Just a few days before the start of the 2017 WTA Tour Preseason, Paolo Angella interviewed Giorgio Errani for the tennis magazine Spazio Tennis to ask him about the family side of our Sarita. In this exclusive piece, you will get to know Giorgio and Fulvia, Sara’s parents there is, and their personal perspective of our warrior’s journey, growning and living with her passion from Day1 until today, still getting ready for another pro season at the top of the game.
Let us start from the very beginning. When did Sara become interested in playing tennis?
“Sara has been a tomboy since she was a child, as she wanted to emulate whatever her 5-year-older brother was up to. Around that time Davide used to play several sports, like basket, tennis and then football. During his tennis days, when Davide used to practice everyday – he was pretty good actually, he won the U12 Youth Regional Championships – Sara wanted to be courtside and learn how to hold her first racket at the age of 5. Eventually, Davide left tennis for football and again Sara went after him: she moved to play in a female team, as well as practicing swimming and basketball. Finally, she got back to tennis. I have to say Sara had a strong passion for football: she had a true talent and she was so passionate that she used to go train at the playground with the boys everyday right after lunch”.
When did you realize that tennis was her real sport?
“She went on playing different sports for several years before receiving an invitation by the FIT for the National Meeting of ’87 Class players to take part in a tournament in Trento. Because of what I’ve just told you, Sara surely wasn’t among the ones known in the game already, as she hadn’t competed in many tournaments yet. She wasn’t the strongest either. However, she made it to the finals and lost only to Verdiana Verardi. That right there was the moment I knew tennis was her thing and that she had a real potential.”
She spent many years practicing in Romagna before stepping up to join Nick Bolliettieri Academy in Florida. How was this particular moment for you and your family?
“Sara steady practised with her tennis team fellows and got chosen to play the Orange Bowl in Florida. We went there as well, of course. It truly was an amazing experience. Everything was perfectly organized and the surroundings were just lovely. So when we went visiting Bolliettieri’s Academy to have a look at the youth camps, I said only in jest that Sara might spend a year in the States to train and study but she took it as a serious proposition and was super excited with the idea. I guess maybe with a bit of foolishness, no sooner said then done, we signed her for the upcoming year at Bollettieri’s. To think about it at present, I’m not sure anymore I would let a 12-year-old daughter to be so far away from home for a year. Times have changed indeed, but it didn’t seem like such a dangerous situation to me back then. I also pushed Davide to go on and try a school exchange in England but we didn’t manage to do so due to scheduling issues. Maybe Sara was lucky and accurate enough to make all the right choices throughout all this time, even thought we didn’t agree on each one. Anyway, that was a shared decision: we both thought that it would be a terrific experience, both on a sports and personal side, to spend a year in America”.
I assume that both of you also knew this separation wasn’t going to be easy…
“We used to be in touch very often. She was enthusiastic about everything, always telling me what she was doing, how much she was improving, the school, the camp, her new friends, every technique matter and so on. We surely missed her but as long as we knew she was happy, we felt the same. Everything seemed to be fine, until the day Sara released one of her first interviews about one year after she came back, and it hit us out of the blue: she said she cried every day she had spent there, and that it had been a very tough time all along. Nothing could have been far from what we’d expected to hear. Evidently, she was already so strong and sensible to keep us away in order to prevent us from worrying”.
Did you truly manage not to worry about her being away anyway?
“Of course we were worried and had some concerns about Sara being away, but never getting out of hand, since we thought she was fine afterall. Well, there were a couple of scary events for us, but they happened, like, twice in 10 months. I’ll tell you the worst: we gave Sara a cellphone for the occasion so that she could call us whenever she needed. She usually phoned during the evening, which was around midday for her. One night, around 3am, the phone rings: it was her. We looked at her number on the screen and we were like petrified. And there she goes, cool as a cucumber saying: ‘Daddy, I went for a walk but I need to get back to the Academy now. I am not sure I’m taking the right bus. Perhaps do you remember its number?”. I was still tense as a bow but I had to play it cool for her, so I managed to get the closest person around at the bus stop on the phone and talk to this complete stranger asking him for the right direction to get back to the Academy in Bradenton. I can assure you that me and my wife couldn’t catch our sleep for several nights after that episode, but I still think that – aside from the tennis matter – it was a great life lesson for her overall”.
What about moving abroad then? Did you decide it right after she came back from Florida?
“Sara proceeded with her training here in Romagna for some other 2-3 years right after she came back, but we both shortly came to the conclusion that she had to move abroad to take the next step in her career anyway. Back in the early ’00s, the Italian youth sector was very badly arranged: there was no longtime planning or goals, and also the Italian masters weren’t trained properly. I’m glad that was only the past, they are on a whole different path right now: they are truly moving things for the young Italian hopes and you can definitively tell it by the positive results incoming from our juvenile movement”.
Who decided that Spain was the place to be over any other option then?
“It was a tough and carefully considered decision. We scrutinised dozens of academies all over Europe: we have been to Mouratoglu’s in France, then to Sanchez’s. We also tried to seek asylum under the Italian Tennis Federation but, like I said, the situation was extremely different at that time. There has been a period of transition and thought on whether was the best choice to make. Finally, we went for Spain. It was still a try at first, we never thought it was going to be a 10-year-old deal. As matter of fact, she spent some time at Bruguera’s Academy in Barcellona, which was fine but not totally satisfying. That’s why she later decided to go on and move to Valencia following Paul Dorochenko’s advice, who was planning to move there as well to start his own academy. She was happy with this new setting and she met Pablo Lozano 2 years later. You all know the story from that point on and the long way they have come together, which far exceeded anybody’s expectations”.
