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“ATP says that Vilas will never be number one” – interview with Guillermo Salatino

Guillermo Salatino
Guillermo Salatino en la cabina de televisión bautizada en su honor // SEBASTIÁN VARELA con un Motorola Edge 40-Neo
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BUENOS AIRES – If there are those who maintain a glimmer of hope in seeing Guillermo Vilas recognized as world number one, within the ATP they suggest that it is better not to hope for anything so as not to see illusions shattered. “The vice president of the ATP told me that Vilas is never going to be number one,” said journalist Guillermo Salatino.

The Argentine sat down for an interview with CLAY at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club, on the court that bears the name of the greatest Latin American tennis player of all time, and next to the radio booth that has a plaque in honor of his work over the years: Salatino covered 147 Grand Slam tournaments during 45 seasons.

He spoke about the mutations he saw in the journalistic work over the years, the relationship with the tennis players and the disappointment he felt when Juan Martin Del Potro stood him up in his talk show.

Starting this month, Guillermo Salatino will be a regular columnist for CLAY. His reflections on the hottest topics in tennis and journalism will be available on a biweekly basis. His pieces will be available in the new Opinion section of the renewed website, and some of the best will be shared via Instagram and Twitter.

“It is a luxury for me to collaborate in CLAY, a modern and limitless platform, which is present in the most important tournaments, and works with depth and analysis the important topics,” says “Salata”.

Interview with Guillermo Salatino

– What impress you most about all the changes that your profession has undergone since you started? At the end of the 70s there was a very different access to the players. Today you take a photo with your cell phone on the court at the Philippe Chatrier and the organization gives you a warning…

– What happened is that in 2000, in Australia, when we founded the ITWA among seven journalists, we began to work to break some of the impediments we had to deal with and we tried to improve conditions. Hiring a telephone was very expensive, and at Wimbledon it was even more. If you knew what the Louis Armstrong at the US Open was like, it was a disgrace the way we worked, on the last row, we could not see anything, we used public telephones. The ITWA, which is the International Tennis Writters Association, has been improving all that. We have been losing things because, as the number of journalists grew, they have been reducing our benefits.

– What kind of benefits?

– ITWA members had access to the players’ lounge at all tournaments. Not anymore. I think we lost things because the English, French and North Americans were cutting everything and we lost strength. At one time I had a lot of power, I was vice-president. In fact I was voted for president, but I did not accept because I felt I was not in conditions due to lack of English language, for not living in the United States, for not covering the amount of tournaments that Barry Flatman covered. Yes, I was a kind of president, they gave me a lot of attention. I worked for Fox, I covered all the Latin Americans. Today you can’t, you have an Argentinean, you ask him three questions, Nicola Arzani comes and takes you out. Not me! (laughs) because he knows me from when he was a journalist and I used to take him in the car. He used to ask me to please get him an interview with Sabatini, so I have a good relationship with everybody, he has a good relationship with me, he allows me to do things that I see that he doesn’t allow others to do. The years also give you some place.

Guillermo Salatino, in Center Court Guillermo Vilas, in Buenos Aires / SEBASTIÁN VARELA NAHMÍAS

– What was it like at that time to be Argentine in a circle inhabited mostly by Anglo-Saxon communicators?

– At one time Argentines had no space at Wimbledon. Until 2000 I was the only one who had a permanent seat in the Central Court. The newspapers did not.

– Why not?

– At Wimbledon there are 350 seats and there are 2,000 journalists. There is no room for everyone, so when you skipped a year, you automatically lost your seat. La Nación and Clarín did not go in ’82, and for many years they were not given a seat. That year I did not go either because of the War in the Malvinas (Falklands Island). The following year I came back and I thought I would not have a seat. ‘You didn’t come for political reasons, not because you didn’t want to. You were accredited and planned to come. Sport and politics don’t have to mix, so there’s your seat’, I was told.

– What happened in other Grand Slams?

