When Federer takes your player – an in-depth interview with Patricio Apey
There is something perhaps as complicated as being a tennis player’s coach: being his agent. Chilean Patricio Apey, who modeled careers such as those of Argentine Gaston Gaudio, German Alexander Zverev and today that of Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, knows it well.
And if one experience was bitter, that is the one he had with Zverev, whom he represented since the German was 15 years old, until he broke into the elite. Then, Zverev decided to go to the Team 8 agency (owned by Roger Federer and Tony Godsick) prompting a few lawsuits. In the end, an out-of-court settlement netted Patricio Apey $1.4 million.
“Someone convinced him that the grass is greener on the other side. If he had told me he wanted to go with Federer, I would have taken him to them”, Apey said during an extensive interview with CLAY.
“Looking at the past, things are very clear: two years ago, he had seven contracts and, as far as I know, now he has one left”.
Throughout his career, Patricio Apey came across some very special players and situations.
Can it be difficult for Roland Garros champion to be commercially viable? Can the owner of the Musketeers’ Cup not attract big tennis companies? Yes. That’s what happened with Argentina’s Gaston Gaudio after his 2004 title. Patricio Apey, then his manager, still regrets it to this day.
“When he won, he didn’t have the economic boom with the sponsors. It’s one of the gretest regrets of my career, to have had a Grand Slam winner and not be able to give him what he deserves,” Patricio Apey said.
Few know the tennis market like Apey. The manager has been in the business for 35 years, representing a long list of top players with his agency, ACE Group. He is also the son of Patricio Apey, legendary coach of Argentinean Gabriela Sabatini, who died in February 2022.
He talks in-depth about several of the tennis players he represented in this interview with CLAY: not only about Zverev and Gaudio, he also leaves hypotheses after Petr Korda’s positive doping in the late nineties, refutes the Chilean Marcelo “Chino” Rios and highlights that Stefanos Tsitsipas “would prefer to be a film producer rather than playing PlayStation games”.
– Not many people really know what a player agent does…it can’t be easy.
– You only get to be as good as your client. If I have a number one, I’m the best in the world. But when that relationship ends, or the player retires, what does that manager do next? For me, those are the capos, the ones who stay there for 30 years, regardless of what happens with a certain player. I have been very lucky. I started very young, and I enjoy it a lot.
– Were there bad moments when you wanted to leave tennis?
– In this career the highs are high and the lows are low. I was close to wanting to stop. It was around 2004-2005. I was working with Gaston Gaudio, who won Roland Garros. Normally, winning a Grand Slam comes with the madness. It’s huge. But unfortunately for him, when he won, he didn’t have an economic boom with the sponsors. It’s one of the sorrows of my career, to have had a Grand Slam winner and I couldn’t make it happen for him.
– What happened?
– I had drawn up the contract with Diadora so that the moment to renegotiate would be after Roland Garros, because I thought I was going to get into the semis by beating Agassi… but he was the champion and I said: “I’m a genius for having made these clauses”. At that moment I called Alessandro Tacchini, Sergio’s son. A brand that was always in tennis with number ones, McEnroe, Sampras, Sabatini, Hingis. But I didn’t get to say Gaudio’s “G” and he tells me (he imitates the Italian accent speaking English): “Patricio, don’t talk to me about tennis. Talk to me about sailing, about other things”. Damn, how difficult! Then I met with a betting company to sell them a sponsorship. They told me that they are really interested in taking a player to a poker tournament. In two seconds I arranged with Kafelnikov. I drew up the contract and he ended up winning $600,000. Another time I accompanied him to Monte Carlo. I was in a room where 10-12 million dollars was in the pot and I thought: “I’ve been coming to tennis tournaments for 20 years and the total prize money just reached 2.5 million. Here, in one night of poker there were 4-5 times more. I have the Roland Garros champion who is six in the world and I can’t sell him . And on the other hand, I have a former champion of the same tournament, with an extra 25 kilos, and the poker world is eating him up”.
–Why did it cost so much to sell Gaudio?
– The context was bad. There was less attention to tennis, because there was no dominant number one, nor a consolidated rivalry like Sampras-Agassi. Today, winning your first Grand Slam at the age of 26 is normal. Back then you were already approaching the end of your career. Remember when Andres Gomez won Roland Garros at the age of 30 in 1990. It was absurd what had happened! Then the money went up and tennis players started to invest in their well-being, they hired personal physios instead of using ATP ones and waiting their turn. That changed everything and today’s bodies last longer in top competition. 2004 was still the world before. At that time there was no interest in tennis, it was nothing personal with Gaston. If he had been 19 years old, if people said he was the next Becker, it would have been different. Gaston decided to let someone else manage him and I understood him and advised him not to let him believe that because he was a top 6 player things would be easy. Then someone calls me and says, “Have you heard of this guy Andy Murray, are you interested in meeting him?”
– And how did the relationship with Andy Murray come about?
– Andy was 18 years old, his contracts were ending and he didn’t like the numbers. Judy, his mother, warned me that his attention span was short, that I should get the message thorugh in thr first 30 minutes. The talk lasted 3 hours. He wanted to know how much I was worth, and it’s very difficult to give those answers: a manager can tell you a low price and then bring you more and look good. Then the other way is to say a high price to impress, but then you don’t get to that figure. I made him a contract by patch on the sleeve. Well done, with a good figure, and the sponsor accepted it. Yes it was good, and it was in pounds as it should be. So we hit it off and got on great immediately. I loved Murray. I have enormous respect for him, it’s just… wait it’s Petr.
Patricio Apey is on the phone with Petr Korda, former world number two and 1998 Australian Open champion. They talk about the match his son Sebastian had just won in Halle, and other topics related to the current 46th-ranked player. Patriocio Apey was Korda Sr.’s manager when he was a pro, and now works with all three sons. Tennis player Sebastian and golfers Nelly and Jessica.
