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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Interview with Piotr Wozniacki: “I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself and I regret that.”

Interview with Piotr Wozniacki in the Danish Jyllands-Posten online by Thomas Møller Kristensen

Manners: Piotr Wozniacki is the man behind Denmark’s first world tennis star. In this retrospective he’s annoyed about always having hunted progress, but most of all he’s grateful that his daughter has become a good person despite the pressure and criticism.

WIMBLEDON – The smile. There really are so many kinds. Some create happiness, others anger, some reach as high as the eyes, others need time in front of the mirror to master. Then there’s the special kind that’s reserved for that special person.

Like the smile a father has thinking about his daughter.

That was the sort of smile Piotr Wozniacki was wearing a little over a week before Wimbledon.

He’d just been with the stringer, one of Caroline Wozniacki’s racquets needed tightening and she quickly ripped the packaging off when he returned.

After smacking it a couple of times with the palm of her hand she looked questioningly at her father: it didn’t feel right, it felt strange, and it ended with a bit of an argument about how tight the stringing should be.

No one would give in, and numbers flew around the room, there was head shaking and arguing back and forth before Caroline Wozniacki exclaimed, “yeah yeah”, turned around and left.

One had the feeling the discussion was far from over, but she’d been training hard, it was time to eat, and the discussion would have to be continued later.

And that’s why Piotr Wozniacki sat there with that smile.

Daddy’s girl, an independent person, own opinions and the guts to deliver them.

“Girl” is perhaps the wrong word.

Caroline Wozniacki is approaching 25 and her 10th anniversary as a professional, and that’s why Piotr Wozniacki has agreed to an interview. He admits that the anniversary is a good reason for a retrospective, but he punctures the premise immediately.

For him it hasn’t been 10 years, it’s been a lifetime project.

Caroline Wozniacki was interviewed for the first time as an eight-year-old, when she spoke about her dream of being the world’s best and winning a Slam. She travelled to Japan, Australia, indeed the whole world as a new teenager. In the family’s and Caroline Wozniacki’s own mind she’d become a professional long before 2005.

“Maybe people mostly notice the strawberries on top of the cake, but we’ve spent many years making the cake itself,” is how Piotr Wozniacki put it.

A half hour soliloquy

He didn’t get up and leave the table after making the statement; he wanted to talk. He had to get things out, emphasise points. Actually, he had so much on his mind that the interview became almost one-way communication.

Asking the question about what he was most proud of about Caroline, not as a player but as a person, pushed a button somewhere.

32 minutes and 18 seconds later he put so many headlines into the Dictaphone that there hadn’t been room for a single follow-up question. The words poured out of him, one word lead to another, and all the titles and the money and the experiences weren’t what were mentioned the most.

His soliloquy was more about the personal, of his concerns about having followed and pushed his daughter so focussed in one direction.

It was about regrets about not having allowed himself to enjoy all the big moments and of the joy of seeing her grow into a woman of substance and energy and not the least humanity in a world lacking the same.

That doesn’t mean that Piotr Wozniacki is a softy.

He’s been extremely focussed on pushing obstacles out of the way and helping his daughter, but there have been many practical situations that required alternative solutions.

A very young interpreter

He came to Denmark from Poland, from the Eastern Bloc, where he didn’t learn English, only Polish and Russian. Not very useful when they started travelling outside the country, so it was 11-12-year-old Caroline who used her school English to book hotels, order food in restaurants and contact tournament leaders.

“Just think about it. Such a little girl together with adults who are talking business and management. She had to translate everything for me because I was hopeless at communicating. There were sometimes serious negotiations or other things, so it was important that she did it well, because I needed to go on and do the right things with a contract or some such,” declares Piotr Wozniacki.

“She enjoyed it and felt very grown up, but I was nervous that I was stealing her childhood, that she would grow up too quickly. I spoke with Anna (Caroline’s mother) and friends about it. I knew nothing about pedagogy and child psychology. I’d only been to a sports university so I had to research all the information because I didn’t want to hurt her. I worried a lot about that, and I’m proud about how well it went and relieved that she wasn’t hurt.”

