Andy Murray at Sanchez Casal Academy

Belgium chose to play the upcoming Davis Cup final on clay, Andy Murray‘s “worst” surface. Clay doesn’t really suit Belgian players David Goffin and Steve Darcis, but they probably think this surface is their best chance of beating Murray.

Even though the world number 3 has only won his first two titles on clay this year, he is a 3-time Roland Garros semifinalist (he lost to Rafael Nadal in 2011 and 2014, and to Novak Djokovic this year) and has spent 3 years training at the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona.

In 2002, aged 15, he left Scotland for Spain. He had made the decision to train abroad the previous year, after a discussion with Rafael Nadal, who had been telling him about his four-hour-a-day hitting sessions in the heat of Majorca and his practices with former world number 1 Carlos Moya. Andy was then practicing only about 4 hours a week.

At the Academy, under the tutelage of tennis guru Pato Alvarez, he learned how to play on clay, and when he could attack. The Sanchez‐Casal system that splits the court into 3 zones: defence, transition and attack, improved Murray’s patience and movement.

Murray partied with Alvarez in 2005, he explained at the time that Alvarez wanted him to be less aggressive and play like the Spanish players, and that’s not the way he plays.

A few pictures taken at the Sanchez Casal Academy in November 2004, two months after Andy’s US Open junior title.

Andy Murray and Pato Alvarez

Andy Murray and Pato Alvarez
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#TennisAid Uganda

Enjoy the recap of Martin and Abel third day in Uganda for their charity project, #TennisAid:

Up at 9. We must leave quickly to East Kololo, they share the football field with the kids of Shimoni.

Once again the football field is taken when we arrive and that let’s time to visit the school facilities and meet the Director.

We are about to start the class, and we are told that there will be many absences because the school sent home the kids who did not pay the quarterly fee of 20 dollars. Hard decision, nut it is not unusual.
We are starting the class and suddenly we realize 40 kids are there, in fact almost all are there.
They don’t understand English as well as the kids from the previous days, so our friends, the coaches of the Jouvin Child Sports Association give them our instructions. Anyway, we managed to understand each other, and 2 hours passed quickly.

While doing the class, we see the kids of the Shimoni school (both schools are only 100 meters away), they start shouting our names and greet us. Strong emotions to see these kids showing us their love.
Little by little, they’re coming, until they’re almost all there, with Ivan one of the school teacher who collaborates with Jouvin to communicate with the children through sign language. All are dressed in the clothes we gave them. The boys who received girls polos too, I give them boys shirts and the smiles they give me is priceless.

We teach them how to volley (something they had never done before), they enjoy it very much and learn lightning fast. The 90 minutes fly so fast, but they know we’ll be back and say goodbye tenderly.
Suddenly a very young child about 3 years old appears. He is the brother of Leticia, one of the girls from the school for whom I have a particular weakness. Her brother is not deaf, but he’s here with his father because Leticia has finished the school year and can go home but she stayed this week to attend our tennis lessons. I find a size 4 shirt in my backpack and give it to her little bro. I will never forget these moments in my life.

We leave on a motorcycle and the adventure is unforgettable. 3 on the bike, the traffic seems to have no order (there are no traffic lights), total chaos, but we have fun at every intersection.
We go to the Mandela Stadium, built about 10 years ago. A stunning place that is only used when the National Football Team (who happened to be training in an adjacent field) play. There’s a multi-sports complex and two tennis courts Danniel our friend is trying to manage. But like everywhere, the bureaucracy, ignorance of the leaders and disregard for having excellent facilities left to oblivion, this process takes time and money. It would be a real pity that the project would not be approved.
On the way back we passed the campus, where the cricket team trains, and then we go to the High Performance Sports Center which has huge facilities and where many high level athletes train in various disciplines. We also pass by the Lugogo Tennis Complex, one of the most prestigious clubs in Uganda, where they have played Davis Cup and ITF tournaments, with a very nice center court with covered stands, but that is really nothing more than a neighborhood club.

Read more about #TennisAid.

