‘If you give everything you have, you can win or lose, without regret.’ Àlex Corretja – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 29
Alex Corretja is one of the most accomplished players in Spanish tennis history, world number 2, ATP Tour World Champion, 2 times runner-up at the French Open, Olympic Bronze Medalist in Doubles, Davis Cup champion, the list could go on and on.
However, in this interview Alex shares insights into the challenges he was facing as an athlete, the disappointment of not fulfilling his dream to become Roland Garros champion, in spite of being so close to it twice.
The challenges he was facing later as a Davis Cup captain, and the disappointment, when he brought the Spanish Davis Cup team to the final, and for the next season the federation decided to not renew his contract.
In this interview Alex Corretja shares
Christian: This interview is like childhood dream coming true, I’m joined by Àlex Corretja. To be honest, I wasn’t a small child during the height of your career, but looking back it feels like I was a small child. I saw you playing the Roland Garros finals against Carlos Moyá and Gustavo Kuerten, and I saw you beating Sampras in Hannover.
Àlex Corretja was bronze medalist with Albert Costa at the Sydney Olympics, two-time runner-up at the French Open, ATP Tour World champion in 1998, Davis Cup champion in 2000, Davis Cup runner-up as a coach in 2011, and Alex was Andy Murray’s coach to teach him how to play on clay.
Àlex: Thank you. It’s a pleasure for me.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Àlex: There are always a lot of dark moments and tough moments, but if you have a goal and if you have a commitment, that’s always something that you try to go for, you can go through these tough moments.
If you have a goal and commitment, you can go through tough moments.
I could probably say that my toughest moment was losing the second final of the French Open against Kuerten in 2001 because then I realized, that it was going to be very difficult for me to become a Roland Garros champion which was my dream. I had fought so hard to win that tournament, and that day was probably one of the toughest moments when I had to accept, I might not win it anymore. It took some time to recover from that.
To become a Roland Garros champion was my dream. I had fought so hard to win that tournament, and that day, when I had to accept, I might not win it anymore, was probably one of the toughest moments. It took some time to recover from that.
Christian: You won the first set, the second set was close and then it wasn’t too close after that.
Àlex: Exactly. With Kuerten, he was number one in the world, and on clay, it was like if you would play Rafa now, he was normally the favorite. I beat him a couple of times before but it was very difficult for me to play against him, because he had a great one-handed backhand, which I also had, but he could open up the court a little bit better than me, he hit down the line quicker than me, he had a better serve and a much better forehand.
Check out the video highlights of the French Open final 2001, Gustavo Kuerten vs Àlex Corretja
I was leading, by winning the first set, and then I was up a break in the second set. But as soon as I lost the second set, I realized that I had lost my chance and I saw, that he was building up his game and I was losing my game. There is where I felt like I gave up a little bit on my goal – which was to win that match no matter what, because I had realized that he was better, and I couldn’t handle the situation as well as I wanted to
I felt like I gave up a little bit on my goal – which was to win that match no matter what, because I had realized that he was better, and I couldn’t handle the situation as well as I wanted to.
Christian: How did you recover from that moment?
Àlex: Maybe I haven’t yet. In the end, you realize that you win some matches and you lose others. And when you practice as hard as you can, you fight and you do whatever you can to become the best you can be, you’re still not always going to win. And when you are playing, sometimes you feel this is the only goal in life – winning. But I recovered by taking things day by day, setting up different goals for the season.
You practice as hard as you can, you fight and you do whatever you can to become the best you can be, you’re still not always going to win. I recovered by taking things day by day, setting up different goals for the season.
I said to myself, I wanted to win a couple of tournaments that year, to finish top 15; and changed the goal of that year a little bit. Of course, it’s not easy, but then you have a team behind you that supports you, that helps you, you have your family, you have your friends. So the environment is very important.
Christian: I want to touch on one more dark moment; at least, I think it was a dark moment. You were played Sampras in the US Open quarter-final. That match became famous because Sampras vomited on the court and still won. And you were the opponent.
Àlex: That one was not a dark moment. That was a bright moment because it made me realize that I could become a good tennis player. Before, I thought I was playing well, but I was not good enough and that day, even though I had lost, it was a turning point for me.
This match against Sampras made me realize, that I could become a good tennis player. Even though I had lost, it was a turning point for me.
For many people, it was like, “You lost that big chance to become a semifinalist at the US Open to beat Sampras.” Yes, but from then on I became a top 10 player, I won the Masters and I won all these things you said before. So that made me open up my eyes, that I was able to play with Pete Sampras on his best surface, on his best court, and I had a match and I lost. But I gave my best and I was very close.
Check out the match highlights, Àlex Corretja vs Pete Sampras
In my opinion, the athlete needs to always give the best they have. If you give everything you have inside of you, in the end, you can win things. You can lose others, but you won’t regret anything. The problem is when you feel like you didn’t give your best.
If you give everything you have inside of you, in the end, you can win things, or you can lose, but you won’t regret anything. The problem is when you feel like you didn’t give your best.
