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Beach tennis is about happiness, it’s about friendship, even though you have rivalries inside the courts on the professional side, I can say that I have pretty good relationships with my opponents. And these relationships are based on respect and on fair play. For me beach tennis represents fun, happiness, friendship, fair play and respect. Beach Tennis is all of these things and so it is the perfect sport for everyone.Vini Font
In commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of BEACHCLUB2010®, we wanted to give a voice to our friends and faithful companions who have been by our side throughout our journey. We spoke to players, organizers and commentators about their beach tennis stories. You can find them in the following interviews.
Vinicius Font, 35, was a tennis player before he startet playing beach tennis in 2008. He is probably the most dazzling player from Brazil. Vini Font in 2014 became the first non-Italian player to hit the number one spot on the ITF world rankings. He won the World Championship title in mixed doubles with his fellow countrywoman Joana Cortez in 2015 and is a three time winner at the World Team Championship in Moscow. Vini Font is known for his emotional and spectacular game and his friendships on and off the courts. When Joana Cortez and Rafaella Miiller (BRA) won the title at the WC in Cervia in 2016, the first time a non-Italian team won in women's doubles, Vini Font was one of the first on the court to celebrate the victory for Brazil.
In our interview he talkes about his motivation in beach tennis as a player, his successes with the Brazilian national team and his 'Gol da Alemanha'.
How does it feel to be the best player in a sport?
It’s just an amazing feeling. I reached the top of the ranking in 2014 and I was immensely happy. You work a lot in order to beat everybody and once you get there you are the one to be beaten. It’s an amazing feeling. I wish I had the opportunity to get back there. I’m working hard to get at least closer to that spot. Let’s see what the future holds.
You climbed the top of the rankings in 2014/2015 as the first non-Italian player. What were the keys to your success?
I always loved practicing. And in the case of beach tennis specifically – you know my friends called me crazy when I stopped playing tennis in order for me to dedicate a hundred percent of my time to beach tennis. And I agreed to them. But I had a dream, I loved the sport. And I knew that I was capable of doing well. I never expected to become the world’s number one, but I practiced hard, very, very hard and – how can I say – I saw my opponents practicing. I knew how much they would be practicing, how many hours a week, how many hours a day. And I would manage my time for me to practice more than they do. I did condition training, Pilates. Every day. Every day on the sand. One key point for my success was when I started with my psychologist Felipe Valguero. He changed my mentality and my attitude onside the court completely. I always wanted to win, I always loved practicing, but then I was able to put that onto the court in a different way.
So, what is beach tennis all about then?
Beach tennis is a sport that makes everybody fall in love with. It’s ridiculous. You see kids, seven years old, playing and you see older people, over 80, playing beach tennis. Spending time at the beach, spending time at the club, it’s a sport you can play with your family. I played tournaments with my wife, I played with my dad who’s 73, with my mom, she’s 69, with my sisters, with my brothers and with my nephews. It’s unbelievable. Beach tennis is about happiness, it’s about friendship, even though you have rivalries inside the courts on the professional side, I can say that I have pretty good relationships with my opponents. And these relationships are based on respect and on fair play. For me beach tennis represents fun, happiness, friendship, fair play and respect. Beach Tennis is all of these things and so it is the perfect sport for everyone.
In 2014 you played together with Alex Mingozzi and you were very successful, won eight ITF tournaments together. Why did this work so well and why did it end so soon?
We started playing in 2013. In our first tournament together, we lost in semi-finals in Fort Myers to Nicola Gambi and Alessandro Calbucci 4-6 in the third set. It was an amazing match. Alex was the player who took me seriously and we managed to win very good tournaments together beating very good teams. We were very successful, there was a big respect, it was mutual. We are very good friends, we still talk a lot, even though he’s the head of the Brazilian national team. When I go to Italy I go to his house, he would stay in my place in Brazil. We talk very often, and for me that’s the key to any partnership’s success, it’s how a friendship works outside the court. I don’t have a good answer for why it ended so soon. We spoke a few times and we decided together that it would be best for us not to play as a fix team anymore. We played a few tournaments after that already, we did well, we did bad in some. We had a very good run, I cannot complain. I am very grateful for that partnership.
As you mentioned, Alex now is your captain in the Brazil national team, together you won the last two World Team Championships in Moscow, beat Italy and Russia. Why is the Brazilian team so strong?
That is a question people ask me a lot. People ask the question and they already come up with the answer. They say: You know, because Mingo knows a lot about the Italian game. I say, yes, he knows a lot about the game, not only about the Italian game. But for me that’s not the key to our success at the World Team Championships. It’s that we are a real team. We win together, we lose together. We practice together, when we’re there. If I have a problem, I will tell them. If they have a problem, they come to me. We come to Mingo with ideas and he listens to us. He creates a good environment for the players to feel comfortable. And that makes us play better. We feel very well with him in the leading position.