Piotr Wozniacki has seldom shown this sensitive side.

He was quickly branded as something of an eccentric from the East, obviously obsessed with living his sports ambitions through his daughter because it was impossible that she could have those sorts of thoughts at such a young age.

The sport of tennis has seen too many of those kinds of family tragedies, and Piotr Wozniacki still feels personally insulted by the stories and the accusations. The repeated attacks brought the family and their near friends closer together and they used the “us against the world” feeling as fuel and gathered the necessary economic backing to realise the visions.

The suspicions about his motives have disappeared, but Piotr Wozniacki is still tired of seeing his daughter’s achievements demeaned. Technically, Caroline Wozniacki still isn’t over the finish line because she still needs to win that Slam title and that’s constantly mentioned at least four times a year in connexion with the Australian, French, US Opens and Wimbledon.

A little perspective

Piotr Wozniacki is ready for constructive criticism, but some retired Danish tennis players have raised his hackles.

“Yeah, they’ve been on the tour once, but how much have they won? How high have they got in the rankings? They’re two different worlds, and they still come with their condescending talk. She was a young girl when she heard it for the first time. She’s put in a huge effort, travelled the world and she’s proud of her results, and then she reads, yeah, yeah, she only won because Serena wasn’t there, or it was a small $100,000 tournament, but is that really a small amount of money?”, asks Piotr Wozniacki rhetorically.

“Sure we can talk about whether she played well and needs to work on things, but I don’t understand the other stuff. Tennis is the only sport where girls earn the same as boys, so naturally a million girls in the world want to be good at tennis. And despite that, Caroline from Denmark is one of the world’s best. It’s evil coming with the kind of crap she’s had to put up with, so I’m proud of the way she’s tackled adversity without becoming bitter. I hope one day there’s a Dane who can achieve the same things as Caroline, so people can understand how much she’s accomplished.”

At one time it appeared he’d be a father to another talent with the potential to go further.

Patrik Wozniacki, four years older than Caroline, had the same relationship with a football as she had to a tennis ball, but he never got higher than the secondary divisions.

Piotr Wozniacki has earlier regretted that he’d had to ‘choose’ between the two and back Caroline, and he’s grateful to see that his children have a fine relationship right up to today.

Patrik could have been disappointed over being number two and not breaking through, he could have not felt sorry about his little sister’s tribulations, but they worry about each other and take care of each other.

On the other hand, Piotr Wozniacki regrets that he hasn’t had the same energy.

He’s been so absorbed by the striving for achievements that he hasn’t allowed himself to stop and enjoy the feeling of a great result.

“I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself, and I regret that. We’ve won titles, had weeks as number one, so men great things I haven’t spent time enough thinking about because I’ve always thought about the next practice or the next tournament,” admits Piotr Wozniacki.

“I’ve lost happiness in a way, and it’s wrong to sit here and know that we’ve never been satisfied with a final or a semi-final even if it’s a super result.”

To explain his feelings, Piotr Wozniacki paints the picture of a dream car a man has fantasized about for several years. He can finally afford it, he’s deeply in love, but after a few months he’s no longer spending time sneaking to the window just to look at the wonder.

Happiness over the result

That’s not the way it’s going to be in the future, Piotr Wozniacki has promised himself. In the future he’ll try and find satisfaction in the moment, but he can’t go back into the past and be happy in retrospect.

“That’s why I’m just happy to look at Caroline every day and see the real thing. So I just have to accept the things I might have been able to do better or differently. I’m proud that she thinks of others. She doesn’t just take money from her account and give it to charity, she runs marathons to raise money. She uses herself,” says Piotr Wozniacki.

“She’s done a lot of things that aren’t publicised, and that’s what is most important to me. She’s been involved in hundreds of good things without shouting, “look at me, look at the good things I’m doing” to the whole world. I’m proud of that. She’s incredibly sensible, she’s a good person, she has what money can’t buy.”

Piotr Wozniacki didn’t go on any further because a dog in his pocket suddenly barked, an incoming call.

