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Maxime Cressy : « Devenir n°1 en pratiquant le service-volée ! »

Le canonnier franco-américain Maxime Cressy en action sur les courts de Melbourne (Crédits photo : ActionPlus/Icon Sport)

Valeur montante du circuit, le Franco-Américain Maxime Cressy a intégré le top 100 en début d’année à la faveur de sa première finale à l’ATP 250 de Melbourne contre Rafael Nadal. Ambitieux et décomplexé, ce serveur-volleyeur « à l’ancienne » est revenu pour Courts sur son parcours atypique entre la France et les Etats-Unis.

 

Courts : Pour ceux qui ne vous connaîtraient pas encore, pouvez-vous vous présenter ?

Je suis Maxime Cressy, j’ai 24 ans et je suis Franco-Américain. J’ai commencé à jouer sur les circuits Future et Challenger en 2019. La même année, j’ai eu mon diplôme en mathématiques et en économie à UCLA. J’habite entre Paris et Los Angeles. Je suis un serveur- volleyeur qui vient de commencer sur le circuit et qui est en pleine forme !

 

C : Qu’avez-vous appris pendant ce cursus universitaire aux États-Unis ?

Au début, mon objectif ce n’était pas forcément d’aller sur le circuit professionnel. Je me suis passionné pour les mathématiques, j’ai fait du coding informatique. J’ai aussi développé une passion pour la méditation et le yoga. Grâce à cette vie en dehors du tennis, j’ai acquis un certain relâchement. Si je ne réussis pas dans ma carrière sportive, j’ai quelque chose à côté qui me permet d’avoir une vie équilibrée.

 

C : Quand vous êtes rentré à l’université, vous ne pensiez pas à devenir un joueur professionnel ?

Mon objectif c’était d’avoir un diplôme comme mon grand frère et de vivre une vie normale aux États-Unis. J’aurais sûrement fait du coding, je serais peut-être devenu programmateur vers San Francisco ou quelque chose comme ça. A partir de ma 3e année j’ai commencé à avoir de très bons résultats avec l’équipe. C’est seulement à l’âge de 20 ou 21 ans que j’ai décidé d’aller sur le circuit.

 

C : Qu’est-ce qu’il y a de plus français en vous ?

Mon amour de la nourriture française (rires). Mais je me sens autant français qu’américain. C’est juste que j’ai fait un choix après l’université. J’ai décidé de choisir les États-Unis parce que c’est en université américaine que j’ai développé mon identité de jeu. A l’époque, je n’étais même pas classé à l’ATP et je ne pensais pas progresser aussi rapidement.

 

C : Vous avez une attitude très démonstrative sur le court, ce « fighting-spirit » est-il inné ou acquis ?

Je l’ai appris dans une académie en Californie, quand j’avais 17 ans. J’avais un coach qui voulait que les joueurs s’encouragent d’avantage et montrent leur esprit d’équipe. C’est à ce moment que j’ai développé cet instinct de m’encourager et d’encourager les autres. Et lors des championnats universitaires, je me suis lâché. Je n’ai pas hésité à montrer mes émotions. J’ai gardé cette attitude sur le circuit, même si je me suis un peu calmé. Mais ce « fighting-spirit » est toujours en moi.

 

C : Comment et quand avez-vous fait le choix assez radical du service-volée ?

A l’âge de 14 ans, j’ai eu une douleur au coude qui m’empêchait de jouer du fond du court. Et comme je suis très compétiteur et que je ne veux jamais abandonner, j’ai essayé de faire service-volée. Et cette sensation de finir les points au filet, c’était la meilleure sensation que j’ai expérimentée sur le court ! Donc j’ai opté pour ce style. Et j’espère donner envie à beaucoup de gens de jouer comme ça.

 

C : Parmi vos sources d’inspiration, vous citez Pete Sampras et Patrick Rafter, peu commun pour un joueur de 24 ans…

J’ai des grands frères qui regardaient Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi ou Pat Rafter. J’ai regardé des vidéos de leurs matches sur Youtube. J’ai une grande fascination pour ce tennis un peu vintage, parce que j’admire le calme et la constance de ces joueurs. Ces joueurs m’ont donné beaucoup d’espoir. Sans eux, je n’aurais pas cru autant au service-volée.

 

C : Qu’est-ce que ça fait de jouer sur le stadium Arthur Ashe, le plus grand court du monde, contre Stefanos Tsitsipas (ndlr en 2020 au 2e tour de l’US Open) ?

 C’était vraiment une sensation spectaculaire, même s’il n’y avait pas beaucoup de monde. Malheureusement, je me suis senti un peu étouffé par tout cet espace. Je n’étais pas vraiment prêt pour jouer dans ces conditions. Ça reste une expérience unique. J’espère que c’est un court où je vais jouer régulièrement. J’ai aussi joué sur la Rod Laver Arena contre Alexander Zverev, c’était une belle expérience.

 

C : Quand vous jouez face à ces joueurs du top 5, qu’est-ce que vous vous dîtes : « il y a encore du travail ou finalement je ne suis pas si loin » ?

Franchement, j’ai 100 % confiance en moi pour pouvoir les battre. Et maintenant c’est juste une question de temps pour pouvoir être dans le top 50. Et quand j’arriverai à en battre un cela va beaucoup m’aider.

 

C : Quel est votre objectif pour 2022 ?

Mon objectif n’est pas le top 100. Je n’ai qu’une vision, c’est d’être numéro un mondial. Je me suis souvent fixé des objectifs à court terme et ça m’a limité. Donc j’ai décidé d’avoir une vision : devenir n°1 en pratiquant le service-volée.

Le souriant américain posant avec le deuxième numéro en anglais de Courts lors du Challenger de Pau en novembre 2021 (Crédits photo : Bastien Guy)

Like the Greatest Books,

the Naomi Osaka Story

Is One You Can’t Put Down

2019 © Ray Giubilo

Sat in a restaurant, celebrating her 22nd birthday, Naomi Osaka turned to her mother to ask a poignant question. 

“Did you think, by the age of 22, I would have done more? Or do you think this is acceptable?”

At that moment, Osaka was the world number one women’s tennis player. She had won two Slam titles. She would soon become the highest-paid female athlete of all time over a single 12-month period.

It’s unimaginable to the layman that this wouldn’t be enough. Most tennis players who spend years slogging around the globe, splitting their hours between hotel rooms, airport waiting lounges and practice courts, will never come close to winning a major title. For some, a foray into the top-100 – a remarkable achievement in any walk of life, albeit less celebrated in the sporting world – will be the pinnacle of their career. Others will spend a decade or more in the lower rungs, and never even qualify for a Grand Slam tournament. 

How could it be, then, that Osaka could feel this way? How could one so talented, so dedicated feel so insecure over her success? 

The insatiable thirst for glory that dominates the psyche of the greats of the sporting world paints too simplistic a picture. Osaka is a fascinatingly unique character. One incomparable to any other figure in sport. 

Her question to her Japanese mum, Tamaki – who was quick to reassure her daughter that, yes, of course, she has exceeded the wildest expectations – was captured in a newly-released three-part Netflix docuseries focused on Osaka’s rise from days spent hitting balls back and forth with her Haitian father, Leonard Francois, and older sister, Mari.

Approached by American basketball legend LeBron James’s film company, SpringHill Entertainment, Osaka signed up to work with director-producer Garrett Bradley to document, what could be described as, Chapter One of her life. 

While the sports documentary world is booming, it is unusual for an athlete as young as Osaka to be its centre point. Andy Murray, by comparison, was 32 when Resurfacing was released. However, those close to her argue that the piece should be viewed in the same cultural sphere as 19-year-old American singer Billie Eilish’s recent release, The World’s a Little Blurry. Osaka, in their view, should be perceived in a lens wider than mere athleticism.

Stylistically, Murray and Osaka’s films couldn’t be more different. Murray, perhaps more comfortable in his own skin, some 10 years Osaka’s senior, is clearly content in the camera’s presence. Osaka, by contrast, is filmed at arm’s length. While Murray is happy to let his dry, playful Scottish humour loose, offering scathing analysis of the media, and opening up about the emotional and physical trials of rehab, there are few moments where you feel close to Osaka, who is intriguingly introverted. 

However, like Murray, the moments she is most willing to let her guard down are not those filmed by a camera crew. Rather, they are in video diary format, sat talking to her mobile phone. 

Three days after failing to defend her Australian Open title in 2020, slumping to a third-round loss to Coco Gauff, Osaka grieved the tragic death of American basketball star Kobe Bryant, who had been a close friend and mentor to her.

“I felt so similar to him,” she says in her self-shot footage, before adding: “So I’m feeling like I let him down, like, I’m supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis and here I am… I haven’t won a Grand Slam. Like, I’m losing matches because I’m mentally weak… that’s so uncharacteristic of him.”

Fighting back tears, she laments a text message unsent before his death. “We’re having all these talks and I’m not even doing what we’re talking about,” she says. “So, it’s like, I’m just gonna text him again, like, ‘How do you deal with this situation?’ And then I didn’t text him that cause I didn’t wanna feel like a loser, and now I’ll never have the chance to talk to him again. I don’t know, like wow.”

While that is a rare example of raw emotion on show in the three-episode series, the context surrounding Osaka is fleshed out. 

Her career path was chosen for her. Soon after she could walk, she was taken to tennis courts to hit for eight hours a day. Almost off the cuff, she remarks, she must “become a champion or probably be broke”. 

A champion she has become. Money will now never be an issue to the Osaka clan. 

However, while clearly there is steely determination to further add to her legacy on the court, there is also a sense of desperation to expand her horizons and portfolios – best demonstrated by her exploration of the fashion world. 

It feels as though she wants to experience aspects of life that were perhaps denied to her in her family’s relentless pursuit of tennis greatness. As she herself admits, she was “a vessel” for her parents’ ambitions.

2021, AUSTRALIAN OPEN © Ray Giubilo

Still, while clearly there was an internal struggle behind the scenes – brought to life by the documentary – the Osaka story, as perceived by the wider world, has been nothing but a smooth, glorious transition to the top. 

At the start of 2021, just before filming halted, and after a broken and extended two-year spell – in large part due to the Coronavirus pandemic – Osaka won a fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. 

As insiders of the Osaka camp will readily admit, there was little to no negative coverage of this multicultural superstar, who is not only a gritty champion on court but a quirky, thoughtful character off it. 

Indeed, she has been hailed for her activism, championing causes such as Black Lives Matter. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, she joined other sports stars in boycotting their matches in protest of police brutality. Such is her influence, the entire tennis world stopped for 24 hours. A fortnight later, she had won a second major title at Flushing Meadows, having worn, during each of her matches, masks emblazoned with the names of seven different black victims of violence in America. 

Her stock simply just continued to rise. Forbes rated Osaka’s 12-month earnings at an astonishing $60 million in 2021, smashing the women’s record she had set a year earlier. 