– In Australia the Argentines had places in the back rows. They put me at the front, with the English, the French. The advantages of having been there for so long. Let’s not fool ourselves, we South Americans are not among the elite. I was there for years, for not having done anything against rules, for never having taken advantage, for never having accredited anyone who was not a journalist, for having respected and worked hard. I have to say that the working conditions have improved enormously. At Roland Garros they give you the booth, the headphones, the microphone, the TV, everything. It’s day and night compared to that desk with two telephone operators to whom you gave the little piece of paper with the telephone number and after half an hour they would say appel téléphonique and you would pass the report to your listeners.

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– Does today’s tennis player understand journalistic work?

– I don’t think so. They believe that we live off them. I, for example, can make a living in different ways. I told Guillermo Vilas: you are going to retire and I am going to keep working. And that’s how it was. They don’t realize that. They are not as important as they think they are, and we are not as important as we think we are. We are important if people believe us. And they believe us because we tell them the truth. The day we lie, we invent, we lose that capital and you no longer sell information to anyone. Maybe we are important for the people, but players, leaders, organizers, managers? They believe our job depends on them.

– Do the tennis powers protect the players from the media too much?

– It’s getting out of hand. Those who work in ATP, ITF and WTA communications wanna be something else. They want to be friends of the players. And they are charming so that the players get attention. What they want is not what they are doing, they would try to be press officer for one of them when they’re on top. They want to get along well with the tennis players, because suddenly if they need someone for the press, for communication, they choose them. So, between giving the reason to a journalist or to a player, they will always give it to a player.

Guillermo Salatino and Gabriela Sabatini // GUILERMO SALATINO'S ARCHIVE
Guillermo Salatino and Gabriela Sabatini // GUILERMO SALATINO ‘S ARCHIVE

– Do you have any news about Vilas’ state of health? Do you know how he is?

– No, you know I don’t. It’s a mystery. I’ve been asking around and there’s no way of knowing anything. Someone told me that he weighed 54 kilos, but the truth is that I don’t pay attention, the source is not reliable. Nobody knows anything, only his wife. If (journalist Juan José) Moro doesn’t know, or (Eduardo) Puppo doesn’t know… he was very close to Vilas. I never interfere, I don’t talk on the phone. I have a father-daughter relationship with Gaby (Sabatini), and I call her twice a year, for birthdays, at the end of the year. I’m not bothering her or asking her questions. I never cared about the personal side.

– Do you think there will ever be justice for Vilas with the world number one ranking?

– I don’t know if there will be justice, but it doesn’t matter. I think like Mats Wiilander, who says Vilas doesn’t need to be 1, he was the best. Someone who wins 16 titles in a year, goes 46 matches undefeated, loses to the double-strung racquet, wins two out of four Grand Slams and reaches the final of the other. What’s the doubt? He was the best in the world in ’75 and ’77. If you are the best in the world, you have to be number one. I think it’s an act of injustice that he’s not number one.

– The ATP did not want to redo the rankings to confirm or deny Puppo’s research.

– I spoke about it 5 years ago with Nicola Arzani (one of the ATP vice presidents) who told me that Vilas will never be number one, Puppo should not have any illusions. This is opinion, not information: Vilas is paying for the lousy relationship that Ion Tiriac (his former coach and manager) had with the ATP for many years. And Vilas had his ego, not that he was simple. He, along with Mcenroe, Connors, Borg and Gerulaitis, did not give the ATP any attention. It’s all very strange, all very suspicious.

Great players of the 70’s and 80’s that were covered by Guillermo Salatino: McEnroe, Gerulaitis, Vilas and Borg.

– Does the journalist who covers tennis have a big ego.

