INTERVIEW: Bruno Soares teaming up to win gold

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Gunning for glory in Rio.

When Bruno Soares won both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open earlier this year, Brazil immediately moved up to 10th spot in the Olympics virtual medal table run by Infostrada Sports.

The leadings sports information provider predicts the host nation will finish inside the top 10 in the Olympics medal table for the first time ever and it expects Soares, a tennis doubles specialist who owns four grand slam titles, to play an important part in making that happen at the Rio Games next month.

Soares, who last January won the Australian Open men’s doubles alongside Jamie Murray and the mixed doubles with Elena Vesnina, becoming the first Brazilian to win two titles at the same major, will partner ex-world No. 1 Marcelo Melo at the Olympics.

The Brazilian duo hail from the same city, Belo Horizonte, and their success in doubles has positioned them as superstars back home.

During the Rio Open last February, their faces were plastered on posters around the city, and their doubles matches are broadcast on Brazilian television.

“It’s always amazing. That’s the great thing about Brazilian people – first they love sports and second they love to watch Brazilians,” the 34-year-old Soares told Sport360 in an interview at Wimbledon earlier this month.

“So I feel they really embrace all the athletes that they have and for us, being successful doubles players they take us as, like you said, as heroes and this is great for us.

“We are on TV all the time, they show our matches live, great audience every time we’re on TV and this is fantastic for us.

“As you see, not everywhere we go, doubles gets this much attention, and for us to be that way in Brazil, it’s very, very nice.”

The last time Soares and Melo teamed up at the Olympics, they fell in the quarter-finals in London 2012. There will be far more expectation on them when they compete in their home Olympics but for now Soares is not feeling the pressure.

“I came into London, I played with Marcelo and it was fine. I didn’t really feel anything different, just the normal pressure of a tennis match. But it’s tough to say because this time it’s Rio,” he admits. “When we get there, you don’t know, it’s our home crowd, playing the Olympics, in our country, representing our colours, it’s obviously going to be extremely special for us.

“But in terms of pressure, for the moment, it’s fine, but I know it’s going to get worse towards Rio.”

Soares got an early taste of his home Games when he took part in the Olympic torch relay in Vitoria in May.

“I was super-honoured. But it was funny because when I got there I was actually tense,” says the doubles world No8.

There has been a myriad of bad news coming out of Brazil ahead of the Olympics, from the Zika virus, to reports of contaminated water, to political unrest and economic problems. None of which are issues Soares thinks will have any negative impact on the Games.

“Listen, we’ve been having problems in Brazil forever. There’s nothing new that’s going on,” he says. “The corruption, politicians, stuff like this, it’s been going on there forever. We’ve got a little problem with Zika. Everyone who has done some research they know it’s not the end of the world, that they can go there and that they can play, it’s not because of that, that they don’t have to go.

“But other than that, Rio is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I think Brazilians are one of the most welcoming people in the world, they love to host events.

“I think they did a phenomenal job in the World Cup. And if you followed the preparations leading up to the World Cup, it was the same thing – issues with the stadiums, stuff late, but at the end of the day they managed to finish and they did a good job. And I think the Olympics is going to be the same way.”

For Soares, the Olympics is about far more greater values. The Brazilian has countless happy memories of the Games and is looking to create some more with Melo in Rio.

“I remember growing up, watching the volleyball team, when they won their first medal, and then they won their first gold, this was pretty huge in Brazil,” he recalls.

“In London we stayed in the same apartment with a Brazilian guy who was competing in archery, and I had no clue about the sport, I didn’t even know the rules. But just because we became friends, I wanted to support him and I watched him, cheering for the guy, I’m suffering with the guy. I’ve never seen the sport in my life and I’m cheering like crazy.

“So that’s what the Olympics is all about. For me, one of the top things about the Olympics was the experience you get in the Village.

“Just being part of that. I’m not the kind of guy that goes and asks for pictures and autographs but I found it amazing every time you walk in and you’re having lunch or dinner at the food court and you see the best athletes in the world in every single sport; that was what was amazing for me.”

It’s going to be extra special if Soares manages to get a medal for Brazil alongside Melo – a person who has been a constant presence in his life throughout his tennis career.

“We go way back. We’re both from Belo, we’ve known each other since we were seven. We grew up playing every single tournament together, from the same team, the national team, the state team, we travelled outside of Brazil, we started together as pros, we played together as pros, he was my best man in my wedding… so a lot of history there,” Soares says of Melo.

On what a medal in Rio would mean for him, he adds: “It would mean a lot especially because I feel like I have no idea if I’m going to be at the next one, so getting an Olympic medal in Rio I think would be the ultimate thing.”

Forced to give up on his singles career due to injuries, Soares is enjoying life on the doubles tour and he kicked off his current partnership with Murray with a bang, winning their second and third tournaments together as a duo – one of which was a grand slam.

“Even though we’re great friends, doubles, most of the time, is result-oriented. So when you start a new partnership you really have no idea what’s going to come,” explains Soares, who has 22 doubles titles in his resume.

“I’ve known Jamie for a long time, we’re great friends, he’s a great guy, but we started playing and we have no idea.

“We had kind of a different start. So it’s kind of tough to say, it’s almost surreal, and after a couple of months then we can really evaluate how we’re playing, how we’re competing against the best teams. I hope we can play many more years.

“But like I say, I played four years with Alex (Peya), he’s probably my best friend on tour, but it gets to a point where results don’t go that well and I feel like it’s good to have a change, try something new. At the end of the day, what you need is the wins.”

Soares has witnessed a growth in the pop- ularity in the doubles game but he feels it is more on a regional basis than on a global scale.

“I think it’s getting better and better. For example if you take Brazil, we’re on TV most of the time. I feel like in doubles it’s more like a regional thing, like the Bryan brothers, they’re very popular in the States, me and Marcelo are very popular in Brazil, and I think overall people are understanding and are now learning to like the game of doubles,” says Soares.

“As a social player, 90 per cent of the time they’re playing doubles. So these guys, the tennis lovers, they really like doubles. But the tennis fans, they really like the names, the Federers, the Nadals, the Djokovics, the Murrays, which is normal.

“So these guys they come for the show. The tennis lovers, they come for the tennis, they’re watching everything. But I think it’s growing and getting better and better.”

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