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1st June
2004
written by kat

from Tennis Life Magazine by Eleanor Preston
June 2004
Watching Juan Carlos Ferrero shaping up to hit one of his trademark blistering forehands is a fascinating sight. He stands his ground, legs taut and eyes on the ball, and just when you think he’s going to whack seven bells out of it, everything goes into slow motion. At that moment, as he makes contact, he is suddenly gentle, as though stroking a sleeping kitten.
Of course there’s nothing remotely gentle about it by the time it comes cannoning over the net, as all Ferrero’s opponents can testify. Of all the skills Ferrero has in his talented hands, it’s the forehand that took him to the top of the world rankings and won him the French Open title last year, and it’s the forehand that may count as the most penetrating weapon when he returns to Paris to defend his title.
However, Ferrero is anything but a one-trick pony. There’s the serve, the movement, the glacial coolness under pressure and most of all the belief that it’s his destiny to be this good.
If Ferrero is a fatalist then life has given him bitter cause to be. For although his childhood in Onteniente, near the south-eastern Spanish city of Valencia, was happily spent with sisters Ana and Laura and parents Rosario and Eduardo, the family was devastated when Ferrero’s mother was stricken with cancer. He was only 16.
“It was tremendous blow and by far the saddest time of my life,” says Ferrero. “I took it very badly and I was on the verge of giving up tennis but then I thought of carrying on for her because she liked me to play tennis for her.”
Rosario Ferrero was the first person he thought of when he fell to his knees on the Court Philippe Chatrier after hitting the winning point, having overwhelmed Martin Verkerk in the French Open final. He looked up to the skies and blew her a kiss.
“In my mind, she was in the first row,” he says. “I felt a lot of emotions, a lot of joy for myself, for people around me, my family, my coach and all those people who supported me all along my career. I thought about them all at that moment. I thought about myself, too, because it was the first time I was living such a situation. I was watching the ground, and I thought, ‘This is in my pocket, and nobody can take it away from me.’”
Ferrero is not a man to pour his heart out to strangers. In matches his face barely registers emotion, save for the occasional muttered exhortation in Spanish. Off the court, in interviews, he worries about his English and so spends much of his post-match press conferences avoiding eye contact and speaking quietly and quickly, as though he wants to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. Even in his native Spanish Ferrero is a reticent interviewee.
Since first being promoted by the ATP three years ago as one of the faces of their “New Balls Please” advertising campaign, however, Ferrero has been forced to embrace fame, albeit reluctantly.
Record crowds packed the Recinto Ferial de la Casa Campo stadium to see him win the Masters Series tournament in Madrid last October, and more than 3,000 turned up to one of his autograph sessions. He finds it hard to walk down a street anywhere in Spain without a gaggle of excited teenage girls following him.
He even has a posse of celebrity friends. As a huge fan of superstar soccer team Real Madrid he has met the squad several times and big-name players such as Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Roberto Carlos, and David Beckham came to watch him play in Madrid.
His best friends are Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia (who is, incidentally, an old flame of Martina Hingis) and World No. 2 motorcycle racer Sete Gibernau, and his hobbies have the jet-set smack you’d expect from a man who has earned more nearly $9.97 million in career prize money. When he is not watching Gibernau race bikes, he is racing them himself or picking out another sporty number to add to his collection of fast cars.
“I’m the same as always,” he says, when asked how the riches and glamour of a successful athletic career have affected his personality. “The money does not change me, the travel does not change me, the victories do not change me. I am the same person as 10 years ago, so people see me as the same person as before. I think that people see me as a normal person, that I am a good guy, not only on the court but out of the court.”
Ferrero is anxious to remain as unspoiled as possible by the money and success his talents have afforded him. And his recipe for the perfect life could not be simpler: “I want to win some matches; spend some time with my family because we are often apart; go to watch Real Madrid play soccer and to watch motorbikes and rallies because it is different from tennis.”
If Ferrero is ever tempted to get carried away with his success, he need only think back to his humble beginnings and the day when his father handed him a racket at age 4.
“When I first got a racket I aimed at the electrical sockets that were in one of the walls of the textile shop my father owned,” he says, smiling. “I don’t know how many electrical sockets I broke, but I’m sure it was more than 20. The truth is that I loved to hit and it didn’t matter to my dad that he had to change the electrical sockets, because he loves to play tennis himself.”
Eduardo Ferrero is still his son’s mentor and travels with him all over the world, alongside Antonio Martinez, the man who has coached Ferrero since he was 9 years old and saw him through the troubled times of his teenage years. Ferrero boarded at Martinez’ academy in Villena, about 25 miles from the family home and the coach remembers the Ferrero of that time as an awkward young man, introverted and suffering under the burden of his mother’s illness.“
From then on, we began a relationship that gradually transformed into a great friendship and deep affection,” Ferrero says of Martinez. “I could say that he became my best friend and almost my second father because we were together much of the time. Dur-ing those days my mother would bring me to practice after school. I remember that she always prepared a snack with milk for me and that I had to do homework during the car ride that took almost half an hour.”
He still lives at the academy, which is now run in his name for promising youth aged between 14 and 21, sharing a modest apartment with Spanish satellite player Israel Matos. A playboy’s life in some sun-drenched tax haven is not for Ferrero.
He is such a homebody that at 14 he turned down an offer most budding tennis players would kill for when he was asked to go and work at Nick Bollettieri’s academy. He said no to that offer, and a similar request from the Spanish Tennis Federation’s Center of High Performance in Sant Cugat, because he could not stand to be away from home. “I didn’t want to go because I was much more comfortable in Villena, with my family and my friends,” he says.
Indeed, Spain could scarcely hope for a more fervent patriot or Davis Cup servant. He was the hero of the hour in 2000 when he beat Lleyton Hewitt in the deciding rubber of the Davis Cup final in Barcelona, a moment that shares equal billing with the French Open in Ferrero’s personal pantheon of achievements.
On that occasion the Spanish crowd created a memorably voluble atmosphere. Oddly, for such a man so determinedly low-profile, Ferrero thrives in the noisiest, most daunting arenas in the world—he thrills at playing Davis Cup, thought nothing of taking on Andy Roddick in the cauldron of the Arthur Ashe Stadium and regards the Court Philippe Chatrier as his backyard.
“I like to play in front of big crowds and in big stadiums,” he says simply.
For a man bred with clay in his veins, they don’t come any bigger than the Stade Roland Garros. Time will tell whether he is ready to make it his own once more.

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