#TennisAid Uganda day 2

We left at 8am to be on time at the Shimoni Primary School. Classes started at 10 but we had about 45 minutes by foot and then had to prepare the nets, the marks, since the court was a football field.

The first lesson was on Sunday afternoon, but this time it was on Monday morning, so there was a lot of traffic and cars, thousand of bus and boda-boda, motorbikes carrying people for 1 dollar. All this made this walking down the street (no sidewalks) an indescribable experience.

We arrived at the school and discovered that the field was occupied, a football team was training there. Our friends took us to tour the facility, we were introduced to the sports manager and to the school director who – like the day before at the Ntinda school – asked us to sign the visitors book, and put our names, address and a comment on our visit.

We started the class and divided the group into 2 groups: 18 kids worked with Abel and 24 with me. Both groups warmed up and then worked in small groups. The ease, speed and discipline they showed in each activity kept surprising me.

I keep thinking about the huge amount of times we tell our students again and again how to do certain things that should be automations, but these kids just needed ONE indication and obedience was absolute and instantaneous.

#TennisAid Uganda day 2

I keep thinking about the huge amount of times we tell our students again and again how to do certain things that should be automations, but these kids just needed ONE indication and obedience was absolute and instantaneous.

The class was scheduled for a 3 hour session, but we said that was too long for the kids. Coaches told us that these kids so enjoy playing that it would be actually too short. After an hour of play, some asked for permission to eat something, while the others who had no food kept playing on their own.
Less than 3 minutes after, almost all the kids were back with racquet in hand as they considered that stopping to eat was just a waste of time. For 3 hours we shared exercises, games, jokes, photos and we would have wanted to give more of our time and effort.

We proceeded to deliver the clothes we brought as gifts. It was without a doubt the strongest moment of the day. The joy, gratitude and hugs of children were so exciting that it was really difficult to hold back tears. And then, to top it off, one of the girls asked to speak in front of everyone, we ordered silence and she said:

“Thanks coaches for these gifts. We are very grateful. I would also say: when a teacher teaches something you have to pay attention. Because if you don’t, you don’t learn. That’s what I mean.”

Simple and exciting. Even now, I remember it and my eyes are filled with tears.

After the farewell, we undertake our 45 minutes walk, which we do in silence. Not because we were tired but to assimilate all we had lived and felt that day, and we were really touched.
We returned home really late, almost midnight. I went to bed at 1, while Abel edited videos until 4am.

Also read:
#TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
#TennisAid Uganda: the project
#TennisAid Uganda: the funding
#TennisAid: the arrival in Uganda
#TennisAid Uganda: the Ntinda School for the Deaf

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

#TennisAid Uganda

Having been in daily contact with our friends, we knew we came to Kampala during the raining season. It is Sunday morning and it rains heavily. At 11 it stops raining and the sun rises, the sky is almost cloudless. We open the bags and give them all the clothing and equipment we could collect. We take a Minitennis net and start playing in the courtyard with a neighbor’s child.

Our hosts, coaches of the Jouvin Child Sports Association have scheduled a lesson with the Ntinda School for the Deaf. 16 deaf children expect us to give them an extraordinary tennis lesson.

The first contact was really strange. You could tell they had expectations to see two coaches visit them, but to make a good first impression on foreign children who are deaf and almost mute (the few who can speak do it with much difficulty) would not be an easy task.

We started doing a simple warm-up routine, and to our surprise, they did it perfectly. Then we went to do an exercise in pairs so everyone could work at the same time. Again they gave us a lesson in discipline, seriousness and obedience. They worked non-stop, no gesture of annoyance or discomfort. And always smiling.

#TennisAid Uganda

Then we started a competitive exercise and they were all smiling because the enjoyed everything we offered. We divided the group of kids in two. Some worked with Abel and others with me. The iam was to commit the fewest errors possible, and my team ended up losing. Those who were with Abel jumped for joy, but the strange thing was the celebration was silent. My group laughed because I pretended to be sad about the defeat.