The telephone brought him out of his trance, it was time go move on, a meeting needed arranging.

And there was that little discussion about stringing to finish.

Frederik Løchte Nielsen: Revelations make me mentally stronger. Part one of three.

Part one of a three part interview by Philip Ørnø on the Danish tennis site Tennisavisen.dk with Danish pro Frederik Løchte Nielsen, who won the Wimbledon doubles title with Jonathan Marray in 2012.

Frederik Lløchte Nielsen has managed the transition from junior to senior as few other danes have done. So it seemed natural to ask him how he tackled the mental side of the game. In this conversation he spoke of the “revelations” and tennis player can get – both on and off the court.

When I here revelation, I think of a turning point in your live where you suddenly see things from a new angle and in an extremely constructive way. It’s an “aha” moment or a moment of clarity.

Løchte Nielsen has had an astonishing number of revelations, but three stand out for him:

A couple of weeks ago, just before the Davis Cup, I saw a documentary about football in Colombia, about drug money and players who were killed when they lost. It struck me that they were playing for their lives, and that tennis had absolutely no consequences for my life. I play because I choose to and because it makes me happy.

The only consequence tennis can have for my life is that every time I don’t compete happy or with peace of mind, it’s a match lost on my record. The only consequence ihas is that I can lose the opportunity for many more experiences. There are no existential consequences.

I have a roof over my head, food and a bed, and even when things go badly, I’ll likely figure something out, so that aspect of my life is never in danger. So why do I get nervous, why do I get angry and disappointed in myself? The are no consequences with losing. They’re imaginary.

That revelation goes seems to segue into the next.

Problems are imaginary. They don’t exist. They’re only problems when I make them problems.

There are no bad balls

It’s likely happened to most players that their forehand or backhand is suddenly a problem. But it’s only something we pretend, thinks Løchte Nielsen. If we conclude that we’re hitting the ball badly, then we’re hitting it badly because we choose to.

It’s the same with bad conditions – bad balls, courts, situations, that my opponent is cheating – “bad” is a value you attribute to it which doesn’t help you as a player. It’s something I’ve become very aware of.

Løchte Nielsen has a rule: he mustn’t use adjectives with words like balls, courts, tournaments etc. He must only use constructive sentences like: “the court is slow so I need to prepare myself to play longer rallies.” That way he’s simply trying to control what he can control.

No one is afraid of losing

The third and last revelation for Frederik was as much a theory as a revelation:

No one in tennis is afraid of losing. I think players are afraid of facing their demons, which are much more exposed by a loss than a win. We can disguise it better when there are good results on the board. We can forget our demons when we win, or we can in any case be blind to them.

With a loss we’re reminded of our demons and the things we don’t like about ourselves. I think we’ve all had the experience of leaving the court as losers when we’ve played really well. So it isn’t losses were afraid of – we’re afraid of performing badly. And that’s also why so many defence mechanism come out.”

Instead of throwing excuses around, you need to prepare yourself, thinks Løchte Nielsen. Accept the level you’re at, accept that there are limitations. In that way you can be fair to yourself and not be so hard on yourself when things go badly. Or as Løchte Nielsen says:

When things go badly, it’s not because I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t control the outcome, so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I can be hard on myself for only three things: intention, intensity and concentration. Those are the three things I can control.

Translated by MAN

“I’ll continue as long as I can” – Amélie Mauresmo on Fed Cup and a bit about Murray – interviewed by l’Équipe’s @sophiedorgan

From the Équipe print edition April 16 2015 page 13. Interview by Sophie Dorgan

Amélie Mauresmo, pregnant, won’t revise her commitments with the French team. As for her coaching role with Andy Murray, she hopes to be with him until Wimbledon, then take stock with the Brit.

