FROM MOTORBIKE TO MOTORHOME THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A TENNIS GUY “EN FRANCE” PHOTO: OUTSIDE FFT HEADQUARTERS AT ROLAND GARROS, PARIS I spent more than two years playing tennis in France. Here I recount some of my most memorable experiences and highlights of the research trip I made to the country in 2010 for So you want to win Wimbledon? MAKING AN IMPRESSION In 1984 when considering my options towards the end of my US college career, my roommate Lincoln Venancio suggested I should go and play in France, where his elder brother was based. “There are loads of tournaments there and you can easily make some money,” he told me. So having left college, in August 1984, I made my first visit to France. Myself and a group of friends planned a month‐long tour of Brittany, in which the four of us travelled in a car and slept in tents. All in all it was a great experience; the weather was beautiful, and we divided our time between sunning ourselves on some fantastic beaches, and playing two tournaments a week, (one which finished mid‐week and the other at the weekend). I won two of the tournaments, reached a couple of finals and actually made a profit on the trip. Age 16 I had passed GCSE French; in college had studied the subject for a year‐
and‐a‐half and therefore had a pretty good understanding of the language. During the trip I was surprised at how friendly the local French people were, inviting us into their homes, sharing meals and their hospitality. This was the first of many trips I made to France over the next eight years. I ended up playing tennis all over the country, travelling by various means including cars, motorbikes, trains and campervans. My French classment meant that during tournamnents I usually received free housing and meals. However, between tournaments or as soon as I’d lost, I’d end up sleeping at friend’s houses, cheap hotels and on the occasional changing room floor. During these visits I recall competing against players from countries including: France, Britain, Germany, Brazil, Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Holland, the USA, South Africa, Ireland and Norway. As a result of this I made lifelong friendships with some of France’s best players and coaches. Several of my English tennis playing friends, including Mark Furness and Willy Davies, ended up marrying French women, had children and have remained in the country. THE SO YOU WANT TO WIN WIMBLEDON? ‐ TOUR DE FRANCE Between September and October 2010, I undertook a six‐week motorhome Tour de France, which saw me visit the Mouratoglou Academy in Paris, travel south to the French Riviera to play an ITF Seniors event, drive west to St Tropez, before making a two‐week detour to the Sanchez‐Casal Academy in Barcelona, then travel north to Brittany, head back to Mouratoglou’s, visit the FFT headquarters at Roland Garros and then return home to finish my book. Here’s an account of my trip: FALSE START The Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, 20 miles west of Paris, is something like a cross between Moscow’s Spartak club, and lifestyles of the rich and famous. I had e‐mailed Patrick Mouratoglou earlier in the year to tell him I’d loved his book Educate to Win and had written a book myself. I asked him if he would consider reading mine and tell me what he thought of it. I was delighted when he e‐mailed me back to say that he would. So, on the first leg of my tour, I travelled to his Academy. “He’s not here, he’s at the US Open” said one of the supermodel receptionists when I arrived. “Oh that’s no problem, could I leave a couple of copies of my book for him to have a look at when he gets back?” I asked. “Of course,” replied Claudia. TOWARDS THE SUN So after a quick tour of the Academy, having had lunch next to Pierre‐Henri Mathieu, who’d just returned from losing in the first round of the US Open to Roger Federer, bumping into several players and speaking to and watching some of the coaches, I left Mouratoglou’s and headed south. I drove through the night, eventually sleeping just south of Lyon, and made my way down to the French Riviera; a trip of around 450 miles. Having injured my knee playing in my first match at a tournament seven miles west of Monte Carlo, and been unable to even straighten it for three days, I eventually made my way to St Tropez. PLAYING TENNIS EN FRANCE – THE HARD WAY! PHOTO: LONDON, MARCH 1985 – THE TENNIS GUY ON TOUR Backtrack to March 1986. I had entered a tournament on the southern Brittany coast at a place called Moelan‐sur‐Mer. I decided to get to the tournament early so that I could get in some preparation. I rode my Suzuki GP100 motorbike for seven hours from Sunderland to London, (it takes that long on a 100cc motor cycle!), stopped there overnight, and then rode another four hours to Plymouth the following morning, before taking the overnight ferry to St Malo. Alors! When I awoke the following morning on the other side of the channel, a snow storm was raging. “I can make it through this” I said to myself. I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden a motorbike in the snow – but it’s not to be recommended. Three times I came off on the slow, treacherous two‐and‐a‐
