EXCLUSIVE: Thomas Enqvist On The Fight To Revive Swedish Tennis - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Thomas Enqvist On The Fight To Revive Swedish Tennis

The world No.4 tells Ubitennis why he is hopeful that Sweden can once again become a powerhouse in the world of tennis.

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This year’s Australian Open marked the 20th anniversary of Thomas Enqvist’s finest moment in a grand slam as a player.

 

The Swede, who was 25 at the time, entered the 1999 draw at Melbourne Park as an unseeded player. He had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a grand slam before, but stunned everyone with consecutive wins over Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis. The run saw him reach the final of the tournament where he had a 6-4 lead against Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, before losing in four sets. That was to be Enqvist’s first and only taste of what it is like to play in a major final.

“Result wise, this was the best one. It was a good memory.” The 44-year-old said during an interview with Ubitennis. “Of course it is always hard to look back to a final that you lost, but it is still a good memory.”

Enqvist played during a time where Swedish men enjoyed extensive success in tennis. At the time of his run to the Australian Open final, the country had eight players ranked in the top 80. Besides Enqvist, there were Thomas Johansson, Jonas Bjorkman and Magnus Norman all making their inroads on the tour. Sweden were also the reigning Davis Cup champions. Unknown to them at the time, that would be the last time the country would win the team tournament.

It is without a doubt that the country has a rich tennis tradition. In the past Sweden has also produced tennis stars such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Jonas Bjorkman and Robin Soderling, who was the last player to win a ATP singles trophy back in 2011. So where did it all go wrong for the Swede’s?

“I think we still have a very strong tennis tradition in Sweden. We have a lot of people involved in Swedish tennis that have good knowledge and their heart in the right place.” Enqvist explained.
“We definitely need a player that can break through and can generate a little bit of hype because it’s all about getting the sports channel in Sweden to show tennis again.”

At present there are just four players from the Nordic country that has an official ATP ranking. Their star players are brothers Elias (22) and Mikael (20) Ymer. Both are yet to break into the world’s top 100. Elias came the closest at 105th last June. Further down the field, there is Markus Eriksson at 523rd and Linus Frost at 658th.

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Due to the lack of top players, trying to maintain mass interest in the sport has become a problem in recent years. As pointed out by Enqvist, who noted the lack of mainstream Swedish media covering the Australian Open this year.

“I think it is a shame that we cannot have more media here (in Melbourne), even if we don’t have any players.” He said.
“If we can’t create enough interest at home how can we get kids interested in tennis? I think everybody has a little bit of responsibility, but it is not an easy situation.” He added.

Despite a seemingly dismal situation, hope lies with the next generation of players. There are currently two Swedish boys ranked in the top 100 on the junior circuit. Meanwhile, others are also gradually coming through.

“We have a bunch of players, who are 15 now. It’s one of the first generations that we have more than one or two.” Enqvist explained.
“This is actually a group of five or six that are international competitors. Hopefully one or two of these perform.”

Whist Enqvist is hopeful, for the foreseeable future, it looks like the lull in Swedish tennis will continue. A somewhat sad situation for a country that once dominated the sport.

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Exclusive: After Injury Woe, Kevin Anderson Aims To Inspire In Hunt For Elusive Grand Slam Title

The world No.7 spoke to Ubitennis earlier this week at the Miami Open.

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Embarking upon this year’s Miami Open, two-time grand slam finalist Kevin Anderson felt at home and with good reason.

 

Since he started playing tennis at the age of six, the 6’8” South African has spent most of his career based in America. Growing up, he represented the University of Illinois. Winning the NCAA doubles title in 2006 followed by reaching the final of the singles competition a year later. It was at university where Anderson would meet his future wife, Kelsey, who he married in 2011. The two now reside in Gulf Stream, Florida. An affluent area of Delray Beach that is only an hour’s drive away from the Miami Open.

“Walking onto the court I felt like there was a lot of people that was excited to see me play and that really felt good.” Anderson commented about his first taste of the new venue.
“At the end of the day, it’s the fans that drive our sport and I’ve worked really hard.” He added.

Relishing in the atmosphere of a place that feels like home, Anderson is known as a player that wants to be respected both on and off the court. He is the co-founder of Realife Tennis, which provides online tennis instructions. In December Anderson raised over $100,000 at the inaugural Grand Slam Cause For the Paws, which supports South Florida’s dog rescue Dezzy’s Second Chance and Ocean Conservancy.

“I always act and perform in a way that people can look up to me, especially kids.”

