Guga Kuerten

Interview by LANCE!, December 2015, translation by Tennis Buzz:

In his private life, Gustavo Kuerten has plenty of reasons to smile. Less than a month ago, the 3-time Roland Garros champion he started surfing and playing beach tennis again. His disposition for sports is something he cultivates.

In addition to celebrating the 15-year anniversary of his victory of the Masters Cup in Lisbon, on December 4th, a title that propelled a Brazilian to the top of world singles ranking for the first time, the former tennis player celebrates another important victory.

Pain, the cruel sequel of being one of the most successful Brazilian athletes, has decreased considerably in recent months. And it has allowed him to remain closer to the form that led him to be the best in the world for 43 weeks.

At 39, Guga focuses on tennis promotion projects and laments the waste of talent in Brazil, as well as the current political scenario in the country. Yet he asks for optimism.

He talked to LANCE! reporter during the inauguration of a Lacoste store, a brand of which he is an ambassador, in Rio de Janeiro. He talked about his recent projects, recalled his career and kept the characteristic critical spirit of his post-tennis life.

Q: Who is Guga today? What is your routine and your goals?

Tennis is still the foundation of my challenges, but in a different way. Today, my contribution is more than 15 years ago, when I was the best in the world. We have several initiation projects, academies, tournaments and full contact with the development of the sport. That moves me, because there is still much wasted talent in Brazil. The idea is to gather athletes across the country. The number of potential players who can play with a racquet is even less than 5%. It’s difficult to have professionals and amateurs tennis players. This is what most moves me on a daily basis. I enjoy being involved with sports and education. I was raised this way and managed a successful career in this world.

Q: What about your personal life?

In parallel to the projects and partnerships, I spend time with my children and family. My life is much more controlled now than when I was an athlete (laughs). Before, we surfed that wave that was carried by the intensity of the circuit. Today, I can plan the series at sea and surf in accordance with the tide. So I think that my contribution is even higher in order to generate a return with more quality and depth, to be at the right time at the right place and thus promote tennis in an interesting way. It is what has been happening in the last ten years.

Q: What do you not miss at all from your tennis career?

Ah, hotels … packing my suitcase and go to the airport! Yeah, that was the worst part (laughs). Each week, I had it twice. Usually, it was on Sunday evening after a final. I came on the same day and on Monday, had to undo everything in another hotel room. I used to wake up and be confused, thinking that the door was on one side, but was on the other, because I had already changed my room and not remembered. I also went to the wrong floor because I had been on that floor the week before (laughs). This is part of an athlete’s life and for South American tennis player, in particular, it’s very hard. You go out for two or three months, not just a week or two. It’s difficult…

Q: How is your body, particularly the hip, and what hurts the most: the pains of a former athlete today, or the pains from you life as an athlete?

Thank God I got back to surfing three weeks ago. For the first time in a long time I also played beach tennis again. I can hit some balls, but but the dialogue with the court is still complicated. It is somewhat frustrating, because my physical capacity is limited. But, in relation to pain, things are much better. Hopefully, my ability to exercise will gradually expand, because it is what I like to do. I love playing with my kids, running after them. I went from two, three steps to 15. It was a victory! This year, I had a brutal effort. I spent two or three hours doing exercises and physiotherapy to achieve this condition.

Q: Do you still do physical therapy?

Yes, I do constantly. It is a sequel of my career. Recently, I spoke with Andre Agassi and he even asked me about the hip. It’s the price we pay for investing so much and so deeply to reach our limits. The matches are sometimes the easiest part. Practices are very hard. In 1997, when people saw me for the first time, I had already spent thousands of hours on the court making absurd demands on my body. It is also part of understanding this process. The advantage I have today is taking time for things to happen with more tranquility. If every year I improve ten meters in my performance, it’s ok. I will soon be back on court (laughs).

Q: Do you watch Federer these days? What do you remember of the times you faced him?

Federer is an example in all aspects. His tennis skills are absurd. If I had to choose the top ten tennis greats, he would be among them. Among the five, three, two, also. He must be. It is difficult to define who is the best of all time, because it is unfair to compare. But he is the guy who will always be considered one of the greatest. He is a spectacular person, with a special charism for tennis, a unique kindness, decency and exemplary conduct. And this guy was my contemporary! When I see today him, I get the feeling that the circuit is not so far from my path.

Q: You said you used to cling to a greater challenge to overcome something smaller that was in front of you on the courts and have even given this tip to Bellucci. Does it apply to your life, on a daily basis?

A common parameter between my professional life and now is having a positive outlook on all aspects. In tennis, it helped me a lot. We already live through so many complicated situations that if I try to see the bad scenario, an avalanche of pessimism comes over me. It works to always look at things very positively. Even my injury. Looking enthusiastically, with hope, facilitates and reduces the negative impact of situations. There are few cases where we really suffer. Sometimes we mourn for bullshit. The difficult thing is to practice it in everyday life, but it’s what I’ve been trying to do (laughs).

Q: What political unrest the country currently faces makes you reflect?

