Biofile: The Fernando Gonzalez Interview
By Scoop Malinowski
Thursday, December 04, 2008
© Getty Images
Fernando Gonzalez's tennis time frame comes strung complete with family ties. The first major match of Gonzalez's career was not the day he stepped onto Rod Laver Arena to face Roger Federer in the 2007 Australian Open final. Rather, the first major showdown of Gonzalez's career came when he faced a familiar foe — his father — in a Chilean club final.
"I remember when I beat the first time my dad, I was like 11," Gonzalez recalls. "We played this tournament at the tennis club. We played the finals and [I] beat him for the first time. All the club was cheering for me [laughs]."
The 28-year-old from Santiago, Chile has attracted a loyal fan base enamored of his explosive game and his ability to compete on all surfaces: the Australian Open finalist has reached at least the quarterfinals of every Grand Slam event.
Gonzalez' gigantic forehand is one of the most devastating shots in the sport and he has used that shot to bludgeon his way past Juan Martin del Potro, Lleyton Hewitt, James Blake, Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas during his run to his first career Grand Slam final at the Melbourne major nearly two years ago.
Working with former coach Larry Stefanki, who was hired by Andy Roddick last month, Gonzalez developed a wider shot spectrum then he displayed earlier in his career.
Improved fitness has made Gonzalez a smarter player in that he can now negotiate his way through rallies rather than try to simply hit his way through opponents or blast out of trouble. He has become adept at managing his weaker backhand side, alternating slice and topspin backhands at varying speeds. The speed difference between Gonzalez's slice backhand and his explosive forehand can be both dramatic and unsettling to opponents.
"Fernando obviously got a pretty nasty serve, the big forehand. He's moving well," Haas said. "Seems like he's trying to use the court much better now."
Last season, Gonzalez claimed two tournament titles — winning his third career Viña del Mar title and capturing the clay-court crown in Munich — and edged James Blake in a controversial 4-6, 7-5, 11-9 triumph in the Beijing Olympic semifinals before bowing to Nadal to earn the Olympic silver medal.
It was the third Olympic medal of Gonzalez's career: he won the bronze medal in singles and partnered Nicolas Massu to strike gold in doubles at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Gonzalez spent three sets of his dramatic duel with Taylor Dent giving everything he had to give in saving a pair of match points before prevailing 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 to claim the bronze medal and give Chile its first medal of the Athens Olympic Games. The match was so tight only a single point separated the pair by the time it was over: Gonzalez won 165 points to Dent’s 164.
Massu and Gonzalez captured Chile’s first gold medal in the 108-year history of the modern Olympic Games with a 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 triumph over Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler. In a memorable climax to that match, the Chileans engaged in an emotional embrace and crashed to the court together.
Gonzalez and Massu had cause for celebration. The pair fought off four match points trailing 2-6 in the fourth-set tiebreak then rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the decisive set by winning five of the final six games to seize one of their nation’s greatest sports victories in a three hour, 43-minute that offered tense, tenacious — and at times tremendous — tennis.
It was an astonishing effort from Gonzalez who spent more than seven hours on the court in less than 24 hours of his bronze-medal singles match and gold-medal doubles match.
Scoop Malinowski, whose Olympic experience was confined to teenage backyard boxing matches that saw him play the roles of both former U.S. Olympic boxers Michael and Leon Spinks (unlike Leon, Scoop has retained his front teeth despite his affinity for the sweet science), caught up with Gonzalez recently for this Biofile interview.
6-foot, 180 pounds.
July 29, 1980 in Santiago, Chile.
"It was Boris Becker. When he won Wimbledon, he was my hero."
"They call me Nenna. Or Gonzolito. The Americans call me Gonzo."
"Internet, fly-fishing, football, have dinner with friends, barbecue with family, that's it."
"I don't like much."
"Everyone. I have everyone."
Early Tennis Memory:
"I used to go with my dad (Fernando) for a few years, of playing with his friends. My father used to go with them. The first time that I play I take one of his racquets and go to the wall and I say, I like this (age 5)."
"Barbecue steak I guess."
Favorite Breakfast Cereal:
"No I don't eat cereal."
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:
Funny Tennis Memory:
"I remember when I beat the first time my dad, I was like 11. We played this tournament at the tennis club. We played the finals and beat him for the first time. All the club was cheering for me [laughs]. (Do you remember the score?) 6-2 6-0 [laughs]."
"I try to be relaxed. And I try to go into the court to enjoy the tennis — the most important thing. I always come to every Slam with a big illusion. In tennis you always have a new opportunity."
Greatest Sports Moment:
"2004 Olympics Athens (won gold in doubles with Nicolas Massu, saving four match points vs. Germany's Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler and won bronze in singles defeating Taylor Dent, 16-14 in third set)."
Most Painful Moment:
"Losing to Federer in the Australian Open final (7-6, 6-4, 6-4 in 2007). The most important match of my life."
Closest Tennis Friends:
"My best friends are outside of tennis. I made a lot of friends in tennis but they don't still play any more."
Funniest Players Encountered:
"I like Guga. He was a great player — everybody knows that — and he was always nice with everybody. And he always try to make some jokes, that kind of thing. And Goran Ivanisevic. I don't know him, just saw the way he plays. He makes faces and gestures that other players don't make."
"Everybody's tough here. I've been playing with too many tough ones. There's a lot of competitors."
"All of the Grand Slams. Vina Del Mar — I won it twice (2002, 2004). I mean, it was all stadium was full and everybody was cheering for me and it felt so good. It was like a Davis Cup."
People Qualities Most Admired:
"People that try to be nice. But I don't like a double personality."
Scoop Malinowski created the Biofile interview in 1992. Scoop is a Tennisweek.com contributor, noted boxing expert and accomplished recreational tennis player who has competed in the USTA Nationals and the National Public Parks Championships at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.