Toshi Matsui might not be a household name for many tennis fans but that doesn’t mean his achievements in tennis are not significant.
It was back in 1993 when the Japanese player played his first ITF-level match in Hatsuishi. At the time eight out of the current top 10 players on the men’s Tour wasn’t born, Satellites was a category on the ITF circuit before getting later replaced by Futures and Pete Sampras was world No.1. During his career Matsui has played in over 200 Challenger tournaments and even now he continues playing competitively at the age of 43.
Throughout his career, Matsui has dedicated himself to the sport and has had the chance to hit with some of its biggest names. At the 2005 Beijing Open he played against Guillermo Coria, who reached the final of the French Open the year prior. He ended up losing 6-1, 6-0, but will never forget that encounter.
“He looked like a little kid and I was nervous, saying to myself: “ok, let’s see how good he is,” Matsui told UbiTennis. “He was unstoppable and I almost couldn’t win a point. He hardly missed, fought for every single point and to be honest, he “killed” me.”
A year later at the Japan Open he crossed paths with another big name in the sport – Roger Federer. The Swiss Maestro is three years younger than Matsui who is the oldest player to have a singles ranking on the ATP Tour.
“Anytime we met after this, he always had kind words for me. Wherever I travelled on the Tour, if I had the opportunity to see him training I always checked it out,” Matsui said of Federer. “He is still playing at the highest level and how Roger is able to manage his mental motivation and psychical strength after so many years behind him…it is more than amazing. One of my wishes is to hit with him again. It’s gonna be fun, especially now when we both are over 40…”
The veteran player is already embedded in the record books for Japanese tennis after becoming the oldest player to win a national title at the age of 43 years and six months in 2021.
Matsui’s dedication to the Tour has seen him represent his country over four different decades. It is one achievement to maintain a career for so long but it is another thing to do so whilst playing mainly in the lower-level events where prize money is substantially lower. He has been able to do so by playing in domestic events, negotiating sponsorship deals himself and he even has his own online shop to help generate income.
In 2020 and 2021 Matsui returned to the main stage of men’s tennis after being selected to play in the ATP Cup where he became the oldest man in history to do so. It was the first time in a decade that he has represented his country in a team event.
So what is driving Matsui to continue playing into his 40s? In an exclusive question and answer interview with UbiTennis, he speaks extensively about what has been an extraordinary career.
UBITENNIS: You played your first Challenger tournament back in 1999 and your first ATP Tour event in 2005. What do you remember of those events?
MATSUI: According to my recollection, at that time there were not many challengers and Tour events in Asia, thus I was not feeling comfortable being around elite players.
In 2000, I played my first ATP Challenger Tour event in Yokohama and five years later in Beijing I had my first ATP Tournament, where in the first round I defeated Peng Sun, then I lost to Guillermo Coria who was the French Open finalist a year before. The Argentine player was No. 6 in the world at the time and No. 2 seed in this tournament. He looked like a little kid and I was nervous, saying to myself: “ok, let’s see how good he is”. He was unstoppable and I almost couldn’t win a point. He hardly missed, fought for every single point and to be honest, he “killed” me. (Coria reached the final and only Nadal could defeat him at that tournament). It was a shocking experience for me the way he played.
However, I have played a bunch of matches throughout my career, there was another memorable one: it was the Japanese national singles final in 2006 against Satoshi Iwabuchi, my long-time doubles partner and good friend of mine. I led 5-3, 30-0 with new balls and I lost by 5-7 in the Ariake Coliseum…I was nervous and played under pressure in my first singles final.
UBITENNIS: You have spent more than 20 years as a player on the Tour. What are the biggest changes you have seen?
MATSUI: In my opinion, the biggest improvement nowadays is having more tournaments and several opportunities in Asia – except the last 2 years due to the Asian countries’ lockdowns affected by the pandemic (0 challengers and tour events were organized in 2020 and 2021).
As for further development, it’s the launch of Internet technology. It sounds funny to the new generation that there was a time when we had to fax our entry request, buy flight tickets at the travel agencies and spend a horrific time conducting international calls and so on.
Today, things are less stressful and time consuming. Also, the ATP is more supportive at Challenger level (supervisor, tour manager assists us) than 20 years ago. Regarding the interaction among the players, I can say it was more frequent before than now.
UBITENNIS: How would you describe life as a tennis player on the ITF and Challenger Tours? Do you think the amount of prize money distributed to players in these events is enough to support their careers?