I am increasingly convinced that the only way for Brazil to reach a transformation is through education. People tend to think that the poorer classes need it, but our main political figures show that the largest fortunes often give the worst examples. Education must rinse the country, with decency and respect. People should understand their responsibilities, not just from the legal aspect. Brazil is increasingly trying to compress society with laws and obligations to escape crime, diversion, corruption, but does not promote good conduct or decent ways of living. For those who believe that you need to deviate from the straight line and create shortcuts to grow, there will be no law in the world that can stop them. And there’s no money in the world that can build projects with all this going on. So, we need to invest in people and think long-term educational projects to have larger ranges of answers.

Q: And the Olympics? It is an answer?

We have a postive time and an interesting results’ prediction. I believe that Brazil will break the record for medals at the Olympics. But it’s always little. Our achievements are small compared to the opportunities that appear. We are limited by a very drastic and dramatic national scene. You can not require that the Olympics work well if the country is not doing well in education, health, infrastructure, security. The basic requirements have to be major changes. The sport, the culture and the arts will suffer the same positive interference, but as long as we stay in this mantra to invent laws, do by force and compel people to follow certain rules, things will not work.

Q: What to do in the current scenario?

You have to guide, teach people how to conduct themselves, to know their rights, obligations and responsibilities. And thus get a more collective benefit. I venture to say that Brazil today is more individualistic than ever before. Previously, the country had no money, but thought more collectively. Today, I see the country is in more favorable economic conditions, but everybody wants it all for himself. We are infected by a serious lack of public services and the examples that come from governments. People see the differences around them and it reflects on their actions. It is sad to see our country suffering all these difficulties and know all the potential that exists in this nation.

Q: After eight years of retirement, you still attract the interests of brands and media. How do explain you are still a target?

It is still an opportunity to convey values ​​and concepts with which I work, such as sports and education. I don’t seek a shortcut, a misconduct that leads me to achieve results without merit. I got where I am with effort and discipline. This is an asset and a fundamental background that I need to share. Brands give me that possibility. Because it’s hard! We paddle, row, row and go nowhere. Receiving a hug is good (laughs). It’s a big challenge. You can not make a transformation alone, it is a privilege to count on big brands and deliver a key message to the country today to cultivate persistence in people. We’ve all tend to get tired with the day to day and want to throw in the towel. But we must persist and endure the almost unbearable situation in which our country is, and move on.

Photo credit: Paulo Sergio/LANCE!Press

Rafael Nadal, Australian Open 2015

The Happy Slam is already around the corner! On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic will be once again the huge favorite, but the women’s draw is open than ever: all four of the top-ranked have withdrawn from tournaments they entered this week due to injury.

Enjoy our Australian Open coverage on Tennis Buzz, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

A trip down memory lane:

Australian Open trivia
The tragedy of Daphne Akhurst
The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
1960 Australian Open: Neale Feaser, a costly volley
1960: first Grand Slam title for Rod Laver
1960-63 Australian Open: Jan Lehane four time runner-up
1974 Australian Open: Jimmy Connors first Grand Slam title
1975: John Newcombe defeats Jimmy Connors
1981: First Australian Open title for Martina Navratilova
1983: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
1984: Mats Wilander defeats Kevin Curren
1985: Edberg wins in Australia and Sweden changes look
1987-1988 Swedes spoil the party
1987: Stefan Edberg defeats Pat Cash
January 11, 1988: first day of play at Flinders Park
1988: Mats Wilander defeats Pat Cash
1990: John McEnroe disqualified!
1990: Ivan Lendl’s last Grand Slam title
1991: Monica Seles first Australian Open title
1994: First Australian Open title for Pete Sampras
1995: Mary Pierce defeats Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1995 QF: Pete Sampras emotional comeback win over Jim Courier
1995: Andre Agassi defeats Pete Sampras, wins first Australian Open title
1996 Australian Open: Mark Philippoussis defeats Pete Sampras in the 3rd round
Impressions from the 1996 Australian Open: Monica Seles and Boris Becker last Grand Slam titles, Stefan Edberg last appearance in Australia
1997 Australian Open: Pete Sampras defeats Carlos Moya
2001 Australian Open: Pat’s last chance
2001 Australian Open final: Andre Agassi defeats Arnaud Clément
2002: Capriati scripts a stunning sequel in Australia
2003 Australian Open: last Grand Slam title for Agassi
2009 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer

Recap:
Fashion and gear:
Polls:

Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?

  • Novak Djokovic (45%, 66 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (22%, 32 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (9%, 13 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (9%, 13 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (7%, 10 Votes)
  • Other (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1%, 1 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 147

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Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?

  • Serena Williams (38%, 41 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (22%, 24 Votes)
  • Other (14%, 15 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (9%, 10 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (7%, 8 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Timea Bacsinszky (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 107

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1985 Davis Cup final

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

After the [semifinals] tie, the US team room was awash with the usual assortment of friends, family, USTA types, ITF types, and garden-variety hangers-on. At one point, I glanced across the room and made contact with Tim [Gullikson]. His face by that time was starting to hollow out and his eyes – an intense blue to begin with – were practically burning. For a second, we looked at each other, and each of us knew what the other was thinking: this should be our moment. All these other people are extraneous. This is about the two of us, and nothing can take away what we’ve accomplished, or the trust we have. I’ve never forgotten that moment or that look. It’s with me to this day as my enduring memory of Tim.

