Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Interview with Filip Dewulf The man who won more matches at 1997 Roland Garros than the eventual champion

This entry is an extensive interview with former Belgian tennis player Filip Dewulf who is now a tennis writer who has his own blog at and yes it's in Dutch but it's worth getting a friend to translate.

For those who have a short attention span, tough luck this interview will be all in one post, so deal with it, hehe. Before I start with the interview. I would sincerely like to thank Filip for taking time out to answer these questions. Also to Martine and happy Hilde who have provided me translations of Dewulf's blog since my Dutch language skills are absolute crap. Last of all my media manager Michelle who helped out in so many ways.

Where are you based at the moment and do you have a family. If so how old are the children?

I’m living near my hometown Leopoldsburg, a small town called Heppen. Happily married with a five year old boy, Finn.

How did fatherhood impact on you?
I’m much more emotional. For instance: I can’t seem to watch a movie on a plane without getting gripped emotionally. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or something else 

Where were you raised, and what were your childhood memories before joining the ATP tour?

Very happy childhood. Did a lot of stuff with my two cousins (tennis as well). Played a lot of soccer, a lot…

How and when did you start playing tennis?

When I was six or seven I went with my two cousins and my uncle to the local tennis club. Got picked up by local coaches and pretty fast by regional coaches.

What were your memories of starting out the playing Futures and Challenger events?

It was hard, lonely and fun. A lot of freedom. A lot of improvisation. We played satellites what meant that we were every time for three of four weeks on the road. Stayed in a lot of cheap hotels. Luckily most of the time with my cousin – who tried briefly as a professional – or with my friend Tom Vanhoudt, who would become a good doubles player.

When did you realise that you were able to make a career on the ATP tour and did you have any doubts that this would be the case. If so how did you overcome then?

My whole career was one big doubt  I only realized that I could be somebody on the tour when I won Vienna in 1995. Before I didn’t know if I was good enough.

What were your favourite tournaments?

Vienna, Kiztbühel – not only because I won the title there but also because I liked it – Miami, Florence, Australian Open.

On the other side what were the worst places you played and worst hotel experience?

Tashkent in Uzbekistan was though although I got to the final over there. Just a crazy experience, too much to tell.

Can you explain the feeling of winning your first tournament at Vienna in 1995 as a qualifier defeating world number 3 Thomas Muster in the final only losing one set in the main draw?

I only qualified just, was lucky, but once in the MD I played on a cloud. No pressure, a good draw and some luck in the final gave me my first victory. Like I said before: that’s where I realized, I can actually make this work. It was more a feeling of surprise than of joy I would say. Bu still it’s still my most memorable tournament, more than RG.

What were the best and worst ever matches you have played?

Best: Thomas Enqvist in 3R RG 1998. Worst: Adrian Voinea in Romania Davis Cup 1996.

After dropping out of the top 100 at the start of 1997 it ended up as your best year on tour. One of the few players to have won more matches at Roland Garros than the eventual champion in 1997 by making the semi finals losing to Guga but beating Meligeni, Portas, Corretja and Norman. What do you remember about these 2 weeks and did you get much support from Belgian fans or press?

From the second week on it was a mad house. A lot of support (too much!) from the home front. A lot of press what resulted in a lot of pressure for the semi final. Still, people remember me because of these two weeks. I started a little bit the invasion of Belgian fans into Roland Garros  and I’m still in the history books as the qualifier who got the most far at Roland Garros. Nice!

In the same year you won Kitzbühel without losing a set. What was it that you enjoyed about playing in Austria and did you spend much time in "The Londoner" pub?

Just sheer luck I guess that I won my two titles in Austria. In Kitzbuhel I had the most memorable title celebration ever. In the Londoner with some grounds men from the tournament and the Australian doubles winners (Wayne Arthurs). It was wild, it was great and it was the only time I went there that week 

Who were your best friends on the tour?

I was and still am good friends with the Belgians from that time. Vanhoudt, Johan Van Herck, Libor Pimek, Christophe Van Garsse.

The biggest jerk?

Let’s say that the character of Andrea Gaudenzi didn’t match mine 

What major injuries do you have and how did you pass the time away from tennis. Did this time help you gain a different perspective?

I didn’t need the injuries to gain perspective. I had too much already  I had a bad back, surgery on ankle and knee.

