Pour your favorite drink, get comfortable and relax whilst enjoying this oasis amidst the madness of MTF.Zen and the art of being Freddie Nielsen
It’s the one mystery about Freddie Nielsen. It delight the sporting romantics, confuses the financially minded, and fascinates the rest of us.
The Dane’s 2012 Wimbledon doubles win with Jonathan Marray was beautifully out of the blue, an essentially last minute partnership running through the established pairings like Qureshi & Rojer, the Bryan brothers and eventually Horia Tecau and Robert Linstedt to lift the title as wild cards.
Surely then, after a singles career that had just cracked the top 200, it would be time to enjoy the fruits of hard labour on the Challenger and Futures circuit and play doubles full time.
Only when you actually speak to Freddie Nielsen – and start with this elephant in the room question – you quickly realise it wasn’t a consideration.
“It was just continuing my life.” he explains outside the Surbiton Challenger locker room.
“If you have a good life it’s not much of a decision. Why would you want to change anything that’s going well? The way I had been playing my tennis eventually gave me the chance to compete at Wimbledon and lead to the win. I am very happy with the way have things gone.”
That remains his view even after Nielsen & Marray put in a solid showing in the World Tour Finals, getting into the semi-finals after two wins in the group stage.
“This is a dream job for me and a very privileged situation. I won’t ever do anything to change that. I’m very happy that I am able to live this life, I won’t change it and I want to milk it for as long as I can as there’s only so long the body can hold up.”
While there was a financial boost from the doubles title – Nielsen earn £130,000 – for his win, and his lifetime earnings clock in at around US$ 800,000 – it perhaps seems as if even the karma laden Dane was knocked off his journey by that success.
“It was quite overwhelming at Wimbledon and it took quite a long time for me to re-find my path again.” he admits.“I’ve invested all the money back in my game and trying to get better and also human development, and its been priceless. I don’t get to put money aside but that’s a conscious choice to get the most out of this life as I can.”
Then, suddenly, you discover the man, as well as the tennis player – it’s not all been a matter of forehands, backhands, and locker room pranks, but investing in the self.
“One side is the tennis, but also the human side. It’s definitely helped in that way. We’re all human beings and all the things we are doing in our life are to improve the quality of our lives, I assume – or at least I hope so. that’s my purpose. A lot of it has been to develop myself as a human being to make myself a better tennis player, a better friend, family member.”
He carries on: “It’s psychological, philosophical. It’s all connected. The tennis player Freddie can’t compete at his maximum if the human Freddie is not working. It’s all a journey. Everything we do in life is a state of mind, and it’s trying to improve that state of mind. I’m very happy with where I am.”
“The quality of life is not an equation, it’s measured in how happy you are. That’s immeasurable. It doesn’t really matter if you have 5 or 10 dollars in the bank account or 5 or ten million. It’s how you feel about having the 5 or 10 million.”
It’s all gone rather enjoyably Kierkegaard, but it’s an insight into someone at ease with his tennis calling, and his choices. And Nielsen is starting to feel all this work is paying off in life, and in his life’s slightly more brutal place, the man on man struggle on the tennis court.
“I am playing the best tennis of my life. The last 6-9 months I have been on a very good track. I’m competing in a more solid way and eeking out a lot of wins. You can see my ranking is slowly getting higher and higher.”
There are signs. A run to the final of the Champaign Challenger at the end of last year saw wins over Tim Smyczek and Malek Jaziri (see below). There was victory over Tatsuma Ito in Asia, and a Manchester win last week where he put Ryan Harrison out of the tournament.
So is there a chance of a breakthrough for another man 30 plus? Talk somehow turns (ok, I asked) to how Nielsen sees himself against Paolo Lorenzi and other players lower down the top 100.
“If I played him [Lorenzi],” Nielsen muses.” I’d fancy my chances, but realistically if we played 10 times he would win more than I would.”
“It also goes a lot on match ups. I beat Ito when he ranked was 98, then I played Chung from Korea, who was 88 and I didn’t win a game, basically.” [He lost 6-0 6-1]
It does cross my mind how accurately he knows the rankings of his opponents, and the omnipotence of the ATP computer in the lives of 99% of pros.
“I see myself being able to compete with them, but I also see myself competing with the lower ranked guys. I have the ability to raise my game on occasions but I also have bigger holes in my game compared to the guys I lose to. It’s consistency. My lowest level has improved a lot and I am able to win good matches without playing good tennis. It’s the most important thing, the consistency is the key. Everyone can play a good match on their day, it’s to be able to do it day in, day out, over a year. You’ve got to put 18 results on the board.”
If that’s how he sees the top 100, the gap to the Slam winners remains something else:
“I struggle to see how I could win points sometimes. I really see them as different athletes, different dedication, different mentality. They are willing to make sacrifices. What they are able to do mentally, to apply themselves in a way I’m never, ever going to be able to do and still conduct themselves as great human beings. They way they are playing, I can’t relate to that. I don’t have the skill set.”
With that assessment so searing, perhaps it’s not surprising, given his self assessment and Zen like calm to things, that he is equivocal on the prize money gaps that have grown between the best and the rest.
“It’s important to understand that tennis is not glamorous. It’s glamorous for a few people but ultimately it’s not. Things have been like that always, and that’s the way it is. You might as well come to terms with it. It’s not going to change because you’re upset. I don’t like the word deserve. There is no such thing. You have a certain set of tennis skills and it doesn’t give you a divine right to earn any extra attention, or money, or fame or fortune.”
Although he does concede: “The way money is spread out in the sport is a little skewed, sure, but people are trying their best to come up with ways to change it. But this is what I have to work with. There’s no reason to complain. I can only worry about what is.”
An acceptance of what is, what his talent is, who he is, and an urge to make sure he achieves his potential in tennis and beyond come through strongly when you chat to Freddie Nielsen.
The Grand Slam winner who seems at ease with his choices, his life and his love of playing professional tennis. The fairytale was fun, but there’s a lot more living to do yet.