So it was on to Moscow for the November final, and I knew how much Tim wanted to see me lead the squad to a triumph. It was a tough ask, because the Russians, predictably, held the tie on very slow red clay, indoors. For them, it was th right move, even though Jim Courier and Andre Agassi could be as tough on clay as anyone. There was only one hitch – Andre was still nursing his chest injury. We hoped until the eleventh hour that Andre would be good to go, meaning that my job would be a manageable one: making sure we won the doubles, while Andre and Jim could do the heavy lifting in singles. I had confidence that we would win the doubles – I liked playing Davis Cup doubles with Todd Martin and, as ambivalent as I was about clay, I played doubles on it happily, with confidence.

We arrived in Moscow on a Saturday, six days before the Friday start. Andre had sent word that even though he couldn’t play, he would attend the tie as a show of team spirit and solidarity. That sealed the deal. Tom declared that I was going to play singles unless, of course, I felt like I was the wrong man for the job, and made enough of a fuss about the decision. How’s that for an awkard spot? What was I going to do, say, “Nah, Tom I’m not up for it. Let Todd or Richey go out there?” I could see all the makings of Lyon revisited – a full-on disaster.
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1990 US Open: pete Sampras and Andre Agassi

From Pete Sampras autobiography, A champion’s mind

The guy on the other side of the net the late afternoon of September 9, 1990, was Andre Agassi – a kid, just like me. And he was easy to find over there in his wild, fluorescent, lime green outfit, and big hair.

I couldn’t know it at the time, but Andre and I would have a historic rivalry and both wind up in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In fact, up to that point in ou young lives, Andre an I had met on a court just four previous times. We were unfamiliar with each other’s games because Andre had played most of his tennis in Florida while I was a California guy.

The first time we played was on a hard court in a twelve-and-under junior tournament in Northridge, California. Neither of us can remember who won that match, but I still have a strong visual memory of Andre. He rolled up with his dad, Mike, in a huge green Cadillac worthy of a mobster. It was fitting, because the Agassis lived in Las Vegas and Mike worked as a pit boss in Caesar’s Palace. Way back then, Andre already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had that big forehand and those quick, happy feet.

Andre and I were supposed to meet at another junior event. In juniors, you often have to play two matches on the same day, and both of us had won our morning match. But for some reason, Andre and Mike disappeared – just up and left the site, enabling me to advance by default. In our first meeting as pros, on the red clay of Rome in 1989, Andre had waxed me, losing just three games. But I had played him even-up in that Philadelphia match I mentioned earlier.
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Andre Agassi and Boris Becker, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

As always, the men’s semifinals sandwiched the women’s final, so Becker and Agassi had to be on court at 11 o’clock in the morning. Only at the US Open could a semifinal match start with the stadium half empty.

Those who came late missed a wonderful seventy-one-minute first set. Becker saved four set points and Agassi three. Becker finally won in a 12-10 tiebreak.
Sitting in the stands, neither Brett nor Tiriac felt overjoyed at the end of it. Relieved, yes. Perhaps, they thought, Boris would escape on his will and his guile, because, once again, he was not playing the kind of tennis either man wanted to see him play. Point after point, he stood behind the baseline exchanging ground strokes with Agassi. Only when he had too, it seemed, did he come in.

Brett and Becker had sat and talked at length after Becker’s quarterfinal victory over Aaron Krickstein. Becker had been down a set and a break in that match before he had snapped out of his lethargy to win the match in four sets. “He knows very well,” Brett said afterward, “that he can’t even think about playing that way on Saturday if he wants to win.”

And yet, here it was, Saturday, and Becker was back behind the baseline against a man he had to attack to beat. Maybe the conditions – cold and windy, a complete switch from earlier in the tournament – threw Becker off. Whatever it was, he could not keep up the clay-court style of game he was playing. Agassi’s shots began finding their mark regularly. Becker wasn’t even making him sweat to hold serve. At one point, he won six points in eight games that Agassi served? When Becker didn’t get his serve in, Agassi controlled the points.

Agassi broke Becker nine times in thirteen service games during the last three sets. No doubt, he had returned extremely well. But Becker doesn’t get broken nine times when he is coming in. It can happen only if he plays behind the baseline.

Agassi won in four sets. He ended it with a service winner and promptly knelt in a prayerful pose somewhat akin to The Thinker – remarkable behavior from someone who, a week earlier, on this same court, had spewed profanities and spit on an umpire. Becker said nothing, but he noticed.

Considering the fact a young American had just beaten the defending champion, the crowd was surprisingly quiet. The applause was a little more than polite, but not much. Becker tried too hard to be gracious in his press conference. He claimed that he had played better tennis against Agassi than he had in 1989, in the final against Lendl.

“Andre was just too good,” he said.

Later that night, Becker admitted he had gone too far in praising Agassi.

“I didn’t want to sound like a bad loser,” he said. “He did play well, but I probably went too far, saying what I did. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who just says, ‘I was bad’, as an excuse for losing.”