We played again and this time we won. Explosion of joy! And suddenly a girl came behind me and hugged me.
At that moment, I felt millions of feelings. And for a minute I needed to move away from the group and have a moment for myself.
Being deaf-mute in Africa is not an easy obstacle to overcome. Yet, they seem happy with what they have, and they develop normally.
That hug made me think that these children have a huge lack of affection, but in fact it showed the great heart they have. It was really moving.

Next article: our second day in Uganda, at the Shimoni school.

We’re heading to the airport of Barcelona, arrive well in time, we check in, wait in the departure lounge. Suddenly I realize that I forgot one of the two backpacks we’re allowed to take with us on the plane. I run through security controls and get it back.

We leave towards London. A 3-hour stop at Heathrow and then a 7-hour flight to Uganda.

After getting off the plane and passing health checks, we go through visa control where we have to play €40 each.

In all the many tips I have made in my life, a customs officer had never talked to me with such kindness and humor:

Customs officer: Spain? What’s good in Spain?
Abel: Barcelona!
Customs officer: but Barcelona is really in Spain or not in Spain? (with an ironic look)

We collect our luggage and go without showing our certificate of donation we had dealt with the Ugandan Consulate in Badalona to avoid being charged a fee for introducing material into the country.

Our friends receive us with effusive hugs and warm welcome. We get into two cars and start the journey: about 45 minutes from Entebbe to Kampala.

First impression: the atmosphere is relaxed, many people in the streets (it’s Saturday night), traffic is informal, there is no light on the road.

During the trip, our host Vincent will not stop thanking us for the effort to get there and the help we will provide.
We begin to understand the magnitude of the trip and its impact on these people. We arrive in Bukoto, where we will stay in the house of one of the coaches (Julius Kyobe). My apartment is not especially big, but my bedroom is bigger than his house. There is no sink in the bathroom. No matter, it’s just a detail.
Abel and I have to share a bed while Julius sleeps on a tiny mattress on the floor. We put mosquito nets and after a brief chat, we go to bed. Our task starts on Sunday morning.

Also read:
– #TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
– #TennisAid Uganda: the project
– #TennisAid Uganda: the funding

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

British Davis Cup team

What a memorable Davis Cup weekend, with some massive performances by Andy Murray and Lleyton Hewitt.

Great Britain – France: 3-1

Gilles Simon defeats James Ward 6-4 6-4 6-1
Andy Murray defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5 7-6 6-2
Andy and Jamie Murray defeat Nicolas Mahut/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-1
Andy Murray defeats Gilles Simon 4-6 7-6 6-3 6-0

One more disillusion for the French team after their defeat in the final last year. Despite 3 top 20 players in their team (Simon, Tsonga and Gasquet), they could not beat Team GB at Queen’s club this weekend. Andy Murray won three matches in as many days to propel Great Britain into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in 34 years.

Australia – Kazakhstan: 3-2

Mikhail Kukushkin defeats Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4 6-3 6-3
Aleksander Nedovyesov defeats Nick Kyrgios 7-6 6-7 7-6 6-4
Sam Groth/Lleyton Hewitt defeat Andrey Golubev/Aleksander Nedovyesov 6-4 7-6 6-2
Sam Groth defeats Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 7-6 4-6 7-6
Lleyton Hewitt defeats Aleksander Nedovyesov 7-6 6-2 6-3

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios were respectively 3 and 4 when Lleyton Hewitt played his first Davis Cup match back in 1999. And this weekend the soon-to-retire showed them how the job has to be done. After the surprising defeats of the young guns, Groth and Hewitt won the doubles on Saturday, and on Sunday Sam Groth levelled the tie against Mikhail Kukushkin. Hewitt then defeated Nedovyesov in straight sets to complete Australia’s first 0-2 comeback since 1939.

The Emirates Arena in Glasgow is the favourite to host the much anticipated semi-final clash between Great Britain and Australia, that will meet for the 13th time, with the Aussies leading 8-4 and having won the last three.

Andy Murray and Lleyton Hewitt are ready to rumble:

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