Alex Corretja to Raquetc: the front runners, the ones to keep an eye on and the struggles of playing the Australian Open

Alex Corretja
Fotografia: Eurosport

Alex Corretja was one of the best players of his generation. A former World No. 2, he reached two Grand Slam finals, won multiple titles in the ATP circuit (one of them in Portugal), a Davis Cup and stood up against someone few people would be willing to. Because he didn’t like the idea of putting is racquet totally to rest, he started working with one of the best players in the World. Now, at the age of 43, he works as a commentator for Eurosport and was interviewed by RAQUETC — a Portuguese exclusive made possible by the TV channel.

(clique aqui para a versão em português)

– To start, we would like to talk a little bit about the Australian Open and begin with the obvious question: who do you think are the biggest candidates?

Normally when you play tournaments during the year you see a lot of candidates, how well they are playing and say ‘ok, Rafa is playing well, Djokovic too, etc, etc’, but Melbourne is always a little bit unpredictable, you know? Of course I think Rafa and Federer are still the favorites and I believe they are the ones to beat because they played and finished very well. It’s the beginning of the year, best of five, always difficult to beat them… And I believe they are the toughest guys to beat right now.

– Did you think they were gonna be able to do what they did in 2017?

Well, I figured they would play well again, they would probably be candidates to win Majors again for sure, but if everybody was more healthy they would have had more rivals and more competition, maybe in earlier stages of the draw, like fourth round or quarters. That would have been interesting also because they wouldn’t have anything to lose.

So hopefully everybody gets better soon and its going to be more interesting to see how they comeback. But I still think Rafa and Federer are gonna be major contenders to win a Slam again this year. Rafa improved his game so much and Federer always looks like he’s playing easy.

– And there’s obviously Novak Djokovic, a six-time champion coming back from a six-months injury. What do you expect of him?

I expect Djokovic to come back like a warrior. Because when he was dominating he was truly a fighter, someone very, very difficult to beat and very difficult for the opponents because he plays very deep with backhand, forehand, serves well, moves extremely well… He will need some rhythm and hopefully he will get it as the tournament goes on. And, of course, I hope he can recover soon because that’s the best for the tour, you know, when you have these guys fighting each other and they meet each other in the QFs, SFs, it’s gonna be tough because some of them will play [against each others] in the early rounds but that’s good for him to challenge himself.

– Apart from Federer, Nadal and Djokovic we have some players looking for their first Slam titles, like Zverev, Dimitrov. Who do you think has a better chance of doing it now?

I’m going with Zverev. He’s very professional, talented and he works very hard. Last year he had an amazing year, probably he didn’t play his best in the Slams but this year he’s gonna be much more ready. I think he’s gonna be very tough to beat. I wanna see how Dimitrov backs up his win in the Masters because with confidence he can be very tough to beat and win a big tournament. Physically he’s also strong, he loves the conditions, played the semis last year a long match against Rafa so he knows exactly how to win matches in these courts and I think he’s also one of the guys to look at.

I think Shapovalov is gonna be nice to see how he develops his game. There’s no pressure on him and everything that comes is good, so…

And Kyrgios, if he can keep his level, being at home, I’m not so sure he will for two weeks because physically and mentally two weeks is very demanding but it’s that kind of player from who you can expect it.

– Juan Martin del Potro is back in the top 10 for the first time since 2014. Do you think he has what it takes to win another big title?

Well, he’s been close. Last year he played SFs in New York, so we’ll see… He organizes the schedule in a very smart way to be ready when big tournaments are coming and he’s a very dangerous player for the opponents, you know, with his forehand, backhand, moving well… You need to have him as one of the outsiders. We’ll see how he feels on the court. Hopefully he’s gonna keep that momentum, because two weeks time, with the heat it’s gonna be very tough but it’s gonna be tough for anyone. In Melbourne you really need to do an effort to be ready very soon in the season and not all players are ready for that. I think Juan Martin can perfectly be, because he’s a truly fighter.

– Speaking about the conditions, is the Australian Open the toughest one of the Grand Slams?

All of them are tough, it’s very difficult to say if it’s the toughest one or not. Melbourne is a little bit more unpredictable than the others because it happens in the start of the season and because there’s always someone that you’re gonna expect having been working very hard in the off-season and keep doing very well and doesn’t, and the opposite. It’s a very demanding Slam. And it also depends on the weather, it can be very hot and also very windy so it’s not easy to adjust yourself. It’s a very special tournament.

– On the bad side, Andy Murray is missing six more months due to his hip injury. Based on the three years you spend working with him, from 2009 to 2011, what do you think we can expect from him?

Well, we need to give him time. It’s impossible to know how he’s gonna be, because it’s been so long now since he’s out. I know he’s a champion. He proved that already many times. And if he comes back healthy, he’s gonna try his best to comeback but he will need time, of course. It will depend also on how motivated he is to win big tournaments — that’s the most important thing. Because for him to win another Masters 1000 title or so it’s not gonna make any difference, but winning a Grand Slam or two will make a huge difference, so that’s the big question, to see if he’s healthy to do that. And hopefully yes, he is, because he’s also very important for the tour.

Who do you see winning the title on the women’s side? Or having more chances to do so…

I really don’t know. I think it’s very, very open, there are like 8, 10 or even more players that have a big chance to win the title. I don’t want to say names if I don’t really know and it’s very, very wide now. It’s open for everyone. It’s very entertaining because for sure there are gonna be good surprises in the tournament, lots of battles, they didn’t play so many matches in the first weeks so we’ll see how they adjust. It’s different than the men, because they play best of 5 and have more time to get rhythm.

