In an exclusive interview with DNA, the Spanish legend talks about her rivalry with Steffi Graf, the top four in men’s tennis, and how much the game has changed over the years.
Arantxa Sanchez calls herself a pioneer in Spanish tennis. And rightly so. She became the first woman from Spain to win a Grand Slam when she beat Steffi Graf for the first of her four Grand Slams titles including three French Open triumphs. Now leaner than during her playing days, Sanchez was in New Delhi and Mumbai until Thursday night in connection with ‘Rendezvous a Roland Garros’, a junior event in New Delhi. In this exclusive chat with G Krishnan, the 45-year-old former World No. 1 speaks about her rivalry with Steffi Graf, the top four in men’s tennis, and how much the game has changed over the years.
On your first visit to India, how impressed are you?
After being in many countries, finally I am happy to be here in India. I have heard so many good things about it. Knowing most of the Indian players, I have heard many good stories about India. This trip has been very short. I could not see as much as I wished but I, as ambassador of Roland Garros, try to support tennis in India. They have a tournament for the juniors and whoever wins that has a chance to play at Roland Garros juniors. I have been giving some advice to the kids. As a champion at Roland Garros, I am helping youngsters, I give them some advice so that they can improve their game. I had a little bit of time on Wednesday to visit Delhi and took some pictures to remember that I have been here. I am looking forward to coming here again and visit more places. I enjoyed my stay here, I enjoyed the Indian food a lot, and the people have been very nice to me. I feel very welcome here and that is important.
(Photo credit: Salman Ansari-DNA)
From whatever you have seen of the talent, where does Indian junior tennis stand?
The more tournaments you have in the country, the more it helps the kids to play. Having as much support as you can helps because tennis is a very expensive sport. Especially from the federation and after that, have companies and sponsors who are willing to invest money to help kids to travel and help them make their career. In India, you have had very good players, attained more success in doubles than in singles. Sania (Mirza) played in singles before deciding to play in doubles. (Leander) Paes, (Mahesh) Bhupathi, (Rohan) Bopanna are excellent doubles players. You have wonderful doubles players and try to have more in the future when these players go, you have another generation coming up, like in Spain when I was the pioneer to open the window for tennis in Spain. As a woman, it was harder but I opened it. I won so much and I am happy for that. We have had another No. 1 in Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero and then Rafael Nadal, who has done everything. I was the first female from Spain to win the French Open and be the No. 1 in the world. So, it means a lot for me coming from a country where soccer is the main sport like it is cricket here. If you do the things and someone comes in as a role model, that motivates you and other players can do it as well. This is why you have to continue with the players you have now and may be in the singles, you will have many more players.