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

Richard Gasquet, Les Petits As, 1999

Article by Franck Ramella for l’Equipe Magazine, translation by Tennis Buzz:

Since 1983, Les Petits As tournament welcome players aged from 12 to 14 who sometimes write the beginning of a long story. Like Richard Gasquet, winner in 1999 after a victory of Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Q: Before we speak about the young ones, let’s talk about a soon-to-be 30 who has a bad back. Are you feeling better since December?

There’s no more pain. I hit again only since last week. I mostly did bodybuilding and an infiltration. I always went to Spain to consult an osteopath.

Q: Les Petits As, it reminds you memories?

Of course I remember it. It looks like an ATP tournament. 3,000 people for the final, loads of sponsors. The director who launched something like that (Jean-Claude Knaebel in 1983) was really good!

Q: Do you remember your opponents?

The first year, in 1998, I lost to Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. The next year, I was the favorite. And I was happy to have won the tournament. A beautiful victory. In the final, I beat American Brian Baker 7-5 6-1 (7-5 6-3 in fact). I was born in 1986 but played aginst players born in 1985. I remember I beat Frenchman Antoine Tassart 6-0 6-0. And then I beat Rafael Nadal in the quarters (6-7 6-3 6-4).

Q: Was it already a special match?

You get to know that only later. This match has been much commented afterwards. And it remained in the minds of the people. If you have told me he would win 9 Roland Garros titles, I would have said no. But he was difficult to play. He made no unforced errors. He ran everywhere. He was so full of energy! (Nadal won Les Petits As the year after).

Q: Some say you used to whimper on court throwing you racquet

I don’t know if I used to cry, but throw my racquet, yes, for sure. Losing is difficult. I did not lose often back then. I also remember that with my father, we used to leave the hotel early, even though the matches were later in the day. We were going around the stadium, I was discovering, but I was losing my influx. I was exhausted.

Q: What advice would you give to the young generation?

Les Petits As, you’ve got to be there. The whole experience made a strong impression on me. But beware, it’s not an end. It’s just a step.

Q: Do you follow the results?

Yes, I like to see how the guys evolve. I know Rayane Roumane won two years ago. Now, I sometimes train with him. He plays really well, He is the number-one French hope.

Q: You would like to return to Les Petits As?

I went back for an exhibition in 2006 with Gael (Monfils). But yes, I’d like to see how it goes now.

2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber

Everyone told me to enjoy the match but I wanted to win

Interview by Stern, translation by Tennis Buzz

After her Australian Open victory, Angelique Kerber is at the zenith of her career and in the footsteps of her idol Steffi Graf. “Everything that happened for the last two weeks is amazing”, said Kerber after her surprising triumph in the final against world number one Serena Williams.

The following night was short for Angelique Kerber. The new world number two did not sleep a wink. The day after her big win in Melbourne, she did attend various press events and jumped into the Yarra river.

How was your night and when did you leave the stadium on Saturday?

I have not slept a minute. I think it was something like three o’clock when I left the stadium. I did four hours of press. Then I had the doping test, and after that we came back to the hotel. I got changed quickly and we went out. And here I am.

Have you any idea of what awaits you in Germany now?

I know that when I land on Monday morning in Francfort, something is being organized. What exactly, I don’t know yet. Then I’ll definitely spend Monday night with my family and friends and go eat something. And on Tuesday I’ll go Leipzig for Fed Cup. For sure, lots more will happen to me.

If you had to give an explanation on this success, what would it be?

I really think the explanation is that I believed in me. I always have, but never as I did after the match against Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, it was new.
Somehow it made something ‘click’. Even when I went against Serena, I said, I want to win this thing. Everybody told me I should just enjoy it and just play a good match. But I said myself: to enjoy it is good, but you can enjoy it afterwards. You go out there and try, and make the best of the chances you get.

And you succeeded…

Yes, I really did. I don’t know how I managed it, but I believed in me. I think this was the key to victory. I enjoyed the whole two weeks, but I wanted to show that I was worthy of the final and that I wanted to defeat her.

If you look back at your beginnings, what is the biggest step you made since then?

I think the whole experience I’ve made since then helps me now and for the future. Now I’m ready to really enjoy it. If I had won two or three years ago, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed and experienced it as I do now. Now I know, thanks to the tournaments I won before, what will happen to me.

It has often been said, that of this generation of you, Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki, nobody will make it and win a Grand Slam. Why did you managed it?

This is hard to say. I think I’ve experienced so many things in the last two weeks. I also learned you don’t need to play your best tennis two weeks long. But you have to believe in you for two weeks. You also need a little luck.
I simply believe that the time has come. I’ve always said, when the time comes, I’ll win something big. And I’ve just done it. Lots of people didn’t believe in but I think now, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
I am the world number two and I won a Grand Slam title. What more?

