches I should have won. I’m thinking about my ranking too, I can better it.’

Abanda is at 260 in the WTA world rankings.

But she’s been ranked as high as 175 last autumn, which allowed her to take part in Slam qualies.

Abanda works hard to climb the rankings. She knows she especially needs to improve her serve, especially her second shot. On the other side of the court, the Québecker is still trying to adjust to the powerful serves of certain of her opponents.

‘I’ve played against players with the hardest serves like Sabine Lisicki [at the 2014 US Open, lost 6-3, 7-5] and Venus Williams [in Québec City] and it’s quick, not at all like the serves I’m used to in juniors. It’s like a weapon for them. You’re certain to start the point badly when your opponent puts you in difficulty.’

Abanda isn’t necessarily surprised by the strength of her opponents, she simply has to go through a period of adjustment.

‘When you’re going to play Venus, you know you’re going to receive bombs,’ she indicated. ‘I expected it, but it’s just that it’s tough receiving. The ball gets to you quickly and there’s not much reaction time.’

Become a model

Despite everything, Abanda did well in Québec against Venus Williams, losing in two sets 7-5, 6-3 last September.

The start of 2015 has been more difficult.

‘I haven’t won a lot of matches, but I’ve gained a lot of experience,’ noted Abanda, who would have liked to have beaten Shahar Peer during the Australian Open Qualies.

The young Québecker is visibly impatient for the experience to translate into important wins.

‘I play tennis to leave my mark, to help and be a positive influence on young people,’ she continued. ‘If I have the ability to do that, that’s my goal. If I can get recognised and become a role model, that would be mission accomplished.’

To achieve her noble ambitions, Abanda needs to climb in the world hierarchy. Having blown out her 18 candles in February, she still has a few years to get there.

Translated by MAN

The Case of Lucas Pouille

From the print edition of l’Équipe April 15 2015 by Julien Reboullet @djub22 page 19.

Out of action in March, mediocre practice Monday, winner over Dominic Thiem Tuesday: the twenty-one-year-old Frenchman is on the right road. He challenges Rafael Nadal today.

If ever Lucas Pouille were to provoke a Big Bang event in Monaco by becoming the first Frenchman since Olivier Mutis in 2004 to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay, it would be a completely crazy exploit out of the deep, deep blue. A story of reversing a tendency at the speed of light.

As recently as Monday, the young twenty-one-year-old, just arrived from the indoor Saint Brieuc Challenger tournament – where he lost in the semis to Nicolas Mahut – and who hadn’t played a match on clay in eight months, wasn’t attracting much attention in the stands of the Monte Carlo Country Club after a poor practice session. “It’s simple. He played 1-1 against the number 300 or so ranked Frenchmen,” smiled Emmanuel Planque, his coach, yesterday noon. Smiling because his player had just left the court a winner over Dominic Thiem [6-4, 6-4]. Yes, Thiem, the Austrien who had just played a quarter-final in Miami and is ranked 44 in the world.

That kind of reversal in the space of twenty-four hours deserved the kisses exchanged between player and coach just before they got back to the dressing room. One would almost swear the two pairs of eyes shone just a bit. “I felt the emotion in Lucas,” admitted Planque.

“Interning” with Federer

The success will almost propel his student into the top 100 Monday [he’s now 108, his best ever ranking] A big first for the Northerner. “That barrier preoccupied him, as much because it gives him direct entry into the Slams as  for its symbolism. We brand our players to much in France by telling them, ‘you’ll be a pro when you’re in the top 100.’ Being a pro is more than ranking. It’s an attitude, a relationship to your profession.” Pouille has never been caught out on that score. The baby-faced, blue-eyed boy speaks in a quiet voice in front of the microphones. He’s serious, poised, thoughtful. He knows where he wants to go. And getting from a three-digit ranking to a two-digit is far from being an end in itself. Getting to one digit would closer.

2012(January) – Reaches his best junior ranking of 23
2013(May) – Wins his first round match against the American Alex Kuznetzov, loses in the second round to Grigor Dimitrov
2014(October) – Defeats Nieminen, Karlovic and Fognini to reach the round of 16 at Bercy, where he loses to Federer
2015(January) – First ATP 250 semi-final (Auckland) then an excellent first round at the Australian Open, losing to Monfils 7-6,6-3,4-6,1-6,4-6

The Planque-Pouille duo’s path has almost been like laying bricks. Step by step with precision and caution [see box]. Example: at the end of February, there was an inflamed tendon in the player’s right shoulder. “We treated it with the utmost care and seriousness. Pouille didn’t even wiggle an ear in March. And the tendonitis disappeared.

