Rafael Nadal admits that he's been supporting the Real Madrid since childhood, Roger Federer is a regular at FC Basel, Novak Djokovic says that he will keep a very close eye on the World Cup in Brazil. Despite their differences, would tennis and football have actually things in common? A few answers in this opening day of the World in Brazil.
On one side, the footballers who play tennis: Diego Forlan, Yoann Gourcuff, Manuel Neuer, Hugo Lloris, Stefano Torrisi, Elvir Bolic and many others. All these footballers have all played tennis at a very good level before dropping the racquet to get into football. Diego Forlan has participated to tournaments with the best young players of Uruguay and Yoann Gourcuff, who was a local Champion in Brittany when he was 12, played against Rafael Nadal in the Open Super 12 in Auray. On the other side, tennis players who play football: Nicolas Escudé, Michaël Llodra, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Yannick Noah were all great football players before leaving their boots in the closet to start a career racquet in hand. In the middle, some legendary stories, like that of Hasse Jeppson. In 1953, while he was playing in Naples, the Swede requested permission from the Chairman of the club to enrol in a tennis tournament. Request granted, but the striker had to play under another identity. Jeppson then became Verde, played the tournament and won a match against Hermann, member of the German team of Davis Cup. To clear up any doubt about the parallel between the two sports, a love story: the one of Samir Nasri and Tatiana Golovin not so long ago... Conclusion: a sport coming from the working class in the UK and another one born not too far away among the English aristocracy of the 19th century may actually have things in common.
A story of happy encounters
Why, how? For some, happy encounters. Edouard Roger-Vasselin remembers his teenage years spent in the Nantes school for athletes (CENS): "The school was at the Jonelière, which is also the training ground of Nantes football club, says the winner of the men's doubles at Roland Garros, with Julien Benneteau. From my classroom, I could see footballers training every day. Inevitably, it was a dream... And I was there at the best time. 1995 was the heyday of Nantes, Loko Pedros, Ouédec N'Doram, Karembeu... I had no choice but to become a supporter of this club." For his part, Alberto Berasategui remembers when he left the Basque Country for the Barcelonan training facilities: "Over there, everyone was talking about football and FC Barcelona all day long. Even if, at the beginning, you're not interested in football, you have to get involved and become a Barça fan, this club is an essential subject in all conversations. Regardless of the initial subject the discussion: you always end up talking about the Barça ".
Childhood memories and loneliness
But chance shouldn't hide the reality of a much more powerful phenomenon. Nicolas Mahut talks of another reason: "Because all parents enrol their kids in football and tennis. An individual sport, it's sometimes complicated. A tennis player is very selfish. He’s often alone. It's good for a child to share, to communicate…" The facts are, it's true, stubborn: All tennis players mentioned above have practiced both sports during their childhood. Rafael Nadal even likes to say that, when he was young, he preferred football to tennis: "Miguel Angel, my uncle who played at Barcelona was, of course, an example. I was playing in the streets with my friends and in a club of Manacor in junior. In fact, my first great sport memory was when we won the Balearic junior league!” Before saying: « I loved to be in a team ». Same story for Roger Federer. Until his teenage years, he was playing both sports. His idols were called Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Marco Van Basten. He then chose the yellow ball with the success that we know. History will remember that he made the right choice. But he still has some little regrets: "As a tennis player, you sometimes wish you were part of a team when you win. As when you win Wimbledon and you're alone on the court with no one to hug..."
The loneliness of tennis players... It's partly to change this that Francis Valleriaux created forty years ago the French Tennis Football Association. Its purpose? "Organize football tournaments between tennis players in France so they can keep busy during the winter break and have some fun together. Tennis is a sport where you're often lonely". In this little league teams? Yannick Noah, Richard Gasquet, Julien Benneteau, Arnaud Clement... And even Hicham Arazi or Andrei Chesnokov - "a good goalie," he laughs - for the nostalgic of the nineties, alongside anonymous from amateur tournaments. Further proof, if needed, that the line between tennis and football is very thin with no real equivalent. To François Valleriaux the privilege to conclude: "I don't see any other sports that are so close. But, it’s true: football has an advantage, which is that everyone can play it in a tennis club. This is the universal sport par excellence. You only need a ball and everybody is happy..." And it is even possible to play it with a tennis ball…!