Heading into the French Open, the only major challenge that appeared at her doorstep was tennis-focused: would she be able to adapt her hard-court dominance to the, so far, less-successful clay and grass? 

Now, the landscape has significantly changed. A smooth sail, at least in the public eye, to become the most marketable athlete in the history of women’s sport had now entered choppy waters. Welcome to Chapter Two. 

By her own admission, Osaka’s handling of the press conference row that engulfed the French Open was clumsy, at best. Claims that written media had used the forum to “kick a person while they were down” were demonstrably untrue – particularly in relation to her own media engagements – and few on the tour supported her suggestion that the format should be changed. 

Speaking ahead of the US Open, she reflected: “There’s a lot of things that I did wrong in that moment, but I’m also the type of person that’s very in the moment. Like, whatever I feel, I’ll say it or do it. If I could go back I would say, ‘Maybe think it through a bit more.’ I didn’t know how big a deal it would become.”

To suggest Osaka was the only one in the wrong would be a total fabrication. Threats from the Grand Slams to exclude her from tournaments after refusing to partake in her media commitments were petty and heavy-handed, while those loud, rent-a-gob pundits, who attacked her character, showed an utter lack of compassion in what should have been a sensitively handled issue. 

Ultimately, the saga was tennis’s loss. Osaka withdrew from the French Open, and subsequently skipped Wimbledon to focus on her mental wellbeing. Unnecessarily, the sport was without one of its biggest stars for two of its biggest events in 2021.

© Art Seitz

She returned to court – in hindsight, perhaps prematurely, although in the context of a home Olympics, completely understandably – at Tokyo 2020. What started as a moment of great pride, as she was bestowed the honour of lighting the Olympic torch, ended in a disappointing defeat to Markéta Vondroušová. She admitted afterwards that she didn’t “cope with the pressure”. 

Osaka soon returned to the headlines in Cincinnati when her first press conference since the French Open row was tearfully interrupted. Asked by a local reporter, Paul Daugherty, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, how she intends to marry the discomfort of dealing with the press and external interests that are served by having a media platform, she gave an insightful response on how she is “not really sure how to balance the two” before the moderator had to press pause and usher her out of the room. 

While Osaka returned to answer a further question in English, and several in Japanese, the fireworks had begun. Her agent, Stuart Duguid, promptly released a statement branding the reporter a “bully”, and claiming that his “sole purpose was to intimidate”. 

Once again, external noise had blown way beyond Osaka’s control, and her tennis didn’t do the talking. She was beaten by unfancied Swiss Jil Teichmann. 

It was a similar story in New York as her title defence was ended by Leylah Fernandez – the Canadian teenager who went on to lose to Britain’s Emma Raducanu in the final. 

Both Teichmann and Fernandez dismissed many other top-class performers in their respective runs to the finals in Cincinnati and at the US Open, but the results were enough to convince Osaka that she needed to step away from the sport again. 

“I feel like for me, recently, like, when I win, I don’t feel happy,” Osaka said while fighting back tears after her US Open defeat to Fernandez. “I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry, but basically, I feel like… I feel like I’m, kind of, at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. But I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

So here we are – in the present. One of the sport’s most engaging, thought-provoking, talented, and marketable athletes is unsure of what lies ahead. 

If, from the outside, Chapter One appeared to be a straightforward, meteoric rise to the top, it overlooked the internal turmoil that rested within. 

Future documentaries on Osaka have been tentatively floated – although it’s understood they will likely be produced from within her camp next time – so further accounts are expected to be offered to explain this tumultuous period and connect some of the dots. 

For now, what is clear is that this is a young athlete at a crossroads in her life. The life she’s always known – one that has made her so admired, wealthy, and successful – is one that is currently not bringing her joy. Osaka is a deeply inquisitive and intriguing character, who challenges cultural norms, and who won’t simply accept the status quo. She’s a person who is socially awkward, but artistically talented, and caring about a world far beyond her own. 

What isn’t so obvious is where she goes next. Will she come back with a vengeance, rediscovering that fire and fight that made her the world’s best? Or will she decide, as is her right, to focus her efforts on other passions, to master other crafts? 

As was evident in her questioning of her own success, Osaka is one to deeply review and assess her own standing. Has she done enough? Can she do more? Is it all worth it? 

What she decides and when that decision will come remains unknown. For now, we have to wait patiently to turn the page to the start of Chapter Three. 

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

2021, US OPEN © Ray Giubilo

Elegant, Competitive, Global

Roger Federer 

On His Two Decades on Tour

Wimbledon, 6/07/2014, Men's Final © Ray Giubilo

“I thought to myself, if the greatest player ever, Roger Federer, sat next to me one day on my 30- minute train journey into work, what would we talk about? What do I want to know from him? And in one word it came down to longevity, which was also relevant to the heritage of the Wilson brand. I wanted to know how this guy with four kids who’s a couple of years away from being forty is still able to compete at the very highest level in professional tennis.”

That was the challenge Courts Magazine and Wilson set for Louis Castellani. When the 45-year old, father of two, and life-long tennis fan is not being a lawyer in London, he’s on a tennis court or messing around with his hobby Instagram account @vintage.tennis. His tennis idols are Borg, Lendl, Sampras, and Federer.

August 2019. Roger was competing in Cincinnati and had beaten Juan Ignacio Londero 6-3 6-4 the day before. Louis was on vacation sipping a Campari when suddenly his phone rang from a mysterious Swiss mobile phone number: “Hi, it’s Roger…”

 

Louis Castellani: You’ve been on tour for a couple of decades and, in that period, you’ve maintained the highest of levels ever. At this stage of your career, what is the hardest part of life on tour? 

Roger Federer: I think organising the entire family to get on the road takes major organisation and planning skills, but also patience, because it’s just a lot of work. But as long as it is all worth it, and the kids are happy on the road, and we are having a good time, it’s all good. 

As a player, I think it’s just how you keep the fire burning because I’ve been to certain tournaments for 20 straight years. You still want to make it as special as it would be your first, second, third time, or like when you first tried to defend that title. 

I think just being able to keep that going, I need a really strong team around myself that also helps me to squeeze that extra one percent out of me, and reminds me to bring the energy for the next match. In terms of physicality, I think just listening to the body, the signs, and managing a good schedule.

 

LC: The physicality of playing on tour for a long period of time, has that required you to adapt what you do off the court with training and fitness?

 RF: I think, in the beginning, when you’re younger, you have to put in the hours, and be able to stay focused, prove to yourself that you can stay with your opponents, focus on the ball for two, three, four, five hours a day. And that also physically, you can endure the stress and everything. 

It’s one thing doing it in practice, but it’s also another thing being able to prove it in matches when the stress level gets greater. You could cramp because of stress, playing with fatigue like jet lag, changing surfaces from one day to the next. In the beginning it’s all a learning experience, but you have to learn quick. 

And then later, you know it all so you don’t have to work on it that much anymore. I believe in quality over quantity, if you like. 

 

LC: You mentioned jet lag there. I think we underestimate the effect it has on those early rounds when players arrive just a few days beforehand. Do you have to think about that as part of the schedule? 

RF: 100 percent. That’s why you sometimes, as a professional, can say, “OK, I’m going to sacrifice a few more days at home to leave early for the tournament to get over the jet lag”. The thing is, you just don’t know if that’s really going to make a difference in the draw, and sometimes being home for a bit longer makes you maybe a bit more happy, so you always have to weigh it – is it worth it? 

But that’s why maybe you would try to have a schedule that doesn’t make you go from South America to Asia to America to Europe to Africa to America, so you try to have it in swings rather. But I do believe when you’re playing with jet lag, you have a bigger risk of injuring yourself. 

The body might be sleeping and you’re awake or vice versa. Maybe you’re feeling all of a sudden tired when the third set rolls around. I do believe how you manage jet lag and how you manage your flight and pre-flight routines make a difference in your health throughout your career.

© Antoine Couvercelle

LC: We often hear tennis pundits talk about the challenges of playing five sets because it doesn’t happen at that many tournaments anymore. What’s the toughest bit of recovery for the next match when you’ve won in five sets?

RF: I really think you can’t put a finger on it. I think the overall energy comes down a little bit, that explosiveness maybe, you know, that peak of point for point mentality, and that sharpness you have maybe has just been shaven off a little bit when you’ve played a five-setter, so you really have to give extra effort to recreate that energy. 

That’s one thing I see that maybe younger guys struggle with the most, and maybe even when you get older, too, but obviously the problem is, if you’re playing five sets, and you’re carrying somewhat of an injury, that injury will only increase as the tournament goes on, and that’s why people do say, “you can’t win a slam in the first week, but you could definitely lose it”. 

 

LC: You touched on injury there. How do players play through an injury and still manage to be competitive on tour?

RF: I think it’s important to listen to your body and understand the signs of the body, and as long as you know that the injury cannot get worse, or much worse, it’s worth playing, I believe. 

If you know that you could literally snap a tendon or you could break something by playing further, if that’s going to really damage the future of your career or take you out of the game for a long period of time, you’ve got to really weigh it up – is it worth it, you know. 

But then, you could always just not walk on court the day of the match, just because it’s like, “I just cannot take this chance right now,” but more often than not, I believe you can navigate through the pain or the injury and I always tell myself, well maybe my opponent is also carrying something, or maybe it’s gonna start raining. You never know, but you might get lucky, and you win a match, and the next day you feel better. 

 

LC: Do you consider the November-December period before Australia as your off-season for recovery or your pre-season to prepare, or a bit of both? 

RF: Yeah, I mean, obviously, it sort of resets January 1st in a way. It used to be the classic off- season where you’re taking a break and then you’re really having the pre-season right after and you train really hard. 

But since I schedule a bit differently now and I have a family as well, I have several of these blocks – usually two of them: one at the end of the year and one mid-year. In the previous years, I had one during the clay-court season. 

This year, I didn’t because I’m still profiting, I think, from working hard in those off-seasons. I think they’re very crucial for a player because when you are able to take six to eight weeks off, take a proper break of, maybe, 10 days to two weeks, and then train really hard physically, and eventually also add tennis to that, you can really improve your potential. 

The problem is that if you’re only playing tournaments all the time, and not taking enough time to practise, you actually will not really improve. You become a better match player, you become match tough and all that, but actually your shots or your game are not really evolving and that’s why I’m a big believer in training blocks. 

And very often you see, when somebody does return from injury, how hungry, fresh and rejuvenated they are, you know, you see it very often so it shows taking breaks sometimes is a good thing. 

 

LC: In 3 words how would you describe the tennis culture today? 

