‘Love’, that missing word on the tour: “Yes, we are tennis players, but we are also people with feelings”

Paula Badosa y Stefanos Tsitsipas / IG
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PARIS – In recent years in tennis you will have heard a lot of talk about ‘resilience’ and ‘mental health’. And always, always, about dollars. But surely you have rarely come across another word that is as simple as it is powerful: ‘love’.

Why is it that in a world of young men and women at the peak of their emotional and physical powers, the word ‘love’ is so seldom heard (beyond the times when it comes out of the chair umpire’s lips, of course)?

That changed on Friday afternoon, when Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas uttered it in the central Philippe Chatrier stadium, no less, the scene of ‘gladiatorial battles’, ‘dramas’ and ‘epic duels’, but usually far from love.

You would have to go back to 1997, when the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten drew hearts on the clay to thank the public, tennis and life, to find some love on the orange clay. Years later, Novak Djokovic imitated the Brazilian.

love tennis
Elena Svitolina and Gael Monfils / IG

What’s the reason you play singles, doubles and mixed doubles, Spain’s Alex Corretja asked Tsitsipas in the post-match interview.

‘Well, it’s all for love. Yeah, if you think about it… From both sides. It’s all about love, and combining love and tennis is quite exceptional.’

Corretja had a chill down his spine: ‘I’m getting emotional.’

So was Spain’s Paula Badosa, Tsitsipas’ girlfriend, when CLAY asked her on Saturday if she and Tsitsipas are helping to humanise a sometimes very tough circuit.

‘Totally. And I agree with him. I do it too because of that and because it’s something very special. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to share moments like this. And we are. We have a very nice relationship too. And we want, if the physical condition and the time and everything allows us, to share moments like this, because it’s something unique. And why not?

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Why not? It goes without saying, but Badosa made it clear, in case there was any doubt: ‘Yes, we are tennis players, but we are also people with feelings. So I think it’s a nice thing to do’.

Her boyfriend agrees, of course.

love tennis
Katie Boulter and Alex de Minaur / IG

‘Our main goal is to help each other to solve certain things. We ask each other a lot of questions. I think we are equal experts in our trade and we understand very well how certain situations should be solved. We talk about things we can improve. Paula says all the time, and it annoys me, that she would like to have my right. I tell her: ‘I’m sorry, but that’s not possible.

‘Having someone you love by your side and with whom you can talk comfortably and mutually and reciprocally about tennis, in our case, I think it’s a breath of fresh air. A person like that you can trust. I think in my case that person knows a lot about tennis and analyses the game quite well’.

love tennis
Guillermina Naya and Nadia Podoroska / SEBASTIÁN VARELA NAHMÍAS

Beyond talking about tennis, the Spaniard, who continues to move forward on the circuit despite the suffering generated by her back pain, left another important concept: fun.

‘We are also used to playing singles, which is something much more stressful and harder. So, spending some time related to fun tennis I think it also helps mentally’.

Fun tennis”, a concept that is often forgotten, or is sport not also a way to have fun?

It’s a job, the men of the ATP and the women of the WTA would reply. And they would be right. But work has to be more than obligation and suffering. As Badosa said: it can also be fun. And love.

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Let Jannik Sinner and Anna Kalinskaya, Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils, Alex De Minaur and Katie Boulter or Nadia Podoroska and Guillermina Naya say so. In the midst of a circuit that is at times merciless, on an unbridled race of planes, cities, hotels and training courts, they have found a space to combine tennis and love.

[ CLAY is read for free. But if you can, please make a contribution here so we can keep writting great #TennisTales around the world. It’s very easy and quick – thank you! ]


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