Do you think you will be perceived differently now on the tour? After all you are now a Grand Slam champion.

I don’t think a lot will change. I am curious, but I’m looking forward. Now I reached a high point in my career. I’m curious to see how things will change and how people react. It’s something different now. There are not many Grand Slam winners.

Is it even more special to win the title against Serena Williams?

In any case, that means a lot to me. Serena is an absolute champion, she wrote history and is a huge inspiration for me. To play against her is always something special. To face her in the final is an absolute honor, and to have played a good match makes the title even more special.

Amélie Mauresmo and Justine Henin, Australian Open 2006

Interview by l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz:

Yesterday Amélie Mauresmo was the biggest fan of her protege, Andy Murray, but ten years ago she captured her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne. Flashback.

Q: Do yo remember exactly your route to victory here in 2006?

Ouch! (Thinking…) I start with the Chinese Sun. Right? Then Emilie (Loit), and Krajicek who retires. And in the fourth round, who was it? That’s right, Vaidisova! And then I defeat Patty (Schnyder) in the quarterfinals, Kim (Clijsters) in semis and Justine (Henin) in the final.

Q: Do you remember the score of the shortened final?

6-1 2-0 30-0.

Q: After the final, everybody critizices Henin’s attitude. Mats Wilander says “Even crawling she should have finished the match”. But you don’t say anything.

I only do realize that the next day. And suddenly I feel bad. And I say to myself: “But wait, she did that! She only had 3 or 4 more games to play. And she stopped.” Yet she was not dying. You can not do that.

Q: Have you forgiven her?

It took time. When I was still playing, not really. She stole me a moment. And moments like that are rare.

Q: Did she apologize?

No.

Q: Your coach Loic Courteau was annoyed because all the emotion could not get out. And you?

Yes, of course, but I was so sure this tournament was for me. Withdrawal or not, in my opinion I was better.

Q: Did you have the same feeling, six months later in Wimbledon, that the tournament was for you?

Not at all. I was not playing as well at Wimbledon. The final was not good. In Melbourne, before the final, I had no doubt, no stress. Unlike the Wimbledon final, where I hardly slept the night before.

Q: From when did you feel that superiority in Melbourne?

Not immediately. But after my win against Vaidisova and my big match against Patty. Against her, even I won often, it was always tough. But that time, I did dominate her physically and tactically.

Q: Would you have won the tournament if you had not win the Masters in 2015?

It’s related. The Masters are a real trigger. I experienced these Masters a bit like my first Grand Slam. I surfed on that confidence. The winter that following, during preparation, I played like crazy. The practice sessions (lots of them with Alexandre Sidorenko who won the boys’ title the same day as Mauresmo) were amazing.

Q: Yet a few weeks before the Masters, you had reached a low point.

The match agasint Mary Pierce at the US Open had killed me (a 6-4 6-1 loss in the quarterfinals). After the match, I thought “I can’t do it against hard-hitting players. I don’t return as well as these players. I can’t do it.” Mary, Davenport, Venus, Serena, it was going too fast for me. Even Justine who could do more things chose that playing style. Was there some place for me? For change of pace, variation? I asked myself a lot of questions. We thought about it with Lolo (Courteau) and we decided to go to the net even more. But I play two disastrous tournaments, Moscow and Zurich. I win one or two games a set (she loses 6-1 6-1 to Schiavone in Moscow and 6-2 6-0 to Srebotnik in Zurich). I keep questioning myself: I’m 26 and except Novotna, there is no female player winning a first Grand Slam title at that age.

Q: You do not have always known you were a champion

That’s right. I fought against a lot of things related to our sporting culture in France, to our approach to winning or rather our non-approach.

Q: Also fight the “She has a nice game” cliché

Technically, my forehand was not really good, but people said: “She has a nice backhand, she varies her shots, she volleyes”. Efficiency is not a priority in France. I can feel the difference with Andy (Murray) and even before when I worked with Azarenka.

Q: By winning in Melbourne you also get rid of another weight, that of being labeled as the world number one who had not won a Grand Slam. Was it important?

I was eager to put an end to this discussion. But it was not a suffering.

Q: At the 2006 Australian Open, three players retire against you, but you also had big problems..

The morning of my match against Vaidisova, I wake up and I’m panicked. My neck is blocked, I’m upset. I call Michel (Franco, her physiotherapist), he massages me, he does what he can. I play suffering, serving at 130 km/h, but Vaidisova commits lots of unforced errors. That year it is very hot. In the semi finals, with Kim, we play a big match, very physical. We play indoor because it is 40 °C. She twists her ankle because she is tired; back to the hotel, I fainted. The next day I did not come to hit at the stadium.

