EXCLUSIVE: Toshi Matsui On Getting ‘Killed’ By Coria, Hitting With Federer And Playing At 43
They say age is just a number and 43-year-old Matsui is proof of this as he speaks to UbiTennis at length about his career. He is currently the oldest active player to hold an ATP ranking.
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.
LGBT Rights: Is It Fair To Criticize FIFA For Staging Its Event In Qatar When Tennis Have Been Doing So For Years?
Is it time for tennis to take note of the concerns raised over the staging of the FIFA World Cup?
November 20th will mark the start of one of the world’s most-watched sports events.
32 teams and thousands of fans will travel to Qatar for the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup which is being held in the Middle East for the first time in history. In what is set to be a landmark event for the region, the build-up to Qatar 2022 has been marred by concerns such as corruption in the bidding process, the controversial treatment of migrant workers and LGBT rights in the country.
LGBT football fans have expressed fears about travelling to Qatar where its penal code states that those living in the country can be jailed for up to seven years if they are found guilty of committing same-sex sodomy or sexual intercourse. The country’s World Cup Chief, Nasser Al Khater, recently told Sky News that LGBT fans will ‘feel safe’ at the event. Not that this is of any consolation to those who have to follow such strict rules or risk prosecution.
Whilst it is highly commendable that the World Cup has triggered a discussion about the topic, other sports have managed to stage their events in Qatar without having to address these concerns with tennis perhaps being the best example.
Doha, which is the capital of Qatar, has been staging top-level ATP and WTA events since 1993. On the men’s Tour, the country holds a prestigious ATP 250 in January which has been named the best tournament in that category four times between 2015-2021 in the annual ATP Awards. The event has been won by each member of the Big Four at least once and a sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil has guaranteed it will continue until at least 2027.
As for the women, the TotalEnergies Open is categorized as a WTA 1000 event and was won by Iga Swiatek earlier this season. Doha has also staged the WTA Finals three times between 2008-2010.
So is there some hypocrisy surrounding criticizing FIFA for staging its premier event in a country which is hostile to LGBT rights when tennis has faced no such backlash?
“The two are not comparable as the (tennis) tournaments in the Middle East are nowhere near as high profile or prestigious as the men’s football World Cup,” Pride In Tennis founder Ian Pearson-Brown told Ubitennis.
“The process is also very different to that of FIFA’s to allocate the area which hosts the World Cup. In turn, the LTA is working with the ATP to ensure any LGBTQ+ athletes are properly supported to create a healthier environment for players to play as their authentic selves. So I’d be wary of drawing comparisons.” he added
Parson-Brown makes a legitimate point. The 2018 World Cup in Russia had a global audience of 3.57 billion viewers which is more than half of the global population aged four and over, according to FIFA.
“In terms of visibility, we are working with the LTA to improve things domestically like our Friday Pride days during the grass-court season,” he continued.
“It is better for Sport to make a presence in countries where it is illegal to be gay in the hope that the values held by sports international governing bodies contributes to changes to a more progressive culture over time. It’s a better way than to force people to change their cultures after banning, disengaging and cutting ties with them.”
Pride in Tennis is a network supporting all British-based LGBTQI+ tennis players, coaches, officials and fans. The network was officially launched in February 2022 in partnership with the British LTA.
Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people has once again come under scrutiny following a new report published by the Human Rights Network which has revealed that as recently as September 2022, there has been evidence of LGBT+ people being arrested by authorities and subjected to ill-treatment.
Between 2019-2022 HRW has documented 11 cases of abusive treatment. Six of those cases were repeated beatings and a further five were sexual harassment. One woman said she lost consciousness during her beatings. Security officials are said to have inflicted forced confessions and prevented those arrested from accessing legal help. Transgender women were released on the condition they attend a government-sponsored ‘behaviour support’ centre.
“I saw many other LGBT people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man,” a Qatari trans woman told HRW. “I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’“
Rasha Younes is an LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who published the report. In an email exchange with Ubitennis, she said it was the duty of all sporting bodies to ensure that their events are staged in countries which respect human rights.
“Sports’ governing bodies have a responsibility to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts. This includes staging any major events in countries that do not protect human rights, including the rights of LGBT people,” Younes told Ubitennis.