MATSUI: Playing on ITF/Challenger Tour has always been an issue and a problem is waiting to be resolved. Most tennis players have to find a solution and some option to finance themselves in order to be able to stay alive on the tour.
In my case, for example, I have competed in many domestic tournaments and club matches in Japan as I could. I had sponsor commitments and still have some which I have arranged for myself. I have also built up my fan club (called a an online salon in Japan) and my official webshop. Even my own yuru-chara (the Japanese term for mascot character) was designed and created by one of my sponsors, Kasa San.
To earn some extra money, sometimes, I run tennis clinics and play exhibition matches. Furthermore, the prize money in the Japan tennis league is more lucrative than ITF or Challenger Tours. Plus not to mention the fact that there are less expenses.
UBITENNIS: Many players are playing later in their careers, but you are still playing at the age of 43. What motivates you to continue playing and how do you manage your fitness?
MATSUI: To keep and maintain my motivation and fitness was/is never a problem for me. Sure, from time to time we have to face a roller coaster in our lives, but these kinds of situations should teach us how to handle and manage the ups and downs at times. I have my own ways to keep going both mentally and physically. Obviously, it is crystal clear to me that I will not be able to play forever, nevertheless to assess myself every six months is essential to foresee if I really want to keep bringing this sacrifice to my stamina or not.
According to my schedule, I usually train 6 days a week. Indoors for 3 hours, including exercise in its gym (weightlifting). I also run outdoors in nature, mostly up hills and parks. I practise in the same tennis facility (Kashiwa Tennis Center), where the great Shingo Kunieda, the world No.1 wheelchair player and reigning Olympic champion, also trains. In addition to this, I regularly take massage and acupuncture therapy.
Regarding the latter, I would like to say that 2-3 years ago I met Hajime San who is more than a chiropractor. He helped me a lot to keep me in a good shape with his acupuncture therapy which I would definitely recommend to all other players but also to everyone.
UBITENNIS: Japan has a reputation for athletes playing later in their careers. Kimiko Date played her last Grand Slam at the age of 45, footballer Kazuyoshi Miura is over the age of 50 and Hiroshi Hoketsu participated in the Olympic equestrian when aged over 70. Is there something about Japanese culture which enables athletes to play for longer or is it just a coincidence?
MATSUI: Maybe, or rather I would say so definitely something in our DNA. Japan has approx. 36 million people aged 65 or older (world’s oldest population) and we have the largest population of people aged 90 or older, 2.3 million including 70K who are 100 years old or above. We respect elderly people, they are always part of our cultural heritage.
The other reason may be found in the diversity of our food. My wife (Tomoyo Takagishi), is a former tennis player and is my greatest help. Since we got married, she has changed my diet to 3 meals per day. She takes care of our kids and my nutrition as well. Since Tomoyo is a certified supplement advisor, she combines the healthiest food for me. She has many excellent recipes and arranges the diversity of the best Japanese cuisines including some raw sweets (similar to organic, without any chemical ingredients).
UBITENNIS: I heard that you have previously hit with Roger Federer. How did that come about?
MATSUI: The last time I had a unique opportunity to hit with Federer happened in 2006 when he came to play at the Japan Open (which he won beating Henman in the final). If I am not mistaken it was the first time that Roger participated in this event. I remember that the speed of the court was so fast and the ball did not bounce so high normally. But interestingly, during our rallies every ball and shot hit by Roger bounced even so high that I was so surprised how he did it.
After our session we took a photo in which we both looked very young. Anytime we met after this, he always had kind words for me. Wherever I travelled on the Tour, if I had the opportunity to see him training I always checked it out. He is still playing at the highest level and how Roger is able to manage his mental motivation and psychical strength after so many years behind him…it is more than amazing. Surely, one of my wishes is to hit with him again. It’s gonna be fun, especially now as we are both over 40…
UBITENNIS: Federer is also over the age of 40 and is recovering from a knee injury, is there any advice you can give him about playing tennis at an older age based on your experiences?
MATSUI: As a matter of fact, there is only a three-year age difference between Roger (40) and me (43). I am sure he is in very good hands and his team, the professionals who assist him, pay attention to every little detail. I wish his rehabilitation is going well and hope to see him again on the court as soon as possible.
