“It’s much harder to play tennis today than it used to be”: Juan Monaco and the dangerous unreal world of social media
Quitting tennis and not having a life project can be very dangerous, but perhaps not as dangerous as being young, playing tennis and living in the unreal social media world. Says the Argentine Juan Mónaco, a man who methodically prepared his exit from tennis, his day after professional sport, and who today, on the verge of 40, feels that he is even busier than in those days when he was number ten in the world.
“A bad day on court or a bad reaction on social media can lead to the loss of a sponsor. Reading a comment on a social network can generate psychological damage…. Today it is much more difficult to play tennis,” said Monaco during an interview with CLAY in which he explained in detail and passion the life he was building so that the goodbye to tennis did not become a huge and unbearable void.
The 39-year-old Argentine reached number ten in the ATP ranking in 2012, the peak of a career in which he won nine tournaments. Today, at the head of a “boutique agency”, which is how he defines Summa Sports, he manages the careers and advises renowned tennis players, but also retired ones, from Diego Schwartzman, Tomás Etcheverry and Nadia Podoroska to Gabriela Sabatini and Guillermo Pérez Roldán.
Mónaco is one of the best friends that the Spanish Rafael Nadal has had on the tour. The Argentinian spoke to CLAY months ago about what he thinks the former world number one can do on his return to tennis. Now it’s his turn to talk about himself.
– You’re based in Miami, you don’t play tennis anymore, but you’re often seen at tournaments, why?
– I have a tennis player representation agency, Summa Sports, which involves all the commercial, marketing and advice we give to sportsmen and women. We were going to make it a multisport agency, but I started with tennis, which in itself demands a lot of work. We have opportunities to open other markets, I have other partners, we are eight people. It is a “boutique” representation company, we have more than a dozen players, from juniors to Gaby Sabatini. We try to advise the players and bring them our contacts and our long-standing agenda.
– Do you plan to go beyond tennis and which players do you work with?
– With time we will surely expand, we have proposals all the time. From the world of golf, football, padel. For that you need more equipment and more investment. We are now at this stage of continuing to develop well what we have, although we have partnered to do things in football and we are analysing padel. The company is based in the United States, but most of the players are from South America. We don’t just work with professionals or former tennis greats, we also have juniors like Bolivian Juan Carlos Prado or Fernando Cavallo.
– The concept of a “boutique agency” is interesting. From the tennis player that you were, do you think that the player today needs a much more personalised attention than before?
– I had the good fortune to work with big representation agencies, which have many players and own tournaments and have commitments with brands. The player is a little bit left out in the day to day. We wanted to provide a service that is scarce in the big agencies, to give advice on a day-to-day basis and beyond the commercial and marketing aspects, to also be at training sessions, to provide advice and our own experiences. That makes us a boutique and we don’t have 200 players. In the future we would like to develop some tournaments, produce exhibitions, etc.
– What do players need today that you didn’t need before?
– Taking care of the player’s image, when we were playing we were not so exposed. The telephone, social networks …. Today there are many more cameras and microphones at matches. A bad day on the pitch or a bad reaction on social media can lead to the loss of a sponsor. Reading a comment on a social network can cause psychological damage. There are many things, we were freer when we played, there wasn’t so much responsibility. Today, the player is much more responsible for his failures. We try to help them, to isolate the player a little, so that they are not so dependent on what is said on a social network, although sponsors need them to be visible on the networks. But we try to stop them from consuming that unreal, virtual world, and we try to make them live a little more the real day-to-day life, training and being on the court to compete.
– In an interview with CLAY, Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas spoke about this issue, about how the new generations are looking at their phones even while training. He said he finds it disrespectful.
– Of course, there is that generational clash. We, with the juniors, try to talk a lot to understand how they think, because they’re not going to think the way we used to think or the way the current ATP Tour players think. Whether you like it or not, they were born with a phone in their hand and on social networks. It’s very difficult to make them understand that this can be counterproductive for them when it comes to competing. It’s already very difficult to play tennis, imagine if you add to that the pressure of social networks, things you see, many things that are not relevant. It’s not simple, but if they listen to us we can help them to concentrate on playing tennis, which is very difficult.
– Do you think something like that happened to Carlos Alcaraz against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros?
– No doubt about it. He also has a very good team, which must isolate him from all kinds of pressures. For a 20 year old he looks very mature, although he himself admitted that he was under too much pressure. He plays thinking he’s going to win all the time, but he found himself with a great champion in front of him. What happened to him with Djokovic is very normal, and it’s good for others to see that it’s normal. If he were to overcome it as if nothing would be inhuman and it would set the bar too high for 16, 17 year olds who compare themselves to Alcaraz.
– Roland Garros offered players in 2022 an application to protect themselves from “haters” on social networks. What do you think?
– They are very valid tools, because if you look back there were many champions with problems on social networks, because of haters, because of bullying. Naomi Osaka, for example. It generates a psychological damage that is difficult to cope with being so young. Our advice to our young players is that the more you stay away from social media, the better. The more time you spend meditating, training, being with family and friends, resting, the better you will compete.
– You’ve been also seen on television commentating matches.
– I worked for Star Plus on several tournaments. After I retired from tennis I was doing a year and a half of television, I feel comfortable, I like it. But Summa Sports is growing a lot, I don’t think I could dedicate much time to that. We have another branch which is audiovisual production, associated with Bourke Films, owned by Rodolfo Lamboglia and Patricio Di Salvio, we produce series and documentaries. We made the Guillermo Pérez Roldán series, which was a success, the Juan Martín Del Potro documentary, also with Manu Ginobili, who we are producing his series, as well as Gustavo Kuerten and Adolfo Cambiaso.
. You give the impression that the post-tennis vacuum never came for you…
– No, not really. I also have ventures in Argentina, a tennis club in Tandil. I always kept active, I was preparing myself in the last five years of my career for what I would do once I left tennis. I was developing businesses in the last part of my career. In some I’m an investor, in some I’m active. I know the emptiness of not having tennis anymore, when it was your whole life. To wake up post tennis without having your schedule busy…. I know that mentally I wasn’t going to be ready, I was preparing myself to be well into my 40s. I’m busier now than when I was playing tennis.
– What about your personal life?
– I am married and have a son who is almost two years old, my wife is French, we met in the United States, we decided that Miami was the meeting point of our relationship. I didn’t really want to go back to Argentina, nor did she want to go back to France. We have been settled in Miami for almost five years now. And we are halfway between the two countries, it’s perfect.
– In Miami you might now have a player to represent… A player who plays pretty good football.
– Heh, yes. The truth is that Miami has become a capital of the sporting world. With Formula 1 since last year, the local teams that are very strong, the NBA, football, baseball, ice hockey. Lionel Messi now at Inter Miami, the Copa America in 2024, the World Cup in 2026. Miami is geographically in the centre of the world. A ten-hour flight takes you anywhere in the world. It is an ideal place to live and work.