Madrid Masters 2023: Feliciano López: “In Spain there is a lack of sports culture; if you are not the one, you are shit” | Sports

Feliciano López (Toledo, 41 years old) makes a parenthesis in the busy schedule that he has these days to chat with EL PAÍS. Next to the office, his wife pushes a cart with their two-year-old son. “The first week of the tournament is hard, but it is what it is. The phone does not stop and some days I sleep for three hours, more or less, but the important thing is that everything works well, ”he answers while adjusting his glasses. The Spanish tennis player has been the director of the Mutua Madrid Open since 2019, a job that he has combined with a professional career that is heading to the last stretch and that will end at the end of June on the slopes of Mallorca. After 26 years of travel, a thousand experiences and having earned the respect of all his colleagues, he will hang up the racket and he will do it, he stresses, at the ideal moment.

Ask. Satisfied?

Answer. Yes, definitely. I have been lucky enough to be able to retire when and how I wanted to, and that is not easy. A thousand things can happen to you, from an injury to any other circumstance, and in that sense I am lucky. Last year I had certain hopes of being able to play the whole season, knowing that it would be very difficult to repeat what happened in 2021, but after Wimbledon I began to really think about how I wanted to do it, and between age and other things, then I said to myself: the next year I retire.

Q. What stamp does Feliciano leave?

R. I’m satisfied with the fact that people remember me as a correct, polite and grateful guy, regardless of whether they like my game more or less. If people are left with a good personal memory, I stay calm, that’s clear. The person is above the tennis player, and I feel that people appreciate me on a personal level; obviously not everyone, because it is impossible to please everyone, but I do notice that tournaments and professionals have a certain affection for me, and that means that you have done something well.

Q. It’s not the same on Twitter, where he tends to get into some other mess, right?

R. For me it is entertainment. It is a dangerous circus, a jungle that you decide to enter, and if you are a person who is affected by what he can say about you, you better not do it. I am very lucky in life, so I cannot be thinking if they are insulting me or not; I know they are going to do it, because there are times when I even do it to laugh a little, but at the same time it makes me feel sorry. I also have the right to say what I think, but it seems that certain people and from certain sectors do not have the right to speak or give an opinion; It seems that athletes are all stupid and that none of us know anything. Because? We have the same right as any other citizen. Sometimes, when you want to say something seriously, they quickly disqualify you: this one is a tennis player, these are rich… There are some clichés in society that have to disappear, and Spain is not advancing in that sense. It is a dangerous circus.

It seems that athletes are all stupid, but we have the same right to an opinion as anyone

Q. Does the image you project correspond to reality?

R. It depends on which sectors. I feel respected by the people in my world, and that is what really matters. In Spain there is not a big sports culture. Here are Rafa Nadal, Iker Casillas, Pau Gasol when he went to the NBA, Fernando Alonso when he won… and, suddenly, the rest doesn’t exist. There isn’t enough of a culture to appreciate how difficult all of this is. It does not happen in the Anglo-Saxon or South American; In the United States, a good professional in any field is overrated, and here if you’re not the one, you’re shit. Someone is on top, and suddenly they give birth to him, like Alonso, but now they give him a car that pulls and is competitive again, and it seems that Carlos Sainz no longer exists.

Q. So, is there a lack of respect for the figure of the athlete?

R. Yes, but not only the athlete. In other countries I feel that people know the athletes much more and better, that they are much more informed. Here, in Spain, you are known more for having a girlfriend who presents a program on television than for playing tennis. There is a small nucleus that does have that respect, like older people; People of 70 or 80 years old who watch tennis like crazy stop you on the street, but there are many other people who are only with the one who succeeds and who forget everything very quickly. It’s like I’m sorry, I’ve always thought. It seems that being 15 in the world is nothing. In any other country David Ferrer would have been a national idol.

Feliciano, last Tuesday during an exhibition at the Caja Mágica.
Feliciano, last Tuesday during an exhibition at the Caja Mágica.Angel Martinez

Q. How big would Nadal be if he were an American, for example?

R. It would be even bigger. I don’t know if because of the culture of the country or because of the markets, but in the end, being a legend in Spain puts you in a different place than in another country. What comes out of here does not have the same repercussion; it has, but not that much. Being English or American and being a legend places you in another place in terms of advertising and markets; later, at the level of popular recognition, I don’t think it’s that different. For example, LeBron James does not leave his country, he plays alone there, but he is a megastar because he has earned it.

