My mum played tennis and my dad picked it up from her. We’d often watch my dad play company tournaments. When I was about six, my mum said my dad should introduce us to tennis, we had a lot of energy so it seemed a good outlet. A way for my parents to share their love for the game.
I enjoyed it straight away and had a passion for it. I never considered playing professionally, the aim was to get a tennis scholarship to a top university. But I turned pro just before my 16th birthday. It was incredible to play at the highest level for more than 16 years. My motivation has always been my love for the sport. My wife also played unbelievable tennis at junior and collegiate level. We’re very much a tennis family.
I love that it’s an individual sport. Every match is different. Different opponents, attitudes, personalities. I enjoy analysing matches – why I won points, why I lost points. That guides me to work on different aspects of my game so I can execute different shots. Like every pro player, I enjoy playing in front of big crowds on the grandest stages. That atmosphere when the crowd’s cheering and going nuts, you hit a great shot and you scream at the top of your lungs and you cannot hear yourself. You win games, you lose games. But to go out on the tennis court and hit the ball is always a sweet thing.
My favourite matches were when I was in control, hitting good shots. I think every player will agree, when you’re in the zone and everything is working, tennis is unbelievably fun. But it doesn’t always happen.
I was fortunate to have lots of great moments. But it’s tough to top wining the French Open, beating Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg on the way. Playing in Asia’s been great, I’ve had incredible support in China, Japan and South East Asia. There are so many great memories playing in so many great places. And now I’m coaching Kei (Nishikori), we’re still traveling the world, playing in fantastic venues.
You win games, you lose games. But to go out on the tennis court and hit the ball is always a sweet thing.
Right Handed, Two Handed Backhand
Enjoy the victories, realise that defeat is tough, but there’s always tomorrow and always things to look forward to and be thankful for.
I retired in 2003, shortly after the US Open. I still play a few times a week. It’s not the main tour in front of tens of thousands of people. But I’m still really enjoying tennis, even at a social level. And now I’m coaching Kei. Tennis has been such a blessing in so many ways and I’m just grateful to have been given the talent to play.
Retirement gave me the chance to do things I never had time for. I went back to school for a bit. I did speaking engagements and had opportunities to share my experiences, lessons I’ve learned, certainly about my faith.
I still enjoy watching tennis. The different styles and personalities make an intriguing match. Maybe it’s Nadal vs. Federer, or, back in the day, McEnroe vs Borg. The way they handle things is different. One person is very calm, very stoic, another is very vocal, wearing everything on their sleeve.
Young players need to enjoy tennis and really embrace the game. Forget the technical elements. Just enjoy the game, have fun, spark the passion in the sport, then once young players are excited, you can introduce some fundamentals. But enjoy it first. Then it will stay with younger players.
I’m inspired by people who face adversity but still offer a smile. I’m inspired by my Christianity, learning a lot from the Lord and the Bible. Being a father of three, I have a much greater appreciation for the sacrifices my parents made. And I’d also never have guessed how tough it is to be a coach. You don’t always get the thanks you deserve. Looking back, I wish I’d been a little more thankful to my coaches who did an incredible job with me and played a vital role in my life, both on the physical and mental side.
In tennis you need both the mental shape and the physical wellbeing. I think the mental is more important as it can help overcome physical limitations and ailments. Unfortunately it doesn’t work the other way around. But when you know you’ve put in the work physically, you’re stronger mentally. So those two go hand in hand.
I had a relatively long career, but had I grasped how fast it all goes by, I’d have taken more time to enjoy it. I think a lot of retired players say something similar. I’m 45 now, I feel like it’s all gone by so fast. So cherish the moments. Enjoy the victories, realise that defeat is tough, but there’s always tomorrow and always things to look forward to and be thankful for. Because, as important as tennis is, it’s never my top priority. The really important things are your family, the time you spend really loving others, really embracing others and fully respecting others.
Outside tennis, I enjoy fishing and golf. And as my kids get older, I get the enjoyment of watching them excel and enjoy sports. Watching them smile and have fun makes me enjoy it and have fun too.
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