For those who don't speak French, i've translated the interview for PennyThePenguin so i thought i might post it here as well.
Even if he's only 1 metre 65 tall, Olivier Rochus, 24, never had hang-ups when facing those who are 20, 30 or even 43 cm taller, like Ivo Karlovic is. Besides, despite his 1,93m and his impressive lists of titels and results, Marat Safin is admiring, and has often been paying Rochus compliments, as the quick and inspired game of the Belgian has often been a problem for him.
After the player from Namur (don't know if it's the good spelling in English)
just entered the top 30 for the first time, and before the BNP Paribas Masters in Bercy where he could make a good impression, we met him to talk about the last years and about his future prospects regarding his progress. Humble, he doesn't want to aim too high, which doesn't mean he doesn't want to surprise himself again.
In this long interview we had in New York during the US Open, he also talks about his friend, Roger Federer, with warmth and humour, and makes some funny disclosures about him. But he is not as gentle when talking about doping and about the recent ban of Cañas, who he doesn't spare, and that's an understatement. Frank and uncompromising Olivier Rochus...
Tennis Magazine: When we ask other people about you on the pro tour, they all use the same word: talentuous. How would you describe your talent?
Olivier Rochus: Not an easy question to begin with (smile). Let's say that i have a nice touch and a good vision of the game (smile). You can say the same about my brother [Christophe, 2 years older]. It's true, we're pretty good in the family. But talent isn't enough. You have to work too. Because you have to be able to work on your talent during five hours. Otherwise talent is useless.
TM: All these praises about you aren't new. When you won the tournament "Les Petits As" in 1995, comments were already laudatory. Have you always kept a cool head despite all the compliments?
OR: Compliments never went to my head because i've always known i wouldn't win with my power, i knew it very early in my career. Serves over 200 km/hour seemed beyond my capacities (smile). I constantly tried to win with my qualities, and thus i worked on them.
TM: what was the best compliment you heard on your game, and who was it from?
OR: I've been very touched by what Marat Safin said about me.*[/SIZE] I remember he told me once that if he had my nice touch and my talent he would have had a great career... when you see what his career already is, it's a very hart-warming compliment (smile).
* Even though he leads Olivier 5-1 in their head-to-head, Marat Safin always had the worst difficulties against an opponent who defeated him in Wimbledon in 2002 and who has been a real threat @ the last Australian Open.
TM: What were your dreams when you won "Les Petits As" 10 years ago?
OR: My dream was to earn my living playing tennis. My goal was to enter the top 100. When people were saying a player was in the top 100, i was already very impressed. And i was also very interested in the Davis Cup. I used to watch it on TV and i thought it was very exciting. But when i was young i never dreamt of becoming the world #1 or of winning Grand Slam tournaments, no. You have to remember that at the time Belgian tennis wasn't at the same level as today. Among the men, the best were in the top 60 or top 70, like Johan Van Herck or Kris Goossens. They were my models, even if Pete Sampras was my idol. And maybe my ambition would have been bigger if Belgium had had top 10 or top 20 players. But if i never had a huge ambition it is also because i knew that with my height i was a little bit uncertain.*
* he is 1,65 m tall and is the shortest of all top 100 players.
TM: We remember that when you dominated European tennis in the young categories, you already had to deal with a big pressure from the medias in Belgium, maybe because of this lack of good players on the pro tour...
OR: Of course it wasn't easy. Everyone expected me to play well, to be among the best, because i had been the #1 of the under-14s after i won the Orange Bowl. When i started to struggle a bit more, i heard or read unpleasant comments which said: "how is it possible to waste one's time with such a talent?". Besides, at the beginning, i used to hate journalists (laughter). I didn't like them at all. But now, luckily it's better (smile). Because i repeat, i didn't pay much attention to all the comments on how gifted i was. I was only focussed on the idea of giving my maximum. I was at my best when training, i wasn't going out much, i wasn't drinking, i wasn't messing around. I was rigorous, very rigorous.
TM: How did your parents react when facing with the media attention and the pressure?