– The worried father?
– Quite the opposite, he’s the calmest thing there is. I’ve had a lot of experiences with fathers… and he backs down. He’s into everything, but he wants someone else to be in front. I manage his three kids and we talk five times a day about them. It’s a great story what we’re going through today…. nobody believes it, but he and I have been talking about this for 14 years. It’s amazing.
– Did you always think they would be such a successful family?
– I managed Petr for most of his career. We were together through thick and thin. In 2006, his oldest daughter needed clothes, clubs, so I gave him a hand. That’s when she started winning everything at the junior level in the U.S. and all the big golf agents started chasing her: IMG, Octagon… He asked me for advice, and at one point he asked me why I didn’t manage her. That’s when I told him, “Yeah, look, but I believe in the whole family, not just Jessica”. That made a difference.
– How would you describe Korda Sr.
– He knows a lot, he’s a genius. He’s half genius and half crazy. He used to tell me ten years ago, “Everybody talks about Jessica. And they’re stupid. Because Nelly is going to be so much better.” He had crazy methods. For example, he wouldn’t allow Sebastian to play on hard court. Maximum one tournament a month. He made him train on clay because he wanted him to really learn how to play tennis. I went to see Seba at an Orange Bowl when he was 12 years old and found him to be a Marat Safin 2.0. “If I don’t find a way to screw him up, Seba will be better than me,” Petr told me. He said Nelly was going to be better, and that’s where we are.
– You were his manager during that time, can you clarify what happened with the positive doping in 1998?
– (It was at) Wimbledon, after playing with Tim Henman. Nobody knows where it came from. I put my hand on fire and my son’s hand that he is not capable of doing that. But what happened…. In 2001, I had Guillermo Coria, who tested positive at the age of 19. I knew him since he was 12. He was not capable of doing anything wrong. This was all about nandrolone, a steroid. With Coria, we found the smoking gun…it was a contaminated creatine supplement. Contamination problems happen. Look at the case in ATP in 2002-2003… 27 players tested positive for this very substance, thanks to pills they were given, which they didn’t know were contaminated. All of them were let free. So, 98 Petr must have used creatine or something contaminated. He was skinny, nandrolone leaves you bloated. It’s also used to recover from injuries faster and he didn’t have any.
– Marcelo Rios asked the ITF that the Australian Open of that year, (he lost in the final against Korda) be given to him.
– The positive had nothing to do with the Australian Open. That’s a lie, he beat Marcelo Rios there and then everything came out negative. I know Marcelo, I love him, I adore him, we laugh our asses off and I respect him a lot, but about this issue, he has no idea. He and all the people who put that shit together are wrong.
– And what happened with Alexander Zverev?
– He never had the time or the desire to talk about it. When he got to number 3 with me, a fabulous end of the year, with seven advertising contracts, someone convinced him that the grass is greener on the other side. If he had told me he wanted to go with Federer, I would have taken him to them, and told them he’s a nice guy, sensitive, and to watch out for the ego. However, that has to be arranged, it can’t be that he decides to cut me out, alone. I saw him a couple of times and told him we were going to spend a lot of money fighting. “If you want to talk, let’s talk. If not here, you have my phone.” And he never wanted to talk. And I understand, he’s young.
– He was very adamant then about the topic on social networks.
– Yes. I wanted to protect what we had contracted, which was a percentage. If I negotiated 45 million dollars in contracts at the stage, the most logical thing was that in the next one they could be worth twice as much. He started to do badly, both on and off the court, and the pandemic postponed the trial preparations, so we made a deal and called it quits.
–The 1.4 million euros you agreed on, was it a fair figure?
– Look, I am calm, I sleep well. Looking at the past, things are very clear: two years ago, he had seven contracts and, as far as I know, now he has one left. He is a very good player and he is going to win many Grand Slams, but the time of being the prince before being the king may have slipped away. If he wins five Wimbledons, he can change things. He’s like a typical champion tennis player who always knows more than the other guy. I have no problem with him. Things happen, he must have his reasons. He made it clear in the press. I don’t know if it was him or if it was his lawyers who wanted to celebrate triumphs or whatever.
–What did the case mean for your career?
– It didn’t change my life, the truth is that it cleared up a doubt. If I was handling Tsitsipas and Zverev at the same time, there might have come a time where I had to choose. He finally chose for me and so it was. I wish him all the best.
– How is the work with Stefanos Tsitsipas going?
– I am very happy. He’s a super good guy. He has all the desire and hunger, and he’s ready to work and go as high as he can. He’s 23 years old and he’s already a world number three. If he can correct some things with his technical team, he has all the possibilities to achieve what he wants. Besides, he does photography, he does video, he is very creative. He’d rather be a film producer than play PlayStation. He’s different in that sense.
– And what really happened with the toilet break episode?
– That was stupid. Also, unfortunately it was Zverev who tried to set the thing up and had the bitchiness that he said the father was texting him. Those accusations were a bit harsh. He got hit hard by Zverev, and Murray also later at the US Open. And it wasn’t fair. Stef knows he didn’t cheat. He sweats a lot, and he changes his clothes from head to toe, socks, underpants. Now the rule is clear, and when he gets to the bathroom it’s 3 minutes. Things are more manageable.
– The official broadcast captured his father on the phone, which was even meme material.
– I looked at that shot too and said fuck. The father was talking to the mother and Stef didn’t bring his cell phone. What people don’t know is that he himself wrote a letter to the ATP board to ask them to clarify the bathroom rule, because he felt responsible. So that the players, the television, sponsors, the public, could understand what the rule said, which was very open. Luckily it was corrected.