I guess Pablo finally gave you the time to chill as parents and reassured you about the fact Sara found her best partner to go on with her tennis and professional career…
“To be completely honest with you, the beginning of the collaboration with Lozano had been one of the fewest and most tense moments between me and Sara. I wasn’t sure he would have been the best choice for her at all. One day, she came back home from Spain to spend a couple of days of vacation, and she let us know that she took the decision to leave the academy – where we knew she was happy thus far – to join an exclusive partnership with this young, inexperienced and little known guy. I wasn’t with her decision and that’s why there have been tense moments between us, a few arguments, you know. But it was still only up to her to have the final word, and still she was right like always, as the facts proved over the years”.
It is often said, at least in Italy, that parents tend to interefere out of turn way too much in their sons’ and coaches’ choices over technical matters. What is your take on it? Is this what really happens or is it just a twisted form of affcetion?
“Yeah, that’s often the loyal picture of what happens, especially in Italy. I think one should immediately set a stand at the very beginning: it must be clear that the coach has the lead, the parent follows. Sometimes the parent might feel too presumptuous or have too many expectations, sometimes the Italian coaches don’t show enough spine or expertise. Far be it from me to put everyone into the same basket, that goes without saying. There are pleasant exceptions and, once again, the present looks better than the past. However, that was exatcly what basically forced us to move abroad at that time”.
That also means putting on the plate a fair amount of money, I guess.
“Unfortunately that is a part of tennis as well. Tennis is no mass sport like football is. To think about how many talented guys we’ve lost along the way only because they didn’t have enough money to hire proper trainers or join a prestigious academy. The Italian Tennis Federation does its part, which is way bigger than before at present, nevertheless it is indisputable that the families need to invest a lot in order to grant their sons a professional prospect. For all I know right now I guess the Federation has begun to give everybody an equal basic subsidy to later decide who’s is going to worth a bigger chip. At the aforementioned Sara’s National Meeting the subsidies were granted only for the finalists. What if Sara had lost in semifinals? She wouldn’t probably have had the same passion to follow through and today we wouldn’t be here to tell her story”.
The school system doesn’t help either…
“Yes, the school system doesn’t help tennis or any other sports. Italy doesn’t have any sports programme or culture. We should let our kids try every sports and then let them pick up the one they like the most or they’re more successful in. On the contrary some are lucky to even get the chance to play a single sport in school, others are bound to pointless physical exercises that only result in keeping the kid away from real sports, not making him love them. For those who want to play a sport, there’s only the private way via paying, which also means that the kid will be necessarily bound to that specific sport, let’s say volleyball, all year long, as their parents don’t want to end up losing their money and pay full price again for swimming or anything else. That’s not how it works abroad, things are way bettere there”.
Let’s get back to Sara. She has been snubbed and ignored for several years by the tennis fans and the media. Was it perhaps because of her lacking a brilliant tennis or a powerful biuld like her fellow colleagues? How did you cope with that without getting emotionally involved?
“Allow me to set the record straight: Sara is still snubbed and ignored by the media. Whenever she wins, that’s because of a lucky or easy draw. Whenever she loses, that’s just ordinary for a moon-baller like her that deserves less than her actual ranking position. I don’t mind receiving this kind of feedback either from the fans or any other player’s supporters. That’s just how it is, anyone is entitled of his own opinion and taste. Now, to read it coming from any type of so-called experts, that’s what truly upsets me: her career achievements must not be something to put under a subjective interpretation, for they are real and undisputable. It is completely ridiculous to question her being a champion. I don’t feel vindictive regarding this matter thought, I’m just stating facts and expressing personal concerns, as opposed to what Sara usually does, since she doesn’t want fuel the argument. If we look back at when Sara was 20, right after winning her first Singles tournament in Palermo back in 2008 and immediately doubled in Portorose, when she got up on stage for the ceremonial speech the first thought she wanted to express in such a moment of joy was “I’d like to dedicate this title to all the Italians who said I was just a moon-baller so there was no chance I could win”. See, that’s something that should never happen in sports. Everybody is free to support and be a fan of whoever they feel like, but respect must be mandatory above all preferences. Lots of people, no matter Sara’s amazing work ethic and great professionalism, have very little”.
Which was Sara’s best tennis moment from your point of view, the one you felt the most?
“We were so lucky there have been more than just one, and I don’t want to rate them. I’d say above all, we were the luckiest to witness 2012 Roland Garros semifinals and finals directly from the stands. Also I should mention 2014 US Open 3rd Round against Venus Williams… I’m pretty sure that my heart is able to survive any ache after that!”.
Final question: whenever your family rejoins for Christmas or any other special occasion, are you able to leave tennis out of the door?
“Of course. When it comes to holiday, tennis gets all the way out the family picture. There are laughs, jokes, puzzles, board games… but we still end up bickering because Sara wants to win it all. Even if we play heads or tails she wants to win! When she doesn’t… Well, it’s best for you to scram (laughs)!”.