Re: Andrea Collarini Now Represents the US
Very interesting article on how his playing nationality came about. And he's in the final tomorrow.
Coming to America
By Douglas Robson
PARIS—A group of Argentine reporters stood with tape recorders at-the-ready for a junior tennis player. But the boy they were waiting for wasn’t playing for Argentina; he was playing for the United States. Andrea Collarini, an 18-year-old with dark curly hair and bright prospects on clay, had just upset ninth-seeded Duilio Beretta of Peru 6-3, 6-3, to reach the boys’ singles final at Roland Garros. Collarini could become the first French Open boys’ winner for the U.S. since John McEnroe in 1977. But as he entered the small press room for his interview, South American reporters easily outnumbered their North American counterparts.
Collarini, it turns out, has barely dusted the dirt off his Argentine affiliations. He competed for Argentina until this spring, when the American-born player switched national allegiances and decided to play under the banner of the Red, White and Blue. He relocated in April full-time to the USTA training center in Boca Raton, Fla. As one of Argentina’s top young players, his defection left the Argentine Tennis Federation less than thrilled. “Obviously they are not happy,” said Maximiliano Boso, who has covered the story for Argentina’s daily La Nacion. “The federation felt that they had invested money in this guy and they have empty hands.”
If this were a Greek tragedy, the gods pulling the strings atop Mount Olympus would be having a good chuckle. Who does Collarini play in Sunday’s boys final? An Argentine, of course. And not just any Argentine, either. “He’s my best friend in tennis,” said Collarini of Agustin Velotti, who, like Collarini, is unseeded. Collarini and Velotti have known each other since they were 11, played doubles together since age 14 and sometimes slept in the same hotel bed before facing off in tournament finals. According to Collarini, the Argentine tennis authorities forbade them from playing together in Paris despite their shared history. “We couldn’t play here because the federation didn’t want me to play with him,” said Collarini, who speaks in deliberate and accented English.
Collarini was born in New York City and lived there until age 3 when his parents, who spent a decade studying in the States, returned to their native Buenos Aires. The left-hander grew into a promising player, eventually reaching a high of No. 5 in the world junior rankings last year. More recently, he reached two semis and one final on the professional level at $10,000 Futures events in Argentina, Croatia and Spain.
To take the next step in his career, Collarini took advantage of his U.S. passport and the recent hiring of his coach by the USTA High Performance program. When the USTA offered him a chance to train full-time at the player-development headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., he leaped. Money was a big part of it. “They are my sponsor now,” Collarini, clearly a tad uncomfortable talking about his recent change, said of the USTA. “They pay me everything.” His loyalties are still untangling. Asked who he would root for in this month’s World Cup, the soccer-loving Collarini said, “Both—but I think Argentina has much more chances.”
Collarini came into the sights of the USTA through his coach, Diego Moyano, according to USTA spokesman Tim Curry. Moyano informed the head coach of the USTA High Performance program, Jose Higueras, about Collarini during job discussions last year. Moyano was eventually hired and will start with the USTA on June 15.
Aware of the sensitivities, Curry emphasized that the USTA didn’t “poach” Collarini and that the discussions “emanated from Jose trying to recruit Diego from the staff.” Curry went on to explain that the Argentine federation released Collarini “with no issue.” This is usually a condition for switching countries, according to the ITF, and there is precedence for nations refusing to allow a transfer when they have invested money in a player. It happened this year in the case of Sean Berman, who reached January’s Australian Open boys’ final. The USTA, which funded Berman for several years, declined to offer his immediate release when the South Africa-born Berman declared his intention to play for Australia. “We would not release him because we had given him direct financial support,” Currysaid. Collarini also cannot compete in team events for the U.S., such as Davis Cup, for three years after his last competition for his old country. He'll be eligible in September 2011.
Boso, the Argentine journalist, said that the USTA made an offer to Collarini last year and he declined. They came to terms this year, largely because Moyano would remain his coach. That was clearly a big factor. “I’m still practicing with the same coach so it’s the same,” Collarini said Friday. Still, the federation in Argentina was looking into monetary compensation from the USTA, according to Boso. Curry said that the Argentine tennis authorities had made no “formal request for money” but he wasn’t sure if they had made other demands.
Curry also pointed out that Moyano, who has worked with 1998 French Open champ Carlos Moya and American Robby Ginepri, is not Collarini’s private coach. He will be working with other top juniors. Meantime, Collarini will train with a variety of USTA coaches, such as Jay Berger, Hugo Armando and Leo Azevedo, who is with him in Paris. “We have a resident program and provide coaching,” said Curry, who could put no dollar figure on how much they would spend on housing, coaching and travel for Collarini. “In Argentina or elsewhere these would have been out-of-pocket expenses for him.”
USTA coach Azevedo, a Brazilian who joined the USTA about a year ago, said Collarini has a good chance to win if he can block out the situation of playing his friend in his first big final since changing countries. “It’s not easy,” Azevedosaid. “He is 18. If you want to be good, there are a lot of tough situations.” Azevedo cited Rafael Nadal, whose first important win as a teenager was over his friend and mentor Carlos Moya. “When you go to the court in a good way you need to try to kill the other. There is a spot only for one. After match, you can be friends.”
Azevedo said that winning here is not his main concern. Rather, he wants Collarini, a good mover with a heavy topspin forehand, to improve all aspects of his game. “He is 18 years old with a lot of things to come and a lot of hours on court….I think he has potential in general. But the most important thing now is don’t be happy about this [result] and look for more improvement. Every good player is improving. Nadal is better this year than last year….[Collarini] has a chance to be a good player, for sure.”
Whether he makes it as a pro remains to be seen, but no one at the USTA seems disappointed to have a top prospect who honed his game on red clay, especially considering the dismal results of the U.S. men in Paris in recent years. No American man has reached the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Agassi was the last winner in 1999. “I don’t know if the Argentina federation is happy,” Azevedosaid, “but we are.”