Les Petit As – that translates into Small Champions – is considered tennis’ premier junior tournament, where outrageously talented kids aged 12 to 14 get an early taste of competitive tennis. Rafael Nadal has won it. Michael Chang has won it. Martina Hingis has won it, twice.
And Timea Bacsinszky has won it twice too.
The Swiss 26-year-old, currently ranked 23rd in the world, will be facing Serena Williams in the semi-finals of the French Open this year. Bacsinszky, who is the lowest ranked player in the last four, was once a prodigiously talented teenager.
But she hated it. With all her heart.
“I had to win matches because otherwise my parents would fight," Bacsinszky told the New York Times last year. "Because my dad was my coach when I was a kid, I didn’t have a choice to play or not to play. He wanted to live his dream through me, and unlucky for me, I was playing really well.”
But after turning professional in 2008 and breaking the top 40 in the world, she decided to quit tennis. She wanted to take control of her life. In 2011, after an accident, she went off the tennis circuit. She took up an apprenticeship as a hotel manager in Villars-sur-Ollon. She also decided to study hotel management. From the peak of her promising young tennis career she went to the peak of the Swiss mountains to make beds. Anything to do get away from her father and tennis.
“They [the hotel staff] were like: ‘What are you doing here? Why are you even working here?’. "But still, I all the time asked my director not to make me any particular favors and just to treat me as another employee. Because, for once, I wanted to be treated as someone normal.”
She said that the time spent away from the game has taught her a lot of things. “I don’t know if it really helps me for my forehand or for my backhand. But it gives you a lot of humility because there are many people in this world working in restaurants, hotels, in the kitchen, who are like making our beds in hotels as well,” she said after her quarter-final victory.
She needed psychiatric help to get a grip on her life. The healing process was more of an effort to attain inner peace than help her get back on the tennis circuit.
“I mean, I have never worked on myself for my tennis,” she told New York Times on the eve of her first Grand Slam semifinal appearance. “I worked on myself because I think it makes the life easier if you have more peace inside of you. Then you get angry fewer times in a day. Then you lose less energy. You feel better when you go to sleep. You just enjoy more your life, and your life is more like enjoyable every day.”
An automated email from the French Open authorities in 2013 letting her know she was still eligible for the Grand Slam qualifiers changed her career course for the second time. This time she wanted to compete, not because she was being forced, because she wanted to.
Now two years later, she has become the first Swiss to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros since Hingis did it 14 years ago. As she prepares to face Serena, Timea is at peace with herself.
Irrespective of whether her dream run at Paris ends against the World No. 1, Timea Bacsinszky has already won hearts. She has won a far more important battle – away from the clay, hard and grass courts - in the hotel rooms of Villars-sur-Ollon.
Read more about her here in a Grantland feature.
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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2015 19:19:02 IST