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
I spent a few days in Paris last week for the BNP Paribas Masters, the ninth and final Masters 1000 event of the season. Novak Djokovic captured the title, dispatching Andy Murray 6-2 6-4 in the final. Enjoy my pictures and recaps of day 1 to day 4.
After the first few points I thought “Ok, this match will be over in an hour.” Bellucci dropped his serve early in the match, but he kept fighting and even broke back Djokovic’s serve. Despite unusual unforced errors, Djokovic dictated the game from the baseline, and battled past the 40th-ranked Brazilian 7-5 6-3.
David Ferrer defeats Alexandr Dolgopolov
I’ve spent a few days in Paris for the Bercy Masters. Here’s my day 1 recap. Stay tuned for more pics and videos.