half‐hour journey; fortunately without serious injury to myself or the bike. Eventually around lunchtime I arrived at the tournament venue. “Hi, I’m here for the tournament,” I said to the man who I’d learned was the juge arbitre (tournament referee). “Oh you’re here too early, it doesn’t start for another two weeks,” he told me. “Qu’est‐ce que c’est?” I asked astonished. “Oui, the dates in the calendar are wrong – you should have called before you came,” he said. “Merde!” I thought to myself, “what on earth am I going to do?” The previous summer, during my visit to Brittany, at a tournament at Llanillis, I had come up against one of Britain’s most fiery competitors Lancashire’s Willy Davies. Willy had lived in France for many years and had a French classment of ‐15. After he beat me 7‐5, 7‐5, Willy told me that he thought I was a good player, and that if I ever wanted a training base in France I was welcome to come and stay with him in Nantes. In December 1984, in a tournament at Cherbourg, I again ran into Willy, who told me I was welcome to visit and practice with him at the Stade Nantaise Universite Club (SNUC) in Nantes whenever I wanted. So having discovered that I’d arrived too early for the tournament at Moelan I decided to make the three‐hour journey to Nantes. Later that afternoon I arrived at the SNUC. “Jesus,” Willy said to me as I entered the club, covered in dirt and with holes in my jacket and trousers “what are you doing here?” “Well I rode my bike all the way from Sunderland to London and then from Plymouth to Moelan for a tournament. Then when I got there they told me I’d got the dates wrong, and it didn’t start for another two weeks. I’ve driven through the snow and come off my bike three times, so I thought I’d come and visit you” I said. “No problem,” said Willy “you look like you could do with some help!” For the next few weeks I stayed with Willy and his girlfriend in his studio apartment, and practiced with him at the SNUC. He introduced me to some of the players on the club’s team; I joined in their training, and went with Willy to play some tournaments. One of the players Willy introduced me to was Christophe Fournerie. Christophe was a year younger than me and had a French ranking of ‐2/6; mine was zero. We played together a few times and got on well. “I’m leaving to go and play for a club in Aix‐en Provence, you are free to come and stay with me and practice if you like,” he told me. After a few more weeks staying with Willy, I felt it was time to move on. I made the decision to visit Christophe. So one morning, having said “au revoir” to Willy, I got on the bike and rode for two days from Nantes, stopping overnight near Brive, across the Massif Central, down to and across the Camargue, and arrived in Aix. It didn’t take me too long to find the University club where I knew Christophe played. I walked in and immediately saw him. “Martine, what are you doing here?” Christophe asked, looking happy but a little surprised to see me. “Well you said I could visit you anytime I want, so here I am,” I replied. “Fantastique,” he replied. I stayed in Christophe’s apartment and we spent much of the next six weeks, riding together on my bike, training and playing up to four hours tennis a day together. We visited Marseilles, went on double dates (with French women!) and even took a trip to the Monte Carlo Open, which the club had organised. It was a great experience. However, my results in tournaments weren’t so great and I was fast running out of money. I decided I should return home, and probably go back to America to try and earn some money coaching. So I said my goodbyes, then drove the bike over 1000 miles and for 25 hours, back to Sunderland and never saw Christophe again, until... A NEW AGE The Internet really does bring people together again. I got my first computer in 2006 and began googling people. Craig Edwards one of my former coaches in New England had gone on to coach the Bryan Twins. Dickie Herbst had coached Patrick McEnroe and Alexandra Stevenson. I googled Christophe. Wow! I found out that he’d gone on to become a First Series player in France (No.32), and had coached Amelie Mauresmo when she reached the final of the Australian Open in 1999. Christophe was now based in St Tropez where he ran his own tennis Academy. So before I began my research trip for So you want to win Wimbledon?, I e‐
