A day with Peter Wessels: One-time conqueror of Roger Federer

Matt Jones 20/08/2015
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UAE-based: Wessels.

When you meet Peter Wessels, he’s a bundle of effervescent joy, energetic, friendly and with a beaming smile. He was an exceptional talent as a junior, reaching the boys’ singles semi-finals at both the US Open in 1995 and Wimbledon in 1996. He also captured the Roland Garros junior doubles title with fellow Dutchman Raemon Sluiter in 1995.

On the men’s circuit, Wessels peaked at No 72 in the world rankings in 2005, five years after he captured his first and only title on the ATP Tour, on the grass courts of the tournament in Newport.

The 37-year-old retired in 2009 with a 1-1 head-to-head record against the great Roger Federer and with career earnings of $928,863 (Dh3.4m).

Now living in the UAE, he plays amateur tournaments and coaches at PSS Tennis Academy. Wessels spoke to Sport360 and entertained on a number of topics.

Who was your tennis/sporting idol growing up?

I was always a big fan of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. I was an attacking player myself just like them and I loved watching them on TV. I never really liked watching tennis on TV unless it was Becker or Edberg.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Without a doubt my parents. They introduced me to the game and they played for hours with me when I was young. I was lucky I didn’t have typical ‘tennis parents’.

My parents never pushed me or interfered with what my coach had to say. They always asked me at the end of each year if I still liked it and if I wanted to continue. They told me that if I would rather play football or spend time with friends, they would still be okay with it as long as I was happy. But I never wanted anything else than playing tennis. The only thing they asked from me was that I would give it my very best at all times and that I would behave on the court.

What advice would you give to youngsters taking up the sport and dreaming of becoming pro?

I think in all aspects of life, if you want to be successful, whether it’s in sports or business you have to be 100 percent committed. As a tennis player, the job doesn’t end when you finish your practise session. You have to be able to live like a professional all day long and that is something most people can’t do.

Idols: Becker and Edberg.

It is really about how badly you want it yourself because no matter how much your coach, parents or friends want you to become a pro, if you are not 100 per cent committed, it most likely won’t happen for you. But maybe above all, make sure you still like what you’re doing. You need to love the game.

Who was the best player you ever played against and why?

I played Federer at the US Open in 2000. I played him the year before and I beat him but I could see he had made so much progress since the time I beat him and I knew he was going to be a top player. I couldn’t predict he would be the greatest ever, but you could see his potential.

Apart from Federer, I think of Andre Agassi. I played him at Wimbledon on centre court which was an amazing experience. I played well and lost in three close sets. He was known as the best returner in the world so I couldn’t be playing serve-and-volley all the time. On the other hand, he was incredibly strong from the baseline too so it was difficult to choose a strategy against him.

As a player what was your favourite tournament to play at and why?

I loved playing the grand slams because that’s the highest platform there is in tennis. It doesn’t get better that that, you see and play against the best players in the world, everything is so well organised and you really get the feeling you are part of something special.

– #360debate: Is Nick Kyrgios good for the game of tennis?
– Toronto: Bencic beats Simona Halep to take Rogers Cup crown
– Montreal: Andy Murray beats Novak Djokovic to take title
– #360view: Kyrgios’ latest debacle, comment towards Wawrinka

I enjoyed playing the Australian Open for a couple of reasons; I loved playing on hardcourt and I like warm weather. Aussies are pretty laid back just like Dutch people are in general. They are sport minded and very friendly in my experience. I like Wimbledon a lot too because of its history and the whole vibe over there.

Who do you enjoy watching on the circuit among the current players?

If I had to name a few players that I like watching, I’d pick Federer, Tsonga, Wawrinka and Dimitrov. I also like watching women’s tennis. I believe the level has gone up a lot in the past few years. I don’t have any favourite women players but previously it was Steffi Graf and Kim Clijsters.

You’re playing a doubles match. Who do you pick to play with and against?

I would play doubles with Patrick Rafter and against Federer and (Goran) Ivanisevic. And if we win that match we would play Becker and Edberg.

You live in Dubai these days. What are you up to?

Back in 2010, Sigi Meeuws – owner of PSS Tennis Academies – asked me if I was interested in working for him in the UAE. I just retired as a professional player and I was ready for a new challenge. I worked for PSS for about four years and then I took on a coaching job with two players from Dubai and travelled with them for a year.