Tennis’ governing bodies have all previously stated their commitment to making the sport open to the LGBT community. Earlier this year, the ITF told Ubitennis they ‘embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form.’
The WTA, which was co-founded by Billie Jean King, says that their Tour was founded on the ‘principles of equality and opportunity.’ Finally, The ATP has recently launched a multiyear education programme with You Can Play, a foundation which works to eradicate homophobia in sport.
Tennis is in a strong position when it comes to its approach to the issue of LGBT inclusion. However, it is a tougher situation when it comes to staging events. Will the uproar surrounding the FIFA World Cup change things? In reality most probably not. But that doesn’t mean that concerns shouldn’t be raised.
EXCLUSIVE: Chief Of Kosmos Tennis Addresses Davis Cup Concerns, Staging Event Outside Of Europe
The managing director of Kosmos Tennis speaks exclusively to Ubitennis about the historic team competition which is currently taking place across four European cities. Enric Rojas isn’t somebody to sugarcoat things and confirmed that some aspects of the event will be ‘reviewed’ in the coming weeks.
Since its birth in 1900, the Davis Cup has gone through its fair share of changes but nothing as extraordinary as what happened four years ago.
At the International Tennis Federation’s annual AGM meeting a motion was passed which saw the competition remodelled into an 18-team event held at the end of the season. The move divided tennis with critics furious at the decision to remove the tradition of home and away ties. In the coming years, further adjustments have been made to the event with this year’s competition featuring four group ties held in different cities in September with eight qualifying for the finals in November.
The revamp was only made possible following a huge 25-year investment from Kosmos which was valued at $3bn (£2.15bn). Kosmos is a Spanish-based investment firm founded by Barcelona FC footballer Gerald Pique. The company has their own specific branch designated for tennis which has been led by CEO Enric Rojas since 2020 who had previously worked for IMG. It is fair to say that Rojas has his work cut out as he continues to deal with critics of his organization to this present day.
Over the past week, some players and fans have criticized the Davis Cup concerning a couple of issues. Ubitennis raised these concerns during a call with Rojas who also outlined Kosmos’ current position and their future plans.
UBITENNIS: The Davis Cup has undergone many changes in its history. This year four cities are hosting the group stages and then the final is in Malaga. Is this the final format or do you foresee any additional changes being made to the schedule of the event?
ROJAS: We have done this evolution (on making adjustments to the Davis Cup formats) until this year with four groups of four in September and then the finals in Malaga. This format of having the qualifiers in week five, group stages in week 37 and the finals in week 47 are going to stay.
We don’t expect any changes going forward, it’s a format that is working. We need to improve a few things as you can imagine. But it’s a format that is going to stay.
UBITENNIS: You mentioned improvements, one thing that has raised concerns is the late-night finishes. For example, Great Britain’s tie with the USA didn’t end until 0100 BST. Do you think the ties should begin at midday to make it fairer?
ROJAS: That’s a good question. Although this format is staying, we still need to improve a few things and this is one element that we will put on the table at the end of the group stage for us to review together with the ITF. We thought with these timings that these slots would be great. Especially in central Europe, and western Europe.
We thought starting around this time when people were starting to finish work would be better but this has had an effect on the match times. We review this and are open to making changes if we feel that it is better to start earlier.
UBITENNIS: Another thing people have been speaking about is the prices of tickets. In Germany, one player was quoted in their press conference as saying that he felt it was ‘totally understandable that a lot of fans won’t come (to the Davis Cup) because it is brutally expensive.’ When a player is saying these things, how do you address this?
ROJAS: There are federations, even private promoters, involved in the organization of the group stages. We (Kosmos) are also the promoter on behalf of the ITF and with our investments, we need to keep everybody happy and also have a bit of return on our investment because in the end there is also a private element to those investments.
It’s true that the attendance was not as great as we were looking for. This is another thing we are going to review. We are going to speak with the promoters there, as well as the German federation, to see what we have done wrong and what we can do differently. One of the aims is the pricing because we thought we did our benchmarking for thinking what is the best price for having full attendance. Not having a full attendance, which is our main goal, is something that we need to review again.