OR: They weren't worried but there is one thing they were strict about: they wanted me to finish my studies and to get my "baccalauréat" [A levels/ high school diploma]. That's what i did. Quite easily because i couldn't imagine quitting school at 14. This is why i started on the pro tour @ 18 and a half, and i don't regret it. I needed to be more mature, both physically and mentally, to take up professional tennis.
TM: What are your childhood memories?
OR: I was a good boy (smile). With my brother we used to play tennis or mini-tennis a lot at home. At 12, i entered a boarding school in Mons [it was a school for young tennis players], where i stayed until my 18th birthday. I went there with my brother. I have a lot of memories of this place, like the football [soccer] nights (smile).
TM: Okay, a silly question before we mobe on. Your parents are dentists. How do you feel when you're going to the dentist?
OR: My mother is a dentist, whereas my father is a doctor and a dentist. From time to time they inspect my mouth, but it's not because they are my parents that i like to go to the dentist (smile). I remember that my father needed 2 hours one day to pull off one of my wisdomteeth. It's not a good memory (smile). But i trust them.
TM: Let's talk about tennis again. It seems that your career and your results are better since last year. What do you think of those past years?
OR: At the beginning i had problems, on a mental aspect. Sometimes i tanked matches. When it was a little bit windy, or when we played on bad courts, with loads of bad bounces, then i got worked up. I was out of the match mentally, and it was over. since 2 or 3 years i've progressed a lot in that area. I feel much stronger now.
TM: Wasn't this bad habit due to some perfectionism?
OR: Probably (smile). But i was also a perfectionist at school. If i didn't know my lesson of history perfectly, i was able to stay up at night until 2am to learn it (smile). During the training, if i missed one or two returns i could really crack up. I've improved but i still worry. When i start a tournament, i like to be sure that i gave my best at training to start in the best conditions. If i have any little doubt inside of me, i won't be as serene and things won't go well.
TM:Which means you're harsh with yourself...
OR: Very harsh with myself. I sets high standards for myself and i'm a perfectionist. But i have my limits. For instance i won't start breaking rackets because i've the feeling that i played very bad during one or two training sessions (smile). In general i don't lose heart. When my tennis isn't good i step up my efforts at training. And that would still be true if i was #200 tomorrow.
TM: One year ago at the US Open, you played the fourth round of a GS for the second time in your career, after the one you played in wimbledon in 2003. Do you think that this match triggered something off in your mind?
OR: One year ago i was #70, now i'm #29, my best ranking ever. during the last months, i've become more consistent than ever. In the past, i could have a very good result and then do nothing good for the 6 following months. I can't explain this new consistency. I've been training the same way, with the same intensity. Maybe i'm more confident in my abilities. Beating someone as good as Moya, at the US Open last year, might have shown me something. I saw that when i'm playing well i can reach the level of the best players.
TM: Your coach, Julien Hoferlin, counts the matches in which you gave up mentally. In 2005 there's only one match on the list...
OR: It's true, there are less and less of them by the time (smile). When it happens i always feel very bad when going out of court. I am so ashamed that i want to hide or to keep close to the walls (smile). Yes, i'm ashamed that i've ruined everything by refusing to fight whereas i have the luck to have an extraordinary life. I travel around the world, we get to live in luxurious hotels and then me, i go crazy because there's some wind. The only match on this year's list was in Stuttgart. I was leading 6/4 2/0 against Zabaleta, and then i suddenly stopped playing because i couldn't stand the win and my own frustration anymore. The result was that i lost 6/2 6/1 in 30 minutes. The opponent wasn't Zabaleta, nor the wind. It was me.
TM: You're the world #29. How do you view the future? What are your ambitions?
OR: I'm humble, and i've always been. I think it's because of my height and of all the things i've been told on the subject (smile). People always told me my limits. When i was 16 i heard them say: "Oh, this one, he is too short to succeed". Then it happened again when i was in the under-18 category: "The little guy, he shall not dream too much". So being #29 now is surprising. At the end of 2004 i was 65th in the rankings, so at the beginning of this year my goal was to be in the top 50. to end the year in the top 30 would be great. again, because of my size (smile), i know my limits. I'll never have Roddick's power, and i'll never be as strong as Nadal. Careful! I'm not saying i'm a two horsepower car facing with Ferraris! But i can't imagine myself showing off and saying: "now my goal is the top 10".