Q: In 1999, you had also reached the final in Melbourne..

Yes, but in the game, I do not really know why. My game was very instinctive. I do not even know how I was playing back then. In 2006 my game was in place.

Q: You keep good memories of the Château d’Yquem 1937 you drank to celebrate your victory

In fact we drunk it during the summer of 2007. It was excellent.

Milos Raonic, Australian Open 2016

The first Spaniard to reach the number one spot, Carlos Moya has joined Riccardo Piatti last fall to coach Milos Raonic. In this interview, he talks about Milos, Rafa and Stefan Edberg.

Interview by l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz:

Q: In 1997, you reached the Australian Open final, even though you had previously only won two matches at Grand Slam level. Do you think we’ll see that again one day?

Yes why not? But perhaps not in the next five years, because of the top guys.

Q: That year you had beaten the defending champion, Boris Becker in the first round…

People tend to forget I was world number 25 at that time. But there were only 16 seeds back then, so this kind of first round was possible. What had really helped me is that I had beaten Becker (then world number 6) two months before in Bercy. And I had just reached the final in Sydney. I was feeling good.

Q: Milos Raonic just captured the Brisbane tournament and has yet to lose a set in Melbourne. Players are a bit scared to face him…

Good.. Having beaten Roger sends a strong signal. Not everybody can do it. Milos is the only player born in the 90’s to have beaten Roger twice (the first time was in Bercy 2014). He has also beaten Rafa at Indian Wells last year, and Murray three times. Only Djokovic misses.

Q: What misses too is to beat them at a Grand Slam tournament. That’s why his match against Wawrinka, who leads their head-to-head 4-0, is so much expected.

Milos is 25. He has to do it step by step. He won’t win a Grand Slam all of a sudden.

Q: So you don’t think he will win this tournament?

I did not say that (smiles). But Milos needs to prove he can beat these players one after an other in a tournament. And that’s a hard task.

Q: Why did you decide to join Raonic’s team?

It was a good proposal to start my job as a coach. Milos’ project inspired me. There’s a clear goal: to be number one. Milos could not reach its maximum potential so far, mainly because of injuries. What I like is that Milos is mature. He knows what he wants.

Q: On how many tournaments will you follow him?

15 weeks including the four Grand Slams. I did notant to be too much away from home. I have three young children. But I know that in my absence things will be done right because he has a solid team around him, in particular Riccardo Piatti (former coach of Ljubicic and Gasquet).

Q: What has impressed you most since you work with Milos?

He’s one of the most professional guy I have ever met. He is fully committed: on court, in the gym, after his training…

Q: When you were playing would you have liked that a former world number one works with you? If so, who would you have chosen?

Of course, I would have enjoyed it. I would have chosen Stefan Edberg, even if our playing styles were completely different.

Q: We often hear that Milos’ game is boring, that he looks like a robot when he plays. Could these remarks affect him?

No no no, I don’t think so. If you watched his game against Troicki, I don’t think it was boring. These comments don’t bother me. We should even use them. That our opponents expect a difficult game, with no rythm, can be a weapon for us.

Q: Before Raonic, how many players asked you to coach them?

A few. But either it was not at the right moment or these players asked me to travel with them for too many weeks.

Q: For the last two years, there has been a constant rumour about a Moya-Nadal collaboration..

It comes from the media and John McEnroe. But we’ve never spoken even once about that possibility. I’m sure Rafa will end his career with Toni and with the same team that’s been with him all these years. I know Rafa well and I think he’d think it unfair to split with Toni because things aren’t going so well. I’ve never looked to be a member of his team. We’re good friends, we often eat together, and we trained together at Christmas. That’s all.

Q: Do you think he’ll win another Slam?

Of course I think so. He’s not 30 yet. He needs to improve in certain areas and he knows that. He works. It’s a normal process: first of all, you try new things at practice, and then you apply them in matches, under pressure, and then you don’t think about them any more. It worked at the end of last season, but not here. You can see he wants to play more inside the baseline. Against Verdasco, he was a metre inside the baseline, but he wasn’t doing any damage. Positioning isn’t everything. Being a metre inside the baseline and pushing the ball, that’s not the answer. Right now, Rafa is a bit confused when he plays under pressure. He should develop this game without thinking. And now, we see him thinking.

Also read:
Australian Open 1997: Pete Sampras defeats Carlos Moya
Impressions from the 1996 Australian Open
Costa, Moya, Enqvist and Gaudio: fun under the sun

Photo credit: Andrew Robertson

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