When did you retire from tennis and how were the initial months after retirement?

I retired in April 2001 and I was particularly relieved because the last period of my tennis career was pretty bad. I was not healthy but continued anyway. That resulted in bad results and a bad ranking, what made my motivation go down. Once I stopped, I was relieved that that torment was over. I could focus on something else and start a new part of my life.

Were you satisfied with your career in that you gave yourself the best opportunity to get the most out of your game or not?

I probably didn’t get everything out of it but with my character – not really a tennis freak or very passionate about it – I would say that I didn’t do too bad. Before starting it I would never think I would get that far and really make an impact for Belgian tennis.

How did you handle the loneliness on tour and were there times you wished you were somewhere else?

Yes. But then I would go to my friends who were studying and they would tell me to stop whining 

Since you are a big fan of football. When you were on tour did you wish you could be there with your friends instead of watching in the hotel having to focus on your tennis?

A lot! I remember I was with my coach in my hotel room in Braunschweig when Belgium lost to Turkey in their last group match at the EC 2000 in Belgium. I was screaming like hell and throwing with pillows while my coach was laughing…

When did you become a member of the "I believe in the Great Soccer God" church?

When I was born  I always played soccer. When I stopped my tennis career I immediately started playing soccer and stopped playing tennis 

What football team do you support?

The best team in Belgium: Standard Liège.

Do you still play for FC Bos. What position do you play and what are the main differences for you between playing tennis and football?

I still do! I'm a midfield player (because I still can outrun my team mates, says a lot about them :-)). Every Saturday but due to the good results from the Belgians lately (Henin and Clijsters) I don’t have enough time what makes me really sad.

Remembering the great Belgian football generation from 1980-1986. Do you think the players today suffer from being compared to the Gerets, Scifo, Lei Clijsters, Pfaff, Ceulemans generation?

They suffer from a too big ego.  With every missed championship the expectations are growing, which results in a lot of pressure…

Who would be a good person to take the vacant national team job from Advocaat?

I learned today that Georges Leekens is the new coach and that’s an okay decision. I would have preferred a foreigner because the media in this torn country always pulls for the coach of its linguistic part.

How would you rate the current depth and future potential of mens tennis in Belgium? Why have they suffered in comparison to the women who have produced Henin, Clijsters and Wickmayer?

First of all: you can’t compare men and woman. Secondly: they were doing not too bad – we had like 4 or 5 players in the top 100 – but suffered from injuries. Malisse, Olivier Rochus, Darcis, Vliegen…And on the other side: we are/were very lucky with Henin and Clijsters. A once in a century occasion. For the future: looks much brighter on the men’s side than on the women’s side.

In respect to tennis development in Belgium. How much does the Flemish/Walloon conflict impact on tennis relations?

We have two different leagues, that’s all. They live next to each other in pretty good understanding. They more or less have the same system of development, and that’s good. There doing a pretty good job. We don’t have a national tennis centre though, that could make a difference, I think.

What do you think about the overall career of Xavier Malisse and what can he achieve in his last years on the circuit?

I still think he can make a good result. He makes me think of me quite a lot actually. Quite a (bad) character on court, quite relax and even shy off it. Not the most regular guy on tour, but tons of talent and he can make a result anytime. I hope for him that he can pull one out, like another title or a second week in a grand slam. But it’s hard because the concurrence is a lot bigger than when he started.

Did you enjoy playing Davis Cup.? There seems to be some problems with it at the moment, what do you think can be done with the scheduling?

I enjoyed it quite a lot actually but then again we had a nice team and we only played twice a year. Nowadays the schedule is so tight that the top players have to choose sometimes. And when the top players don’t play, it reflects on the image of the Davis Cup.

Do you think it’s fundamentally wrong to give ranking points for Davis Cup?

Completely agree with you. What about Marcos Baghdatis for instance?

Have you ever considered applying for the Davis Cup captain job?

Not really. Would be difficult to combine with my job (I’m a tennis writer ) and I think that the captain was to travel during the year to be close to his teammates. In Belgium there’s no money for that.

What do you think about the length of season? They have been talking for years about reducing the season, but nothing has changed in this regard. If you were in charge, what steps can they take to fix the calendar and reduce the amount of tournaments?