You had won the World Team Championships in 2013 already. How did this competition change during the years?
2013 was a very special year for us. We never expected to win – I never expected to win the tournament. For me it would have been amazing to reach the final again like in 2012, for me the title was already in the hands of Italy. But we ended up ruing their party. I was very, very lucky that we got to play the mixed doubles, because me and Joana Cortez, we are a very strong team. The growth of the event is amazing. I love team competitions, that’s my favorite competition to be part of. You see so many teams now, and they are playing with so much love for their countries, giving a hundred percent every time, never giving up. And still, when we get to the hotel, everybody gets together. It doesn’t matter what language you are speaking or where you are from. Everybody gets together as one nation and, for me, that is really priceless.
And how did beach tennis in general change from when you started playing back in 2008?
It changed a lot. We see a lot of amateurs playing everywhere you go in Brazil. The level of play of the professional players, I mean it’s ridiculous how it changed. It changed from a slower game into a faster one, and now they are trying to slow it down a bit, so you can see more rallies. Right now, if you want to be a top pro player, you must be a complete player. You must serve well, you must return, you must attack, not only have those special characteristics like you have one more defensive player in the team, the other one just kills the point. Now you must know how to play on both sides. It’s just incredible to see how far we have come and it’s even more incredible to know much further we can go. To think that we are just at the beginning of this sport's global growth is incredible. It's going to be everywhere soon!
What do you think of the beach tennis movement in general? What steps have to be taken next?
I really do think beach tennis is going into the right direction. But I believe in a bigger union of the players so we can take beach tennis in the direction we want. It’s good to have the ITF leading the movement, but it cannot be led by the entity. It must be led by the players. That’s what I really believe in. We do need the ITF, but the biggest issue right now is the union of the players. A player association as we talked about a long time ago.
Since last year you play on the international tour with your co-national Andre Baran, who started with beach tennis only some time ago. What is the secret of this duo?
I don’t know if there is a secret at all. It’s mutual respect. It’s not that easy to play with a guy who does not have a lot of experience on the tour, on the beach tennis tour. Because he has a big experience in the tennis tour, he was a tennis professional when he was younger. It’s not because I have been the number one or because of what he did. It’s only that I know the path to victory. I listen to him, he listens to me, and this is going well because of that. So, I don’t intend to change my partner, we are doing very well, and I hope it keeps going like this.
The Italians were always the players to beat on the tour. How did it feel to beat them for the first time in Hermosa Beach years ago?
Having been able to beat Alessandro Calbucci and Niccolò Strano in 2013 was a special moment for me. For me and for Mingo, but especially for me, because I had never beaten them before. You know it felt good. It left a very good taste, and I practiced very hard to make that happen again and luckily, I managed to do it. And it was even more special because I was playing with my idol Mingo. Since I was starting to play beach tennis, he was my idol, together with Matteo Marighella and Nicola Gambi. Being there on the same side of the court as he was, that was a lot of pressure for me. Because when you lose nobody is going to point fingers on him. But I did it and it was amazing. That was the final, but we already had a great match in the semi-finals against Matteo Marighella and Giulio Petrucci. So, I played with an idol of mine beat another one and the number one in the world. That was amazing.
What about friendships on tour? Everybody seems friend with everybody, but are there real friendships beside the courts?
This is the best part of our beach tennis. It’s not about casino, we cannot make money from the tournaments we play. We must teach and obviously we love to compete. I love to compete, but beach tennis brought me many friends. The best part is the people you get do know, the places you get to visit. I have very close friends; my best friend is my ex-partner: Aksel Samardzic. Even though we don’t play together anymore we have a good talk on a daily basis. He knows everything that goes on in my life, I know everything that goes on in his.
You are very emotional on the court. How is Vini Font off court? A family man?
My life is based on emotions. I don’t think that I’m much different off court. I’m quite open when it comes to that. I love spending time with my family and since I had my kid it doubled, it tripled. Whatever time I have I want my family around me. Whenever I can travel with them, I take them with me. Being with them is true happiness for me.
You won the title at the WC in Cervia in 2015 with Joana Cortez in Mixed-Doubles, but never in Doubles. You were celebrating even more when Joana and Rafaella Miiller won the title the year after that. What did it mean to you?
