“Roger Federer was a bad tennis player”. Who says so? Fernando González
It is possible that one of the biggest legends in the history of the sport was a bad tennis player during his teenage years, as Fernando Gonzalez assured: “Roger Federer was a bad tennis player”.
The Chilean, a contemporary of the Swiss and one of the players who lost the most times against him on tour (12-1 record in favor of Federer), spoke about one of the first episodes of his relationship with the winner of 20 Grand Slam titles.
“I’ve known Roger since I was 12, 13 years old, and at that age he was bad. I remember in an U-14 tournament, when I was the best in the world in that category, Federer was definetly not one of the good ones. Besides, he was a year younger, which at that age is very noticeable. He approached me and asked me questions. I got on very well with him and we went everywhere together”, said the 2007 Australian Open finalist on TNT Sports’ show Sabor a Gol.
Wearing a cooking apron and combining conversation with culinary production in a cooking show format, Gonzalez relived iconic moments of his career.
His day of fury? Semifinals of Roland Garros 2009 at the Phillipe Chatrier against Robin Soderling: “I was losing, I cameback, I was winning in the fifth… and I erased a ball mark with my ass on one of the most important courts in the world. At that moment you don’t take it seriously. Later they showed on TV that I was right (that the ball was out). Referees make mistakes, you make mistakes. I felt helpless because of the importance of the match”.
The most difficult court to play on? Guillermo Vilas Centre Court of the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club. Davis Cup between Argentina and Chile, with the Chilean Marcelo Ríos as the world No 1 and the whole stadium sold out. On Sunday, the day of definition for the series with the partial account 2-1 for the locals, Ríos had to withdrew due to injury. It was announced over the loudspeakers and then it was communicated that his replacement would be Fernando Gonzalez, who would make his debut against Franco Squilari. “I entered the court and I couldn’t feel my legs. There were a lot of boos. I started with a double fault. That crowd was really annoying. They were shouting: ‘Take off your diapers, Gonzalez!'”
Two years after that series where he made his debut, the former world No. 5 was one of the protagonists of perhaps the most painful event in the history of Chilean tennis: the famous series of the “chair shots”. Chile and Argentina were facing each other again, and in April 2000, the match was cancelled after several attendees threw chairs from the stands. “It descended into violence. Those who acted like that have no justification. The atmosphere was heating up because Chile had lost to Argentina in the football qualifiers a few days earlier, and people were talking about a revenge in tennis. The stadium was not finished (that is why there were chairs instead of seats). Then we couldn’t play at home for four years,” Gonzalez recalled.
And more Davis Cup stories, such as when in 1996 Nicolás Massú and González, both 15 years old, spent a large part of their travel allowance for the series against Canada on renting porn movies. “In Edmonton it was 20 degrees celcius below zero, nothing else to do but the shopping mall, the restaurant, and play tennis… then with Nico we shared a room, and there we found adult movies, we were minors: ‘hey man, check out what’s there! Let’s change it so they don’t charge us, just put another one on for a little while. I don’t know what system they had, but we spent 20% each of what they paid us. Then the payment came to my dad’s account and he said to me: ‘What’s this extra’ and my mom was there. I told them,” he laughed.
One of the things that keeps the champion of 11 ATP titles busy during his life as a former tennis player is his role as ambassador of the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games, which start on October 20th.
“We had terrible results in 2019, but we’ve got our party now,” he said regarding the defeat of the Chilean bid in the previous cycle. Peru won and organized Lima 2019. Gonzalez continued to participate in the intense lobbying, and the next time around, Chile won the bid.
There is in Fernando González a commitment to Olympic sport that will never cease to exist in him: he won two medals in Athens 2004 (gold with Nicolás Massú in doubles, and bronze in singles) and one in Beijing 2008 (silver, after losing the final against Rafael Nadal).
In Greece he sprained his ankle when he was a set up against Mardy Fish in the semifinals. He fell in that match and was out of the definition for the gold against Massú. “I was very anxious about that injury. We shared a room with Nico and he was in the happiest day of his tennis life and I was in the saddest. It was a big contrast. But I managed to turn that around and get out of a complicated situation”, he said. He would later win the third place match against North American Taylor Dent.
He revealed that from there, his life changed.
“In the elite, tennis is 90 percent mental.” This is how Gonzalez defines his sport. “All tennis players are good athletes and play good tennis. The difference is made in the mental part. Many are very good and can’t stand the pressure and the lifestyle. Others don’t have such good qualities, but because they carried that forward, they were able to get on top,” he explained.
“I lived for tennis, I dedicated my life to it, I was a slave to my passion,” Fernando Gonzalez reflected in a section of the TV show where he became more reflective: “But in the end, tennis is a game, it’s nothing more than that.” It sounds simple, but he said, something that took him several years to understand.