mailed him, told him I hoped he remembered me, that I’d written a book on tennis and would like to send him a copy for him to tell me what he thought of it. I also mentioned that I may be in the south of France later in the year. Christophe replied within a few days, gave me his address and phone number, and said he’d be delighted to read my book; a copy of which I then sent to him. ACADEMIE FOURNERIE ST TROPEZ So fast‐forward back to September 2010. I left Beaulieu‐sur‐Mer where my injured knee had ended my interest in the 45‐and‐over tournament, and set out on what must be one of the world’s most beautiful drives; along the Cote d’Azur from Nice to Cannes and then on to St Tropez. Christophe wasn’t there, he’d gone on holiday but we spoke on the phone and arranged to meet at the hotel Del Marres where his Academy is based. It’s a bit worrying waiting to find out if someone you haven’t seen for more than 25 years will recognise you. So there I was sitting in my motorhome in the car park at the Del Marres, when I heard the sound of car door opening. I recognised Christophe and went out to speak to him. “Christophe I said it’s Martin, how are you doing?” I asked him. “Hello Martine,” he replied. I gave him a hug. “It’s been a long time,” I said. “Yes, when was it exactly?” he asked. “At Aix around 1985, I stayed with you and was on my motorbike,” I explained. “Ah yes at Le Paradis, I think I remember. Anyway come on in,” he replied. For much of the next two weeks I divided my time between watching Christophe train the players at his Academy, and writing up my book back in the motorhome. Along with reaching No.32 in France, Christophe been head coach at the FFT centre in St Malo, and taken Amelie Mauresmo from world No.38 to number ten, during the time he worked with her. For three years he had coached Jerome Golmard, who reached world No.22 and had wins over world number ones, Andre Agassi, Gustavo Kuerten, Carlos Moya and Marcelo Rios. I joined Christophe on court, gave some brief volleying instruction to his son Theo, and generally tried to learn as much as I could from him and his coaching method in my brief time there. The Academy has only three full‐time players; Christophe’s 14‐year‐old son Theo, 13‐year‐old Louis Tessa and 14‐year‐old Angela Leweurs. Each day starts at 11.15am with a 45‐minute gym warm up and fitness session. “It’s necessary to shock the body into action,” Christophe told me. “When the kids arrive here from school their bodies need waking up. We don’t do weights at this age; it’s mostly body weight things, treadmill, exercise bike, stepper and stuff like that.” PHOTO: THE KIDS HIT THE GYM After the warm up comes a two‐hour on‐court session consisting of two‐on‐
ones, points, technical and tactical corrections and a lot of encouragement from Christophe. After lunch another, longer session takes place, focusing mostly on match play. This schedule was followed just about every day. Wednesday is a half‐day as Christophe maintains that it’s hard to work really hard every day of the week, particularly if the players have tournaments at the weekends. Mind you this didn’t always fit well with Louis, who literally had to sometimes be dragged off the court by his father. PHOTO: AFTERNOON SESSION As I gained Christophe’s trust, I began asking him questions about his time with Mauresmo and Golmard. Christophe described a match between Golmard and Pete Sampras at the French indoor tournament at Bercy. “I was sitting in the box and Jerome was killing Sampras. I don’t think Sampras had ever played anyone like Jerome before. He was standing inside the baseline taking Pete’s serve on the rise and coming in straight off the serve – against Sampras’ first and second serves! He was a set and a break up, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then Sampras took a time out and when he came back Jerome couldn’t maintain his momentum. I can’t remember exactly what happened but I think Jerome eventually lost in a tie‐break in the third.” “How about Amelie,” I asked him one time. “Well when I started with her in November 1998, she had finished with the South African and really wasn’t very happy. She didn’t even want to go to Australia and was probably a bit depressed. But I started working with her and trained her really hard. We went for runs, we worked out together. But the thing was, I did all the training with her. Everything she did I did; playing, running, in the gym, on the beach, everything – eight hours a day! Within a short time she had changed her mind and decided she would go to Australia. We went, and in the tournament before Melbourne, I think it was in Sydney, she lost to Barbara Schett in three sets. Afterwards I said to her okay let’s go and train. She didn’t want to, but she came with me. I took her to the beach and we ran, and we ran, and we ran, until she actually threw up! I did this to take her mind off that defeat and re‐focus her for the Australian. The next week we went to Melbourne and she reached the final!” “Was that your proudest achievement as a coach?” I asked him. “No not my proudest,” he replied. “The thing I’m most proud of I think, was when I trained Eva Dyberg from Denmark. She had a reputation of being very difficult to work with. When she came to me she was ranked about No.150 and was just totally nuts on court. She was impossible but I always gave her one more chance. Anyway she came to me and I managed to get her as high as No.60. Then after a year she decided that she wanted to go back home and become a doctor. It’s funny, but that’s the player who gave me the most pleasure – taking someone who no‐one else could work with, almost into the Top‐50, and then watching her go off and do something else with her life.” FROM BARCELONA TO BRITTANY So after two fantastic weeks in sunny St Tropez I had a decision to make – should I stay a little longer in France, and then