RF: I think tennis has always been an elegant sport, so I’d say elegant. I think people see it that way, too. There is, sort of, the ballerina aspect as well that we have on the tennis court. I think it’s an arena sport, you know, in a way. I think the stadium’s big but not too big so it’s intimate and really elegant. It may be one of the most global sports. We go on the world tour from January to November, so I always compare it to us being musicians going on a world tour. Musicians don’t do it every single year but we have to, and we do it every single year so I think it’s super global. And then, I just think it’s competitive. It’s super competitive. There’s a lot of tennis players out there. With that ranking system, you have to defend what you did the year before. You’re only as good as your next match, and it makes it very hard, you know, in some ways, to be at the top, and I think the competition is huge, so I’d say it’s elegant, global, and competitive.

Australian Open, 29/1/2017, Men's Final © Ray Giubilo

LC: Has tennis taught you any lessons over the years that you think are relevant to real life off court? 

RF: Oh yeah, of course. I think anticipation. On a tennis court, we anticipate every single move, “Is he going to play there or there?” I think, in life you sometimes do the same. We try to plan a lot, and as tennis players we have to make decisions, micro decisions, “What’s going to happen next, where shall I serve, what am I going to do.” 

But then, also just in general, too, from a business perspective, I have to make so many decisions. And then when it comes to being able to battle through the sort of perseverance that we were talking about before, you know, fighting through injury, overcoming tough moments, coming back from defeat, how do I handle it now coming back from my Wimbledon loss. How do you get back from a moment like this and how you stay motivated after you’ve won it all – I’ve done that. I see a million things that I’ve learned from tennis and I’m super grateful. 

 

LC: You talked about the business world before. Relationships come and go, and in tennis, you very rarely see an athlete stay with the same set of partners for their full career. You’ve done that with Wilson. 

RF: Wilson is very strong on grass roots, you know. As a junior, you’re not really aware of it, all I remember is that a lot of my friends all played with Wilson racquets, and then my heroes played Wilson, as in Sampras and Edberg, and that’s the racquet I wanted to play with. 

And then when I got to know them, even at a junior level, they were all very supportive and helpful when it came to providing a grip here or a string there or whatever. I just always felt like the local people at Wilson were really well-equipped to help a young player to feel special. I think that was nice for me especially with my parents who come from very normal backgrounds. We were happy with any support we could get, like getting a free racquet which was very helpful at a young age. 

I think, in some ways, you are also forever grateful for that. And then, just getting to know top management and the people at Wilson, I feel it’s a family, and I always had a great time with them. We never had any issues and I don’t see myself ever changing – I remember where I come from, where they’ve been with me all along the way. This is more than just a business agreement in my eyes. 

 

LC: Playing on the Centre Court in SW19, all quiet and hushed, and then heading to Arthur Ashe in New York – those are very different environments for playing tennis. How do you keep focused? 

RF: The good thing is that a lot of the practice courts are very busy and loud. Like here now [in Cincinnati], I was practising next to a ventilator the last few days. There are trucks driving in and out, there are the fans – the practice courts usually are a more, sort of, savage environment. When you go on a match court, it’s much easier to focus. 

I know the US Open might be tough, because it’s loud, there’s the pressure of the stadium, you hear the subway going by or a train on the track, you smell the grill of the hot dogs and all that stuff, and it’s loud at the change of ends – they play the music and people are dancing – and there almost is this culture, the fans are talking during the point to some extent, because that’s what fans are allowed to do in basketball, baseball, and NFL. 

I think that’s the beauty of our sport. What I like about the US Open, about the pressure of the US Open and Arthur Ashe, is that you feel the people show up there, it’s like at the movie theatre – they eat their popcorn, and then they are waiting for something to happen and then once you start making good shots, good points and you show you are engaged, this is when they are like, “Oh, right this is when the movie starts, this is the entertainment factor we’ve been waiting for and looking for,” and that’s when they engage fully and they’re one of the most incredible crowds in the world that I love to play in front of. 

I love playing at Wimbledon, too, and if you ask me as a tennis guy, I’d probably pick Wimbledon, but the combination is crazy good, and I love both equally.

 

LC: Looking back, what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? 

RF: Well, it’s funny, you know. In a way, I’d say, “Hey, don’t worry. You have time, Roger,” and at the same time, “It’s going to go by fast.” It’s a bit of both because you know a lot of the time when you’re young, you’re like, it’s got to happen right now or tomorrow. At the same time, you realise that, “Hey, we have time, take your time, practise, don’t stress out about everything.” 

So I think it’s important to enjoy it, not stress too much about every little detail to begin with, try your best, learn quick. And then trust your coach and trust the training, and really get stuck into the details because I do believe at the very top on the professional tour, it’s the details that make the difference.

 

LC: Last question. What advice do you think your 50-year old self would give you now? 

RF: He’d tell me to play for a few more years! 

 

LC: I thought you might say that! 

RF: Really? I don’t know, I’d be like, “Come on, Roger, try to play as long as possible and enjoy yourself.” I hope that’s what he would say! 

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

Courts Magazine Travel

 

Eat. Play. Love.

 

A travel guide for tennis-lovers
by Mayleen Ramey, host of Racquet Roadtrip.

© Geordie Anderson

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t travelling or playing tennis. My childhood as a competitive tennis player and career as a TV host are filled with memories of courts and planes. 

Unable to travel during lockdown, I started exploring destinations a little closer to home and realised some of the most beautiful places to play were in my very own backyard. Discovering dream courts and the surrounding areas became an adventure in itself that I look forward to sharing in my new travel show, Racquet Roadtrip. 

Here are some of my favourite finds in Los Angeles:

Malibu Racquet Club © Geordie Anderson

Malibu

Malibu Racquet Club

For an equally breathtaking, yet a far more exclusive court, follow the coastline north to Malibu, where you’ll find a gem of a private tennis club. 

Built into a lush hillside, with sweeping views of blue skies and sea, Malibu Racquet Club embodies sporty sophistication with a coastal flare. The eight tennis courts and modern rustic clubhouse are nestled amongst winding paths, lined with a mix of palm trees and cacti. You’ll never want to leave this tennis oasis and, thankfully, short-term memberships are available, starting at $500/month. 

For a taste of the good life without the fees, the club’s Sparrow Cafe is open to the public during the week. Dine al fresco on the terrace overlooking the impressive tennis courts and beautifully-designed landscape, while enjoying delicious Californian cuisine.

Santa Monica © Geordie Anderson

Santa Monica

Ocean View Park

As Angelenos, we are fortunate to have perfect weather year round and a variety of public tennis facilities, but none are as perfectly located for a California beach experience as Ocean View Park. These courts are the closest you can get to playing tennis in the actual sand. This 5-acre oceanfront park features six tennis courts that are open to the public and, best of all, free during the week (bookings are available on weekends, starting at $5/hour). 

For a true LA après-tennis, kick off your sneakers and step straight onto the golden sand of iconic Santa Monica beach. Bring your own picnic or level up your experience with Santa Monica Picnic Co, who will prepare an elegant gourmet picnic with local artisanal cheeses and baked goods, ready for your arrival. Either way, plan your court time accordingly to catch the spectacular sunset!  

For updates and more tennis travel adventures, follow along on Instagram: @mayleenramey, @racquetroadtrip.

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

Petra Leary’s Aerial View

© Petra Leary

Chances are that, while you have seen the world from an aerial perspective, you have never seen them quite the way New Zealander Petra Leary does. She introduces us to dronescapes that blow the mind, that recall the classic, sharp, graphic, eye-catching art of the past, that define brand new boundaries and then push and pull at them, and she does it all with a spellbinding beauty, as if she were weaving a web to trap her viewers in. The tennis court was always going to attract her interest. 

It’s no wonder she has already won multiple awards in her career. Petra is down to earth and will make no mention of the awards, only informing me of those she has collected – a substantial list for someone so young – after I have enquired about them. 

I meet Petra via the wondrous window of a video chat connecting us from our distant continents (she is at home in New Zealand, I am in Germany). For the night-time, she is in a sugary, yellow, and energetic mood, as she tells me upon asking for a colour and a flavour to describe her feelings. She is itching to go out, the (freshly reinstated New Zealand) lockdown blocking her, curbing our instincts as ever. 

She got into the world of drones when one of her drone operator friends gave her a turn on one, and she became instantly hooked. When we discuss inspiration, she mentions the Daily Overview on Instagram, an account which has satellite images from around the world, aerial photography, and drone imagery, “where everything looks so abstract”. “It’s very inspiring”, she offers. Her passion for the whole subject immediately stands to attention. 

Petra loves being productive, has many creative friends, and draws inspiration from hip-hop – naming Kendrick Lamar and Drake as present figures of interest – and her own graphic design background. She also loves basketball courts as they combine well with hip-hop. A love of all things visual becomes apparent very quickly, filtering into every corner of her own creations. 

The tennis court, along with other well-known sporting environments, is one of the remarkable optical shapes that fascinate Petra. In fact, no sporting court, pitch, or structure is safe from her overhead gaze. 

The shadow play snatches the breath away as her aerial world comes to life – the object or character (if there is one), the shadow, the setting. It all combines to birth a world that is both fascinating and bold. 

Petra sees everything in an extremely vivid way and expresses the desire to communicate her graphic world through photography, regardless of the subject she is capturing. She uses several different drones, at times in pre-planned shoots and at others in the spur of the moment. Her drone images fall into the territory somewhere between photography, the cyber world of graphic design she hails from, and sharp paintings and abstract art of the past – such is her ability to depict what is in her mind. There is both the pure and familiar as well as the alien in her work, ensuring that she takes it far beyond mere photography. As she herself states, “I like to take photos. I like that my idea of work is photography, but it’s more art, it’s never just a photo.” She establishes her work thoroughly within the terrain of art, and looking at the stunning photographs on her own website, as well as the Courts one, it verifies the theory that it is far more than mere photography – it creates its very own reality, seen from above, by the one down here on earth, her parallel dimension. 

© Petra Leary

Tennis courts are one of the unique sporting shapes that, if caught by the best eyes and their lenses, create a stunning visual, and therefore figure quite prominently in Petra’s work. She sees the role of art in tennis as one that can only build its profile and take it to a larger audience. She gives the example of a clothing brand, started by a skateboarder in his forties she knows, that explores tennis fashion by expanding its own reach and paying tribute to a classic past era of iconic clothing within the sport. This takes the sport beyond its typical parameters, and opens new doors for tennis as it modernises and finds itself in the new ground, with new, young fans taking an interest – art as a window of opportunity for a new tennis audience. 

“I played tennis when I was quite young. I like playing for fun, but I don’t really know the rules very well,” Petra informs me regarding her own experiences of tennis as a sport. She doesn’t have a favourite player though she does have an entertaining story that sticks out for her about a big name player. She remembers the name of Lleyton Hewitt, from neighbouring Australia, as her grandpa would not let her wear a baseball cap back to front in his presence because it reminded him of Hewitt – a player he didn’t like. As she shares this anecdote, a fondness for both her grandfather and the essence of the story light up her features (in part framed by a baseball cap worn in her favoured reverse position). 