Probably I could regret my fourth set at the French Open with Kuerten because I didn’t fight as much as I could, but at that moment I could not do anything else, so I’m not going to regret it 20 years later.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Àlex: My best moment was winning the ATP Masters in 1998, for sure, because it was in Hanover, it was Indoor, it was a fast court, and I was supposed to be only a clay court player. I beat Sampras in the semi-finals. So I had lost to Sampras two years before with match points, but then I beat Sampras having match points against me in the semi-finals in the ATP Tour World Championships, afterward, I beat Moyà after losing 2 sets to love, and I won in five sets.
Check out the match highlights, Àlex Corretja vs Carlos Moya
It’s funny, you don’t remember those moments like the ones I just mentioned, like “I was lucky enough to win.” But when you lose with match points against you, you feel like, “I lost with match points,” and then you remember it for a long time, and it hurts.
You don’t remember those moments when you were a bit lucky, but when you lose with match points against you, then you remember it for a long time, and it hurts.
It’s like when you play golf and you hit a putt from 8 meters and you feel like, “Wow, unbelievable.” But then you miss one like this and you’ll say, “I hit 84 but if I do not miss that…” But you don’t remember the one you putt from 7 meters. In the end, it’s always a bit of a balance.
His advice to a younger Àlex Corretja
Christian: If you could go back in time 20 years, what advice would you give your younger self?
Àlex: Probably I would advise doing most of the things I did, but maybe I would have loved to be a bit more flexible with myself, a little less strict, and to have a bit more fun, because at the end of the day, after many years, you realize it’s not all about winning or losing.
I would advise doing most of the things I did, but maybe I would have loved to be a bit more flexible with myself, a little less strict, and to have a bit more fun.
I would say, “When you sit down here after 20 years and you feel like you’re happy with yourself, that’s the most important thing.”
Life has millions of things. It doesn’t matter, if people see you on the street and they look at you and they say, “You won here… You won there…” At the end of the day, that doesn’t make any difference; but what makes a difference if you are a nice human being, you are a good person, you behave well with people and you try to help.
It doesn’t matter if you won matches 20 years ago. At the end of the day, that doesn’t make any difference; but what makes a difference if you are a nice human being, you are a good person, you behave well with people and you try to help.
What is it going to change now, if we’re sitting here and I would have won Roland Garros 20 years ago? The difference is that you would say, “Wow, that’s a great memory.” But you’re sitting here anyway with me. Let’s not make it like it is the end of the world. I was number two in the world and I was trying to be number one, but I couldn’t. I gave my best so that’s it. It’s not that it’s going to be my life and I’m going to die if I don’t win that tournament, that I thought I wanted to win.
I was number two in the world and I was trying to be number one, but I couldn’t. I gave my best so that’s it.
I could probably say to the younger Alex Corretja “Be a bit more flexible, be professional and be committed, but have a little more fun and enjoy the situation a bit more. Enjoy the day by day process.” As an athlete, you are very driven and you only remember things when you are finished with the process, and reached your goal. You don’t normally enjoy the process and that’s a pity.
As an athlete, you are very driven and you only remember things when you are finished with the process, and reached your goal. You don’t normally enjoy the process and that’s a pity.
His role, success, and disappointment as Davis Cup Captain
Christian: I only have one more question. As a Davis Cup captain, you brought Spain to the final, and you did it without Rafa [Nadal], so that’s an achievement within itself. And they did not renew your contract. It was in the press, you mentioned, that you were dissatisfied by that.
I can understand that because if you look at it, there is one very dominant tennis player in Spain, and you brought the team to the finals without that player and they didn’t give you the recognition by renewing your contract.
How did you recover from that?
Àlex: In the end, you need to accept, that not everything depends only on you. You did what you could, but then there’s a President of the Federation, who makes the decisions. So you can be disappointed, you can be sad, but at the end of the day, you don’t feel like, “Yes, I deserved it.” Maybe I think I deserved it, but they believed that I didn’t deserve it and they gave the chance to another former player.
You can be disappointed, you can be sad, but at the end of the day, you need to accept, that not everything depends only on you.
Also, in Spain, we have so many ex-players, and that means that lots of people have the ‘right’ or they deserve to have the credit to be Davis Cup captain. I felt like I could have had another year because some of the captains before had many or more years than me, but at that moment the President felt that that was not the right decision, so he made a decision. And I’m not going to say that he made a wrong decision, but after that, we really had problems with the Davis captain with so many issues.
Because in the end, it’s not just a matter of taking one player or another. It’s the whole situation, when you talk to players, you talk to the coaches and how you create a good ambiance in the team. It was a pity and that’s it. I had a little bit of a tough time in a way, but I was more mature than 20 years ago so it was okay.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Àlex: I would like to nominate Jordi Arrese. He’s a good friend of mine. He won a silver medal in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and I think he’s a very interesting character. He’s very intense. The only problem is that you will need to do that in Spanish.
Christian: I know. I’m prepared for that. I have one question about Jordi Arrese, do you think he ever sleeps he’s so energetic?
Àlex: I don’t think he sleeps much, because he’s always very active but I can say that he is an unbelievable person so that’s the most important thing.
Christian: Thanks for your time, Àlex.
Àlex: Thanks Christian, it was my pleasure.