Sooner or later they will have to take a decision. Some tournaments have to go. The WTA tour went already ahead and I think that it's gonna work. It’s not normal that the men have to play a month monger than the women. But then again, it’s all about money and I’m happy that I’m not in charge to cut the cords.

For those who don't know, could you please explain how the ATP is structured? It's meant to be a joint union between players and tournament directors but it appears that the ATP is looking out more for the tournament directors than the players. What is your view on the ATP as an organisation and has it changed from when you were a player to the present day?

I don’t think the ATP has changed that much. The real problem lies within the fact that the head of the organisation is dealing with two different parties who they can never satisfy both. The tournaments want a lot of top players all the time and the players want less tournaments (but still earn a lot of money). They should maybe split it up and create a real players union. But you know what: the one thing that a player is really concerned about is the money (for his own sake). It’s difficult to create a union with that in mind.

What's your opinion on the ATP reducing the differences in the surface speeds, the fact that there are no carpet events on tour. There are many 28 player draw in IS/250 events instead of 32 player draws? Is this the balance of power between top players and the ATP directors?

One part of me thinks it’s bad to protect the top players with the draw but the other part knows that they attract the people and the money (sponsors) so…
In my time I was sometimes complaining about the surfaces who were too fast ( I wasn’t a big server) but know I think they went a little bit too far with sometimes matches that last for hours and get annoying. There should be some difference. Due to the material all players are being developed as baseliners. With the court speed reduced, this will only get worse.

Muster and Medvedev when they were playing were vocal critics of the ATP. Cañas said “The ATP practices discrimination from an economic standpoint, like any multinational corporation. It’s just another of millions that there are in the world. Point being that I accept it, but I'm not buying into it that it is a group of players that decide (players union) because it isn't like that”. Do you believe that Willy is correct on this issue and have you experienced this form or any other form of discrimination?

In my time we had the feeling that it was an American organization and that they were favouring a little bit the tournaments in that part of the world. America was at the time pretty big with Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Courier etc.
But I think it’s a bit silly to critic the hand that feeds you. Canas and others may have been appalled by the cheer economic point of view by the tour but must have been happy when he saw his bank account at the end of the month. Again: it’s an individual sport with an individual point of view: I want to make the most (money) of it. It’s hard to get everybody on the same viewpoint then.

How widespread do you believe doping is on the tour and how does it compare to your playing days to the current times. Are you surprised that nothing happened to Agassi when he admitted to taking drugs and his positive result was not made public?

I was surprised when I found out that AA took drugs in his playing days. There were rumours floating around but there was never evidence. I think in my time you had some cheaters, like you do now. But I don’t think it’s widespread just because tennis as a sport is to complex. You have to have speed, endurance, technique, vista, etc…

What's your opinion on the WADA law that missing three doping tests classifies as a failure and the cases of Malisse and Wickmayer where it was the Flemish doping authority and not WADA that applied the initial ban?

I’ve seen this case evolve and I must say that the players are guilty for negligence but not for doping. They made administrative errors that had nothing to do with tennis. I find it a bit harsh that they would be suspended for some stupid mistakes. There has to be some sort of alarm procedure that gets into place when somebody misses two appointments. And is typical that the Flemish authorities where first to signal it. We don’t have a sport culture, we’re pretty negative towards people who stand out and we like to be holier than the Pope.

Do you believe match fixing is rampant and have you been offered to throw a match. How common was it in your playing days?

Never seen anything in my career but then again I’m so old that the internet was hardly working in my days. I believe that there are players who throw matches but not on the highest level.

There have been players suspended for betting on matches albeit small amounts and they have been lower ranked players. Are the authorities doing a good job in trying to stop match fixing or is it just to make the appearance of them doing something?

One word: scapegoats.

What are your short term goals?

Be healthy, be happy and make my friends and family happy.

We are almost done now and the last part is the game called Word Association. I give you name or a subject and you have to name the first thing that comes into your mind.

Frites with mayonnaise: Belgian – and not French! – specialty
Heineken: bad tasting water
Pat Etcheberry: too much muscles
Roland Garros: Belgian territory
Flemish independence: Not in my lifetime I hope
Jan Ceulemans: could have been a superstar but too modest
Trappist Beer: Best in the world
Tom Boonen: Almost a neighbour (10 kilometres)
Guga Kuerten: Very nice guy!
2010 World Cup Winner: España (Spain)

We are finally done now, and I would like to thank Filip once again for the interview.


fab said...

great interview. dewulf talks honestly and has some profound opinions about the game. good to see he is still involved in the circuit as a writer.

surprised by the gaudenzi answer, though :P

keep the interviews coming!