Petra loves the geometry and line work of the tennis court, and all sports courts – structures representing endless possibilities despite their definite shape. Speaking of courts, she says: “The graphic aspect means it almost resembles an illustration. They look great with or without players. Different coloured surfaces, different materials.” Bringing a sport that historically resided within the arms of a more elite society to the masses can only be good for tennis, as its arms reach out, branch-like, into other avenues of society. She hits the nail on the head when she acknowledges the potential of a tennis court, with or without players thereupon, to be far more than a mere sporting structure upon which a match takes place. The shape and lines already make it a work of art, before the action has even commenced, before a photo has even captured its staggering majesty. Far more than a blank page, even at their most inactive point, stories are being told by courts, tales of unspoken poetry – and Petra is surely leading the way in the aerial tennis court stakes – as our attention is being demanded. 

Therefore, familiar shapes take on a newness, deliver a fresh zing to the eyes, dazzle and enhance one’s surroundings as well as the views they capture in Petra’s images. They send us to new places, invite us into our delicious dreams, and open our minds to what is possible through photography as it spills out as the ultimate creative voice. It is no stretch for the imagination to picture tennis played out, with all our favourite faces, in these sublime otherworldly settings. 

When I ask how her native land affects her work, she tells of how the ruthlessness of sunlight, unique to New Zealand, pervades her work, bringing a startling quality to her bird’s eye perspective. Nothing is safe from Petra’s roving drone eyes, and we are invited to look at familiar land, happenings, daily events, and courts as never before. “New Zealand is a small place, and you get to know everyone, which is handy to access clubs and courts. It’s easy to make connections. “The environment of New Zealand has some of the harshest sunlight,” she says, before she goes on to describe it as incredibly bright, adding that it delivers harsh and proportionate shadows. That, in turn, enables her to take a good picture of what people are doing. Her images capture an exact moment in time, fixed, forever recorded, and yet they also seem like fluid scenes playing out before the eyes, non-stop motion, bigger than the cages of mere still life photography. 

Of course, during these challenging times, the pandemic has had its impact on her creative progress. However, she has been “motivated to do 3D art and make these worlds that I have had in my head. Inception tennis courts. Balls floating everywhere. Inspired by not being able to go outside. Now, I’m going through old images and playing around with those. Discovering new techniques and software.” 

© Petra Leary

Petra also tells me of a big shoot planned with an Auckland tennis club. It will see 1,000 tennis balls, all moving simultaneously across the court in a lively and exciting project. Her ambition to explore the realms of tennis shows no signs of waning. The event has sadly been affected by Covid, but will hopefully be able to happen soon, making it something for the artist in us all to look forward to. 

At present, she is working on a project in which she has been asked to design a basketball court – she sees it as an illustration with extremely graphic elements. She had completed a separate basketball shoot before the first lockdown, further verifying her ability to capture courts in all their appealing glory. 

When I ask how she would like to be remembered post-career, she considers this question for longer than others before responding, “I’d like to be remembered by an augmented reality gallery that was immersive and interactive, where people could walk through the thousands of photos as interactive scenes, and was in, a sort of, inception layout like on all surfaces (floor, roof, walls).” When I ask for her to expand on the ‘inception’ concept, she explains, “… what I mean is that sort of 5D world where things are not constrained to one ‘ground’ and are able to come off all walls.” Petra’s ‘inception’ can be characterised as the fabrication and cultivation of a fantasy dreamscape, her own world, an immersive installation. 

When I ask if she sets limitations for her creations, she tells me, “Anything is really possible, if you want. A matter of figuring out how to do it. It can be harder, but you can find a way, be it alone or with help.” Even before posing this question, this had become quietly apparent to me through both her words and online portfolio of work. 

As we wind down the conversation, I ask for some information about Petra that might surprise people. I learn that she loves to play video games, that her Instagram account reveals her love of Lego, how she enjoys making scale size courts from the well-known bricks, and that she is an ambassador for ADHD in New Zealand. Earlier, she informed me that she has lately been watching Bob’s Burgers and The Wire. It appears that the visual, the tactile, and the stunning is a distinctive part of Petra’s everyday life, something she absorbs, infiltrating her consciousness from all around, and subsequently emerging from her own capable artistic hands in new shapes and forms, as if golden eggs laid by a hen. 

Petra’s career is one to follow, ever worth tracing her steps – and where she goes next – as her work entertains, challenges, and thrills. In a world over-saturated with cyber content, it is such artists and creators of admirable and far-reaching projects that make it all worthwhile. You cannot fail to be impressed by what she is doing, as someone within as well as beyond the tennis spectrum. 

If we are going to be watched from above, Petra is the one we would want to be controlling the drone, for she is an expert at capturing us and our surroundings in all their dramatic glory. 

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

© Petra Leary

Charles-Antoine Brézac : l’homme de cour(t) aux mille vies

Charles-Antoine Brézac : le breton au parcours riche et atypique dans le petit monde du tennis

Joueur professionnel, sparring-partner de luxe, entraîneur qualifié ou encore avocat dans le droit du sport… Son CV est aussi long que le palmarès de Roger Federer, avec qui il a eu l’honneur d’échanger, autant verbalement que sur le court. A seulement 36 ans, Charles-Antoine Brézac donne l’impression d’avoir déjà eu mille vies. Coup de projecteur sur ce fin observateur à la tête bien pleine qui a toujours fait en sorte d’aménager sa vie autour du tennis.

Si le concept de réussite est purement subjectif, le cheminement de vie de Charles-Antoine Brézac pourrait très bien en être une définition dans le dictionnaire. Même s’il ne le reconnaîtra jamais par l’humilité qui le caractérise, ce breton d’origine possède un parcours d’une rare richesse. Guidé par son leitmotiv de toujours, « faire pour ne pas regretter », le Nordiste a collectionné les aventures humaines depuis que son regard s’est posé sur cette obsédante balle jaune. Depuis, celle-ci ne l’a plus jamais quitté. Telle une amie intime, elle ne cesse de rythmer sa vie. Ou plutôt ses différentes vies.

Premier chapitre sur le circuit secondaire

13 ans plus tôt, c’est sur le circuit professionnel que sa première s’est dessinée. « J’ai connu une carrière entre 2009 et 2012. Je suis parti sur le Tour alors que j’étais classé -30. J’ai écumé bon nombre de tournois sur le sol français » se remérore t-il, un brin nostalgique. Mais avant de faire le grand saut dans l’inconnu, le pragmatique Charles-Antoine a privilégié ses études, par envie premièrement, mais aussi dans l’optique de s’assurer un filet de sécurité : « J’ai suivi un cursus en droit dans l’Université de droit de Rennes où je suis parvenu à décrocher mon diplôme en 2008 ». Une étape-clé qui lui sera bénéfique pour la suite, d’abord dans la découverte de l’immense jungle des Futures et des Challengers. « Comparé à des joueurs plus jeunes, je suis arrivé dans le grand bain avec plus de maturité personnelle. J’avais fait des études et passé des examens relativement difficiles. J’avais consenti beaucoup d’efforts pour décrocher ce diplôme. Cela m’a apporté énormément dans ma transition vers le haut niveau. J’étais prêt humainement et j’ai rapidement progressé au classement. »

A l’image de l’étudiant studieux qu’il était, bouquinant les lignes du Code civil, le joueur de tennis se sert également de son intellect sur le court pour lire le jeu de ses adversaires. « J’avais un style de jeu de contreur. J’étais une espèce de caméléon qui s’adaptait au joueur adverse. Je n’avais pas un énorme coup pour tuer l’échange mais de la régularité un peu partout et de la solidité dans les frappes. » Grâce à sa science tactique et son endurance, ce Gilles Simon 2.0 s’est hissé au 239e rang mondial à son top en 2010, écoeurant au passage de futures belles pointures du tennis mondial, encore jeunes et impétueuses. « Mes résultats et mes victoires ont été de bonnes surprises. J’ai participé à toutes les qualifs de Grand Chelem et j’ai réalisé de jolies perfs en battant des gars comme Steve Johnson, Filip Krajinović ou Pablo Carreño Busta. »

S’il a accompli de très belles choses en signant une carrière plus qu’honorable, Charles-Antoine a atteint son plafond de verre sur le circuit secondaire, pendant que les jeunes loups, qu’il dominait jusqu’alors, le dépassaient en se faisant une place au soleil dans le Top 100. Un phénomène frustrant mêlé d’incompréhension pour celui qui ne rechignait pourtant pas à l’entraînement : « C’est un métier difficile, on est dans l’antichambre du haut niveau, on se dit qu’il n’y a pas une réelle différence avec les tous meilleurs mais mois après mois, saison après saison, il y en a qui passent le cap et d’autres non. Je faisais partie de ceux-là. Parfois, on se demande pourquoi alors qu’on fait les choses sérieusement. J’étais consciencieux mais je ne suis pas parvenu à avoir le déclic pour aller plus haut. C’était un quotidien difficile avec une perpétuelle remise en question ».

Malgré la réalité cruelle du haut niveau, aucune once de regret ne vient ternir ce chapitre intense. Quatre longues années d’une vie à toute vitesse, où larmes, doutes mais surtout joies et fiertés s’entremêlent. « Les victoires en tournoi et les bons matches remplacent toutes les concessions et les sacrifices consentis. C’est une vie exaltante et grisante quand on joue bien et qu’on avance. A l’inverse, on peut aussi tomber très bas dans la déception quand on enchaîne les défaites » éclaire Charles-Antoine avant de marquer un petit temps d’arrêt et de prendre le temps de réaliser : « Si on m’avait dit que j’allais être 239e à mon top, que je disputerais des qualifs de Grand Chelem et que je voyagerais aux quatre coins du monde, j’aurai signé de suite. Je n’ai aucun regret. Le fait de l’avoir fait, de m’être lancé, c’était une très belle expérience et une formidable école de la vie. » A 27 ans, la première de ses multiples existences venait de s’achever.

L'infatigable Charles-Antoine Brézac en action (© Gaëlle Louis)

Profession : sparring-partner de Roger Federer

Si chaque nouvelle année réserve son lot de surprises et d’émotions, 2022 est d’ores et déjà prévenue. Il lui faudra être particulièrement imaginative pour rivaliser avec 2013, cru inoubliable pour notre breton. Alors que celui-ci venait tout juste de raccrocher les raquettes, un petit coup de pouce du destin va lui permettre de faire une rencontre légendaire que n’importe quel fan de tennis normalement constitué rêverait.