go back to Britain, or should I make the 270 mile trip to Barcelona, and visit Europe’s most famous tennis Academy, where Andy Murray had trained? As you’ll find out by reading my articles on the Sanchez‐Casal Academy I took the second option, but two weeks later was back on French soil. The 550 mile journey from Barcelona to Brittany isn’t the easiest. I left Barcelona mid‐afternoon, stopped overnight near Toulouse, then spent the next 14 hours driving up the western side of France – but why? MARK FURNESS AND PONTIVY I first met Mark Furness, who is three years younger than me, at a tournament in northeast England in February 1985. We met in the semifinals, and having lost the first set, I came back and won 6‐1 in the third. Mark, who is from Sheffield, took the defeat well – I remember this victory fondly because it was my first and only ever win against him! A year later at a tournament near Paris, I was travelling with a fellow Brit, Andy Evans from Derbyshire. Mark was at the tournament, playing and travelling around France in a van, and sleeping in a tent with his friend Danny Holdsworth. Neither of them spoke French, and would at tournaments Mark said, when requesting their meals just point at their open mouths and say “manger!” Mark seemed a very pleasant and friendly guy. He said he and Danny were going to see how long they could last financially before returning home ‐ Mark never did! Though never having a French rating higher than ‐2/6, Mark is amongst a group of British and players of other nationalities, (Australian legends Pat Rafter and Peter McNamara, both claim to have experienced this way of life before making their way to the upper echelons of the professional game), who travel around France, toughing it out, sleeping wherever they can and making a living from the country’s multitude of money tournaments and inter‐club competitions. Mark claims that over the course of his 25 French playing career, his greatest victories were against young up‐and‐coming French professionals Sebastian Grosjean and Arnaud Di Pasquale, who reached world number four and No.39 respectively. In early 1992, I had visited Mark and stayed with him for the best part of three months in Pontivy, right in the centre of Brittany; where we trained and played some tournaments together. I next saw Mark at a 35‐and‐over tournament at Bournemouth in 2006, where he reached the final. Mark represented Great Britain in the 2002 world championships in Austria and achieved a highest ITF Seniors ranking of world number three in July 2003. (My highest was world No.31 in 2005.) TRIPS TO PONTIVY I had kept Mark’s number stored in my phone since I last saw him at Bournemouth, and eventually called him to ask him if he would have a look at my book and tell me what he thought of it, particularly the parts relating to French tennis. “No problem,” he replied. We spoke several times on the phone, and he updated me on the minor changes, which had occurred since I last played in the country. During the course of a motorhome holiday to Normandy and Brittany in April 2009 I again visited Mark. We spoke for a few hours about my book, his life and the fact that my motorhome was much bigger, better and cleaner than his – he of course didn’t agree! PHOTO: WITH MARK AT PONTIVY On my drive up from Toulouse I telephoned Mark to tell him I was on my way. We arranged to meet at the Ligue de Bretagne centre in Pontivy where he teaches tennis. “So you’ve driven from Sunderland to London, then to Paris, then to Monte Carlo, then to St Tropez, then to Barcelona and now here?” he asked when we met. “Oui, c’est normal, non?” I replied. “For you maybe – and stop speaking French!” said Mark. I spent the next two days interrogating Mark about modern day tennis in France – little of which had changed since I last played there, almost 18 years before. Mark’s two children play tennis. His son Evan is one of France’s best rated 12‐
and‐under juniors and his 10‐year‐old daughter Lucy also plays seriously. Mark divides his time between training his children, teaching at the centre and owns a very impressive gite next to his house just outside of Pontivy. Visit his web site at
PHOTO: MARK WITH EVAN I only had limited time to spend with Mark before needing to get back home, but managed during that time to hit a few balls with Evan, who was also keen to give me his opinion on tennis in France. “There are very few private clubs in France,” Evan told me. “So it’s not expensive to play like in England.” “Yes,” added Mark, “it costs about 100 Euros a year to play at the club here. You don’t have to pay for the lights either. I train Evan myself, in fact the Top‐three 12‐and‐under boys in Brittany all are trained by their fathers. The top French 12‐and‐under kid also comes from Brittany, he isn’t part of the FFT system but still gets around 10,000 Euros a year from them to help him.” That evening I parked my motorhome at Mark’s and joined the family for dinner. Despite their protests I insisted on tuning Mark’s wife, Pascal’s, old and out‐of‐tune classical guitar, and played a few tunes; an act which quickly sent everyone but Mark off to bed! The next day I