TM: Isn't it a lack of ambition?
OR: Some players say they want to become #1, but for me i think it would sound ridiculous with people like Federer, Nadal and Roddick around. I have a clear view of my game. The top 20? Why not, i'd like it (smile). But people don't realize the difference between a #20 and a #30. But i'll keep working physically and technically and we'll see what happens. Don't get me wrong, i have the ambition. I've reached the fourth round of a GS, i now want to reach a quarterfinal. And also the Davis Cup is close to my heart. It would be really fantastic to play a great match, a decisive fifth match.
TM: You've won a GS title though, in doubles with Xavier Malisse in roland Garros in 2004. What trace has that victory left?
OR: It was fantastic, especially as i almost withdrew. I was injured and i had lost 6/1 6/1 6/2 in singles against David Ferrer. The day we signed up, i remember i told Xav that he'd better find another partner because i could give up. But he answered that it would be me or nobody. So i played. Then all went fast until i finally had the trophee in my hands, on the Center Court, in front of a huge crowd as we defeated French players [Michaël Llodra and Fabrice Santoro]. We couldn't dream of anything better (smile).
TM: Xavier Malisse is an atypical player, who may be very highly strung at times. How do you "handle" him as a partner?
OR: (embarrassed) Actually, things aren't going too well between us. At the moment we have issues related to the davis cup.* It's a little bit complicated to explain and it's sad. With Xav, we've done everything together and for so long. I think we know each other since we were 12 years old. At 14 we were the world #2 in doubles. It's true that when you don't know Xavier very well, you may be surprised. But i'm used to his tantrums since my childhood. I used to try to calm him down, and most of the time things were perfectly well between us.
* Xavier Malisse refuses to play the davis Cup in 2006. for this reason, he's been banned from the relegating tie vs the United Sates, on Olivier's initiative notably.
TM: We've seen you play in doubles with your brother Christophe lately...
OR: We played in Kitzbuhel and we made it to the final. Last week in New Haven we beat Gonzalez and Massu. But we're both short so it's not always easy. Our serves are far from extraordinary so we're quickly under pressure. Apart from that, we get along very well.
TM: People say the 2 bothers are very different from each other. Do you agree?
OR: We have totally opposite personalities. Even when there's something i don't like, i prefer to stay stilent, to say nothing. If my steak doesn't taste good, i won't tell the waiter or the cook. I will eat it and say it was perfect. the guy cooked for me, it's great (smile). But Chris, he won't hesitate to say that it's disgusting. If you don't know him, he may hurt you. He's more introverted than i am. He likes to keep to himself. While i like to talk with people.
TM: Have you become rivals over the years?
OR: Not at all. We've never been rivals, even at the beginning. Right now i'm in the top 30, he's #50, but it doesn't matter to me. But when i watch him play i'm pretty nervous. It's not the case with him. It's not that he doesn't care, but as if (laughter).
TM: You played against him twice on the pro tour. What are your memories of those special matches?
OR: It was awful. There is especially this first round match in Wimbledon which i won in front of our parents. There are 128 players in the draw, and i had to play against my brother, i couldn't believe it! I have no motivation when i have to play such a match. You can't raise your fist, when you hit a nice shot you can't show your joy. There's no envy for me. I just wait for the match to end. It's not funny.
TM: During your career you had to answer a lot of questions about your size.? Everytime you make a good performance, journalists almost always talk about this particularity...
OR: I'm used to it since my childhood, as i've always been the shortest (smile). It gets boring after a while, and i don't pay attention anymore. Sometimes i don't even answer them. But i never thought about it too much, otherwise i would have quit tennis. My father is short, i am short, that's it. At least people can't say that i took growth hormones to be where i am now (smile).
TM: Is it true that your parents have received offers from so-called doctors who had a few "potions" to help you growing up?
OR: When i was a child i haven't been offered anything. But some people told me :"you know, there are growth hormones". With my parents being doctors, i was protected against this kind of danger.
TM: Just like your brother, you always used a very offensive tone when talking about doping. Guillermo Cañas just got a 2 years ban for using illegal products. What did you think of this?