Contexte : juin 2013. Lieu : Porte d’Auteuil. Alors qu’il travaille pour la Fédération française de tennis, Charles-Antoine, désireux de se prêter à une nouvelle expérience et de se rendre utile, s’inscrit auprès du bureau des entraînements à Roland-Garros « au player desk ». Mieux connus sous le nom de « sparring-partner », ces invisibles, qui ont pour mission de régler les champions, sont une petite dizaine à Roland. Ils arpentent les travées du tournoi ni vu ni connu et permettent aux stars de s’échauffer quelques minutes avant leurs matches ou d’effectuer des réglages lors de séances un peu plus poussées. En 2013, Charles-Antoine Brézac fait donc partie de cette shortlist d’heureux élus. « Je me souviens encore parfaitement de ce coup de téléphone. On m’avait demandé si j’étais disponible pour jouer le lendemain. A vrai dire, je n’étais pas super chaud puis on m’a dit que c’était pour taper avec Roger Federer. J’étais évidemment partant ! »

Hasard du tirage au sort, le Maestro affrontait au premier tour du Grand Chelem parisien le jeune Pablo Carreño Busta, issu des qualifications, droitier métronome doté d’un revers à deux mains. « Dès le vendredi, il voulait taper avec un sparring au profil similaire. C’est pour cela que j’ai été retenu » recontextualise celui qui a décroché le gros lot. Mais avant que le rêve devienne réalité, la malchance va frapper à plusieurs reprises. Menace récurrente et redoutée à chaque nouvelle édition des Internationaux de France, la pluie va jouer les troubles-fêtes dans un premier temps, perturbant le bon déroulement des sessions avec Roger. « Je me dis que je suis maudit et qu’on ne s’entraînera jamais ensemble » se souvient Charles-Antoine. S’il a beau être un dieu du tennis, le Suisse ne peut dompter les éléments. En revanche, grâce à sa malice, il peut faire en sorte de les esquiver. « Son entraîneur (ndlr : Paul Annacone) vient me voir en me disant que Roger est motivé et qu’il veut s’entraîner coûte que coûte malgré l’averse. »

Aussitôt dit, aussitôt fait. Le maître et son apprenti rejoignent un terrain caché, méconnu de tous, situé sous le regretté court numéro 1. C’est dans ce contexte un peu spécial que la séance débute. « J’étais très tendu à l’idée de jouer avec Roger puis j’ai vu que dès les premières balles, il était en roue libre total. Il faisait même des revers à deux mains au début pour rire. Cela a détendu l’atmosphère directement. » raconte le natif de Quimperlé avant de poursuivre son récit : « C’était un peu déroutant mais très agréable. Il ne mettait pas de pression sur mon niveau, je ne sentais pas en lui quelqu’un d’humainement stressé comme cela avait pu être le cas avec d’autres joueurs par le passé. » La séance est tellement bon enfant que le facétieux Roger prend même le temps de s’intéresser à son nouvel ami. « Durant les pauses, on a eu des superbes discussions sur la vie de tous les jours autour du circuit. Sur lui bien évidemment mais également sur moi et mon actualité de l’époque. C’était des choses qui ne le concernaient pas du tout. On sentait qu’il s’y intéressait vraiment et que ce n’était pas juste par politesse. »

Le courant passe si bien entre les deux moulins à paroles que l’entraîneur du Suisse, Paul Annacone, doit même les rappeler à l’ordre gentiment : « Assez parlé, Il va falloir s’entraîner maintenant ! ». D’un point de vue tennistique, l’Helvète est ultra relâché, en quête de sensations et de micro-réglages. « C’était très accessible tennistiquement mais il nous arrivait de faire des points. Quand il accélèrait, j’étais vite débordé et complètement à la rue. Mais on faisait surtout un travail de gamme. C’était un régal. » narre l’ancien 239e mondial.

Et comme si l’histoire n’était déjà pas assez belle, l’expérience va se prolonger pendant dix jours. « Le hasard des choses a fait que Roger n’a joué que des droitiers avec des revers à deux mains. Son staff a continué à faire appel à moi » raconte celui qui a vécu un rêve de gosse. C’est finalement Jo-Wilfried Tsonga qui y mettra un terme en maîtrisant aisément le Maestro en trois sets en quart de finale de cette édition 2013 (7-5, 6-3, 6-3). « Je garderai l’image d’un mec détendu et accessible qui prend un plaisir de fou sur le court » conclut Charles-Antoine pour décrire sa parenthèse enchantée avec l’homme aux vingt Grands Chelems.

Charles-Antoine Brézac tout sourire aux côtés de Roger Federer lors d'une séance d'entraînement à Roland-Garros en 2013

Des courts de tennis à la Cour de justice  

A peine avait-il eu le temps de ranger ses raquettes dans son grenier, refermant ainsi le livre d’une belle carrière, que l’hyperactif Charles-Antoine s’en est lancée dans une nouvelle. Rangé dans son placard, le short de tennis s’est transformé en robe. Celle d’avocat dans le droit du sport. Laissée entre parenthèses jusque-là, le Nordiste a repris son aventure originelle, débutée en 2004 sur les bancs de l’amphithéâtre de l’Université de droit de Rennes. « J’ai terminé mes études dans la formation d’avocat et j’ai été diplômé au barreau de Paris en 2015 » explique-t-il avant de détailler le sens de sa démarche : « Je me suis engagé dans cette aventure d’avocat pour rester dans l’univers du sport. Je voulais garder un lien avec un sujet juridique sportif. »

Celui qui a pris part à deux reprises aux qualifs du Grand Chelem parisien (en 2010 et 2011) a renoué avec la capitale mais sur un tout autre terrain. En effet, les courts de tennis ont laissé place à la Cour de justice. Les coups droits sur la ligne remplacés par des lignes de droit. « J’ai trouvé une collaboration dans un cabinet à Paris qui s’appelle Joffe & Associés, qui possède un département du droit du sport. J’ai passé de très bons moments. C’était des dossiers juridiques sportifs, des dossiers autour des fédérations, des ligues, des joueurs… C’était une très belle formation. » synthétise maître Brézac. Si le quotidien d’un joueur de tennis professionnel et celui d’un homme de loi paraîssent complètement étrangers sur le papier, Charles-Antoine évoque pourtant des passerelles qui lui ont été bénéfiques. « J’ai développé des qualités différentes sur le circuit qui m’ont aidé dans cette aventure professionnelle. La mise en place d’objectifs et de feuilles de route sur plusieurs mois ou encore la résistance à la pression… Je retrouvais des similitudes entre les deux activités ».

Nouveau challenge réussi pour ce couteau suisse proactif. Les années passent et la soif d’apprendre est toujours aussi intacte. Malgré tout, personne n’échappe à sa nature profonde. Charles-Antoine a des fourmis dans les jambes. La transition est brutale pour l’ancien joueur habitué aux voyages et aux semaines mouvementées. « J’ai eu du mal avec le fait d’être assis continuellement derrière un ordinateur et un bureau, cela m’a pesé énormément. C’était un changement de vie absolu par rapport à tout ce que j’avais fait avant. » Durant un peu plus de deux ans, de janvier 2016 à février 2018, Charles-Antoine a défendu. Non pas sur le terrain comme il avait l’habitude de le faire sur le circuit mais en étant à l’écoute de ses clients. « C’était une très belle expérience avec d’inoubliables rencontres à la clé » conclue-t-il avec sa verve habituelle.

Maître Brézac arborant sa tenue d’avocat spécialisé dans le droit du sport

De joueur à entraîneur

Sa robe d’avocat à peine rangée, Charles-Antoine ne tarde pas à se lancer dans un énième défi personnel. Rattrapé par son hyperactivité et sa curiosité dévorante, il se replonge à fond dans le tennis. Lui, qui a toujours été un joueur dans l’âme, décide de passer de l’autre côté du miroir, en enfilant la casquette d’entraîneur. Et c’est au sein de la All In Academy, centre de formation tennistique haut de gamme, fondé par Jo-Wilfried Tsonga et Thierry Ascione, que le Quimperlois va faire ses armes. « J’ai embarqué dans le navire à Paris en février 2018. La structure se développait et de plus en plus de jeunes talents la rejoignaient. Cela m’a permis de retrouver un aspect purement sportif et terrain. »

Grâce à sa vision aiguisée et son expérience d’ancien pro, coach Brézac découvre les nombreuses facettes de son nouveau métier. « J’ai pu voyager pas mal en accompagnant trois joueurs aux profils différents : un junior qui avait 17 ans, une joueuse 300e mondiale et un joueur qui était 180e mondial. C’était très intéressant dans la transmission d’expérience sans pour autant imposer son point de vue. Je prône l’adaptation plus que jamais. » Là aussi, Charles-Antoine a tiré de précieux enseignements de cette formation. « L’accompagnement sportif et humain me plait énormément. C’est un point de vue différent que celui de joueur où l’on a tendance à être autocentré sur soi-même. Là, on s’ouvre beaucoup plus l’esprit. Il faut s’adapter sans cesse. A la situation, aux émotions du moment, au sportif… Je retiens de belles années de partage ».

Celui qui a entraîné par le passé Mathias Bourgue lève également le voile sur le caractère imprévisible du quotidien de coach sur le circuit. « C’est difficile d’un point de vue humain. Partir en tournoi une bonne partie de l’année, être rarement chez soi, avoir un planning assez aléatoire… Ce sont des réalités qui ont tendance à passer trop souvent sous silence selon moi. On sait quand on part mais jamais quand on rentre. Quand on a une vie de famille avec des enfants en bas-âge, c’est très complexe de composer avec le métier d’entraîneur. » Ce sont d’ailleurs en partie pour ces raisons, et d’autres plus logistiques, que ce papa épanoui a stoppé ses activités à la All In Academy après trois ans de bons et loyaux services.

Charles-Antoine en toute décontraction, posant aux côtés de son sac Artengo, la marque à la mode en 2022 (© Gaëlle Louis)

Même s’il a un peu relâché l’accélérateur depuis que sa famille s’est agrandie, Charles-Antoine a toujours un emploi du temps bien chargé. Consultant à l’UNJPT (l’Union Nationale des Joueurs Professionnels de Tennis) qui vise à promouvoir les joueurs français et le tennis de haut niveau à travers les clubs, mais aussi dans l’agence sportive « 186 | SPORT » qui accompagne des athlètes dans l’évolution de leurs carrières, le Breton est également en charge des relations joueurs à l’Open de Brest, Challenger apprécié du contingent tricolore, organisé fin octobre. Et quand son planning de ministre lui permet, il dispense aussi des cours de droit à des étudiants dans une école de commerce de sport business à Nantes. 18 ans plus tôt, Charles-Antoine était à leur place sur les bancs de la fac de l’Université de Rennes. « Faire les choses pour ne pas regretter » se répétait-il. Il ne le savait pas encore mais grâce à sa devise fétiche, son parcours s’apprêtait à devenir l’un des plus riches du tennis français.

The Next Rule Change in Tennis?

Wimbledon 2010 © Ray Giubilo

The rules of tennis have remained remarkably unchanged over the past 100 years, but in a constantly evolving world, change cannot be far away, can it? So what rule changes might there be – both plausible and less plausible?