It was in Miami, where Anderson made his debut in a Masters tournament. At the age of 22 he reached the third round of the 2008 tournament as a qualifier. Getting knocked out by 31st seed Igor Andreev. This year is the first time the venue has moved to the Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne. Forcing many to adapt to the changes, but Anderson hasn’t been too preoccupied with that.

“It’s been interesting because I haven’t played that many points or sets. I was more focused on how my elbow was feeling and how my body was feeling.” He admits.
“To be honest, I haven’t been playing a lot of attention to the court. Whereas, when your body is healthy you are paying attention to the balls and court surface.”

Injury woes

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Unfortunately for the South African, 2019 has been far from perfect. An elbow injury forced him to take a nine-week hiatus from the tour. Making Miami only his third tournament of the year played. To put that into perspective, 12 months ago Miami was his sixth event of the season.

Sometimes taking a break from the sport is a blessing in disguise. The brutal demands of travelling the ATP Tour can take its toll of many players regardless of their ranking. However, for Anderson it wasn’t entirely a blessing. Instead, he was in the midst of uncertainty and frustration.

“At the time I didn’t know how long I was going to be out for.” He explained. “Each day was spent training. I was training in the morning, during rehab and going to different places to get different types of therapies. It wasn’t like I was told that I needed to take three or four weeks off to go on holiday.’
“It was nice spending time at home, but it was really busy.”

Like for any other player, Anderson’s inability to play a sport that he earns a living from was frustrating. Although he had seen a silver lining.

“It didn’t necessarily feel like a break. There were tough times, I was missing tournaments that I really enjoyed playing. So that part was a little bit difficult. Mentally, I felt I handled it quite well.”

Ready to make a mark

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Twice Anderson has been on the verge of becoming the first South African to win a major title in singles since Johan Kriek back in 1981. Losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2017 US Open final and then Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year. Although Anderson’s performance against Djokovic was hindered by his marathon clash with John Isner in the match before that lasted more than six-and-a-half hours. An outcome that created a widespread debate over the use of tiebreakers in the final sets.

Hoping to turn his misfortunes around this year, the world No.7 has his eyes set on a strong clay-court swing, which begins after Miami.  He is yet to contest a final on the surface, but remains undeterred about his chances.

“Even heading into the clay court season, it’s a time of the year that I really enjoy.” The Optimistic South African explains. “I’ve made the semis in Madrid last year and I’ve been pretty close to the quarter-finals at the French Open.”

Whilst clay may not be the strongest surface for the fast-serving Anderson, his determination remains unchanged. Now nursing his elbow back to full health, it is expected that he will pose a big threat to the tour once again.

“For me right now it’s one step at a time. Making sure I’m progressing where I want to be with the elbow. It’s about getting matches and playing the tennis I want to be playing.” Anderson outlines.
“I got high hopes. Right now it is about focusing day in and day out. Making sure my elbow responds during match situations..

Anderson will play his fourth round match in Miami on Tuesday against Jordan Thompson.

NOTE: Interview conducted by Luca Baldissera, article written by Adam Addicott

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EXCLUSIVE: Cori Gauff Talks First WTA Win, Rapid Rise To Fame And Love For Pasta

Ubitennis sat down with the teenage prodigy and her marketing agent at the Miami Open.

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Cori Gauff (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

It is not unusual for a 12-year-old to proclaim that they want ‘to be the greatest of all time’ in their sport. But when Cori Gauff said it in 2017, she attracted a rapid rise in interest and with good reason.

 

Eight days after celebrating her 15th birthday, the American recorded her first ever win in the main draw of a WTA event. Playing in the Miami Open she defeated compatriot and friend Caty McNally in three sets. Becoming the youngest player in a decade to win a main draw match on the women’s tour. In 2009 Madison Keys defeated Alla Kudryavtseva at the age of 14 years and 54 days.

“I’m still trying to process it. Like on the golf cart on the ride back, I was like ‘did this just happen?’ It’s so surreal.” A delighted Gauff began during her interview with Ubitennis. “You know, playing the same players like Serena, I’m just like can’t believe this is happening actually.”

Born in Florida, Gauff has been gifted at sport since she was a child. Participating in gymnastics, athletics and basketball prior to switching her focus to tennis. She comes from a sporting background. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I did basketball and track (athletics). Those were my favourite besides tennis. I was the only girl on the all-boys team for basketball. Which I actually kind of liked. On the track I did 800 meters and the 4x400M relay.” She explained.
“Obviously tennis would be the best.”

Her decision to choose tennis was a very wise one. At the age of 14, she had already been crowned a junior grand slam champion twice. Last year she won the French Open girls’ title before triumphing in the doubles at the US Open. On the ITF tour, she has only lost nine out of 52 matches played on the junior tour in singles.