Q. Now that you are retiring and a stage is closing, is tennis in good hands?

R. At the standards level, the circuit is infinitely better than when I started. Tournaments have grown a lot. A lot of guys starting out now are receiving the legacy that these three [Nadal, Federer y Djokovic] they have been building Without them three, we would never have gotten to where we are now. It’s good that people understand where we come from. I have been lucky enough to play with different generations and to see what the circuit was like two decades ago, and I am very grateful to all the people who have worked to get us here; I thank Rafa, Federer and Djokovic, especially the first two because with their rivalry they enhanced everything; then Novak managed to join. Thanks to the Borg and McEnroe, tennis became popular; then there were Sampras and Agassi, and then these three arrived, who have multiplied everything. Young guys have to know where we come from.

Q. And do they know?

R. No, because everything is different. The way of living a tournament is very different. To begin with, we hung out with each other a lot more; I was going to have dinner with at least three or four colleagues, and now that doesn’t happen. I don’t want to say the typical thing, that everything before was better, but I really believe it; I mean the behavior of the people, how the world was, we were freer… Now you have many more facilities, but I think the world was better 20 years ago. The message must reach those of now that it has taken a lot to get here; do not take all this for granted. Going to a Grand Slam and winning 70,000 euros is crazy… I won 11,000 not so long ago, I’m not Björn Borg! Not long ago we had much lower levels, so we are going to be a little more grateful, and with the determination to continue growing to be able to feed more tennis players. They must understand that we are at brutal levels. I do not judge them, because you are born in the world in which you are born and you grow up in the environment that touches you, but everything works in a different way. I, at 20 years old, didn’t realize many things on the circuit, but then, when you get older and analyze a bit… We have to explain everything to them.

I retire calmly. I feel the love of tennis, and in the end that is what matters; you’ve done something right…

Q. From your experience, how do you perceive what is happening with Carlos Alcaraz?

R. It has unleashed a madness. I think after those three guys [Nadal, Federer y Djokovic], I have not seen anything like Carlitos, and that I have seen tennis … It is something very different from all the great talents that have emerged, apart from these three. It’s the best I’ve ever seen, without a doubt.

Q. Do you go away in peace then? What plans does he have?

R. Tennis has given me everything and now I want to train a little more, especially at a business level; I don’t know where, but I have some things in mind. I will also be able to dedicate a little more time to the tournament, because until now I couldn’t do it fully, and I also want to enjoy my family. In the short or medium term I don’t have anything concrete either, but there is a good basis for the transition; I have been lucky that this opportunity came my way four years ago and I have been lucky to be able to gradually head towards withdrawal, not all of a sudden. I insist: I have been very lucky.

Q. Suit or racket in hand. When do you feel the most responsibility?

R. When you work in a tournament like this, if something happens you are the visible face, so you have a big responsibility; Playing tennis, on the other hand, the only responsibility I feel is with myself, and I’ve also been used to that since I was little… If I lose or do something wrong, the anger can last more or less and the only one affected is me, but Here it affects a lot more people.


AC | Madrid

Held from 1990 to 1994 in Stockholm, in 1995 in Essen (Germany) and from 1996 to 2001 in Stuttgart, the Madrid Masters settled in the Spanish capital in 2002. From that course until 2008, the Casa de Campo Rockódromo served frame, on carpet, and as of 2009 it moved to the Caja Mágica in the San Fermín neighborhood.

Shaped by the billionaire Jon Tiriac, two years ago it was bought by the multinational IMG – sports marketing giant – and will continue in Spain until 2031, after several years of speculation about its possible transfer abroad and several tug-of-wars between the leaders and the City Hall.

“Manolo [Santana] convinced the mayor in his day, who at that time was Álvarez del Manzano [del Partido Popular], and the project was born thanks to him telling him that there is an incredible opportunity to bring the tournament here”, Feliciano rewinds; “It was very difficult, because there are very few events like this here: Formula 1 is in Montmeló, but we are not a country that organizes many sporting events and Madrid is not a city where there are precisely many”.

During the tenure of Manuela Carmena, an alleged distance between the tournament and the mayor’s office was spread, something that the current director denies. “All the mayors have been very good to us. What happened with Carmena was an absolute misinterpretation; Both she and her second, Luis Cueto, have behaved great, and when I say great, it’s great; the problem was caused by some councilors who used public money. It seemed that Carmena did not support him, but none of that, ”López qualifies.

“They were aware that the tournament was very good for the city. This tournament is not for any party. gerard [Tsobanian, director ejecutivo] he has told all the politicians that this tournament cannot depend on who is running the city; the tournament belongs to Madrid and the people of Madrid, period. That is why the agreements are so long and it has been signed until 2031 ”, ditch.

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