Imagine a football match where the two teams walk out about seven minutes before kick-off, and proceed to kick the ball to each other. After a couple of minutes, one goalkeeper says to an opposing striker, “Give me a couple of high balls so I can practise catching crosses.”

The idea is absurd, yet that’s what happens in tennis. The players walk out, they hit with each other, one player comes to the net to practise volleys, then asks for a couple of high balls for smashes – all against the opponent they’re going to try to outwit over the next two hours. No player ever dares to walk straight to the net and practise nothing but volleys for the five minutes of the warm-up, even though it would probably unsettle their opponent.

Customs such as the gentle warm-up, apologising for netcords, and standing aside politely for opponents to cross at change of ends have survived into today’s highly competitive tennis world. And many of the rules are the same, too. Despite advances in space-age racquet technology, the court is the same 78ft by 36ft (23.77m x 10.27m) as it was when the ‘hourglass’ court was abandoned in the early 1880s. The net is still three foot in the middle and 3ft 6in at the sides (0.91m, 1.07m), and the scoring system has remained the same, bar the introduction, in the 1970s, of tiebreaks and, this century, of sudden death at deuce, and super-tiebreaks in tour doubles events.

So if the rules are one day going to change, what is likely to happen? Here are some of the possible rule changes that we might see over the next few years.

 

Abandon the ‘let’ serve… This is already happening in junior and college tournaments, so unless there is a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by the makers of the ‘trembler’ devices umpires use for calling ‘Let’, this is most likely to be the next rule change. Tennis is supposed to be continuous, and having to retake the serve three or four times, because the ball brushes against the net on its way over, makes no sense.

Traditionalists say that you risk a tournament being decided on a serve that drops stone-dead over the net, leaving the returner with no chance of reaching it. This is true, but imagine how exciting that would be! Anyway, this does happen in open play, and tournaments have been decided on a lucky groundstroke or a volley catching the net (eg. Lendl versus Becker, Masters final, New York, 1988). Abandoning the ‘let’ serve would speed up tennis matches, add extra drama, and stop players from standing so far back to return a serve. It has so far spawned an imaginative variation in doubles: if the ball hits the net, the non-returner is then allowed to return it, which means the non-returner has to be extremely alert.

This rule change will also prevent cheating. That’s the reason college tennis has adopted it – unprincipled returners, who are aced, have been known to say, “That was a let, wasn’t it?” when the ball went nowhere near the net. In fact, there is so much in favour of this rule change, one wonders why it hasn’t yet happened.

© Peter Northall

Stop the retaken toss… Another obvious development is to stop a server from catching the ball if their toss is not in the right place. This is another custom that, even if there’s no malice afoot (and there sometimes is), slows down the match. Imagine a pitcher in baseball saying, “Sorry, I’m taking that again as I didn’t throw it right,” or a penalty-taker in football saying, “I’d like that again please because my feet weren’t in the right place when I started my run-up.” Again absurd, yet that’s effectively what a tennis player does when he/she catches the ball, whether with a “Sorry” or not. Once a ball leaves the player’s hand, that’s it – the serve should be in motion, and if the ball doesn’t land in, it’s a fault. The only reservation about this is how easy it would be for an umpire to tell whether the ball had actually left the server’s hand, but that ought to be possible.

There may be objections to this rule change from those who view the ‘yips’ as a form of mental health issue that should attract sympathy, and not punishment. The ‘yips’ is a term originated in golf, about players whose putters shake when they attempt a short putt, and it has been adopted by tennis to denote someone who can’t get the ball toss right. One can indeed have some sympathy, especially as most players will be able to perform a perfect ball toss if they don’t then have to hit the ball, but the solution in a competitive sport cannot be to allow a player to toss the ball as often as he/she likes until it’s in the right place.

 

Abolish the first serve… Still on the serve, why do we offer players the chance to retake their serve? That’s what the two serves rule amounts to. You can go for a big serve, and if you miss it, you can have a second try, old fellow. The impact will be that we will lose a lot of the big serves, and we may never have another serve speed record broken again, as all serves will effectively be second serves, but will that really make tennis less interesting? Compare it with other racquet sports, such as badminton, squash, or table-tennis – they manage with one serve, so surely tennis can, too. Second chances in life are fine, and there are plenty of second chances in tennis (you can play a horrendous set and still win a match), but there should be no second chances on the serve.

The problem with this rule change is that it would need approval from the International Tennis Federation (ITF). There are permitted variations listed in Appendix V of the Rules of Tennis, but this isn’t one of them. Therefore, a tournament couldn’t just do it, it would have to apply for special permission, or lose any official status it might enjoy.

 

Taking away the leftie’s advantage… The idea that left-handers have an advantage over right-handers has long been dismissed as nonsense (by left-handers, of course). But one area where the leftie does have an edge is that most of the big points in tennis come in the advantage court, so a big, away-swinging, left-handed serve is more effective than on the deuce side of the court, where the right-hander has the corresponding advantage. That prompted a suggestion to the ITF, many years ago, that left-handers should start their games from the left side of the court, so, for example, at 15-30 they’d be serving from the right side. There’s nothing to stop it from working, except that it has yet to be given official approval, and players would have to stop using terms like ‘deuce court’ and ‘ad court’ as they would mean different sides to lefties.

 

Underarm serve… This is not so much an area where the rules might change but an area where people need to realise that there is no rule! Underarm serving is legitimate. Indeed, why shouldn’t it be? The ball is tossed, albeit very low, and hit into the court. There are some interpretations of tennis etiquette that say a player should indicate before he/she serves an underarm serve, but that takes away the element of surprise. An underarm serve has been used to save a match point in a Grand Slam final (Martina Hingis at 2-5 in the final set against Steffi Graf, Roland Garros, 1999; Hingis lost the match a few minutes later), so it shouldn’t be left to independent, spirited players like Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Bublik to use underarm serves. Come to think of it, why has no-one used a heavily sliced underarm serve against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, given how far back he stands to receive serve? It might unnerve him.

© Ewout Pahud

Court dimensions... This is an area where the scope for changing where the lines go is very limited. The beauty of tennis is that the dimensions are the same, whether you are at Wimbledon, or in a park, or concreted multi-sports area in any town or city in the world. But what could change is the introduction of a maximum area for professional tournaments. There is currently a minimum area – a professional tennis court must have a minimum of 400 square metres of space, to include the runback and the area at the sides. But do some players gain an unfair advantage if the space is well over 400 square metres?

The current recommended playing area for Grand Slam show courts is just under 670 square metres (18.29m x 36.57m), and the total playing surface at the Rod Laver Arena and the Court Philippe-Chatrier are thought to be much bigger (getting an exact measurement is difficult because you need to deduct the space taken for the players’ and umpires’ chairs). But is this too big? There are those who believe that part of the reason Rafael Nadal does so well at Roland Garros is because of the large runback and space at the sides, and if it could be empirically proven that certain players do gain an unfair advantage, the case for a maximum playing area – enforced by fences at the sides and back – could be credibly presented.

 

Racquet materials… The debate on the materials used for making tennis racquets has gone quiet in recent years. The fear in the late 1990s, that the big servers were killing the game, has largely abated, in part because the big servers have spawned a generation of sharp-eyed returners. And let’s face it, the power-to-weight ratio of the modern, composite racquets has revolutionised the life of hobby tennis players, so it would be a backward step to force them to use wood.

It’s also not 100% clear that a return to wood, and the old dimensions of a 27-inch length and a 9-inch width of frame (68.58cm, 22.86cm), would actually guarantee varied tennis with slices, volleys, and drop shots. But if it were proven that limiting racquet materials to wood, resin, and a limited amount of metals (for reinforcement purposes) would make professional tennis more attractive, then the debate about materials will resurface. We have been blessed with a generation of varied players headed by Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, and the current young generation includes the diversity and volleying skills of Tsitsipas, Shapovalov, Kyrgios, Musetti, Barty, Krejčíková, Fernandez, and others, so variety isn’t currently an issue. But if we end up with a top generation of players who all play the same way – such as Sinner, Alcaraz, Ruud, Ruusuvuori, Rublev, Khachanov, Auger-Aliassime, Zverev; and Osaka, Sabalenka, Sakkari, Raducanu – and the attractiveness of tennis wanes because it’s seen to be boringly one-dimensional, then the question of whether to change the rules in order to limit what materials can be used will resurface.

Cricket had this issue in the 1970s when a prominent Australian, Dennis Lillee, walked out to play with an aluminium bat – he was told to replace it with a wooden one, a rule confirmed by the international cricket authorities, and to this day cricket bats at all levels of the sport can only be made of wood.

There may come a time when strings have to be more closely regulated. Currently, there are absolutely no rules about string materials (stringing patterns, yes; materials, no), so you could use very thin ship’s rope, shoe laces, dried spaghetti, or garden twine if you wanted to. Talking of spaghetti, the ITF’s view of stringing was strongly influenced in the mid-1970s when a new form of knotted stringing, called ‘spaghetti stringing’, was used. It created so much topspin that there were several freakish results on the professional tour. The ITF quickly banned both spaghetti stringing and another invention of the time, double-stringing (two strings next to each other), on the basis that it was too much change at once. You could argue that today’s synthetic strings give as much topspin as the spaghetti and double-strung racquets of the 1970s, but as the evolution has happened gradually, there has been no ITF intervention. Roger Federer told the Courts podcast in 2019 that he sees strings as having the greatest scope for tennis technology to improve over the next few years, so the rule-watchers at the ITF will have to keep their eyes peeled.

2021 ROLAND GARROS Roger Federer (SUI) Photo © Ray Giubilo

Scoring systems… This is the area where tennis has been less conservative in recent years. The seven-point game with no Advantage, the first-to-10-points tiebreak instead of a final set, and the short sets used at the ATP NextGen Finals have all been introduced over the past 20 years, as well as tiebreaks in final sets at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The permitted variations of scoring are all set out in Appendix V of the Rules of Tennis, so if you wanted to, let’s say, use the squash scoring system of the first-to-11 points (maybe best-of-five games played to 11 points), you’d have to get permission or lose your official status. Interestingly, Appendix V doesn’t explicitly allow for a super tiebreak to be used in the final set, only instead of a final set, so the Australian Open is technically in breach of the Rules of Tennis, but don’t tell anyone, as first-to-10 at 6-6 works quite well.

One suggestion made many years ago was that the server should win five points to win a game whereas the receiver should only have to win four. Known as ‘the 50-40 system’, it would effectively make it a sudden death at 4-3 to the server, or ’50-40’. The idea never caught on.