I know a really good Japanese acupuncture doctor, so if any issue may occur in his rehab, I am more than welcome to refer Roger to him if his knee or anything does not improve to an appropriate extent.
UBITENNIS: Unlike Federer, you’re ranked outside the top 100 and play on the ITF circuit. How do you manage to continue funding your career at the age of 43?
MATSUI: I usually don’t play the ITF future tournament, instead I attend mainly challengers and qualifications where I try to sneak into the Tour events. This way, the circumstances are a bit better but I still need to find some source to secure adequate funding. I can’t be grateful enough for one of my long lasting sponsors, the Asia Partnership Fund that has supported me for so long that it seems we are inseparable from each other.
UBITENNIS: Unfortunately, you have been sidelined from action in recent months due to injury, but returned last at the Japanese Tennis Championships. I hear you have broken some records. What were they?
MATSUI: Basically I stayed home since the pandemic started. The only exception was when I was selected to represent my country at the ATP Cup (twice). For me the team competition means a lot, particularly when I can play for my country. I managed to return to the national squad 10 years after my last Davis Cup appearance (2010).
In 2006, under Bob Brett’s supervision, I played in the Davis Cup. We learned a lot from Bob and he had a big impact on the whole team.
In 2020 and one year later, I was a member of Team Japan at the first 2 editions of ATP Cup. At this prestigious event, I achieved another milestone in my career by becoming the oldest player in ATP Cup history. Last November, along with Kaito Uesugi we won the men’s doubles title at the All-Japan national championship. This was my 5th doubles title and the first after 12 years and again I became the oldest Japanese player in our history who won a national championship in any category. I have a feeling that these kinds of records may last for a while…
UBITENNIS: Congratulations on becoming a father once again during the pandemic. Does this alter your perspective about playing on the Tour?
MATSUI: Fortunately, the baby was born in the beginning of the pandemic, so I was able to stay home and spend quality time with my family: my wife, my daughter, Kona and my 9 years old son, Shunki. Then last year, I injured my calf and it took me some months to start my training all over again very carefully. Last autumn, I was so excited and it was kind of fun again to be back to the Tour life. Now I am working on finding a good balance and harmony between tennis and family.
UBITENNIS: What are your plans for the future and how much longer do you think you will continue playing?
MATSUI: As long as I am still getting such priceless learning experiences out there, I am ready to play the game. Currently, I focus on protecting my ranking of 217 which will expire in May. So let’s see how it is going to be this year.
EXCLUSIVE: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?
Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.
At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.
Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.
The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.
“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”
According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.
“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”
Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.
Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.
“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’
There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.
Mats Wilander Exclusive: World Events Making Rublev And Medvedev More Focused At French Open
The former world No.1 and Eurosport presenter has also tipped a young 20-year-old player on the Tour to crack the top 10 in the future.
Mats Wilander believes Russia’s top two men’s players are finding comfort playing on the court in the wake of an ongoing military conflict involving their country.
Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are competing in this year’s French Open as neutral athletes following a joint-decision by tennis’ governing bodies to remove the flags of Russia and Belarus from being used in tournaments. The action was taken in response to Russia’s ongoing military assault against neighbouring Ukraine which began on February 24th that has already killed thousands of people, according to the United Nations. Both Wimbledon and the British LTA have gone one step further by banning those athletes from competing all together.
Seventh seed Rublev will play Jannik Sinner in his fourth round encounter at Roland Garros on Monday. The 24-year-old is bidding to reach the last eight of the tournament for only the second time in his career after 2020. He trails Sinner 1-2 in their head-to-head with his only victory being due to a retirement.
“I’ve watched him pretty well. He’s winning pretty easily and improving the way he is playing every time I see him,” Wilander told Ubitennis when asked about Sinner’s chances.
“(Andrey) Rublev is probably not a great opponent for him because they play similar and Rublev is a little bit faster.”
Former world No.1 Wilander, who won three out of his seven major titles at the French Open, admits that Rublev can at times lack variety in his game but says it can also be an advantage for him. Furthermore, the Swede believes he is even more focused on the court due to the ongoing political fallout.
“Rublev is tough. I think Jannik has a good chance at some point to be maybe in the top five. But Rublev right now is mentally in a different place.” He continued.
“Of course he doesn’t (have the variety in his game) but sometimes that is also a strength. It is simpler to play when you don’t have the variety and when you have a reason to be extremely focused because of the situation in the rest of the world.’
