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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“In my head, everything is fine”: Michaëlla Krajicek

Interview by Fred Buddenberg published in the 18 April 2015 print edition of Dutch daily Trouw (page 24).

“Completely healthy and very happy.”  Michaëlla Krajicek answers a question about how she’s  doing with a big smile.  She knows it has not always been so in her turbulent career.  Now, at age 26, the tennis star has found the peace that she longed for so often on her way to adulthood.

“In my head, everything is fine.”  Krajicek is in Den Bosch, where the Dutch Fed Cup team is competing with Australia for a place in the World Group.  “I’m getting married, I get a lot of support from Richard, and everything with my father is quiet and good.  And that has a positive influence on me.  Also, I’m older now and I look at things differently.”

Since her professional debut in 2003 (!), Krajicek’s career has been erratic, to put it mildly.  Triumphs and tragedies followed in rapid succession, both in sports and on a personal level.  “In life, things sometimes happen on purpose, it seems,” said Krajicek.  “There are maybe one or two things I can blame myself for.”

For example, the choice of Allistair McCaw, the South African conditioning coach with whom she also had a personal relationship.  “That was my own choice, but a very bad one,” says Krajicek about her first ex-boyfriend.  “I was just 19 years old and didn’t really think.  Looking back, I wonder: how stupid can you be?  These are things you need to learn from.  I paid the price.”

That relationship was not good for her tennis and also caused a rift between “Misa” and father Petr, for years his daughter’s coach.  Petr didn’t hide his distaste for McCaw.  After Krajicek’s elimination at Roland Garros in 2008, he called him a “tennis-illiterate.”  It was a difficult time for Krajicek, with one foot on the threshold to adulthood.  “My father was always so close to me, and from one day to the next, he was no longer there.  For example, during training—all of a sudden, everything was different.  He meant well, but it should have gone differently.  It was also my own stubbornness.”   She laughs, “Yes, stubbornness runs in the family.”

“I have had two periods, when I thought: ‘I’m done with it.’  Because of a lack of results.  It wasn’t because I didn’t like tennis.  I was also often asked if I still had goals, why I didn’t retire.  But tennis is my sport and I feel I have achieved a lot.”

With her mind at rest, Krajicek decided to give her singles career another serious chance.  In recent years, she was mainly active as a doubles player, and not without success.  With Czech Barbora Strychova, she is now ranked 15th on the WTA doubles list of 2015.  Yet she also wants to continue on her own, as she thinks she isn’t finished yet.

“I think I still have a lot to prove to myself.  I still believe in it, and my knee is currently quite good.  The ultimate goal is to improve my best ranking, but that is still very far.  I have done a lot to get much fitter: for instance, with my diet and by getting a new fitness coach, James Fitzpatrick.  I’m excited.”

Krajicek has three single titles, reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2007, and had a career-high ranking of 30 in February 2008.  Last week in Dijon, she got back to playing singles again after an long time ranked 441 (!).  “As I don’t like to play on clay, I’ll mostly play doubles until Roland Garros.  After that, I will really focus on singles.”

An important detail in Krajicek’s return is whether the body can last.  Two ankle and three knee surgeries didn’t do her career any good.  “At the end of last year, I was treated with blood plasma,” Krajicek said.  “Your blood goes into a machine and is then transferred to the knee.  It worked perfectly and now my knee feels very good.  I can’t complain—and let’s hope it stays that way.”

“After my last knee surgery in 2012, a doctor said I had a forty percent chance I would again walk without pain.  Sometimes I watch old videos of me exercising in the water.  I just had to stand on that leg and I couldn’t—that’s how bad it was.  Anyone can say anything, but I have shown that I have the willpower.  Even my father, who is always very strict and criticizes everything, is proud that I persist.”

~

Translated by Nicole Lucas.

 

Return to Anonymity: Arantxa Rus

“Suddenly, I lost to girls I was beating easily before”

An interview by Eline van Suchtelen from the print edition of the Dutch daily Trouw (9 January 2015, page 22-23).

A special performance does not guarantee a successful career.  Trouw is speaking with athletes who disappeared back into anonymity after a hopeful high.  Today: Arantxa Rus.  The tennis player (24) defeated world number 1 Kim Clijsters at Roland Garros in 2011.  Now, she’s trying to regain her confidence.

“That day, I was very nervous.  You’re playing against Kim Clijsters.  You don’t think you’re going to beat her just like that.  But in the weeks before, I had played well; so, I wasn’t afraid.

“There was quite a lot of family.  My parents sat in the stands and my sister brought her friend.  My trainers, Ralph Kok and Hugo Ekker, were also there.

“In the first set, I was really blown away.  I did far too little.  Eventually, I was a set and 5-2 down and Kim got match point.  I decided to just enjoy the game—it’s not like you’re playing against someone like that every day.

“Then I got more free, so I was able to put pressure on her.  Suddenly, the games were just going my way and it was a real match.  When I won the second set, I believed I could win.

“I was so involved in the match that only afterwards did I realise something special had happened.  Everything was very new to me, anyway, because I’d just played on center court for the first time.  There were many more people than usual, but I didn’t notice.  I don’t even remember what Kim said to me afterwards at the net.  I was in a kind of zone.