 

Change the foot-fault rule back again… The foot-fault rule has twice been changed. It started in its current form where a server’s foot cannot touch the ground inside the court until he/she has hit the ball. Then, it was changed in 1908 to require servers to have part of one foot touching the ground when they hit the ball. In 1961, it was changed back to what it is now. The idea of changing it back again is nowhere near the tennis agenda, but it could quickly become an issue. As players seek every little advantage, it’s possible that a player could stand well behind the baseline at the start of the service motion, shuffle up to the baseline, toss the ball forward and jump into the air, hitting it just before landing. If that were to work, the server could be potentially two metres inside the baseline, which would make the serve that much harder to return (albeit very risky for the server, and they would need to have a good first volley).

Rule 18 of the Rules of Tennis says the server should not change position during the serve “by walking or running, although slight movements of the feet are permitted.” Aha, so what is the boundary of a ‘slight movement’ of the feet? Think of some of the recent servers, who seem to take two or three steps to get into their service motion (remember Karsten Braasch?). Which umpire would be brave enough to call, “Foot-fault – running behind the baseline!”? So, if players tried to jump into the court, and ended up half-way to the service line, then the idea of forcing the server to have one foot on the ground would quickly come back into discussion.

None of these rule changes are expected in the next year or two, and some are unlikely to happen at all. But all it takes is for one ambitious administrator to grasp the nettle, and any of these ideas – mainly the ones at the top – could suddenly become reality. 

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

LE GÉANT DE TANDIL

© Antoine Couvercelle

Juan Martín del Potro est le personnage mythologique par excellence. Il y a en effet chez l’Argentin un pouvoir magnétique tellement puissant, une structure physique, une force de caractère et un style de jeu si imposants qu’il en est à se demander s’il n’est pas en réalité la réincarnation de l’un de ces grands héros des légendes grecques. 

Le visage fermé par des arcades sourcilières protubérantes légèrement tombantes, le regard profond traduisant une imperturbable sérénité mêlée étrangement à la lassitude des gens ayant trop vécu… Tout comme ces demi-dieux à la responsabilité écrasante, il semble porter tout le poids du monde sur ses immenses épaules, mais aussi lorsqu’on ajoute l’extrême lenteur de mouvements et l’attitude totalement relâchée qui le caractérisent, il donne l’impression de vivre dans un espace-temps qui n’est pas le sien, d’être en parfait décalage avec le commun des mortels. Une discordance qui a tendance à s’intensifier lorsque ce colosse aux pieds d’argile fait son apparition sur un court de tennis. L’entrée est toujours extraordinaire. La tour avance, le pas est lent et lourd, son mutisme assourdissant, le temps semble s’être ralenti et on croirait voir alors Gulliver pénétrer le royaume de Lilliput. 

Il est d’une puissance sans égale, en témoignent ses frappes en coup droit d’une force brutale absolument désarmante. Le mouvement est aussi ample que le battement d’ailes d’un albatros, et la projection de son coude vers l’avant est faite avec une telle vigueur qu’il est difficile de ne pas faire une analogie avec l’artillerie du XVe siècle : on ne dit pas qu’il arme sa frappe mais qu’il charge son canon. Un geste à la fois pur et fulgurant dont la monstruosité se trouve décuplée lorsqu’il l’accompagne d’un râle à la gravité bestiale. 

© Hugue Dumont

D’apparence inébranlable, il est pourtant l’un des joueurs les plus fragiles du circuit. En effet, à chaque fois qu’il réussit à atteindre un niveau digne de lui et de son talent, il est alors contraint d’arrêter sa saison à cause d’une énième nouvelle blessure ou de la résurgence d’une ancienne. Il doit donc fournir l’effort de revenir au plus haut niveau, encore et encore et toujours. Cette histoire, aussi triste qu’elle est absurde, n’est pas sans évoquer le fameux mythe de Sisyphe. Les dieux avaient condamné Sisyphe à rouler sans cesse un rocher jusqu’au sommet d’une montagne du Tartare d’où la pierre retombait continuellement par son propre poids.

« Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux », disait Albert Camus. « Le chemin importe peu, la volonté d’arriver suffit à tout ». Une façon de dire que les combats valent la peine d’être menés ardemment, et cela malgré leur absurdité. « La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme », Juan Martín del Potro est ce même héros, supérieur à son destin, plus fort que son fardeau.

© Antoine Couvercelle

I 

Got 

Into 

Tennis 

Photography 

by Pure Chance

An interview with Ray Giubilo 

© Adelchi Fioriti

As I make my way through the leafy suburbs of Wimbledon, approaching the meeting point at the Tennis Gallery, I spot Ray crouched in front of the entrance. He’s taking a photo of a small dog. Phone in hand, he’s twisting around to find the perfect angle. “He’s peering inside the shop. Look at how curious he is,” Ray says pointing at the dog as he notices me. “I think this is going to be a nice photo.”

When Ray Giubilo stands up, he unfolds his 6 ft, broad-shouldered frame, and as his amiable, Buddha-like face draws level with mine, it breaks open into a warm smile. We bump elbows and start down the road towards one of the many coffee shops that populate this quiet area of Wimbledon. It’s the middle Sunday of the Championships, a break day, his last one as far as Ray is concerned. Next year, the tournament plans to move away from its long-standing tradition of a day off, and Ray has agreed to spend this afternoon talking to me about his life on the tennis tour as a professional photographer. He’s dressed in casual tones, wearing thin-rimmed glasses, a faded-navy safari jacket, and blue jeans. The sky, ominous and cloudy, and threatening rain all morning, suddenly opens up and lashes us with a warm, summery drizzle. Ray opens his umbrella and invites me under. I ask about the dog photo and Ray offers me an impromptu lesson in photography. “You know,” he says in a raspy yet friendly voice, “To take a perfect photo you need the perfect light, the perfect exposure, and the perfect subject. But the perfect photo could also happen unexpectedly.” He takes out his phone and starts scrolling through the vast library of photos, finally stopping at one of a butterfly hovering around Rafa Nadal mid-play. “This is a great one I took. He was about to serve and got hypnotised by the butterfly.” Ray’s tone switches from that of a professor lecturing students to a veteran recounting his adventures. “I took a great photo of Venus Williams once. It was on film, so I wasn’t sure at the time. I was with two friends and I said to them, ‘I think I’ve got a great picture. I think.’ I didn’t know until the next day. I was lucky.”

“There is one that I particularly love, one of the first good photos I took. It was Sampras at Wimbledon centre court in 1996, and it became this famous photo because Wilson used it for advertising. It became iconic,” he pauses for a moment, then a big smile lights up his face. “But my favourite is the Venus Williams one.” We take a table away from the noise and Ray orders an espresso macchiato. When it arrives, he inspects the cup with the eye of a connoisseur. “When I travel for work, I always bring my own coffee maker. You know, the old type where you put the water, the coffee, and the filter. I bring my own tin of coffee, too,” he says, taking a sip. Ray Giubilo is a born raconteur. Being a photographer, it is safe to assume that he subscribes to the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. And it probably is, but he won’t risk it. “I always take my coffee with me. That and my music,” he continues. “I listen to a lot of music – blues, jazz, jazz fusion, progressive – mostly from the 60s and 70s. Over the years, I saw a lot of concerts. I still do. I saw Roger Waters in Paris, during the Us+Them tour, which was very good and very political. Very strong against the Trump administration. And then in Hyde Park, I saw, on the same day, Steve Winwood, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, and Gary Clark Jr.,” he says with pride.

© Ray Giubilo

Ray Giubilo’s work as a tennis photographer means he is always on the move. The pages in his passport are crammed with stamps: over 100 Grand Slam tournaments, a myriad ATP and WTA events, Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties, four Olympics – in total over 300 events, 14 to 16 tennis tournaments a year. His first camera was a gift for First Communion. “It was this tiny thing and I couldn’t believe that it could take photographs,” he recalls with a smile. “That was my first experience with photography. Later, when I was studying, I took photography as one of the elective subjects, and that’s how I started.” Ray takes another sip of coffee and settles into a slow, measured tone of a storyteller. “I got into tennis photography by pure chance. I used to do fashion photography, and it was really tough because in Australia, in the mid-80s, there was a boom in fashion photography. A lot of locals started getting into fashion, and other photographers, young ones, started coming from New York and Paris,” he recounts. “They were much more experienced and had a list of contacts in magazines that they were using for work,” Ray continues. “So, it was very hard to get into that kind of photography because there were very few magazines and lots of photographers. But I still learned a lot.” To say that Ray’s eyes grow vacant as he navigates the foggy past of his memory would make for a decent line but it would also be a lie. When he tells his story, Ray is alert and lively. His teeth often flash in a grin and he accentuates his narrative with frequent bursts of laughter.

“My family moved to Italy when I was 7 years old but I was born in Australia. When we moved, I suddenly found myself in a country with a completely different culture and a different way of thinking,” he continues. “When I was 20 years old, I travelled to England to study. I wanted to learn the language. I studied marketing for two years in Essex before moving back to Italy and finishing it there. After that, I decided to go to Australia. But before I did, in 1981, I went to visit a good friend of mine who worked for Sergio Tacchini. I was planning to stay with him for a few days. One evening, when I was visiting him at the office, Sergio Tacchini gave us a lift,” Ray says. “So, I’m in his car, and he makes small talk. ‘What do you do?’ he asks me, and I go, ‘Well, I’m moving to Australia soon, but I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have a job there, but I’ll find something,’” he remembers. “Then, he asks me, ‘What have you studied?’ and I tell him, ‘Marketing,’ and so he says, ‘How about if I give you two suitcases of sports clothes, and you try to see if you can start a market for me there.’ We organised all that, and I went to Australia. When I arrived in Sydney, I went for a walk through the city centre, and had a look at all the sports stores and department stores to see if they were selling any tennis clothes. There was a little bit of local stock, but nothing international. I looked up who was distributing what, scheduled some calls, and after about a month, I found somebody willing to be the importer. In the end, we managed to get 100 shops selling Sergio Tacchini clothes in Australia,” Ray says. 

“As I was selling clothes, another friend of mine started the Sergio Tacchini magazine. He was a lawyer and a journalist, and he started putting the magazine together three to four times a year. He was also writing for Matchball which, at the time, was the best tennis magazine in Italy. In 1989, my friend said to me, ‘I’m coming to the Australian Open for the Matchball magazine. Do you want to come with me?’ And I thought, ‘Okay, but how do I get in?’ I was already working as a fashion photographer and working for Sergio Tacchini at the same time. ‘I’ll get you an accreditation,’ he said. We drove to Melbourne from Sydney, and it was a long trip. We blew the head gasket halfway and had to put the car in the garage, but we managed to get to Melbourne. We got to the tournament, and I started shooting photos for the magazine, but I had no idea what the rules are and what I’m supposed to do. So, I would observe the other photographers and what they were doing. In the end, I managed to get more than 100 photos published. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. This is what I want to be doing.’”