It is clear that part of Gauff’s rise at such a young age is due to her maturity. She openly admits that she is far from perfect. Although she thrives on the challenges she faces.

“The other sports I mentioned you’re on a team. You’re running for someone else and that puts a lot more pressure because you’re not just playing for yourself, but also you can’t control what other people do.” She said. “Whereas tennis you are out there by yourself. You get to make your own decision. You get coaching, but at the end of the day you’re making the decision, making the plays you want.”
“I like tennis because you get to be out there by yourself and in the moment by yourself.”

The Barilla deal and family values

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Earlier this week, a deal was scored with Barilla. An Italian company famous for their production of pasta. Coincidentally Pasta is one of Gauff’s favourite meals. Saying she likes to mix sauces and cheese whilst eating penne or Spaghetti. Perhaps not the best combination for an emerging athlete, but still.

“I never saw this coming, but they’re super nice.” She commented on the sponsorship deal. “They value what I value, it’s a family company and I really enjoy family-related things. All my family is here with me.”
“I’m just looking forward to getting some free pasta.” She then jokes.

Barilla is the latest company recruiting the teenager. Last year she gained endorsements with both New Balance and Head. The combination of all three endorsements means Gauff is expected to earn roughly $1 million this year. Not too bad for a 15-year-old.

Whilst the rise to fame is one to relish, it can also be as stressful time. There have been numerous cases of athletes suffering from the effects of early fame. So how does Gauff deal with the pressure? For her, it is the support of her family that keeps her grounded.

“It doesn’t make me nervous because even if I’m playing somewhere like Timbuktu my family are always watching. I really like having my brothers at the tournaments, they kind of ease things. There might be a lot of tension because of playing such a big tournament like this (Miami), but they help minimise the moment and make things fun.”

Family plays an important role in her team too. Her father travels with her on the tour and occasionally her mother, depending on the location of the tournament. In addition, her fitness trainer is Richard Williams, who is based at FTX Wellness in Florida. Finally, coach Bobby Poole completes the team.

The only female In Team8

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It was at the age of 13 when Gauff was recruited by management company Team8, which was set up by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick. Still, she is the only female athlete to be represented by them. Their other clients include Juan Martin del Potro.

Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano is Gauff’s marketing agent. He has been the client manager of the company since November 2016 and has been supporting the teenager throughout her development.

“She was 13 and already playing at 18s level. She was already way ahead of people and we were told that she was going to be one of the next great talents in tennis.” Barel told Ubitennis.
“She has an incredibly professionally minded brain already at that age and was focusing on getting better.“

Team8 isn’t solely focused on tennis, but understandably intends to maintain their links to the sport given their founders. As for Gauff, Barel believes she is everything Team8 is looking for.

“People with integrity who clearly stick with their family. Belonging and people that share a desire to grow a brand and something bigger than themselves.” He said.

Despite her links with Federer, Gauff had never practiced with the 20-time grand slam champion. Although he did give her some ‘advice’ during the Australian Open. As to what that was, she didn’t elaborate.

“I haven’t got the chance to hit with Roger, but I had the chance to meet him a couple of times.” She said.

The future

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Now officially in the top 400, Gauff’s rise up the rankings will not be as quick as she would like. Due to her age, she is restricted by WTA rules. Under the Age Eligibility Rule, she is only allowed to play in a certain number of tournaments. A policy brought into place to prevent rising stars from suffering from early burnout. Something Gauff sees a silver lining to.

“Since I’m not allowed to play a lot of tournaments, it gives me the opportunity to have a lot of training blocks. Right now my game isn’t fully developed.” She states.
“After this (Miami Open) I am going to go to the Mouratoglou academy and train for I don’t know how many weeks.’
“Maybe play a 80K, but it depends on if I can get into the tournament. I’m only allowed a couple wild cards, so I have pick and choose them wisely.”

It is her underdeveloped game that is exciting to many. Growing up playing on hard courts, the American has already claimed a top title on the clay and is becoming a fan of the grass too.

“I played only Roehampton and Wimbledon on grass. But I like it. It wasn’t that hard to get used to. Maybe that was because of my playing style.” Gauff outlined.
“After having time on it. I prefer the red clay to the green clay. It’s more true to balance, easier to slide and you can actually see the marks (on the court).” She added.

A player not afraid to play on any surface at the age of 15, Gauff is a star in the making. On Friday she has a shot of defeating a top 20 player for the first time when she plays Daria Kasatkina.

The match will be a tough ask, but never rule out the fearless teenager.

You can listen to our full interview with Gauff below

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Patrick Mouratoglou On The Rise Of Teenage Prodigy Cori Gauff

The teenage sensation once declared that she wanted to be ‘the greatest of all time.’

