I think about Frederico Gil sometimes. Not because I have too much of a clue who he is, because I don’t (though that should change by the end of this piece). I mean, it might be because he’s Portuguese, and I love humans from that side of town, but no really, it’s because I like to extend out people’s names as far as possible to create some semblance of an interesting nickname. I have a friend called Freddie, he is called Frederico, and as any other deranged tennis fan can tell you, it’s not uncommon for a first name associated with a tennis player to automatically conjure up said tennis player in one’s brain at the time. Try it. Andy! Okay, that was too easy. Let me try a different one. Marat! Okay, I was tricking you (actually not, because for some reason it still conjures up the evil old French revolutionary, but that’s for another day when I finally get to write a weird history blog). Um, okay, let’s try… Frederico! See? I bet it worked for you too.
(PS. One name that tends to defy but also conform to this convention is Guillermo. Only because Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is so scarily similar to Guillermo Garcia-Gomez, that I’m not sure if I’m doing a tennis or a weeds reference. Try it.)
So let’s talk about Frederico Gil. We’re gathered to talk about him today, ladies and gents, because he’s the sole Portuguese player, and we love Portuguese people nearly as much – in fact maybe just as much – as we love Spanish people, because they’re so goddamn nice. And since we never had a chance to talk about him before, I’m taking advantage of today’s achievements to talk about this dude.
Frederico Gil, the highest-ranked Portuguese player ever, beat Gael Monfils today in Monte Carlo to make it to his first ever ATP Masters 1000 Quarter Final. He’ll play Muzz next tomorrow, which, in other breaking news today, is an exciting thing because it means Andy Murray is in a Masters Quarter Final. Who woulda thunk it.
It also means we could be seeing more of this gentleman this week, which is great form from the 26-year-old, who has finalist points to defend in his home tournament of Estoril coming up shortly. Last year in his run to the final in Portugal, he became the first player of his country to reach an ATP final, so let’s hope he can ride on the confidence of what this week’s given him – and what may be yet to come – and go one better in 2011.
In an excellent Deuce profile from 2009, Gil discussed his goals for the future, his changes to his game, his family, and the meaning of his sport in a country like Portugal, where football rules (hi, Cristiano) and tennis is more of an afterthought.
Since we’re playing a getting to know you game here, I thought I’d snip out some extracts of the article so we can understand a little more about the dramas of playing tennis in a country where it isn’t part of a particularly strong tradition… Especially one such as Portugal, that has an insanely strong tradition of another wee little sport that a few people like to play in their backyards – football slash soccer (no I will not capitulate!)
The article quotes Manuel Perez, an RTP television commentator and a writer for the Portuguese sports newspaper O Jogo:
“For me Frederico’s rise up the rankings has been a great surprise. If you asked me two or three years ago if he could reach the Top 100, I would have said ‘no’. But now I must say everyone in Portugal is surprised by his current ranking.
“I have never seen a Portuguese player so mentally strong in 23 years of following the sport,” admitted Perez. “His greatest strength is his mentality. He isn’t a talent like Nuno Marques, who everybody said could be a Top 30 player but [who] made mistakes during his career. Frederico knows how hard the tour is. He knows how to practise and how to manage the press intruding in his personal life.”
“My parents had no experience of playing tennis before I was born, but my father started when he was 31,” explained Gil. “In his youth he had played football for Benfica juniors as he had been inspired by my grandfather, Rui Gil, who played professionally for Benfica. I started playing tennis at the age of five, when my parents built a court in the courtyard garden of our home. Another grandfather had built four houses together and had given one house to my mother and another to my uncle.”
I highly recommend reading the entire piece, as it gives an insight into something most tennis articles fail to cover: The plight of the journeyman tennis player, struggling between winning challengers for a place in the top 50 and then falling back out as mandatory tournaments have him losing again in the first round. It also highlights the difficulty of playing tennis in a country with little history: Every small victory means a huge amount for the populace (yes, I said populace, like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess) but also a huge weight of expectation for their next move.
So, I dunno what’s happening in Portugal right now, but I kinda love Portuguese people, so I’m gonna strap into my supersonic travel machine and hang with them for the next couple days. That way, instead of people hanging their heads “oh no Muzz lost again” tomorrow, we can be happy for someone else. Someone called Frederico, to be precise. Or, Muzz can win, and we’ll all live happily ever after.