And if he becomes the 71st Frenchman to get into the top 100 in the forty-two years the ATP rankings have existed, he’s owe a bit … to the Swiss. At the end of 2013 and 2014 Pouille camped out for a week in Lausanne to prepare with Stan Wawrinka. Last February, just before his shoulder problem, he was in Dubai spending a week training with Roger Federer. “Hitting with them is amazing, even though you can’t really quantify what it brings,” says Planque. “You have to realise that there’s a bit of an incestuous side to the CNE (National training centre at Roland Garros). It’s difficult to get into from outside. So it’s important to look elsewhere. And with these guys who have won a Slam, there’s a difference in their concept of playing, in the way they train. What was most noticeable? The extreme precision of Federer and the team around him. It was six hours a day! Two hours of tennis in the morning, two in the afternoon and then two hours of physical training.” Pouille adds: “Realising that I could win a set here and a set there against players of that level, it could help me. If I train with them, it’s also to see how they work.” An experience that can also help demystify (a bit) the fact that he’ll be facing Nadal today? “In any case, he can’t be a spectator,” says Planque. “He’ll have to be extremely aggressive. Show Nadal with his attitude and his tactics and his intensity that he’ll need to work hard.”

And what if …

Translated by MAN

Tennis match fixing in Denmark: “Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

 

From  the Danish http://www.b.dk/nationalt/er-du-interesseret-i-at-lave-nogle-penge-ved-siden-af by Mette Dahlgaard og Eva Jung

“Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

No thank you. 30,000 Danish Crowns doesn’t sound like the kind of money you’d want to risk your career for. But for constantly travelling tennis players, the offer can help pay the expensive travel costs, point out players who said no to the offer.

Do you need 30,000 crowns?

That was the question upwards of 30 tennis players were asked when they took part in a tennis tournament – a tournament at the lowest professional level – in Aarhus and Copenhagen respectively in the late summer. The person or persons behind the offers contacted the players by text message, by e-mail or by Facebook and wrote in English that they didn’t need to lose the match. Just one set would be rewarded with €4,000, the equivalent of around 30,000 Crowns.

“I’m your contact person, and I can meet you in person in Copenhagen to give you a deposit of €2,000 today,  you will get the rest after the job is done,” was the message.

€4,000 is a large sum in a competition where the women’s winner got $1,568 and the men’s got $2,160.

The 17-year-old Benjamin Hannestad is number 58 in the world junior rankings. Despite his age, he was invited to play with the seniors at the Futures tournament in the summer. A couple of weeks before the tournament he received a friend request on Facebook with a profile calling itself “ITF” and used the International Tennis Federation’s logo. With the friend request was the message:

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Benjamin Hannested accepted the friend request and gave his details.

“When I got the friend request, I thought it was part of a process for when you play for money. I could see that several I knew had accepted the request,” he says.

When Benjamin Hannestad had played and won his first Futures match, he received a text message on his phone:

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Benjamin would get €2,000 before the match and another €2,000 “after the job is done”. A contact person in Copenhagen would give him the money.

“There was no chance I would say yes to the money. That’s not like me at all. I was very surprised to put it mildly. Even though I’d heard it could happen, it was still crazy that I’d get this offer in my first tournament as a senior,” says Benjamin Hannestad, who reported the matter to the TIU, the International Tennis Federation’s investigative unit.

Large sums tempt

But other tennis players at the same level might be tempted. Seniors at the lowest levels struggle to raise the money to travel to tournaments around the world, and the money should be seen in that light. And if you don’t have a big-money sponsor behind you, match fixing can be tempting, says Jens Sejer Andersen, international head of the Play The Game initiative.

“Tennis is a sport a lot of semi and quarter professionals play. There are few who earn big money, while there are many who try. There can be lots of older seniors who can’t earn a living elsewhere and perhaps feel  that tennis is possibly their best chance.  Maybe after a few years they get fatigued and develop a certain cynicism and vulnerability to “the good offer”,” he says.