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In history few tennis players have been able to achieve their first professional main draw win and secure an estimated $1 million in endorsements at the age of 15. But for Cori Gauff she has ticked both of those boxes just eight days after her 15th birthday.

 

Despite being born during the same year Maria Sharapova claimed her maiden grand slam title (2004), the American right-hander has already created a pathway to become one of the world’s best. At the age of 13, she reached the final of the 2017 US Open girls tournament. Becoming the youngest player in history to do so. A year later she won the French Open junior title and then triumphed in the doubles at the US Open. Ensuring that she would top the junior rankings at only 14.

One person that truly knows what Gauff is capable of is Patrick Mouratoglou. The Frenchman best known for being the mentor of 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams. Mouratoglou has been following the progress of the teenager since she was young and has worked with her at his prestigious academy in Sophia Antipolis, France.

“I first meet Cori when she was 10 at my academy.” Mouratoglou said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“She’s very special and has the two major qualities that you cannot teach. First of all, she is a great competitor. That is something very difficult to teach. Secondly, she’s a natural athlete. You can build (a player) physically, but natural athleticism is something you have or don’t have.’
“She’s a hard worker, which is something not everybody has and this is very important to reach the top of the game.” He added.

Athleticism runs in the family of the current world No.2 junior, who goesa by the nickname of Coco. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

The WTA Tour received a taste of Gauff’s potential at the Miami Open on Thursday. In the first round she took on Caty McNally in what was a rematch of the 2018 French Open girls final. After falling behind early on in the match, Gauff battled back to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in what was her main WTA victory. Coming back from a 2-4 deficit in the final set.

“I would say that her tennis is physical.” Mouratoglou said of the teenager’s game. “It is based on her ability to move well on the court and the ball that comes off of her racket is a lot of high quality. It bounces high, fast and she is an aggressive player. She likes to dictate. She likes to be in control of the points and attack.”
“But if she has to defend, she can thanks to her speed.”

The endorsements

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Coinciding with her rise in the sport, Gauff has scored a new endorsement deal with Barilla. An Italian food company known famously for their pasta. Founded in 1877, the company was recently named the number one Italian consumer goods company in terms of turnover by IRI Research. Barilla also has deals with former world No.1 Roger Federer and Olympic skiing champion Mikaela Shiffrin.

“Passion, dedication and fair play are values that inspire Barilla’s way of working. They are also fundamental qualities that we also look for in a sports personality,” said Luca Barilla, Vice Chairman of the Barilla Group. “We extend our warm welcome to Cori, an emerging star of American tennis, and we hope that she will be able to continue to interpret this spirit in the best possible way.”

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Barilla is the latest brand to sign up the rising star. Towards the end of 2018 Gauff also signed long-term deals with New Balance (who won a bidding war with Nike) and racket manufacturer Head. According to Kurt Badenhausen from Forbes Magazine, the trio of deals amount to an estimated $1 million this year. To put that into perspective, it’s estimated that Simona Halep’s endorsements was $1.5M in 2018.

“I’m very proud of what she is achieving because she had had a little bit of pressure on her shoulders.” Said Mouratoglou. “She’s the player everybody looks at. Everybody expects her to win all the time. To experience that at young and to handle that is really impressive.”

Here to win, not just play

Given the massive amount of money being passed around, it is easy to forget Gauff’s age. She is only allowed to play a limited amount of WTA tournaments within a season under the age eligibility rule. A regulation put into place to prevent early burnout. Nevertheless, she is relishing her Miami debut.

“This is a dream. I have been dreaming of this moment for years, just playing in the Miami Open.” She said after her win over McNally. “I have been coming to this tournament since I was eight or nine years old. Watching the players here and actually being in the same tournament, being in the same area as players that I’ve watched since practically I was born, it’s so surreal to me.”

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Once proclaiming that she wants to be ‘the greatest of all time,’ Gauff in on a trajectory to the top of the sport. Following her opening win in Miami, she will break into the world’s top 400 for the first time.

Whilst she will be the underdog in her upcoming clash with 14th seed Daria Kasatkina, Gauff is refusing to let her lack of experience or nerves get in her way.

“My goal for every tournament is to win the tournament. I don’t want to say I will just win this next match and be done. My goal is to win the tournament. I’m going to keep that goal there and just keep fighting for it.” She concluded.

Such an audacious comment could be interpreted as a bit unrealistic, but Gauff has no fear. Making her development on the tour even more fascinating. And with the likes of Mouratoglou on her side, there is no reason why she may not one day emulate the achievements of her idol Williams.

Gauff is just getting started and the world of tennis better watch out.

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