Do you enjoy being in Asia?
It’s fantastic and they’ve done a great job! I came with my parents and friends and they’ve had a good time too.
Is it different playing tennis in Asia compared to other countries?
Well, the courts and opponents are the same, of course. But the people and cultures are different, which is what I enjoy the most. In Asia, I’ve been to Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok. I lost in the Quarters at the ATP Open in Bangkok, but used the extra time to see the palaces and temples. I also went to the Elephant Park and rode on an elephant! I wish I had more time to sightsee in every country I visit.
Do you enjoy the travelling that comes with your tennis?
Yes, especially when my family is with me, as happens often. But unfortunately they get more time to sightsee than me.
Are you close to your family?
Yes, very close. They have stood by me throughout.When I suffered from a serious injury and lost my World No 1 ranking in 1999, they were the ones who supported me.
What was the injury that made you lose your World No 1 title in 1999?
It was a stress fracture that took six months to heal. I tried hard to play, but did not succeed. You can’t afford this in professional tennis, you know even a week’s break can bring you down.
Tennis must have its ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ for you?
Yes. The ‘highs’ are the terrific competition that makes you perform better and better. As also the travel and exposure to different people and culture. The ‘lows’ are the bad losses and injuries. And also that you are away from home for so long.
What advice would you like to give the youngsters who would like to take up tennis?
I was like one of them, and if I can do it, so can they. I started the game when I was six years old and enjoyed the game totally. The main thing is to have fun while practising hard.
What has tennis taught you?
To respect everyone, both on and off the courts. We get so much of love in the different countries we play that we learn to love and respect them too.
Do you love the tennis crowds in Asia?
They’re absolutely wonderful! People make the difference everywhere.
Do you like Asian food?
Yes, I enjoy Indian and Thai cuisine because I like spicy food.
What about the women?
They are beautiful, helpful and give you so much respect.
I guess your women fans outnumber the male ones?
(Laughs embarressedly) Do they?
What is your definition of an ideal woman?
I don’t think there’s an ‘ideal’ woman. It’s a mixture of so many qualities. I’ll know when I find one. No, I have not found one as yet. I don’t have a girl friend.
Are you proud of your good looks?
Well, if it helps to bring more people to watch my tennis that’s fine by me. I worked hard to be a good tennis player and that’s what counts for me. I was in the Top 8, then moved to No 1, you know.
What was your reaction when you were voted ‘One of the Most Beautiful People in the World’ by People magazine in 1999?
I was embarrassed.
What are your hobbies outside the tennis court?
I love music and movies. I enjoy watching football and basketball. I love video games and take some along with me everywhere, including Bangkok. I like to do different things to help me relax. That’s why I tried acting in a film, sang with a Spanish band etc.
What clothes do you like to wear?
I’m not a ‘designer brand person’, and like comfortable clothes. Jeans and T-shirts are my favourite. I wear sleeveless vests for tennis only because they are so comfortable.
What will you remember most about Asia?
The colour, the crowds and the spirits. I love to come here, not just to play tennis but to enjoy the culture and the country.