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Beatriz Haddad Maia and the pleasure of being four-all in the third set – An in-depth interview

Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia celebrates with the trophy after winning her women's singles final match against USA's Alison Riske on centre court on day nine of the Rothesay Open 2022 at Nottingham Tennis Centre, Nottingham. Picture date: Sunday June 12, 2022. (Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images)
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She is the best South American tennis player of the moment and one of the best Brazilians ever, but people’s recognition might not be fair at all: “In Brazil, if you’re not Guga (Kuerten) or Ayrton Senna, you’re not enough,”.
Beatriz Haddad Maia is living a sweet present after a bitter past.
Injuries, surgeries and a ten-month suspension after testing positive in a doping control, blamed on cross-contamination, marked her last years.
Times that she is now forgetting with pleasure. She enjoys the taste of victory, of course. Especially if it is against the almost unbeatable world number one Iga Swiatek, during a big tournament. Also, when winning WTA events trophies for the first time in her career.
In Nottingham and Birmingham, she proved it. And she finds the greatest joy in the climax of the match: “To be four-all in the third, that’s the real pleasure for me.”
A great way to reappear on the world tennis radar, setting milestones for her country since the days of the legend María Esther Bueno.
She talks about this, and many other topics, during an interview with CLAY in two stages and two cities: London and New York
– Not many players have beaten Iga Swiatek this year. You did it in Canada and also that week you reached the final of a WTA 1000 tournament for the first time. 
– It was a special week, it was very important to play a high level of tennis with big players on big courts, this is what we worked hard for, this is what we dreamed of. I made the most of it, I could have been eliminated in the first round, but there were moments when I held on. The sacrifice of carrying the discomfort is what makes it possible for you to live weeks like that. There are days that don’t go well, so you have to put extra discipline and humility.
– With your titles on the grass season, plus the final in Toronto, you’re back in the spotlight. How have you embraced that?
– My focus is on improving my tennis, so I don’t feed my ego people’s words. I’m happy with my work and I know very well what has got me this far. What changes is that every step gets harder, so I have to work harder.
– Between the grass season and the North American swing, you were able to return home for a while.
– I recovered, I stopped competing, but I didn’t stop working hard. I was going to play the clay tournaments, but because I did well, we switched to the US tour. The season is very long, so you have to take care of yourself. It takes work to get your body back, it doesn’t mean going to bed and just relaxing. I enjoyed the family a lot, I have a lot of cousins, I have a very close family and I tried to share with them all, especially my grandparents. I recharged my energy to be able to travel again.
– How do you look at tennis now that you are doing well, after such dark times, full of injuries and forced to be away due to your doping suspension?
– I just see that I have to work harder after everything I went through. I went through a lot of surgeries and a lot of complicated moments. A year almost out of tour. I learned that to improve I have to look at myself and not at the others. Sometimes we look outside for answers and excuses, and the most important thing is what we have under our control.
– How do you define your ability to overcome such dramatic circumstances?
– Resilience is one of my best qualities. Everything I went through was very, very tough. Now I’m here thanks to a lot of sacrifice. Also, we come from South America, be have a smaller budget, there are not as many girls as in Europe to share tournaments, coaches, we have only one WTA tournament, we don’t have as many opportunities, I don’t receive as many invitations as the others. There are no tournaments that are less than a six-hour flight from my home. But in the end, when you’re playing a five-setter, you get there stronger, because you had to go through a lot to be in that moment.
Haddad Maia in Wimbledon 2022 / SEBASTIÁN VARELA
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– Is there a special pressure on the Brazilian athletes because of the country’s succesful history?
– In Brazil if you are not Guga (Kuerten) or Ayrton Senna, if you are not the world champion, you are not enough, so you always have the feeling that people expect more from you. You can win two tournaments and then lose two first rounds, which is totally normal, and they will start criticising you. In other countries that have a tennis culture, they know that defeats are normal. They were very hard on (Thomaz) Bellucci. That’s why I try, for now, not to be so much on social media, I don’t read news about myself. I listen to the people who know me. I focus on what they say.
– Is it a cultural thing?
– Yes, and they are a bit result-oriented, but it’s not how I and my team see things. I was born there, I know what reality is like and I try to work on myself in a different way.
– And what does Kuerten mean for your career?
– That’s what happened with Guga. When he won Roland Garros he was 60-70 in the world. Larri (Passos), his coach, put him away from the media. People said he was crazy, and that he was disrespectful, but it’s because when you start to do well, in Brazil they put a lot of expectation on just one person. His achievements are amazing. To win a Grand Slam once is incredible, twice is fantastic, and three times is because you’ve done a lot of hard work. That’s the most important thing about Guga, the legacy he leaves behind. That it doesn’t matter what you did and won in the past, you have to work hard. You don’t have to commemorate what has already happened.
– Did Kuerten support you when you were suspended?
– Yes, when I was sidelined, he wrote to me. But today we have very little contact, perhaps because he is no longer very involved in professional performance. He and his family have many social projects, especially in the south of Brazil. I understand a person who travelled a long time, put away a lot of his personal life for tennis. He wants to enjoy his children. In Brazil we have a lot of people who have no food, no water, nothing, so for me to make a difference in someone’s life is in itself an achievement. I don’t have that much contact with him, but he is a person who inspires all Brazilians.
– Right before you came back from suspension you were talking about the pleasure you would get from being on a tennis court. Did you find that feeling?
– For me the pleasure means fighting four-all in the third set. I had a match with (Simona) Halep where I was 3-1 down in the last set, and when we were four-all, at one point I felt like I didn’t want the match to end. It was such a good feeling to be there competing with such a good tennis player… I like that, well, winning, yeah, but I don’t have full control of that. The result happens, but the work, the desire to improve and focus on the process is what fulfils me.
– Do you feel you are a reference for tennis in the region?
– If the girls in Brazil and South America see me at the top playing against the best in the world, maybe they will also believe that they can make it.
– Is the path to success more difficult if you are a South American woman?
– Especially being a woman. Even more difficult. I know they are doing tournaments, but almost all the tournaments we have in South America are small tournaments of 25 grands. And for men there are challengers all year round in South America. So, that is an inequality. We have only two 125 thousand that help us a lot. If you put opportunities, we take them.
– Did you meet Maria Esther Bueno?
– Yes, I met her. I have a picture with her at Wimbledon. She inspires me. She lived tennis in another era with an incredible inequality. They played a lot for love in that generation. They didn’t have as much money or the glamour that exists today. She inspires me every day.

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