Alberto Rodríguez Piñón (A Coruña, 55 years old) was dedicated to professional tennis until a back injury kept him from competing. On a trip to Argentina, where paddle tennis was already very popular at the time, he discovered that 4,000 people could attend a match. On his return, with another tennis player friend, he hired an Argentine coach, and began training three hours a day. He was twice world runner-up and mortgaged everything he had to set up the first glass paddle tennis court in Spain. He became known for training with José María Aznar. He now manages several projects: from politics, to the metaverse.
Ask. How did you end up playing with José María Aznar at La Moncloa?
Answer. He was introduced to me by a friend, Aldo Olcese, a good tennis player, a great economist, at a paddle tennis event. I gave Aznar the racket he played with, in case he wanted to try it, and he made an appointment with me at La Moncloa. We were track partners for many years.
Q. Was that before the 2,000 sit-ups?
R. Before. She spent many years playing paddle tennis, and then she got hooked on running, weights, abs and all that.
Q. Did they talk about politics or just paddle tennis?
R. The objective was precisely for them to escape a bit from politics, from problems… We played once a week, sometimes twice. It was an honor to go play at La Moncloa with the President of the Government.
Q. Did you motivate him by asking him to imagine that he was Felipe González?
R. There were many piques, they were not soft matches. I don’t think there are many people in this country who have dared to yell at Aznar and I did. He told her: “Faster, damn it!”; “Move on!…”
Q. And did Aznar fit in sportingly?
R. Yes, because I scolded him to improve his performance.
Q. There were other presidents and a king…
R. I have played paddle tennis with Aznar and with Macri [Mauricio, expresidente de Argentina] and golf with Peña Nieto [Enrique, expresidente de México]. Macri played quite well, Aznar had little tennis base, but a lot of strategic concept and Peña Nieto was good at golf. He also taught King Juan Carlos.
Q. In other words, he has showered in La Zarzuela.
R. (Laughs) Yes. That was around 1998. It was Aznar who gave the king the bug. He was always very athletic. He had played squash and had a very good level. I have a special affection for him because he was very close.
Q. Who was more itchy on the track: Aznar or King Juan Carlos?
R. Aznar much more. He did not like to lose even the plates. With the King we did more training. He put a track on La Zarzuela. When we traveled to Palma de Mallorca to see the possibility of installing one in the Marivent Palace, it was the kidnapping of Miguel Ángel Blanco. I asked him what he thought was going to happen and he told me, very seriously: “They will kill him for sure.” That impacted me a lot. Of course we went back. The King was a charismatic being and the situation he is in makes me very sad, I think he does not deserve it. I hope that he is as happy as he can be and that he can return to Spain. I also played with his son, but when he was a prince. I would like to repeat now that he is King.
Q. He played with Jaume Matas, with Eduardo Zaplana, with King Juan Carlos… who ended up regular. Is paddle tennis so dangerous?
R. It will be necessary to define paddle tennis as a risk sport. It is true that there has been a cast whose life has been complicated in some aspects.
Q. You yourself were also pointed out for commercial links with a company investigated for alleged irregular financing of the PP of the Balearic Islands. What happened?
R. They never charged me. When I retired from paddle tennis, I went to work at Over, a marketing company, which was where I had been trained. That company allegedly made a series of irregularities [por las que fue condenado la antigua mano derecha de Matas en Baleares]. I didn’t have a penny, I was just another employee, but since I was related to Aznar, there was a lot of confusion. The reality is that a judge never called me.
Q. In 2001 he switched to soccer. Atleti hired him as director of external relations.
R. The club had a major crisis, it had gone down to second, we managed to get it back to first. Gil was a riot, very troublesome. We met through a friend who owned a restaurant. It was about improving relations with institutions, the media… because at that time many relevant people, politicians, businessmen… did not like to appear in the box for Gil. But it was very complicated because you set up meetings, made contacts and then Gil declared something out of place and everything was ruined.
Q. Gil also ended up in jail.
R. Yes, well, but I didn’t play paddle tennis (laughs).
R. Did you visit any of your former students in prison?
R. No. With Zaplana I have written. He is a person that I appreciate very much. He defends his innocence and until proven otherwise I believe him 100%.
Q. Who is the owner of the paddle now? Qatar is investing a lot of money.
R. In 2015 there was a turning point in the evolution of padel with the World Padel tour of Estrella Damm, television broadcasts improved and it helped a lot to take off the sport in Europe. A year ago Qatar appeared on the scene, which has created a parallel circuit with much higher prizes for players: if before they were 9,000 euros, now they are 50,000. 20 years ago nobody knew anything about Qatar, but the emir designed a strategy to publicize the country through sport and it has worked out very well because they have changed to date from a World Cup. Saudi Arabia is also copying that model.
Q. Not everything is positive publicity. Many workers died building the World Cup infrastructure.
R. Indeed. How did Qatar win the World Cup? There are documentaries that talk about it, now there is Qatargate in the European Parliament… It is a very interesting debate how sport can face people who have plenty of money.
Q. What projects are you running?
R. A space for sports swing, paddle tennis, tennis and golf, sustainable gyms in which the member can have the same tools as professional athletes: coach, nutritionist, doctor… I have also invested in a paddle tennis court company and I have a project in the metaverse of I still can’t tell much. In the future, I also do not rule out contributing my bit in politics, especially with the current leadership of Feijóo, who is a benchmark for Galicians.
Q. Here is the offer to Feijóo. And he is part of the Happiness Foundation. What does it consist of?
R. It is a non-profit organization that tries to help people be happier by organizing activities like the happiness festival. Raúl Varela, who is the CEO of the foundation, called me to tell me about the project and I was enthusiastic. The headquarters is in A Coruña.
Q. Is happiness in A Coruña?
R. Definitely! It is a wonderful city and I go as much as I can. I had the illusion of playing paddle tennis in the Plaza de María Pita and I wrote to the mayor Paco Vázquez in his day, but he paid me no attention.
Q. What is the strangest place where you have played paddle tennis?
R. In Acapulco, on a track on a cliff, at Plácido Domingo’s house.
Q. Placido Domingo too?
R. The paddle virus…
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