– About ITF’s plans to cut Grand Slam seeds from 32 back to 16…

I was the first one to say at Wimbledon that the seeding was not right, and they actually changed it and went from 16 to 32 to have this kind of system where they can manage a little bit this combination with grass points. They did it to have the situation where they can consider points on grass.

It looks like it will be more interesting for the Grand Slams to have 16 seeds. Of course for the numbers 17-18 it’s gonna be tough, as well as the top seeds because they can play them in the first rounds, but in my opinion it could be interesting. Because the tournaments have very predictable first rounds, except a few where you have someone like Fernando Verdasco did a few times, especially in Melbourne a few years ago, and others that go and play really well and can surprise them.

If you’re at 17, 18 in the world it means you’re winning a lot of matches and you can go and play top players, which is not gonna be that predictable, so I think I will like it.

– As a player, what was the biggest challenge getting ready for two weeks of best of 5, specially in the beginning of the year?

I never played well in Australia. It was tough for me because the end of the season is quite late and then off-season was, you know, very cold in Spain and I didn’t get early to Australia.

Maybe I should have gone much earlier to get prepared with more time before the tournament but I was a really family-time person, I wanted to stay home in the first week of the year and because of that it was difficult for me to get ready with 8 or 10 days before the start. Physically it’s very difficult, because of the big time difference with Europe, the weather, and because as a normal player you need some rhythm and in Australia you didn’t have time to get that rhythm. Because you didn’t play many matches before you arrived. You know, when you play Roland Garros you have already five or six months of the season behind. But here it’s only five or six matches maybe and for me it was not enough.

– You reached two Grand Slams finals. Is there a big difference between playing one of the matches before the final and the final itself? What do you feel in those kind of days?

No, no, it’s not completely different. In my case, the only thing that I regret is that it was a very, very bad day both times.

You’ve been dreaming and fighting your whole life for these matches and it was so windy both times that I couldn’t enjoy anything. I was just trying to survive, adapt to conditions, you know, it was not that good feeling. The first one I was not well prepared mentally. But for the second one I was ready, I fought very hard but Kurten, in that time he was too good on clay and he neutralised my game very well. It was difficult for me.

But I didn’t went on court like thinking it was a big moment, It was, for sure, a big moment but I had already played finals of Masters 1000, Davis Cup, where you have a big motivation to win. Of course you’re in a Grand Slam final and you want to win, but you don’t go on court thinking oh, this is like a Grand Slam final. You just go there and try to do your best.

– Considering that and the 17 titles you’ve won, what was the biggest moment of your career?

Without a doubt when I won the Masters Cup. Because I was trying to win a Slam, but this one… I mean, in Melbourne I never got there early. In Wimbledon I never had a chance to win on grass for 15 days and at the US Open I had a good chance once when I reached the QFs against Sampras and lost in the fifth set tiebreak. And the French was the tournament where conditions were tougher for the opponents than for me and where I played five straight QFs and two finals.

I was trying to do my best, especially there to play the best I could, and I tried everything. Sometimes I played more, sometimes less to be more fresh, but unfortunately it didn’t work out because my opponents were a little bit better.

– Well, that Masters Cup was won in Hannover in an all-Spanish final against Carlos Moya. Carlos started working with Rafa last year, can we expect to see you back on court soon, working with a player?

No, it’s not on my mind, it’s not on my mind. I’ve had so many offers from so many players, important players, top 5 players. But I’m enjoying my job on Eurosport, I also work for Spain’s TV sometimes and then I have family, I like to help some players, be consultant but I don’t wanna be coach. It takes me so long it would have to be something very special but for me special is what I’m doing this moment, family and TV. And this is my motivation, it may change in two years but at the moment it’s like this.

– Even though you’re not planning to do so, which kind of player would you like to work with?

Whoever desires to fight hard, play hard, is willing to improve and has respect for me, that will listen to me and that speaks. It’s also very important to understand the player because at the end he’s the one who’s playing and you have to try to help him to understand what’s going on.

And because you’ve been there, you know what’s going on. And this is important, to try to give it to him. I feel like I could really help a player but right now I have my mind in other stuff, like I said.

Before we say goodbye, a couple questions related with Portuguese tennis:

– First of all, what do you remember from when you won the Estoril Open back in 1997? It was the second title of your career.

It was very, very special. It opened up my mind, because I won my first title in 1994 and then I lost three finals in 1996.

And Estoril was always very special for the Spanish players, we always saw that many Spanish players won the tournament. If I remember I won the finals against Francisco Clavet 6-3 7-5 and it was very important. Actually after that I played the finals in Monte Carlo, Munich and won Rome and in that year I was very well prepared for the French Open.

Unfortunatelly it was another windy day, an hurricane day. I had good chances, Kuerten won that year for the first time.

Estoril always brings me good memories, I know João [Lagos] very well and they always treated me like at home. It always had a nice crowd and I felt like apart from being in Spain, being in Estoril was always very special.

– To finish, João Sousa is our number 1 and the best Portuguese player of all times. What do you know about him?

I know him very well, actually. He lives 5 minutes away from my house so I saw him a few days ago before he went to Auckland. We have the same hair stylist, we cut our hairs in the same one.

He works very hard, he moves very well, good forehand, solid backhand, maybe he needs more consistence on his serve sometimes but I like him very much, I have a very good relation with him. He’s someone that has always been dedicated to tennis and he improved so much.

When I first saw him, when he came to Barcelona, you could see that he was a good player but still very young — and then he did it, he became a very good player so lots of credit to him, to his coach and the people who spent time helping him. I remember when he won in Valencia, the final that he played, he can play very well on every surface, very complete player and I’ve always liked him.