UBITENNIS: You have spoken a lot about reviewing certain aspects of the competition. What exactly is the review process?
ROJAS: It’s a combination of three parties – ITF, Kosmos and the host cities. We have worked really hard together. Sometimes we have different views on the organisation and operations, as well as the pricing and everything. But we will sit down together at the end of the Davis Cup and see what we can do.
UBITENNIS: One of Kosmos’ aims is to market the Davis Cup to the world. So when do you think ties will start to be held outside of Europe?
ROJAS: We have another year in Malaga, we have many years with different promoters and federations for the group stages in Europe. It all depends on who will be classified (qualified) for the next group stages.
It could happen that one of our promoters for the next five years is not from a European federation and their (national) team has not qualified. We will need to find other places if that happens if we can not give them a wildcard etc.
So it can happen at any time (moving ties outside of Europe). During the next five years, we could go to another continent. The beauty of this change we did last year is that playing in week 37 after the US Open, as well as going into the Asian swing, opens the door for us to be everywhere.
With the Davis Cup Finals, we still have another year in Malaga. With this calendar we agreed with the ITF and ATP, we have the freedom to go anywhere. You can stay in the Americas after the US Open or you can go back to Europe or even somewhere in Asia. This is another reason why we changed the format to have this door open.
UBITENNIS: There have been reports about staging events in The Middle East in the past. Is that still on the cards?
ROJAS: It’s quite public that we were having conversations to host the finals in the Middle East. It’s an option as well. We are not having any active conversations now, we are waiting for the end of this year. At the finals, we are inviting a lot of potential cities, countries, promoters and governments to come to discuss what is next from 2023 onwards.
The calendar now allows us to go everywhere. It’s true that the ATP Finals will happen in Europe for a few years and it is always better to stay as close as possible to the ATP Finals. But the Middle East is always an option. The process is very open right now and finding the next host cities for the finals will start next year.
If one of the host cities doesn’t qualify, then we will need to find a replacement for the group stages, as well.
UBITENNIS: Kosmos is focused on the Davis Cup but do you have any ambitions to expand elsewhere in tennis?
ROJAS: Currently, we organize the Davis Cup and we also have a management company which manages a few players. At the moment we are going to keep doing these two businesses. We expect to grow quite a lot if possible in the management business. We have our eyes open for opportunities but at the moment we are going to stay as we are. But as a group Kosmos always have their eyes open to see opportunities. In the last few months, we have not been discussing or starting any opportunities but you never know.
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) ITF President David Haggerty ’Satisfied’ With Davis Cup Format Despite Issues
During an interview with Ubitennis in Bologna, the tennis chief addressed some of the concerns raised about the event.
The head of the International Tennis Federation believes the development of the Davis Cup in recent times has been positive but admits there are still areas to work on during an interview with UbiTennis.
Davis Haggerty, who has headed the ITF for seven years, stated that there was nothing about the team event that he is ‘unsatisfied’ with. In recent years the historic competition, which started in 1900, has undergone significant changes. In 2019 the Davis Cup was changed to an 18-team event held at the end of the season at one location. However, further changes to the structure were made in 2022 with the four group stages being held in various European cities in September and the top two of each group then progressing to November’s finals in Malaga.
“This year with the four group stages it has added a new dimension which I think is very good. You have a home and away atmosphere in four different cities, we’re taking the Davis Cup world wide and the finals will be in Malaga. Every year we will continue to look at the Davis Cup and say ‘what can we do better?’” Haggerty told UbiTennis.
As with every event, there are issues and the Davis Cup is no exception. Earlier this week Andy Murray called for ties to begin earlier after Great Britain’s clash with America didn’t finish until 0100 BST. There are also concerns about low attendance to some of the ties which involve teams playing at a neutral location.
“We have to continue to work on making sure that we have the fans in the stands. Some matches we do, some matches we don’t and will continue to work on it (addressing attendance issues).”David Haggerty
It appears that the current format is one that the ITF aims to keep for the foreseeable future. Citing player fatigue at the end of the season, Haggerty ruled out the idea of reintroducing best-of-five matches in the finals. Something that had for so many years been a pivotal aspect of the Davis Cup.
Ubitennis’ full interview with David Haggerty can be watched below:-
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