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.