I’m back with PSS now and starting September 1, I will be working at the Emirates Palace Tennis Academy in Abu Dhabi, managed by PSS.

We are setting up a new tennis academy at the Emirates Palace hotel and we will provide tennis training for all levels and ages. We will also organise ladies mornings, after-school tennis activities, corporate tennis clinics and there are possibilities for professional players and national teams to come and train at our venue.

So it really is a unique set-up at a beautiful location and I am excited to get started to try and get more people in the UAE involved in tennis.

What is the funniest/craziest/most embarrassing thing that happened to you while on tour?

I’ll go with a tournament somewhere in France where I decided to pull a prank on my friend who I was playing doubles with. We were on the road for a couple of weeks, we were tired, didn’t play well and it was one of those rare occasions in my career where I didn’t mind if we’d win or lose because if we would lose, we could finally go home.

So we lost that match and after I told my friend not to worry too much because I had made a good deal with our opponents and that I had sold the match for some money. This was just around the time when the ATP started to do lots of investigations into sports betting and bribery so my friend went nuts at me to start with.

So then during our drive back to Holland I pretended that the ATP called me, that they were furious and that we would be suspended for six months. My friend’s face turned all white and green, he saw his whole career flashing by, thinking it was all over for him but I still didn’t tell him it was all a joke.

It was only after he stopped the car and was vomiting on the side of the road that I had to tell him. He laughs about it now but at the time he couldn’t appreciate the joke at all and was furious at me. 

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Down the line: Red hot Belinda Bencic must Kerb her enthusiasm

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Bencic with her Montreal trophy.

Andy Murray is right, things change way too quickly in tennis, and Belinda Bencic can attest to that as she must swiftly put her stunning title victory in Toronto behind her to take on German No11 seed Angelique Kerber in the Cincinnati first on Tuesday. 

It is a rare situation having the world No11 and No12 face-off in a first round at a tournament. Both are in-form too with Kerber winning Stanford two weeks ago and Bencic triumphing in Canada.

It will be interesting to see how the 18-year-old Bencic can mentally handle the emotions from her big win and start again from scratch this week in Cincinnati. Even if she does end up losing, Bencic could still get a top-16 seeding at the US Open, where she has had her greatest grand slam showing to-date – a quarter-final last year which included a win over Kerber.

Bencic’s week in Toronto has got to be the most impressive title run on the women’s tour in recent memory. She beat four of the world’s top-six – Serena Williams (No1), Simona Halep (No3), Caroline Wozniacki (No5) and Ana Ivanovic (No6) – plus two more slam finalists in Eugenie Bouchard (No25) and Sabine Lisicki (No24).

There are so many reasons why Bencic is such an exciting prospect. The way she reads the game, anticipates shots and comes up with crafty responses is not something you often get from the up-and-comers on Tour, many of whom are ball-bashers or are yet to mature enough to play that way.

– #360debate: Is Nick Kyrgios good for the game of tennis?
– Toronto: Bencic beats Simona Halep to take Rogers Cup crown
– Montreal: Andy Murray beats Novak Djokovic to take title
– #360view: Kyrgios’ latest debacle, comment towards Wawrinka

Her assault on the world rankings has been gradual and steady and at 18, she owns two titles and has made two more finals. The good thing about Bencic is that instead of exploding onto the scene with some huge results in the slams, she’s actually been making progress throughout the year, transitioning nicely from being a world No1 junior in 2013, to a top-12 player on the women’s circuit two years later.

Unlike Bouchard, who had a monster grand slam season in 2014 but is now struggling to win a single WTA match, Bencic is gaining lots of experience week in, week out, that will only help her on the major stage moving forward.

The US Open will be the first time she will have to defend many points at a slam but her title win in Toronto must have helped relieve some of that pressure, having gained 900 points there.

Bencic now has a chance to relax, focus on the Open and make sure she enjoys the ride, knowing she will be one of the most-dreaded players in the draw. At 18, that’s a great position to be in.

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VIDEO: Bencic secures second WTA Tour title at Rogers Cup

Scott 17/08/2015
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Swiss teen Belinda Bencic won the Rogers Cup on Sunday (16th August) following a three-set victory over Simona Halep.

 







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