OR: I'm satisfied. Cañas, i've been looking at him with perplexity for a long time. He was able to play for 5 hours, to run like mad in order to defend, and he never looked out of breath. He never gasped, he was able to make 3 meters slides after 5 sets. If i had been asked to name one player who i was sure was doped, i would have given his name. And what a coincidence! it's him who they caught, and once again, it's an Argentine. We should start thinking about that, no? anyway, it's a very good thing that the sentence is severe this time. Because Puerta, Coria, they're back already. Look at them, they are #5, #10 after having been banned for only a few months.
TM: In the locker room, did you sometimes have doubts on the physical evolution of some players?
OR: I won't mention any name, but among the very best players i sometimes noticed that some things weren't normal. You see them i a minor tournament where they seem to have put on weight. Two weeks later it's a GS and they don't have an ounce of fat. I've seen some of them, it's amazing. How is it possible? No matter how much i work on my physial, i'm unable to get such results within such a short time.
TM: You're very close to the world #1, with whom you won Wimbledon in doubles when you were juniors. What does Roger Federer inspire you with?
OR: I was 12 or 13 when i met him, and he used to cry after every match he lost (laughter). In the locker room we were telling him: "Come on Roge, it doesn't matter". I remember it as if it were yesterday. i remember a doubles match in which Xav and i defeated him. He was so inconsolable that i gave him a hug (laughter). So now when you see what he has achieved, pffff (laughter). He's an extraordinary player, and he is a fantastic guy. He's still nice with me, he's humble and very cool.
When i look at him i tell myself that i'm dreaming, he can't be the world #1 (smile). We talk and we laugh together like we used to in the past. When we were in the under-14s category, he was losing all his matches 6/0 6/0 or 6/0 6/1. Then, little by little, we started to think that the little Swiss guy was improving, so much that he gave me hammerings when we became juniors (under-16), whereas i used to dominate everyone when we were 14 and he kept losing in the qualifying draws at the time. He went from the worst under-14 player to maybe the greatest player of all times (smile).
TM: You recently played against him in Cincinnati and at the US open, where you couldn't win a set. How do you prepare your matches against him?
OR: I tell myself: "Come on, do your maximum". Actually you shall not focus on him. You must focus on your own game. But it's true that when you win your first game against him you feel almost relieved. At least your honour is safe! Because you're scared of being ridiculous against him. And i had never felt this way against anyone before him. When i see him moving, i have the impression that he is sliding on the water (smile). And also, he always hits the good shot. Roge, he has everything, he is perfect.
TM: In Belgium, you also grew up with Justine Hénin, who was a runner up in Tarbes in "Les Petits as" the year you won there...
OR: Juju stayed in the boarding school 3 or 4 years when i was there. We were always together. We got along very well, especially as she liked to play football [soccer] with us (smile). After that, she carried on her own way. We've seen each other less and less. She became #1, she now lives in Monaco and trains in Florida. She has her coach, her husband, she's not really disposed to go partying. She does her job thoroughly, she is in her cocoon, but when we see each other we talk like we used to in the past. For instance we went to the restaurant together in Belgium at the beginning of the year.
TM: and Kim Clijsters?
OR: I don't know her as well as i know Justine because she is Flemish and thus she wasn't in the same boarding school. But she's differnt from Justine, she's more open, more cheerful.
TM: And you, how do you cope with the rivalry between Flemish and Walloons?
OR: I find it completely stupid. Whether one is Flemsih or Walloon doesn't matter. We're Belgians first. Belgium is a small country but everyone goes on his/her own way because he/she is Flemish or Walloon. Frankly it's stupid, and sad. and i've got the feeling that it's getting worse. I think the Flemish want to become independant Dutch, they don't want to be Belgians anymore.
TM: To conclude, let's leave the political ground for gold fairways. We've been told you're an excellent player...
OR: I have a handicap of 9 (is it correct? i don't know you say it in English ). Actually i don't have the time to play golf anymore. Golf is relaxing, it's in the nature, in the wood. I like the nature, and i like animals too. At home, i can spend hours watching documentaries about animals. Whales, sharks, crocodiles, snakes, i found them fascinating.