By James Pham
I spent last week covering the inaugural Shenzhen Open won by Andy Murray over Tommy Robredo, coming back from 6-2 down in the second set tie-break. In all, Murray would swat away five thrilling match points and when Robredo came back from a comfort break to start the third, he was a completely spent man, mentally and physically. It was a much needed win for Murray, considering he’s been titleless since last year’s Wimbledon but is still surprisingly in the hunt to qualify for the World Tour Finals.
Shenzhen is a new city, having risen out of what once was a small Chinese village just over 30 years ago to now being considered just one of four “tier one” cities alongside Beijing, Shanghai, and Guanzhou. The tournament site, the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center, has a great stadium and more than 20 outdoor match courts, and hosted a new WTA event earlier in the year. Last week, former no. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero also inaugurated his tennis academy here.
Compared to the Malaysian Open which ran the same week (Kei Nishikori d. Julien Benneteau), the Shenzhen Open had a pretty strong field which included David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, Richard Gasquet and late wildcard Murray. There wasn’t a whole lot of media there and you could count the ones who could pose questions in English on one hand. That, together with my assignment of conducting exclusive interviews for the tournament website, meant that I was basically able to ask everything that I wanted.
While it’s hard to match the storylines of the week on court — Viktor Troicki making the quarters for the second time in only his second ATP tournament back, top-seeded Ferrer having a dismal Asian run (he also lost his first match at this week’s China Open), Thanasi Kokkinakis going one round further than rival Nick Kyrgios in Malaysia, and of course Murray’s miraculous win — the media room offered up a different kind of excitement for me.
Tennis players are extremely tame compared to athletes in other major sports — a Swedish prostitute here, a pair of flesh-colored underwear there. So fans mainly draw conclusions based on small factors. I know I was guilty of not liking Ferrer based solely on a line judge bump and a ball lofted at a crying baby. But he was really open and seemed quite sad at losing early, even though many of the other reporters predicted he would after showing up to satisfy sponsor obligations. On the flip side, Troicki and Juan Monaco were never on my radar, but after their refreshingly honest interviews, I’ll be rooting for them. But the hands down best interview of the week was Murray. He gave thoughtful, complete answers, even when I asked him about the many criticisms directed at him.
Here are my favorite exchanges from the week:
Murray on the cryptic Shenzhen Open trophy: “I don’t know what it means. It’s extremely heavy, the trophy. But it looked like there were wings?”
Murray on what French words he’s learned since being coached by Amelie Mauresmo: “Actually, I haven’t learned many. Sometimes I’ll speak in a French accent in English but I haven’t learned too many words. I’m trying to learn Spanish, just now starting… I’m not good at languages so I need to just concentrate on one. If I can somehow learn Spanish then I’ll give French a go.”
Troicki on whether he was disappointed more players didn’t come out in his defense: “Ooh. Tough question. Tennis is an individual support so everyone looks out for himself and doesn’t really care what happens to the others. I have some friends and I know who they are and they’ve been really helpful and I will never forget them. Maybe you know who they are. They even had problems because they did that for me and it’s great to have such friends. I really admire that and I will cherish that for the rest of my life. As far as the rest, you know, whenever someone saw me, they felt sorry but to go out public, nobody really went, not many players went towards my side and as I said, it’s an individual sport; they don’t want to get involved and it’s not their matter so they feel like they shouldn’t talk about it.”
Ferrer, when asked by the Chinese media on how he felt about possible books on China in his extensive book collection: “I don’t know. I never read one book about China.”
Murray, on his being criticized for his mainly “joyless” personality on court: “Yeah, I think this year, I’d agree with that. It’s been a tough year. The beginning part of the year, like I said, it was hard. My back was still sore after the surgery. I was concerned and wasn’t enjoying things as much as I would like. It wasn’t until probably, like I said, around the French Open when I started to feel better in my body that my mind started to free up a little bit and start to enjoy it again. That’s been the case the last few months. This week has been tough. The conditions have seen a lot of the guys get quite frustrated on the court, but try to keep enjoying myself here. And winning always helps.”
Monaco on which celebrities he’d invite to an Argentinian steak last-dinner-on-earth: “Bono, U2 singer and… I will need a girl… It could be Jessica Alba… I hope my girlfriend doesn’t get jealous of her. It’s okay. [laughs]”
Gasquet on the two celebrities he’d invite to his last meal: “Zidane, for sure… and maybe Sarkozy, the last French president.”
Robredo on what his last meal on earth would be: “I wouldn’t eat. I would go to find my people. I will not lose one second to eat. Family, girlfriend, friends, something like this. But I wouldn’t spend one second on a tennis court, I wouldn’t spend one second eating or peeing or doing stupid things.”
Murray when a reporter told him the stone-like bird on the trophy meant that he could fly higher and higher: “I hope that it works for me. It’s a nice trophy, but it’s going to be a hard one to travel around with for the next couple of weeks, getting it on an airplane and stuff. It’s not going to be easy when it’s that heavy.”
The Drake song that Troicki would pick for his intro if he made the final: “Started From The Bottom, Now We’re Here.” (He fell to Giraldo in a winnable quarterfinal and was worried about getting to Beijing in time for the China Open qualifying tournament but ended up being given a wildcard.)
Murray on his “hangdog” persona on court: “I think it’s something I definitely need to work on a lot. It wasn’t really an issue in the beginning part of my career and then it slowly kind of crept into my game. You know, I did improve a lot, really, over the last say two and a half, three years, a lot when I was working with Ivan especially. Maybe at times this year, it hasn’t been as good as it could be. And it’s something that I’ll continue to work on. In matches like today when you’re able to get out of a negative mentality or body language and calm yourself down and become more positive, that’s a very good sign. I’ll use that in the next few weeks.”
Ferrer, on Spain’s appointment of Gala Leon Garcia as Davis Cup Captain: “That’s a surprise for everybody. Not because she’s a female, not at all. It’s a surprise because it was very early, you know. The Spanish Federation don’t talk with the players, not yet, but I have got my respect about that. It’s one decision from the Spanish Federation and nothing else.”
Murray on whether he’s tired of hearing people telling him to move forward and end the points sooner: “Ummm, no, not really… The criticism doesn’t make sense because if you look at the stats. I come forward a lot more than a lot of the players and the amount of points that I win up at the net, the percentage when I do move forward is high. You don’t want to just charge forward in today’s game because the guys move extremely well and they pass very well but the last couple of years I’ve definitely learnt better when to move forward and when to come in. Always in some matches, you’d like to play more aggressively, you’d like to come forward, and sometimes that can be a reason why you lose a match. But… it’s not always that easy. If it was then everyone would be doing it. It’s not that simple.”
A reporter explaining to Gasquet why his nickname in Chinese is “Tofu”: “It’s white. You’re white. Tofu looks lovely. You’re lovely. You can cook it in many ways. You’re considered an all-court player…” (Gasquet laughed and confessed he had never had tofu before.)
Read the full interviews here: http://www.shenzhenopen.com/?