After going down to a defeat last week in the second round of the 2013 Brazil Open, the country’s only ATP World Tour event, local star Thomaz Bellucci found himself booed off court by the home crowd at Sao Paulo’s Ginasio do Ibirapuera. Though he knows this was primarily a sign of frustration and a typical fan reaction to disappointment, particularly in a country where behaviours drawn from the football world are all-pervasive, the negative reaction still cut deep.
Minutes later, when the downcast Bellucci was trying to explain his performance to the media, the player from Sao Paulo state went so far as to say that “it’s not easy being a sportsperson in Brazil”. On top of which it must be equally hard being a pro tennis player, a trade in which, however far you progress, the next defeat is often just round the corner.
Take the world No1, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who in 2012 won six titles and established himself at the top of the global tennis tree. Yet for all that glory, even he found his efforts were in vain in a further 11 tournaments, which ended in the taste of defeat.
For the vast majority on the circuit, including current No38 Bellucci, a winner of three ATP titles in his career thus far, the win-loss ratio is even crueler. Put simply, playing tennis at the highest level meaning dealing with defeat often on a weekly basis, and in tennis there is nobody else to blame.
Experienced in coping with this scenario, Bellucci has also learned to take his football with a pinch of salt, being especially understanding with his beloved Palmeiras even when times are tough – such as when they were relegated to Brazil’s second tier at the end of the 2012 season.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when speaking to FIFA.com about football in the days following the Brazil Open incident, the 25-year-old said “sometimes it wouldn’t be bad to have another ten guys to share the burden”.
FIFA.com: We know that you’re a Palmeiras fan, but just how hardcore are you?
Thomaz Bellucci: It’s true, my parents are Palmeirenses and that’s how they’ve schooled me. (laughs) But, listen, I’m not that much of a fanatic. What I mean to say is that I always look out for their results, but I don’t go to matches anymore and, more importantly, I don’t get too down when the team loses. I get annoyed, but I don’t let it affect my life. I even think that being a tennis player helps you cope better with those kinds of things. We play tournaments almost every week of the year and of course you only end up winning a small minority of them. Life has to go on.
On the subject of the fast-moving life on the circuit, are you still able to follow FIFA World Cups™?
Wow, that [World Cup time] is a period which captures all of our attention and you manage to follow everything, wherever you are in the world. I remember that for the last one, in South Africa, we were in London playing at Wimbledon and every time Brazil had a match we made it our mission to find a cool restaurant with a TV which was showing the game. There’s not much of a pattern to a tennis player’s life, so while sometimes I’m in Brazil during a World Cup, most of time I’m travelling. A World Cup is something else. It’s the best time to follow football.
So, does talk even turn to the FIFA World Cup in the dressing room?
Oh yes, there’s plenty of banter flying around. It takes over all the conversations in the players’ changing room. The Spaniards, for example, have been unbearable since they won the last World Cup, saying how they’re the best. (laughs) Most tennis players chat about football a lot in the changing rooms: nearly everyone likes it and follows the game.
On quiet days during tournaments, do people ever get together to kick a ball around?
Ah, I know that a while ago that used to go on a lot, but the physical demands of modern tennis make it difficult for the players to get involved now. I don’t usually play, specifically because I’m scared of getting injured, but the coaches are always having kickarounds. And, every so often, players get involved too, though it has to be a very laidback affair, because nobody can afford to get injured. If they did, it’d be really bad having to go on court with a knock and having to give a kickaround as the reason. (laughs)
There’s been a lot of talk about the stick you got from the Brazilian fans. Since you became a professional sportsman, have you changed the way you behave when watching games? Does it make you less likely to criticise a player?
Yes, it does make a difference. You end up with a better idea of what professional sportspeople go through out on court or, in this case, on the pitch. But, on the other hand, every sport has its own peculiarities. One of the features of football is that it’s a team sport, where you’ve got several team-mates to help you when you’re having an off-day. And tennis, for its part, has a very unforgiving nature. On the one hand, you could be having a great day but your opponent simply plays better than you, which is ok. But then you might have a bad day – with stomach pains, not having slept or whatever – and even though you go on court wanting to play well, you can’t manage it, and then on top of that you get criticised...
I know how competitive football is nowadays, how many people play the game, how tough it is to make it as a pro and to get to play for a big club.
There are definitely days when it wouldn’t be half bad to have another ten guys to share the burden and give you a hand! (laughs) So, each sport has its own characteristics. Both tennis and football are tough, enormously competitive sports and in Brazil even more so, where the attention football gets only piles on the pressure more. That’s why I’m not someone who’s critical. I know how competitive football is nowadays, how many people play the game, how tough it is to make it as a pro and to get to play for a big club. That’s something I understand.