set off from Pontivy back to Mouratoglou’s. THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL! During my trip I had sent a few e‐mails to Patrick Mouratoglou asking if he had had a chance to look at my book. I heard nothing back. So as I left Pontivy I sent another e‐mail to him and his assistant, telling them I was en route from Brittany to Paris on the return leg of my trip, and could I possibly meet up with him the next day. Later that day I received an e‐mail from his press officer asking why I wanted to meet Patrick. I explained the situation but was told that Patrick was busy and that I needed to make an appointment to see him. But as I approached Paris, I decided that I’d still visit the Academy and see what was going on. I parked the motorhome nearby overnight and the next morning walked in. Having got through reception, there on the other side of the restaurant was Patrick, surrounded by coaches and friends. Ah, I thought maybe I will get a chance to meet him. So I went and sat at the bar, ordered a coffee and began talking to one of the coaches who didn’t speak a word of English. Soon after, another of Patrick’s assistants came up to me and asked what I was doing there. I was just passing by on my way from Brittany to home, and was hoping to have a word with Patrick about my book I told him, but I know he’s busy so it’s not a problem. Patrick by this time was only a couple of feet away from me and I had the urge just to go up and introduce myself – but I didn’t. Instead I ordered another coffee and watched as Grigor Dimitrov and Peter McNamara walked in. Should I go and introduce myself to McNamara I thought, at least he speaks English. I had practiced with him once at a tournament in Newcastle. Again though, I didn’t have the nerve, and by this time Patrick had gone into his office for a meeting. I left the Academy feeling decidedly uneasy and wishing that I had planned this better – but “merde happens!” MY FRIEND AT THE FFT Driving around Europe by yourself in a motorhome can be a very lonely experience. As I left Mouratoglou’s I considered my options. Should I drive straight home, visit Versailles or maybe even go and visit Auvers‐sur‐Oise, where Vincent van Gogh was buried? Driving along, I decided to phone a friend in London to tell him I was on my way home, and see if maybe we could meet up the next day. My friend asked me exactly where I was. I told him I was near Versailles. Would you mind doing me a favour, and popping in to Roland Garros, and picking up something from the museum? Sure no problem I said. So instead of going straight to Auvers, I entered avenue Gordon Bennett into my SatNav and made my way to the home of the French Open. The previous year’s trip to Brittany had whetted my appetite to play tennis again in France. I’d contacted the FFT and had been sent a provisional licence (licence assimile), but had not paid the licence fee, which would allow me to play in French tournaments. Having completed my errand for my friend at the museum, I decided that seeing as how I was there; I might as well go and pay for the licence, in the unlikely event I might play in France in the future. I was directed to the licence office deep within FFT H.Q. There, I met Marie Laure Sakalakis. It was she who had sent me the information about my licence the previous year. “I’d like to pay for the licence,” I said. “How much is it?” “It’s 20 Euros,” she replied. “Okay thanks,” I said and handed her the money. As she sat there printing out my documents I thought to myself, go on don’t bottle it again, just ask her. “I’m doing some research for a book,” I said, “how many people have licences in France?” “Ah, I’m not sure, I’ll have a look,” she replied. She looked at her filing tray and pulled out several pieces of paper. “Ah yes, here we are. There are 265,000 men and 95,000 women,” she said. “And how many juniors?” I asked. “Ah, just a minute, yes 106,000 – these are the figures for 2009,” she said. “Blimey” I thought to myself, that’s some very interesting statistics for my book. I didn’t expect to get that information quite so easily! “Could I have a photo copy of the figures please?” I asked. “No it’s okay, just take these,” said Marie Laure and handed me the papers. “How about the non‐classe,” I asked, “how many of them are there?” This was of course a bit sneaky of me, as I already knew the number of those non‐classe; people who though not competing seriously, still needed to have a licence in order to play tournaments at their local clubs. “There’s over a million of them,” she confirmed to me. “And do they also have to pay 20 Euros?” I asked. “Yes of course they do,” replied Marie Laure politely. Well that was worth making the trip in itself I thought to myself, as I left the FFT. STARRY, STARRY NIGHT That afternoon I drove to Auvers, where I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon visiting the house where Van Gogh died, had my photo taken at the graves of Vincent and Theo, and walked in the wheat fields where Van Gogh had gone out and shot himself. PHOTO: IN THE GRAVEYARD AT AUVERS‐SUR‐OISE, WITH VINCENT AND THEO Later that night I returned to Britain. FIN