“After the match, a lot was happening—a lot more than if I’d won somewhere on an outside court.  There was a lot of attention from the media and my phone was overflowing with messages from friends.  Everyone was surprised.  I suddenly sat in a big room with all sorts of foreign journalists.  I was very happy, only with me it doesn’t really show—only the people who are close to me can see it.  I always stay calm, win or lose.  Inside, it obviously feels different.

“When I  lost in the third round, everything was back to normal.  Of course, such a victory will give a boost.  But, ultimately, it’s only one match.  It makes no sense to think about it for a long time.  I had to play qualifications for Rosmalen and Wimbledon.  That’s when you remember what your place is.   I just had to work hard every day.

“At that time, I generally played very well at the Grand Slams.  I had a lot of confidence, felt good, was in a kind of flow.  If you have that feeling, everything sort of goes by itself: you know how to play at the important moments, there are no doubts, and you win matches that you wouldn’t normally win.  The year after, I even made the fourth round in Paris.

“By the end of that season, I noticed that I was very tired.  I felt bad and was not fit.  I had my blood checked and it turned out I had glandular fever.  I wasn’t happy,  but it was a sign that I had to take it easy.  I think I just played a little too much.

“The following year, I started badly.  Sometimes I played well, but because I had to play strong girls on the WTA tour, I still lost.  That’s not good for your confidence.

“To change things I started to play challengers, one level below [the main tour].  There, I suddenly lost to girls I was beating easily before.  That’s tough mentally. Actually, you have to keep looking forward—but you’re still thinking.  It gets into your head, when you beat a player like Kim.  You create high expectations for yourself.  I trained hard, worked hard, but was thinking too much.  It wasn’t going the way  I wanted.

“At the end of that season, I took a two-week-break.  If you work so hard and don’t see results, it’s difficult.  I had to get out of there, spend time with family and friends.  Sometimes it’s good to get away from the tennis.

“After a while, it went better—I finally started winning.  Halfway through last year, my ranking was around 140.  In October, it was going in the wrong direction.  In the quarterfinals of a tournament in Mexico, my back got hurt after a drop shot.  I had to take it easy again.

“I would love to come back to the top hundred.  I try to stay positive and look forward to every day.  Sometimes that’s difficult. You have to be very patient.”

~

Translated by Nicole Lucas.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman

“Why this book?”: an interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman: Novak Djokovic and the Rise of Serbia.  Originally published by Nicole Lucas in Letter&Geest, a Saturday supplement of Dutch daily Trouw (8 Nov. 2014, page 31).

“I had previously written a book about Roger Federer and my publisher also wanted a biography of Novak Djokovic.  At first I said ‘no.’  Djokovic told me he didn’t have time to work with me and therefore I didn’t really feel like doing it.  But my publisher insisted.  Then I said: ‘I want to write a book that is a mix of Djokovic’s history and that of Serbia.’  After all, this is a top athlete who carries the flag of a country that is still young as a sovereign state but has to deal with a heavy inheritance because of the wars of the nineties and rulings of the ICTY, which has marked Serbia as the biggest culprit.  A country that, according to me, is still little understood by the western world.

It brought together my interests. Of course, I am, in the first place, a sports journalist: I’ve been reporting about the international tennis world for more than 20 years.  But I’m also interested in the broader context.  I do not see sport as an isolated phenomenon.  And the disintegration of Yugoslavia made a huge impression on me, much more than the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

Every country has something of which it is not proud.  Let’s not pretend that Serbia has done nothing.  But let’s also not pretend that the Serbs were the only villains.  But Djokovic had to grow up with that stamp—and had to find his way in difficult circumstances.  That is of course quite different from what Federer had to deal with.

While I have not spoken extensively with Djokovic, I did talk with many people from his surroundings.  Perhaps the most important conversation I had was with Jelena Gencic, his first coach—a very special woman.  For me, that was also one of the most inspiring encounters of my journalistic career.  We started talking about music and there was an instant bond.  She didn’t only teach Novak how to play tennis but also to look outside that small world—to Beethoven, to Pushkin, to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor of the alternating current motor.  How do they enrich your life?  Gencic died on June 1, 2013, during Roland Garros.  I had only met her twice, but her death made me really sad.

I found it much more difficult to write about Srdjan, Novak’s father.  Quite a few people have had problems with him.  Unlike his son, he has not exactly endeared people to him.  Yet, I think it’s important to explain the difficulties he had to go through.  You can say now that it was not always ethical what he did: he insisted, for instance, that journalists wrote only nice stories about Novak, no critical pieces.  But at the beginning of this century, maybe there was not always so much room to be ethical in Serbia.

Novak needed time to break away from his father and to develop himself.  He is not easy to fathom, but inside he is a good man.  What he does is very subtle.  He laughs, jokes, makes contact.  People look at him and say, ‘Nice boy.  Where does he come from?  Serbia?  Then they can’t be all bad there.’

In that sense, he and Federer are quite similar.  Both are not only great athletes, but also international idols that transcend the boundaries of their sport and their country. ”

~

Translation by Nicole Lucas.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.