In a friendly atmosphere, the French Fed Cup team gets set to take on the current title holders, the Czech Republic, in the semi-finals Saturday and Sunday in Ostrava. Caroline Garcia, who arrived on Monday a day after her team mates, is recovering and her partners are acclimatising themselves to a surface considered “neutral” by Alizé Cornet, not too fast, not too slow. As for the captain, Amélie Mauresmo, who’s had the job since 2012, she prefers only to talk tennis. She only talks about her pregnancy, which she made public a week ago, in passing before coming back to her priority for the week: the Fed Cup.

You announced your pregnancy last Thursday, with the birth expected in August. How will that change your calendar?

It won’t change any of my Fed Cup commitments. As for Andy, we’ve talked about continuing as long as possible, which means including Wimbledon [June 29-July 12]. After we’ll talk quietly about the follow-up to our collaboration [begun last summer].

You’ll be making a professional choice?

“Of course.”

You say it changes nothing for the Fed Cup, but if you win this weekend [the final is set for November 14-15. The other final this weekend is Russia-Germany], you won’t be able to follow your players. Will you function differently?

I won’t be at the US Open [August 31-September13], but that won’t change things much. Since I started working with Andy, I’m not at all of their matches. There’ll be times when I can talk to the girls. I’m not at all worried about that. I’ve known them for a few years now. If someone needs to be with the French or their opponents, Gabi [Urpi, coach of the French team] will take care of it.”

I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it

We know that you were pregnant during the last meeting with Italy [3-2, February 8, last round]. It must have been wrenching emotionally?

I totally cracked at the end [smiles]. It was very tough. It would have been in any case having just arrived from Australia [after the final lost by Murray to Djokovic] together with the fatigue from the trip and the intensity of accompanying a player of that level to the final of a Grand Slam. I had the duty and responsibility of steering this French team into becoming the best it could be. It wasn’t easy, but it’s probably one of the best weeks we’ve ever experienced.”

To what do you attribute this French team’s success? Mature players, a solid staff and a bit of luck?

When you talk about achievement in sport, success is inevitable at certain times. But you have to induce them at a certain point, make some choices that are a bit daring, be strict about certain things. I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it. We have a young team, the girls are maturing, improving and realising so many things individually. I always tell them: “The stronger you are individually, the stronger the French team is. And the group gives you things as individuals.”

You’ve evolved too in your role.

Of course, I learn during every round and outside about how to position myself in relation to their individual structures. Now there’s a symbiosis.

How will you tackle this meeting with the Czech Republic?

It’s a heck of a challenge. What happened during our last round has expanded our horizons, even if we’re far from being favourites. The goal is to play our cards right and be opportunistic this weekend.

There’s a lot of talk about the return of Petra Kvitová, who was absent from the American swing [fatigue]. What are your thoughts?

We don’t know. That’s why we’re not focussing on Kvitová [ranked 4 in the world]. We haven’t seen her compete recently, first of all, and we’re not sure she’ll be on court. So, perhaps more so than in other rounds, we’re concentrating more on ourselves. The girls have all arrived in different states, and our priority is getting into the best shape possible Saturday and Sunday.

You’ve taken on a left-handed hitting partner, Jonathan Dasnières of Veigy, to prepare for possible lefties Kvitová and Šafářová (13th)

I like everything to be covered. It might be the little detail that makes the difference. If the girls who have hit with “Jon” hit a winner on break point off a lefty serve, there you go … It may not happen, but we’re giving ourselves every chance.

Translation by MAN

“I can be very tough on myself”: Interview with umpire Louise Engzell

“I can be very tough on myself”

From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Tennis.se.

After the Swedish tennis miracle, a new blue and yellow has taken over the tennis world. In an interview, umpire Louise Engzell talks about the work behind the scenes on the international professional tennis tours. “We take a lot of crap sometimes,” she says.

Umpiring Grand Slam finals on the tennis world’s greatest scene was far from a childhood dream.  As a youth, Louise Engzell had her eyes opened to umpiring when, much against her will, she umpired matches at her home club of Sollentuna.

“We were forced to take a course when we were quite small, and that’s the way it went. I didn’t think much of it at all at the beginning. Later on we took another course and it began to be fun. We could take part in the Kalle Anka (the present SEB Next Generation Cup) in Båstad, start to travel a little and then take part in the Swedish Open and the Stockholm Open,” says the 34-year-old whose career starting point came after taking an Elite-level umpiring course.

