by Robert Davis
Revered for his fighting spirit and feared for his lethal weapon of a forehand, Fernando Gonzalez will be most remembered as a man who never forgot where he came from.
At the Sony Ericsson Open, Fernando Gonzalez is warming up for what would turn out to be his final match on the ATP World Tour. He is hitting on Court 8 with his childhood friend, Luis Manrique. Not only is he ending his career in the same place as he began it, but he is doing it in the same way, by playing tennis with his best friends. Both Gonzalez and Manrique trained together as little boys at Patricio Apey’s academy in Key Biscayne. Research Fernando Gonzalez, and the one thing that you will quickly discover is that he never forgot where he came from. Or those people who helped him along the way.
"As great a player as he was," says Manrique, "Fernando is an even greater friend."
Everyone inside Fernando’s inner-circle knows that even though he made the quarter-finals in Buenos Aires recently, he is not a threat here at the Sony Ericsson Open. What Fernando most wants is to be competitive and put up a good fight for those people who came to see him play his last tournament. When the final point was played and Fernando went down 7-6 in the third set against Nicolas Mahut, after saving a couple of match points along the way, he allowed himself to go out with his head up and back straight. Gonzalez carved out a career that included a Top 5 finish in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, three Olympic medals; gold, silver and bronze, and 11 ATP World Tour titles.
Fernando Gonzalez will not be remembered most for his amount of wins on Tour, but for the impact he had on the tennis industry. Proof of how well respected he has been on the ATP World Tour could be found at his farewell party, thrown by his longtime sponsors and management agency at a downtown Miami club. Novak Djokovic showed up, as did Juan Martin del Potro, Gael Monfils and Nicolas Massu among others ATP past and present greats. The highlight of the night was a video montage of Gonzalez career that went all the way back to when he was six years old. There was even footage of a young Fernando telling a reporter that his dream is to one day be ranked among the Top 10 in the world.
The first day of his new life as Fernando Gonzalez the person and not the tennis player, he sat down with DEUCE in Key Colony apartments in Key Biscayne. By his side were his father, Fernando Sr. and his older sister, Patricia.
DEUCE: When and where did you make the decision to retire from tennis?
FERNANDO: The first weeks of January I was in Chile and I was practising hard to get ready for Vina del Mar. And I was feeling like I have to do this. Every day and every time I have to get up and train. And every day I say to myself that I have to do this. I have to do this. And one morning I said to myself, ‘No, I don’t have to do this anymore’. All my life I have sacrificed for tennis. And I was happy to do it. But I just did not have the energy to do it properly anymore. It was not an easy decision but I feel at peace with myself because I know that I gave 100 per cent throughout my entire career.
DEUCE: What were you thinking when you lined up to serve down two match points in the third set? (4-5, 15/40)
FERNANDO: I was thinking this could be my last point that I would ever play. After that I played two great points. There was a lot of feelings. I felt like it was the end. It was a very special match because I was thinking that this could be it. At the end it was something that I never lived with those kind of feelings.
DEUCE: How does it feel to see such an outpouring of support from the tennis industry and tennis fans for your son?
FERNANDO SR.: It has been beautiful. Since he was a young boy in Chile, Fernando has always loved little kids and people. He is very much a people person. But tennis was on his mind every day. I remember his birthdays; he only wanted gifts that were related to tennis: racquets and balls. And I think we still have some gifts that he never opened because he knew that they were not about tennis. He was very focused on his goals as a little boy.
PATRICIA: That is right. He always wanted to play tennis. We have a video of a reporter who asked Fernando when he was like seven or eight years old what he wanted from tennis. And Fernando said very clearly that his dream was to one day be among the Top 10 in the world.
DEUCE: When did you first realise that Fernando had a special talent for tennis?
FERNANDO SR.: I remember when Fernando was four years old he was always very coordinated, whether it was football or tennis or whatever. Physically he was very good. But the truth is that when we were really convinced that he had a special talent is when we saw a video of Andre Agassi playing tennis when he was six or seven years old. And I compared Fernando’s ability to that of Agassi’s at the same age, and from that moment we got very excited and it became all tennis for our family.
DEUCE: Which final was the toughest for you to lose? Australian Open (2007 l. to Federer), or the Olympics (2008 l. to Nadal)?
FERNANDO: Wow. That is a tough question. They both hurt a lot. I guess, maybe Australia as I had more chances to win. I was playing the best tennis of my life. And on the set point, 40-15 I went to his (Federer) backhand, and probably I should have hit it harder to the other side. But in Beijing it was different. I was not playing great tennis at the time. And then the draw kind of opened up and I started to do better. Walking out onto the court for the final against Rafa felt like revenge after four years because I could not play the finals in Athens. But I was not so confident as I knew I had to beat the best player in the world at that moment. I was nervous. I knew that Rafa played this kind of big pressure match three or four times per year. And for me it was like only the third or fourth big match in my whole life. I knew Rafa had more experience than me. But still I thought that I might get some chances.
DEUCE: What do you think life will be like after the ATP?
FERNANDO: I think in the beginning it will not be that tough, because I plan to do many things like travel. I want to see and feel what it is like to travel the world without a tennis bag. But certainly sooner or later I will begin to miss the competition.
DEUCE: Will we see you on the ATP Champions Tour?
FERNANDO: I have to wait for two years, yes? But I am sure I will play. Tennis will always be a part of my life.
DEUCE: Can you name one moment in Fernando’s career that stands out?
FERNANDO SR.: To select one moment in his entire tennis career that is the most special is very difficult. There have been so many. But Roland Garros when he won the Juniors was very special as it was the starting pointing of his career. We were so happy. I think this is the one tournament that I that think of the most.
DEUCE: Forehand to forehand, who was your toughest opponent?
FERNANDO: Another tough question. Del Potro hits a very hard forehand, but I would have to say that Carlos Moya had probably the best against me. He could hit it wherever he wanted to. His precision was incredible.
Fernando Sr., Fernando and Patricia oblige and pose for some photos like they have done a thousand times before. Then they turn towards the beach and slowly walk off into the sunset.