“It’s a very nice place to be on the tennis court right now when you play in a Grand Slam and you’re not representing your country. It is like a safe place.”
Rublev has dropped a set in all three of his previous matches against Soonwoo Kwon, Federico Delbonis and Christian Garin in the French capital.
Another player bidding for a place in the quarter-finals is Daniil Medvedev who plays Marin Cilic in his fourth round match. The world No.1 has a rocky relationship when it comes to playing on the clay and is yet to win a title of any sort on the surface.
“The same thing applies with Daniil (Medvedev). I think what’s going on in the world has a lot to do with how players react on the court,” Wilander commented. “I think for them (Rublev and Medvedev) it is such a serious situation.’
“I think they are going to die an ‘athlete’s death’ on the court. It’s going to be tough to beat them.” He added.
Praise for Musetti
One player which has caught the attention of Wilander is Lorenzo Musetti. A 20-year-old Italian currently ranked 66th in the world who held a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round before losing. Triggering memories of his clash with Novak Djokovic 12 months ago, which he also lost after having a two-set lead.
“The question for him is how does he learn to play five sets? Maybe he already knows how to play five sets. He has played two (at the French Open) against the champion last year and a potential champion this year. He was two sets to love up against both of them – Jesus, that’s unbelievable.” he said.
“I think he’s going to be unbelievably good. He has the right attitude.”
Despite those two tough losses, Wilander believes Musetti has a very bright future as he tips him to crack the top 10. The 2019 US Open boys champion is yet to win an ATP title, but has scored two wins over top 10 players – Diego Schwartzman at the 2021 Mexican Open and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 Monte Carlo Masters.
“He has the quality of being in the top 10, for sure,” Wilander states.
“He has the tennis quality to be better than the top 10. It’s very difficult to be better than the top 10 unless you do well at all the majors.”
Musetti’s conqueror Tsitsipas will play Holger Rune in his fourth round match.
(Exclusive) Albert Costa: “Davis Cup Finals Are Going To Remain The Best Of Three Sets”
Last week at the Barcelona Open during one of the many suspensions due to the rainy weather UbiTennis had a chat with 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa in the elegant clubhouse of the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona.
By Federico Bertelli, translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
Born in Lleida, Albert Costa grew up as a tennis player at the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona and also won the tournament in 1997. When he retired from tennis he became the director of the tournament until three years ago when he handed it over to David Ferrer. One of the best stands on the centre court takes his name. Until the 1980s the tennis stadium was the Spanish team’s Davis Cup home.
Now, after stepping down from his role at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Albert Costa has become tournament director of the Davis Cup which is now advertised as “The World Cup of Tennis.”
UBITENNIS: Players have asked to be able conclude their season before playing the Davis Cup. As a result, the group ties which will determine the eight quarter finalists have been moved to September and the final knockout stage will unfold over five days. What can you tell us about this? Is it going to be a definitive format?
Albert Costa: It hasn’t been confirmed yet but likely it will be six days starting on Tuesday until Sunday. It is not yet agreed with ITF but, as organisers of the event, our intention is to play from Tuesday to Sunday at the end of November. As far as the future is concerned, we are trying to find the best solution. We are aware that the first years will require some fine tuning but I believe that in the next one or two years we’re going to reach a consolidated format, which will enable us to work comfortably and to give certainty to our stakeholders.
UBITENNIS: In 2022 and 2023 the Davis Cup will be played in Malaga. Can you tell us anything more about the selection process, considering that last year they were speaking about Abu Dhabi and then at the beginning of 2022 a neutral location was being considered?
Albert Costa: Actually we were in negotiations with Abu Dhabi, there was a concrete proposal. Then Malaga came up with a very attractive proposal and at that point we considered other factors which led us to choose the latter: tennis tradition and culture are at a different level in Spain and this was an aspect that drove Kosmos to choose Malaga. Other considerations are involved as well: an easier destination to reach for tennis fans. Europe is the centre of tennis in terms of countries and players, the ATP finals are played indoors in Turin. This last aspect is particularly relevant: in fact it is very simple to move to Malaga just a few days later and the environment is similar. Besides, Malaga is a city which is growing very fast and sees Davis Cup as an opportunity to gain visibility and to pair with its tourism.