While match fixing in football/soccer requires that at least goal keeper, a defender and an attacker agree to play according to an agreed pattern, tennis is different. All individual sorts, all things being equal, are more vulnerable to match fixing. All that’s needed in tennis are a few balls into the net.

The women’s winner of the Futures tournament, Mai Grage, also received the offer to lose a set on purpose. She didn’t answer the friend request from the fake profile. She figured out the profile was fake because they had no common friends.

“You hear about match fixing at higher levels, but I was very surprised to hear about it at the lowest international level,” she says.

Translated by @markalannixon

17-year-old Emilie Francati is Denmark’s biggest young tennis talent

Article in the Danish BT by Jeppe Melchior Mikkelsen and Esben Drachmann Rasmussen

Emilie Francati. Remember the name. Because she just might be the girl Danes look to in the future on the women’s tennis tour. At the moment she’s in a good position at 79 in the ITF junior rankings to get direct entry into the main draw at the four Junior Grand Slams.

She’s already played the first a month ago one when she played “Down Under” at the Australian Open. Unfortunately, she went out in the first round of the singles competition when she lost in a third set tie breaker. She had to focus instead on the doubles, and she and her British partner Emily Arbuthnott reached the semi-finals. That made her hungry for more.

“It was fantastic! It was huge fun to experience the atmosphere when you reach the semi-final and final days. The crowd isn’t spread out among twenty courts. They’re all gathered around your court, so you need to get used to that, of course. And there are all sorts of emotions and nerves involved which you’ve never had to deal with before. Unfortunately I didn’t handle them well for myself on the day, but I hope I’ll do better next time,” says Emilie Francati.

Busy day

Emilie Francati, who has Italian roots, comes from a family of tennis players, and her father runs the Gentofte Tennis Club, where she trains for four hours every day, and that’s besides the strength training she also does.

The many training hours also mean that there isn’t time for a normal education. So while other young people go to upper secondary school or business college, Emily studies individual subjects over the internet. She also makes compromises about her social life when she spends most of the time travelling around the world playing tennis.

“It was hard at the start. Travelling around the world like that is very lonely. Luckily there are other Danes along some of the time, but it’s lonely sitting alone in a hotel room day in and day out. But of course you get to know others from other countries, so there’s some socialising, but obviously I don’t have a class here at home with 28 upper secondary school classmates.”

Even if Emelie’s live is different from other 17-year-olds who use the weekends to party and get drunk, it’s a price she’s more than willing to pay.

“I’m not a big party animal,” says Emilie with a smile. She explains further: “Not because I don’t want to, but it’s difficult to find time for it. It’s not like I can’t have a fun evening when I’m here at home, but when you’re travelling it’s not like you run around and find the nearest bar. It’s not as if I feel I’m missing anything. Sometimes you get a bit annoyed at saying no to various birthdays and parties, but I’d rather have what I have,” she says firmly.

With her 183 centimetres Emilie is well above average in height, and it’s tempting to compare her to the Russian Maria Sharapova. But while Sharapova won her first senior Grand Slam at 17, Emilie is still on the junior tour. It was a conscious choice on her part to wait before moving up to the seniors. as she wants to wait until she has a backpack filled with memories and experiences before trying new challenges.

“I’d like to experience playing the four Grand Slam tournaments, and it would be a bit precocious to say I only want to do that as a senior. And I’m really happy I made that choice. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences. Being in Australia and walking around with people like Federer and Nadal whom you’ve only seen on TV and looked up to a large part of your life gives me a lot of motivation.”

But Emilie wants to get even closer to the big stars. She wants to play against them – that’s her ambition for the future.

“My goal is to turn professional and continue playing full time and travel around. I hope I can get good enough to play senior Grand Slams and be up there among the really good. There’s a way to go yet, but I’m definitely giving it a shot.”

As the country’s biggest upcoming talent, it’s impossible to avoid the label of “The New Wozniacki”. But the young tennis talent takes it quite calmly.

“I have nothing against it because I have great respect for everything Caroline’s doing and has done in her career. And yes, it would be cool to be the new Wozniacki, but I’d rather be a Francati!”

Up next for Emilie Francati are two clay tournaments in Brazil at the beginning of March. Even though her favourite surface is hard court, it’s time to get used to clay so she can check off the French Open in May – the only junior Grand Slam she has yet to play.

~

Translated by Mark Nixon