2021 US OPEN © Ray Giubilo

“From 1989 to 1994, I was photographing the Australian tournaments during the summer season. I’d done the Sydney Open, the Davis Cup, and the Fed Cup. Through that, I’d met a lot of the local greats like Ken Rosewall, John Alexander, John Newcombe, Lew Hoad, Kim Warwick, and such. In between tournaments, they would call and ask me to photograph corporate days that they were involved in. These were usually held at the White City in Sydney, the famous tennis club. You’d have executives from different companies, and all these coaches who were people such as John Alexander, Lesley Turner Bowrey, Kim Warwick, and Helena Anliot,” Ray says with a smile. “Remember her? A blonde girl. She was top-20 – Borg’s first girlfriend.” A mischievous grin appears on Ray’s face as he recalls a particular memory. “I’d get introduced as ‘Ray Giubilo, one of the world’s greatest tennis photographers’ and everyone was immediately impressed,” he laughs. “In the morning I’d take pictures of their lessons and drills, and at lunchtime, I’d go to the lab to develop the photos. In the afternoon, they’d play a tournament, and again, I’d take a motherlode of photos. Then back to the lab to develop them in time for the charity gala in the evening where I’d donate the photos. There would be an auction, and some of my photos would go for $5000. And I thought, ‘Wow’. I wouldn’t get the money, but that showed me the value of my work.”

“I’d decided that I needed to focus on photography full time so I told Sergio Tacchini that I’m done with the clothes because I wanted to be taking photos. And he said, ‘Okay, the clothes are selling. How about if you take photos for us?’ And I said, ‘Wow, that is great. I’d love to.’ And he said, ‘Okay, so you would have to move to Italy, and you would need to be here in time for the French Open. We will give you two weeks to think about it.’ I said, ‘You don’t understand. I’m doing it.’ I got rid of everything in Australia. I sold the house, got everything sorted, caught a plane over to Italy and started doing the tournaments for Sergio Tacchini. Eventually, Sergio sold the business to a Chinese company and I moved on to begin a new adventure with FILA. They have always been my favourite tennis brand, and we’ve been working together since – over 27 years.

© Ray Giubilo
Australian Open 2017 © Ray Giubilo

The conversation turns to tennis and, inevitably, to Wimbledon. As an accredited photographer, Ray has a first-row view of some of the best tennis in the world. I ask him about his personal favourites. “For me, Roger Federer will always be number one. I don’t think he’ll go too far here because Sonego will give him a good run [in fact, Federer would ease past Sonego without much trouble, but then suffer his worst Wimbledon defeat at the hands of 14th seed, Hubert Hurkacz]. And I saw yesterday [against Cameron Norrie] that after four steady backhands, he would mishit the fifth one. So he doesn’t have that confidence, probably, or maybe it’s even physical,” Ray says, and as he finishes the sentence, his eyes light up, and I know he has another anecdote for me. “One of the four photography books I wrote is about Federer, ‘Roger Federer, Il N.1 di Sempre’ (Roger Federer, Number One Forever),” Ray tells me. “And I met him when he was a junior. He was in Miami playing the junior tournaments, and he came into the press room where I was waiting for somebody else, so we were the only ones there. And so, this kid arrives – and I saw him lose in New York to David Nalbandian (US Open Boy’s Singles, 1998), the first time I saw him – so he walks in and he has bleached hair and a lot of pimples. He’s wearing a hat,” Ray recalls with a big grin on his face. “I took one picture of him and asked, ‘Can you take off your hat?’ and he goes, ‘Nah uh’. ‘Come on, just one picture.’ So, he takes off his hat, and I took a picture of him with pimples and bleached hair. It’s in the book,” Ray says beaming. “After that, he started to recognise my face slowly. I was there when he won his first ATP Finals in Houston. We were boarding the same plane, and I said to him, ‘You know, one thing I would like in the whole world is to have your backhand. How do you do it?’ And he looked at me very seriously, he thought about it, and said ’How do I do it? Well, I take the racquet back like this,’ and he started explaining it to me!” Ray laughs. “He had to think about it because it’s all so natural to him. He’s a fantastic player. I thought he would have retired after the 2012 Olympics. I was sure. But he didn’t. He started winning again, and went on to win two more Australian Open trophies. We had to revise the book and add another chapter,” Ray laughs.

We step out back onto the street. The rain has stopped, and we start along the wet pavement towards the Underground station. Tomorrow, Ray will be back on the grounds of Wimbledon to cover the so-called Manic Monday – the entire fourth round of both men’s and women’s draw in one day, a knock-on effect of the middle-Sunday – for the last time. Ray Giubilo has been photographing tennis players for over 30 years. A few years ago, he purchased a photo archive from one of his mentors, Angelo Tonelli. His combined collection now contains over a million photos from hundreds of different events. “I have drawers full of hard drives. I don’t even know what’s in there,” he admits. For Ray, photography is more art than craft. When he talks about it, he talks about passion. And yet, his interests are far more encompassing. Throughout his life, he has sought beauty on both sides of the lens – he is an avid music fan, enjoys soccer, plays tennis with his trusty Volkl racquet, and rides a motorcycle. 

Before we say our goodbyes, I ask Ray about his plans. “After Wimbledon, I’m going to cover the Olympics in Tokyo. Then the US Open and the Laver Cup in Boston. I’d do the Masters in Cincinnati but the timing isn’t right – it won’t work with the quarantine,” says Ray. “But that’s in the future. Now, I’m heading to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They have an exhibition with the world’s oldest carpet – the Ardabil Carpet. Did you know that?” 

 

Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.

2021 US OPEN © Ray Giubilo

Pop & Kop : la boutique éphémère 100% culture et sport

La chaleureuse boutique éphémère Pop & Kop, située 61 rue du faubourg Saint-Martin dans le 10e arrondissement de Paris

A l’approche des fêtes de fin d’année, Pop & Kop prend de nouveau ses quartiers dans la capitale du samedi 4 au dimanche 19 décembre. Durant deux semaines, cette boutique éphémère au concept original met à l’honneur des créations d’artistes indépendants inspirées du monde du sport et de la culture. Entre clichés de légendes, maillots vintages et livres en tout genre, cette mini caverne d’Ali Baba s’adresse aux nostalgiques et aux amoureux de sport.

Les riverains du 10e arrondissement de Paris l’ont déjà sûrement remarquée en se baladant dans leur quartier. Avec sa devanture peuplée de bouquins et son décor chaleureux, la boutique Pop & Kop est de retour, un an après, 61 rue du faubourg Saint-Martin. Si elle a franchi une étape supplémentaire en décembre dernier avec l’inauguration de son local cosy, la marque, créée par Rémi Belot et son acolyte Joël Hays, est à la base un site web qui propose à la vente de nombreux produits mêlant les univers de la culture et du sport. Une idée qui a germé en 2018 comme l’explique Rémi, chargé de communication de profession, mais avant tout une plume réputée dans le monde du football. « J’ai toujours écrit et plus particulièrement pour les Cahiers du football, un site satirique qui est né à la fin des années 90. C’est le plus vieux média indépendant autour du ballon rond. Il y a trois ans, j’ai décidé de créer Pop & Kop car je suis un fan de sport mais aussi de graphismes. Je me suis dit qu’il n’y avait pas grand-chose qui était fait dans ce secteur. L’idée était donc de proposer une offre de produits, d’articles culturels autour de l’univers du sport. »

Le lieu idéal pour des cadeaux au pied du sapin

Une fois le palier de Pop & Kop franchi, embarquez dans un monde merveilleux empreint de nostalgie et de modernisme. Marre des murs sinistres sans âme à la maison ? Les affiches graphiques épurées qui tapissent l’intérieur de la boutique sont là pour les embellir. Quant à ceux qui ont besoin d’un petit coup de neuf dans leur garde-robe, les nombreux t-shirts aux designs originaux ou décalés sont faits pour eux. « On travaille avec des artistes indépendants. Ils nous proposent des designs, des visuels qu’on utilise sur des t-shirts ou des affiches. Ce n’est pas la seule collaboration que nous avons. Nous sommes également en partenariat avec différents types de médias et maisons d’éditions. » éclaire le fondateur de cette boutique éphèmère. En association avec les Cahiers du football, SoPress (SoFoot, Tampon, Pédale…) ainsi que les éditeurs Amphora et Hugo Sport, entre autres, le petit local est garni de beaux livres, d’affiches de couvertures mythiques de SoFoot, de tirages photos légendaires « à seulement dix exemplaires de Maradona, Pelé et Platini » ainsi que de clichés des plus grands moments du sport.

Et ce n’est pas tout. Les yeux des collectionneurs de maillots devraient également s’illuminer en découvrant les pièces uniques de Vintage Foot Shirts, la toute nouvelle collaboration de cette année. « C’est un partenaire qui fait des maillots de foot collector. Des pièces chinées qui sont vendues entre 90 et 250 euros. Ce sont des maillots qui datent principalement d’entre les années 80 et 2000. Ce sont les plus rares de la boutique. » se félicite Rémi, fier de son petit musée du sport : « Je le dis souvent pour rire mais quand on vient chez nous, tu sais que les cadeaux tu ne les retrouveras pas le 26 décembre sur Leboncoin. Ce sont des choses qui font plaisir ».

Les affiches de couvertures mythiques de SoFoot sont à retrouver dans la boutique Pop and Kop !

Une offre multisports

Si le football est en grande partie la star de cette boutique éphémère, d’autres disciplines se joignent également à la fête. Le tennis en fait partie avec Courts qui est fièrement représenté avec sa collection de magazines et ses affiches esthétiques. Sont aussi à retrouver le monde de l’Ovalie et du basket-ball. Ce dernier sera d’ailleurs mis à l’honneur avec la présence de l’un de ses meilleurs observateurs, Rémi Reverchon, figure de l’émission NBA Extra diffusée sur BeIn Sport. « La grande nouveauté de cette année est l’organisation de séances de dédicaces d’auteurs. Il ne faut pas hésiter à nous suivre sur les réseaux sociaux parce qu’on les annonce régulièrement. Jeudi soir, on a Rémi Reverchon de BeIn qui vient signer son ouvrage sur le basket. Il a écrit un super livre, « NBA Road Trip », qui se vend très bien. Rémi est parti aux States, il parle de basket de culture. Cela s’inscrit parfaitement dans l’ADN de Pop & Kop. » explique l’autre Rémi, spécialiste du ballon rond.

Avec une clientèle multigénérationnelle, nombreuse et unie par la passion du sport, le concept de Pop & Kop avait été « un franc succès l’année dernière » lors de son inauguration le temps d’une semaine. Pour ce cru 2021, Rémi Belot a décidé de prolonger le plaisir en mode Grand Chelem avec cette quinzaine. Mieux encore, le créateur de la boutique n’exclut pas « de le faire de manière plus pérenne à l’avenir ». En attendant, les aficionados de sport savent désormais où se rendre pour un Noël 100% réussi !  

Un large éventail de livres omnisports sont disponibles à la vente