A. said...

Good read, George

Martine said...

Thanks for that interview hehe!!!
Really the Filip I know, clever, witty and straight forward.

I liked the way he compared himself to X-Man (must be why I like them both so much :-)))


Hilde said...

"A lot of press what resulted in a lot of pressure for the semi final"
--> the expectations were suddenly sky high as well after that. Not sure that Dewulf liked that.

"The best team in Belgium: Standard Liège"
--> Boooooooooooooo lol

"They suffer from a too big ego"
--> Amen.
I'm not sure that Leekens is a good choice for the national football team but we'll see.

"Heineken: bad tasting water"
--> Yup, dish water.

Thanks also for the Malisse question. He's giving me some hope.

Steve said...

Good interview man. he must have been impressed by your background knowledge.

Steve aka Henry C

Anonymous said...

He was around when I had stopped watching tennis. Sounds like a fun and nice guy. Thanks to Martine and Hilde for translating.

Sigurd Sigurdsson said...

Mrs Cobalt, Dewulf speaks very good English and didn't need this interview to be translated. The lovely ladies helped with the blog translation, the good parts.

Fab: Will try and get some more of the interviews, just hope the subjects are willing to be grilled, hehe.

jake said...

Enjoyed very much. Especially the "scapegoats" part.

Scott said...

Thanks to AJ for this interview, and to Martine and Hilde for translating it. I love reading pieces such as this where players give detailed and honest answers.

LOL I quite liked Gaudenzi myself but Filip still rocks.

As a Muster fan I was gutted about the 1995 Vienna final and Thomas falling short at the event yet again, but still what a performance and tournament from Filip.

I agree with what he said about the state of men's tennis in Belgium. Yes women's tennis is enjoying such an incredible period, but it's unfair to directly comparing their men's tennis standing to it. A country with population of roughly 10 million having 5 players in the ATP top 100, which Belgium has had earlier this decade, is great going. How many other tennis federations across the world would bite their hands off to get those sort of results.

Filip definitely gets bonus points for not supporting Anderlecht.


Anonymous said...

Great interview very insightful and intersting. I never knew who Filip was until now. Hopfuly there are more interviews to come


Claudio said...

Good interview. It refreshed my memory about some names from the Belgian tennis players at those years before the Rochus brothers showed up. It's good to see that Dewulf is having a quite chillin' family life now.

Cheers. And Keep them coming

Merton said...

Thank you for the interview, it was a very interesting read. That 1997 run at RG was dream like, Filip had a great run, even more so considering he was a qualifier. He has interesting views about courts being too slow and the use of drugs. Filip is pessimistic about the ability of the players to cooperate as a union. So far evidence suggests he is right.

A big boo for Standard Liege, they lose to Olympiakos in Champs League and go and knock out Panathinaikos at Europa League, lol.

Denys said...

Thank you very much for the interview and too all the people that helped George with the research and Dewulf answers the questions with good humour and honesty.

Pleasure to read and must be one of the rare Flemish people to cheer for a French team. What he said about the ATP sums them up perfectly.

Disquieting Muse said...

despite its long-attention-span format, the interview was fully swallowed and digested.

Michelle said...

This from your mentor, editor and otherwise girl who knows all...

One, why the hell cant Tennis mag do interviews like this,you need to be hired.

Two, you covered all we discussed and MORE and I AM SO IMPRESSED.

Three, you so have a career in this if you can find it in you to focus. We need to find a way for you to take it to the next level.

Would so like you to get stupid boy to do this in the right way.

Anyway, freaking amazing work, Nils. I love love love it.

Daniel said...

Dewul seems like a smart,honest and clever guy.
It's always interesting to read interviews from not so known players.

Joel said...

Thank you so much for such an intelligent and refreshing interview! Always great to see a Van Herck reference and it seems like Filip it living a good life and approaching it the right way.

jake said...

Fact - I first tried trappist beer because of this interview.

Verdict: good stuff. :-)