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.

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Doubles bust up – Goodbye, Cichi: Errani and Vinci split up

From the Gazzetta dello Sport, Friday March 20, 2015 page 28. Article by Vince Martucci

Fatigue, quarrels or individual choices?
The number one doubles pair of the last 3 years is no more.

Two pieces of circumstantial evidence are not proof, but three, four, yes. So the divorce of the Cichi, the number one doubles pairing in the world made up of Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, the most successful ever of all our Italian women, isn’t a bolt from the blue. It was in the air in September in New York and exploded here in Miami, like a letter from two lovers delivered to a mutual acquaintance (the WTA, the organisation which organises tournaments apart from the Slams and the Fed Cup.)

Is it possible that the pair, winners of 22 tournaments, 5 of which are Slams – with last year’s Wimbledon title win achieving the so-called “career Slam” – have quarrelled?  Yes, it’s possible. Even though Errani’s brother and manager David denies it:  “In South America they discussed the possibility of no longer playing doubles together to better plan their singles careers. They didn’t play together in Indian Wells because Roberta needed to recover from a shoulder injury. And in Miami they made the decision, as always in friendship and calm. In any case, in April in Brindisi they’ll be at the captain’s disposition for the Fed Cup meeting against the US.” Let’s infer that the Cichi wanted to leave as number one, rather than pass on the torch on court in a tournament – a possibility that seemed imminent. Perhaps Barazzutti OK’d the split, and will reunite the Pennetta-Vinci pair for the next Fed Cup, on paper the stronger team.

Quarrels

Would be a pity. Because the two small/big fighters who have reached their full potential – one reaching number 5 in the world [Sara in May 2013] and the other number 11 [Roberta June 10 2013] – have been tight since February 2009 when they were launched as a team during the Fed Cup in Orleans. Vinci, older by 5 years and the more technical of the two, is called the “women’s Ferrer”, and refined the volley. Errani taught her friend sacrifice and dedication. Both learned tactics and discipline form their current coaches Pablo Lozano and Francesco Cinà. The great successes of the one became the goals of the other, even if Roberta wasn’t happy about losing to Sara in the quarter-finals of the US Open 2012, and vice-versa, the Roman wasn’t happy about losing to the native of Taranto in the Palermo final 2013. Did they really quarrel in September after Roberta’s win over Sara in Cincinnati? “Nonsense” and “bullshit” insists Vinci: “Maybe someone wants our beautiful friendship to end … Maybe they’re envious.” Errani echoes: “It’s one thing to say we have words on court, that’s normal, it’s different to invent locker room arguments.”

Overdose

Something disturbed the idyll. Certainly, after having done double duty in singles and doubles in so many tournaments last year, the drop in performance for both of them was inevitable. Although it was offset by the doubles triumph at Wimbledon, the only Slam they were missing – and the most difficult surface for Sara (but the most coveted by Roberta, the Italian with the best serve and volley.) Certainly, as in the warmest friendships and love affairs, an overdose of togetherness played a part. Certainly the disappointment in Genoa against France – the first in blue for Vinci – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In Australia the two inseparables took different paths, in Genoa they moved apart, and in Indian Wells they lost sight of each other: when had they ever trained separately? When they didn’t appear in the doubles draw, it caused enough of a stir that Serena Williams tweeted about it. They’d closed the last of three stages. They had lived in a symbiosis with coaches and family, totally differently from the many other more or less improvised pairings in tennis. And now the divorce via a letter: ” …We invested lots of energy, both mental and physical, to achieve our goals, which we are very proud of.  Therefore we now feel the need to rest and catch our breath. It has been an honour and a privilege for us to represent our Country…”

And thank you, Cichi.

~

Translation by MAN