Some might describe it as an obligation, but I don’t call it that, and I’ll try to explain why. I was at Kids’ Week, which is held at the court beside the Grandstand, where we bring some of the players every day to hang out with kids for a half hour or so.
I had a great time, I just love spending time with those kids. It’s something we didn’t have the chance to experience when we were their age, it wasn’t done then. When a player comes on Kids’ Day, it’s a big event for children, you can see how excited they are and how important it is to them, and you can’t be indifferent to that. They all daydream and train hoping they’ll become a part of this caravan someday and play professional tournaments on these courts.
If I can help them and give them advice, I’m very glad to do so. In fact, I enjoy doing so. It’s a normal thing to me. It’s nothing for me to set aside 15 minutes or a half hour to spend with them, but it means the world to them. I don’t understand who could refuse to come and say they don’t want to, or that they don’t feel like it. Just look at the expressions on the faces of those kids, the joy, especially when they hit a winning shot against a “big” player. It’s priceless, both from their and my side. Everyone should spend 15 or 30 minutes with them, because it’s something special. It doesn’t just make them feel better – it makes you feel better too.
And the advice… A lot has changed since I was their age, but people don’t understand that tennis is still tennis. Forehand, backhand, and service are still here, but the pressure is another thing. I think kids aged eight to nine train too much, three or four hours a day. That’s over the top, it’s made kids stop being kids, and that should never happen. Let them play, let them have time to relax, because they’re going to “hit a wall” sooner or later. Parents usually don’t recognise that, so they overtrain them, and that causes a lot of injuries and problems.