Associative militant, sporting director at Erfurter Tennis Club in Germany and advisor to the Moroccan Minister for Sports, Younès El Aynaoui is a very busy man. Retired, and freed from the demands of high-level sport, today he enjoys his new life as a family man. Because it is for them that he packed it in, and has never regretted his decision. Au contraire…
January 2010. Younès El Aynaoui, 38 years old, his hair half-frizzy, half-dreadlocked, has just conceded his last match point – in a surprise defeat against the Belgian Steve Darcis – at the Khalifa Tennis Complex in Doha. A quiet exit, there were no tears, nor great speeches. “I did not stop on a whim, because of one game, unlike some others” says this big-serving son of the Atlas Mountains. “My youngest son was present…” he recalls “…and it was very nice. He hadn’t seen his father play tennis very often”. Following the ‘orders’ of his two other children and his wife this great of Moroccan tennis called time on his career after over 20 years. In his locker, 5 ATP titles (albeit with a less-flattering eleven lost finals) and the media coverage obtained following the longest fifth set in history (since broken), against Andy Roddick in the 2003 Australian Open (eventually going down 21-19), in a match described by John McEnroe as “the best match I have seen in my life”. His retirement was, above-all, a collective decision. “At home, everyone was waiting for it”, says the clan leader, relieved and delighted to start the life of an “everyman”, far removed from the endless stream of hotels and airports of the tennis tour. “I don’t miss the restaurants and the hotels for a single second. I’m too old. And with my frame (1m93 – 6’4”) sitting in a plane was quite painful”. Comfortably installed in Nancy, today he follows his own rhythm: finding peace, quiet and pleasure in Lorraine having tasted the charms of Florida, Vienna, Bordeaux, Brussels and the Barcelona sun during the last seven years of his career. Two years retired from the ATP tour, El Aynaoui is now an adviser to the Moroccan Minister for Sports. Behind the scenes, he strives through various sporting social projects to give some color back to African tennis. On-court, Younes came close to burnout: "I was happy it was finished!"
One injury and income drys up
Then there was a myth to deconstruct. That of money and retirement of high-level sportsmen, the golden parachute that everyone imagines. "Financially? Yeah, I’m doing ok, but I didn’t earn hundreds of thousands." It should be said that in tennis only the top 100 players can afford the services of a personal trainer during their careers. Outside of these, it is useless to think of employing a physiotherapist, or even a qualified physical trainer. The small ball will never overtake its larger cousin. “Unlike football, the tennis player gets paid according to his performance. With one injury your income drys up instantly. Not forgetting that you also have to cover your own expenses: hotels, plane tickets, personnel etc…”
It is this constant pressure – “appalling” he says – that Younès doesn’t miss in the slightest. These days he delights in prancing around the Seniors Tour with his old friends. “It’s great playing with the old guys. The atmosphere is excellent. Börg, Edberg and Safin still play with steely determination. In contrast, Guillermo Vilas is not good at all (laughs). I don’t know why, but his serve never makes it past the service box.” Mates first, in short. “The friendships on tour, they’re what I really miss. The ATP Tour is one big family, it’s no myth”. Physically, the Morrocan is still in great shape. Honed and disciplined, it wouldn’t take much for him to try a daring come-back. “My serve still comes in over 200 km/h. On-court, I wouldn’t be embarrassed. The thought has crossed my mind.” But, what do the kids think?
Interview by Victor Le Grand.