Among the team captains every year in Klosters are several former professional players. We spoke to Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer and Alexia Dechaume-Balleret of France about their memories and their transition from player to coach.
Andreas Haider-Maurer is in a hurry on Wednesday afternoon. His player Marko Andrejic has just lost in a tough three-setter in the third round to Vilius Gaubas, the 14th seed from Lithuania. Instead of preparing for the round of 16, the Austrian team has a different task - packing up the bags as quickly as possible in order to reach the next train. “It is a hard loss, especially because Marko had a match point”, says the captain of the Austrian boys.
Haider-Maurer knows situations like these from his playing days. A former successful pro, he was the number 47 in the world, holds a 6-5 record in Davis Cup play and was a finalist at the prestigious Vienna indoor event. And his career got a jump start like that of so many other young players at European Championships. In 2001, he played the Under 14 event, when the title went to a certain Novak Djokovic. Haider-Maurer remembers his stints at the Championships: “They were a real highlight for me. All the best European players took part and it’s a memory that stays forever. I think, to be able to participate is unique for every player.”
The transition from player to coach isn’t obvious. During the career, a player is always focused on himself whereas later he has to create the best possible environment to help his pupils. “It is a big change,”, Haider-Maurer says, “but it is also a lot of fun to pass on my experience to the next generation.”
Of course, this vast experience also includes how to handle tough situations, and to possibly handle them better than he used to. “I advise the players for example not to be hectic, to take more time between points.” On the train ride home, there was plenty of time to discuss the missed opportunity with Andrejic: “It’s important to analyze, and to make sure that the same mistakes aren’t made again next time. Fortunately, in tennis you get a new chance every week.”
Image: Haider-Maurer competing at Wimbledon in 2018
Moments of sharing
One of the most successful players in the history of the European Championships is Alexia Dechaume-Balleret. The French woman won three doubles gold medals in the different age groups and reached two singles finals. In 1986, she just fell short to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who later won multiple Grand Slam tournaments and reached the number one ranking.
Nowadays, she is the Captain of the French girls, and we spoke to her right after top-seed Elsa Jacquemot won a gruelling three-setter against Switzerland’s Sebastianna Scilipoti. “I don’t have that many memories of the times when I played the European Junior Championships. It’s been a while”, she says with a smile, “but now that you remind me of those moments, some of them come back.”
The results are one thing, more important to Dechaume-Balleret are other things, however. “I remember the moments of sharing. With my teammates, male and female. These moments in a team in a normally purely individual sport are so precious.”
She had never played in Klosters and now is in the beautiful Swiss mountain resort for the first time. “It’s great here. The people are very nice and everything is so well organized”, she says. Unfortunately, there are no French boys this time because of the quarantine rules following Wimbledon. In 2019, they had captured all three titles - Valentin Royer in singles, Royer/Harold Mayot in doubles and the nations trophy - when they were captained by former pro Olivier Delaitre. “It’s a pity for our boys, for the tournament and also for the girls”, Dechaume-Balleret says. “Our boys still have great memories from 2019, just before they went to the adults and turned pro. Those memories last for the entire career.”
To create this team environment isn’t always easy, especially when there are strong personalities in the team, Dechaume-Balleret admits: “You have to give them a certain freedom but they also need to understand that they are not playing for themselves only. They represent their country, and also play for their teammates. I always have given particular importance for the jersey of the French national team and I try to transfer those values to the young players.”
As the former world #46 recalls, the transition for her had come quite naturally: “At the end of my career, I just felt it. I wasn’t willing to do the efforts for my own career anymore, but I wanted to be a coach, help others and give back a little bit from what tennis has given me. I feel the values of sport are also very important for life in general.” For the last two decades she has followed this path: her coaching resumé includes two years with Amélie Mauresmo, being French Fed Cup captain and working with Pauline Parmentier, another extra ordinary team player.
Alexia Dechaume-Balleret is still highly motivated. After Klosters, she will lead her girls to the European Summer Cups qualifiers in Romania next week. And she wants more: “Hopefully, we will reach the finals, because they will be held in France. And it would be a great experience for our girls to play for our colours in front of the home crowd.”