No one needs to force her into the umpiring chair today. She said yes to going home to Sweden for the Davis Cup tie in Jönköping to work during her holidays.

“The best part of being an umpire is the challenge. You never know what awaits you when you go to work,” says Engzell, who has lived in Paris for the last few years.

What is the worst part?

“We take a lot of crap sometimes. But you learn and grow all the time. We talk a lot with our colleagues and bosses, we go through and analyse what you did or didn’t do and always try and better ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t even a mistake and there’s still an uproar.”

Scolded by Berdych

One good example was at last year’s US Open when she was yelled at by Tomas Berdych. The Czech exploded after a correct umpiring decision but said he was sorry on Twitter the day after. Only she knows what went through her head, as she won’t talk about particular situations or individual players. On the TV screen, she looks like a calm umpire in the chair—something which Engzell sees as one of her strengths.

“I can keep my cool without getting too stressed. I can read different personalities quite well and see how to tackle the different players and their personalities.”

Are you good at taking criticism?

“It’s something I can improve on. I can be very tough on myself, which can also be good. I get angry and it takes a while to get myself together. Especially if you’re not 100% sure if you could have explained things in a better way and had the match better under control. In those situations you can sit and ponder and think,” she says.

“Swedish umpires have become a thing on the tours”

Together with, among others, her fellow Swede Mohamed Lahyani and Lars Graff as well as a group of tournament officials of a high international level, Louise Engzell is part of Swedish umpiring elite.

“I don’t know why we have so many umpires. It’s actually become a thing on the tours—especially now, when we don’t have so many players at the top levels, but a lot of top umpires.”

The 34-year-old has umpired Grand Slam finals at the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Olympic final in London in 2012, but still thinks she has a ways to go to reach the status of fellow Swedes Lahyani and ex-umpire Graff.

“I’m on my way there. I haven’t been at the job that long yet. It takes many, many years to get the same respect. It’s very much about trust, that they can trust you. You can win a lot with trust. It means you can handle a match better.”

After the finals in Paris and New York, Engzell has two matches on her dream list.

“I’d like to do one final in all the different Grand Slam tournaments. So Wimbledon and the Australian Open are there.”

Louise Engzell on …

Hawkeye:

“It’s just positive. The advantage with Hawkeye is that it’s a final judgement. Whether the player agrees or not, there no one to complain to or yell at. They accept it and play goes on. It’s fantastic and makes things so much easier.”

Psychology in the umpiring chair:

“Different players react in different ways. Some players you need to be harder with right from the start, others you can use a softer approach with. Some players want you to tell them if they’re taking too long between points while others just want the warning directly. It’s about getting to know the players.”

Relations with the players:

“We have no relations with the players. Those are the rules. There can’t be any semblance of a reason to doubt your fairness because you’ve had dinner with a player. There cannot be any question. And you don’t, if at all possible, umpire a player from your own country. You try and avoid all problems that could possibly arise.”

Her best matches:

“The US Open final in 2012 between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. I think it was one of the longest women’s matches ever.”

“The Olympic final in London is a special memory. The atmosphere was fantastic even if the match was rather short. Serena won 6-0, 6-1 against Sharapova.”

“One of my best matches was the 2012 Davis Cup match between Romania and Finland. It was the deciding match and it took almost five hours. It was extremely close and tense, a really good atmosphere and ambiance. It doesn’t need to be top players playing each other, it can even be at a lower level. The atmosphere is one you can only get at a DC match.”

Her favourite tournament:

“I hadn’t been in Båstad for a very long time, so I was there this (last) year. It was really cool coming back to Sweden. I like the atmosphere, the mood; everyone’s equal and eat together no matter what their job is. Besides that, I like the Grand Slam tournaments a lot. Each one is different from the other.”

Translated from the Swedish by Mark Nixon.

Many thanks to Victoria Chiesa for the tip.