Meet the relaxed, and wild, Xavier Malisse – and how to manage on court anger

Translation of this SweTennis piece by Sebastian Gustafsson

The clip where Xavier Malisse, screams at an umpire, gets disqualified and thrown off the court has over 260,000 hits on YouTube. In an open-hearted interview with SweTennis, the Belgian talks about the incident and his wild temper on the court.

“If I had been a spectator who saw myself on court, I would have thought that guy is completely insane,” says Xavier Malisse to SweTennis.

If you’ve seen Xavier Malisse on court during his time on the tour, you wouldn’t describe him as an especially relaxed and nice guy. But after having spent almost an hour with Xavier Malisse, it’s difficult to understand that he’s same player who wreaked havoc on the ATP tour a very few years ago. He’s an entirely different person.

“Yeah, when I was on the court I only wanted to win and win. Off the court I was quite relaxed,” laughs Malisse warmly.

After having seen you on the court through the years, my mate and I reached the conclusion that you were the last person one should choose to interview.

“[laughs] But I understand. I was always so focussed on winning at whatever cost. I got into it with umpires almost all the time if I thought they’d made a mistake.”

Better relationship off the court.

But when he wasn’t on the court, his relationship with umpires was better.

“To be honest, I almost always got along well with umpires after a match. I respect them. I just wanted to win quite simply.”

A desire that had roots in his young years when the word “lose” didn’t exist.

“From the time I started playing as a five-year-old until I was 15-16 I never lost. I never lost a set. I just won and won. It got very tough when I started playing juniors and I started losing once in a while. I couldn’t handle it because I always wanted to win.”

Memorable tantrums and ejections

If it didn’t go exactly the way the “X-man” wanted it, his anger became directed at the umpires. What people most likely remember is this episode that ended with Malisse’s ejection from the court.

When the incident is mentioned, Malisse has no problem whatsoever discussing it.

“If I were to see myself play, I’d say the same things as everyone else: that guy is a nutter.”

But the incident in Miami got Malisse thinking.

“When I was young, I was angrier. But after that I started to realise things.”

At the start, though, he shied away from looking at how he’d behaved.

“I didn’t want to see it all, but my mates were on me all the time and sent the clip to me every day and said: ‘Come on, you need to see it. You might laugh at first because you have to.’

It gave him food for thought after he saw it.

“When I saw it I realised that I couldn’t do that sort of thing. It wasn’t possible, it’s not on. You can get angry, you can argue and you can smash a racquet once in a while, but that was way out of order. I realised things.”

Became calmer

After that, he became somewhat calmer on court without becoming one of the calmer ones on the tour.

“After, I still got angry once in a while, but I controlled myself more. I needed an outburst once in a while. To just be quiet didn’t help me. I needed to let my feelings out occasionally. I could still get angry, but I didn’t lose points because of a tantrum. I new how to handle it. Before that, I got mad and the set was lost because I walked around complaining about everything.”

Did you get help with your temper through the years?

“I travelled with a mental coach who now works for the Yankees baseball team, a cheerful guy and a good athlete too. He didn’t help me by getting me to read books; he was more practical. He travelled with me to the US Open. He taught me how to relax and how to handle the anger. He was very good and helped me a lot. After a year I’d learned a lot and could manage it myself. Sometimes you need help.”

Do you think your temper was a hindrance?

“I don’t think I could have got to 19 in the world rankings if I hadn’t had a temper and hated to lose. Sometimes I lost matches because I lost my head and sometimes I won matches the same way. A mix of feelings.”

Would like to see more emotion among the top players

He’d like to see more emotions on the court from the players at the absolute top.

“I mean, I love Federer, but sometimes the top players are like machines. They just play and never smash a racquet. Sometimes I’d like to see them break a racquet and show what they’re really feeling, but then again, they are the best, says Malisse and points out that Federer and the others probably know what they’re doing.

“But sometimes it’s good to get angry. You break a racquet, and then you focus on the next point. That’s what my mental coach told me, that you get angry, take a moment where you smash your racquet into ten pieces, and then ten seconds later you play normally again.”

The normally so relaxed Belgian thinks that anger and frustration are a normal part of life.

“It’s impossible not to get angry and frustrated even at your job. You don’t throw your computer around or something like that [laughs], but it’s normal in sport. There are so many feelings. You win and you lose. My mental coach and I found a good balance, getting angry in a good way but being ready for the next ball. That was important for me.”

You can read the other part of the Malisse interview here.

Translated from the Swedish by MAN