Our win was an amazing feeling. To be able to go to Italy and beat the best team then, Sofia Cimatti and Marco Faccini, and win the trophy. I celebrate a lot with my friends. When they win, I feel like I am winning as well. They are part of my life. I’ve learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. And since we were a team, sometimes we will have to play against each other. But it’s impossible for me not to celebrate such an accomplishment. We knew, that when we were on the court, it was only us from Brazil in that small box. So, we tried to make them heroes, it was just amazing. I never won there in doubles, but the feeling was pretty much as I had won that tournament. They are my friends; they are my team.
You travelled the world for beach tennis. Which were your favorite places? And what are your favorite memories?
I travelled the whole world for beach tennis. I have been to many places and for sure, if you told me when I was 23, working as a bar tender, that I was going to travel the world, to compete again in a sport after my tennis career, I would have told you, that you were completely out of your mind. But it happened. I am very happy. There are so many memories: Being world team champion in 2013, being able to play my first match against the Italians, winning the nations cup in Aruba 2009 against the Italian team in the final was amazing. Then meeting my wife. I owe everything I have right now to beach tennis. There are too many memories, I’ll just stick to those three.
On the other side: What is your “Gol da Alemanha” in the world of beach tennis?
I really like that question (laughs). Honestly, I don’t know. I am trying to think about a bad memory, a bad loss, but … all the losses are on the same pile. If I had to put one above, I’d say, losing the final at the World Beach Games in Doha (against Antomi Ramos and Gerard Rodriguez) was frustrating, but you know, they are all on the same pile. Losing is losing, you learn from it.
You have been to Germany more than once. What are your memories?
There has been two countries, which I really wanted to visit, since I can remember. Germany and Japan. Your country is very different from my culture. Being there and seeing it all was amazing. I’m really amazed of how organized you guys are, how you live in society, it’s a different idea from what I see here in Brazil. You make everything work. You don’t see things in singular, you always see things for the group. If we had the same mentality in Brazil for sure we would be in a much different position. So, I have just amazing memories from Germany. One place I loved a lot in Germany was Usedom, I would love to go back there. And also, to Saarlouis, I loved the way you set up the tournament there, the town is very charming and everything works, everybody speaks English, everybody talks to you, everybody is well educated.
Our BEACHCLUB2010® this year is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, the event in Saarlouis, where we are involved, might even get bigger this year. Do you follow the development in our country?
I have been following the growth of the sport in Germany since 2010, I think. It was when I met you guys at the World Championships in Rome. Since then, you can see the rising level of the players you have, you have a strong team at the BTWC. There are a lot of good players in Saarlouis. I believe that beach tennis in Germany needs more people to play the game. I don’t know how you can do it to bring more players in, but I know for sure, as it is in beach volleyball, Germany is going to be one of the power countries – it’s already one of the power countries of this sport.
Yes, you experienced that two years ago, when you almost got eliminated at the WTC in Moscow by the German team. The game was tied, and you won the decisive mixed doubles. How confident were you to win that match?
That was a very tough moment for us. We (Marcus Ferreira and Thales Santos) had three match points against us in the men’s doubles, and your women (Maraike Biglmaier and Laura Kemkes) were just amazing against our team. I was then very confident to play the mixed doubles, even though everybody asked me, why I’m not playing with Joana, but she was not feeling her best moment. So, I played with Rafa, she was then the best player on the girl side. I played very well, but Rafa played amazing. I wasn’t at my top game in the first set, so Rafa helped me at the end. We managed to win the first set in a tiebreaker and then closed the match in the second. It was mentally very exhausting; I was completely devastated after having to stay on the bench during the girl’s match and the men’s doubles. Not to be there for my colleagues.
In Germany most of the players were tennis players before. You also played tennis. In what way did it help you in beach tennis and why was it difficult to adapt to BT?
I believe that every sport brings something good, when you start playing beach tennis. The good thing you can bring from tennis is the technique. The technical part is very close to tennis when you serve, your overheads, the volleys, the drop shots. It’s very close, so you just must adapt and make your movements much shorter. But you are almost there when you come from tennis. You must adapt moving towards the ball, not expecting it to drop and things like this. The most difficult part for me to adapt was the sand. I was moving horribly at the beginning, I would fall every time, so it was pretty hard for me.
We first met in Aruba in 2010. The event got bigger every year. Now some problems appeared with the ITF. How do you see their role, what is the future of beach tennis?
Yes, there are some issues going on between the organizers of Aruba and the ITF. It’s a very delicate issue, it’s a delicate moment we’re going through right now. I believe in the future of beach tennis ITF is going to be involved, like it is involved in tennis, not on the main pro circuit. I really hope that the guys of Aruba and the ITF can talk it over and find a solution for that, because I don’t think it’s a good moment for Aruba not to be part of the ITF events. But they can count on me for sure, cause I’m going to be there, it’s the biggest event we have on our tour, so we need to show support to them.
Maximilian Hamm, April 2020