UBITENNIS: The first edition of Davis Cup with the new format was played at the Caja Magica in Madrid, where the Mutua Madrid Open usually takes place. One of the advantages of the facilities is the possibility to use the three indoor courts simultaneously. Has the idea of playing simultaneous matches been put aside? Playing more than one match at the same time could allow them to go back to the 5-set format like in the old Davis Cup.
Albert Costa: I know very well the format of the former Davis Cup, but we have ruled out going back to five set matches. We haven’t taken into consideration the option of playing simultaneously.
UBITENNIS: But with the current three match format, the double counts very much, much more than before; amazing runs like those of Djokovic or Murray, who a few years ago carried their teams on their shoulders and led them to victory, now would no longer be possible.
Albert Costa: It’s true. With the new format, having a great number one isn’t enough. You need a balanced team with a good doubles. But in this way the format makes competition tighter and more open and potentially there is a great number of teams that can win the trophy. This makes it all more exciting. For instance Serbia, in spite of having Djokovic, who has dominated tennis over the last years, hasn’t yet succeeded in winning the Davis Cup with the new format.
UBITENNIS: Summing up, the 3-match format, two singles and one doubles, isn’t going to change.
Albert Costa: Yes, I confirm this is the direction we are taking: 3 matches in one day.
UBITENNIS: Speaking about the calendar, which are your expectations in terms of public, now that tennis fans have got two months to make arrangements for going to watch their team? Last year it was very complicated since the teams qualified for the quarter finals were known only one week before they actually played.
Albert Costa: Now it’s much easier. We are going to work with travel agencies in order to set up interesting packages. We are also going to work with the national federations in this direction. We are aware that environment and support are the distinguishing traits that make Davis Cup so special. Our target for 2022 is to have at least 1000 supporters for each team cheering their players from the stands. The environment is definitely one of the key factors to success. This means that we want at least 8000 supporters coming from the different countries for the final eight. If Spain were to reach this stage, the number would be even higher. Then we have to add the neutral public that simply comes in to enjoy tennis. Our idea is to create an experience which combines Davis Cup with the possibility to have a trip to the Mediterranean and enjoy the city.
UBITENNIS: The old format was no longer viable. For many players winning Davis Cup once in their career was enough, whereas Majors are never enough. How do you think you can succeed in attracting the best players to always play Davis Cup?
Albert Costa: when I used to play from 1995 to 2005, I remember that the players were already asking to change the format. It was impossible to dedicate four weeks to the Davis Cup, which often involved moving to different surfaces from the Tour schedule. With the new format the workload is different. The players of a team that reaches the final stage have to invest three weeks. In terms of surfaces and event preparation it’s all much simpler: the final stage of Davis Cup is played indoors, just like the rest of the indoor season. As the matches are played best of three sets the players are much less impacted in terms of physical engagement, which is an excellent thing considering the increasing amount of injuries we’ve seen recently. It’s true that in the past many players were content with contributing to winning one Davis Cup only. We aim at providing a comfortable scheduling so that players will be eager to participate every year.
UBITENNIS: Wouldn’t the event be made more legendary if at least in the final the matches were played best of five sets?
Albert Costa: I understand the historical point of view, but also the finals of the ATP Masters 1000 and of the ATP Finals were played best of five sets and now things have changed. Especially with the stress, both physical and mental, which modern tennis brings in. Players are already pushing their limits. It’s already three matches, which means at least six hours of competition. It’s enough both for the public and for the players. I believe that the value of a Davis Cup victory cannot be measured on the basis of the physical toll paid by players. It’s the overall value of the team that ought to be rewarded, which is also the reason why it is fair that the most well-balanced teams, with a strong number 1, a good number 2 and a good doubles, are the most likely to win.
UBITENNIS: Under a communication profile the claim that has been delivered since 2019 is that it’s a World Cup of Tennis. This theme has already been broadly discussed, but I’d still like to hear your opinion as a former player.
Albert Costa: Before the format we used to play with, home and away ties, Davis Cup was like America’s Cup, where the winner of the previous edition waited for the challenger selection series. Changes are in the order of things. I believe that going towards a World Cup type of format, with a group stage and a knockout stage is an excellent solution.
UBITENNIS: A last question: until 2023 everything is scheduled, in terms of format and location. For 2024 could there be an agreement with ATP Cup?
Albert Costa: We are working at it. Having Davis Cup at the end of November and ATP Cup at the beginning of January doesn’t make much sense. Kosmos and the other parties involved have to get into talks. We’re trying. Let’s see what comes out of it.
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