– Does the journalist have an ego? If the journalist has an ego we are not in the right place. Who is the journalist? He is an office worker, with a computer or a microphone. What is the difference between the one who sends an e-mail from a desk or the one who sells sausages? We sell news, no more and no less. Those who believe it because they ask you for an autograph or a photo… that happens to me because I am old, here they spoil me like crazy and I love it because we all have an ego. But I don’t think I’m more important than anyone else. I watch a tennis match and I tell the people about it. And it’s over. My reality is my wife, my daughters, my grandson.

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– What about the tennis player’s ego?

– There are those who think they are above you, others who are simple and nice. Look, today I am friends with (Mariano) Zabaleta, (Gaston) Gaudio, (Juan Ignacio) Chela, many others. But it happens more because of them than because of me. I am Sabatini’s friend, do you know why? I broadcasted on TV a semi of a Masters with Monica Seles, who lost 6-1 and 6-2. She was smashed to death, Gaby’s performance was embarrassing, she didn’t move. And, I criticized with no mercy, and I tell you, Gaby is like a daughter to me. I said you can lose, but there are ways and ways, it’s embarrassing. We had lunch with her parents and her 15 days later. After 20 minutes the mother said ‘Salata you killed Gaby the other day’. She, who was 16-17 years old, said ‘Mom, shut up, he’s right, I was a disaster’. I told her that I can be friends with her if she respects my comment. When she played badly or well, I said so. She always accepted the comments without any problem.

Sin anestesia
Guillermo Salatino doing an episode of Sin Anestesia, with David Nalbandian as guest // SCREENSHOT

– And with Gastón Gaudio?

– I have criticized Gaudio a lot. And one day when I was doing Sin Anestesia (his talk show) I asked him how he put up with the things he said. “If I had been in your place, I would have said the same thing”, he answered me. The same with Zabaleta. I told him: ‘Negro, with the business you do, you are vice-president of the Argentine Tennis Association? You have to choose’. Well, he didn’t like it, he took it and didn’t change anything. We still hug each other every time we meet.

– You have lived unpleasant moments with some players. How was that episode with Juan Martin Del Potro?

– Del Potro stood me and ten other people up when we were doing Sin Anestesia. The cameramen, producers, director, soundman. We had set up the studio, everything. He was at the club and left. I didn’t say hello to him for two years. I didn’t go to their press conferences, nothing.

– And how did that story continue?

– One day Nicola Arzani came to my place at Wimbledon and said, ‘Will you come with me to the ATP office?’ When I arrived there was Juan Martin sitting there, waiting for me, he said I owe you an apology, you are angry, you didn’t come to the press conferences anymore. ‘Yes, you were very bad, I don’t like to be ignored. You don’t have to say yes to me, but if you said yes, it’s yes. If not, you tell me no and nothing happens,’ I told him.

Do you imagine yourself in the Hall of Fame like other colleagues of yours with an immense career who have already been recognized there?

– The Hall of Fame of what? Tennis. International? No, I don’t think so. There’s Bud Collins, I think. Gianni Clerici. I’m not worried. I love awards, I won’t deny it. I love them because they’re recognitions. But from there to the Hall of Fame… it’s too big for me. I do consider that I should be in the list of world tennis journalism because I don’t think there are many journalists who have covered as many tournaments as I have. Of course I would love to, of course. But I don’t think they even take me into consideration. We are South Americans, I never lose sight of that. We have to find our place. We are less. I do not think I am less than anyone else. For the north, we are “Sudacas”. This is the reality. It is enough for me to have my seat at Wimbledon, in Australia. To be in the front row with the English, the French. I prefer that at Roland Garros they gave me my booth for so many years. Thank you very much. All that for me is the Hall of Fame. That they give me facilities to work. The ITWA through Sebastian Fest gave me a plate at Wimbledon. In Croatia I received a replica of the Davis Cup for being the one who covered the most series. I love awards, I have them in a special place for them to be seen. But I think an Argentine journalist would never get into the Hall of Fame.

 


If you liked this interview with journalist Guillermo Salatino, don’t miss this link to our site, where you can find many other interviews with the great tennis stars.

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