The Grand Slam of Rods is already historic. Since the Frenchman Gael Monfils, in 2006, no other tennis player managed to win his first three games to five sets to reach the round of 16 of the French Open. The Peruvian has achieved it against all odds, and his participation is synonymous with applause and praise, such as those that Yzaga himself, who spoke with El Comercio, did not hesitate to give.
-Have you closely followed Juan Pablo Varillas at Roland Garros 2023?
I haven’t been able to watch all of his matches, but I’m clearly aware of what he does. I am very happy with what Juan Pablo is doing. It has been a great effort to win their first three matches to five sets. It’s not easy at all. It really was a great effort.
-After 29 years, someone finally matched your mark at Roland Garros: reaching the fourth round.
The 1994 thing always brings back very nice memories. That was the best year of my career because of what I also achieved at the US Open (Note: he defeated Pete Sampras, then number one in the world). Just watching Juan Pablo’s matches I remembered that in the third round of Roland Garros that year I beat (Michael) Chang in five sets, just like he did. But it’s just that: memories.
-How to mentally prepare to face this type of matches against these geniuses; that is, how to not think who is in front?
You will never forget who is in charge. In fact, I think that recognizing who is in charge is a way to seize the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. That’s what it’s all about. Because playing against Novak Djokovic, on the Peris center court, is unique. Varillas must think that, knowing that Djokovic is in front, in a unique opportunity, and that he can give him a great game and -why not?- beat him if things go well for him.
-What does this type of party leave you for the future?
Last year, Juan Pablo lost in the first round of Roland Garros after going two sets up. I am sure that now, when he was losing by two sets in the first meeting, in his head he had full confidence that he could come back. I knew it because he had suffered that. So all these things, these experiences, leave you teachings. Playing against the best in the world, against these geniuses, much more. It’s a brilliant opportunity for him.
-What should what Juan Pablo Varillas achieved mean for Peruvian sport?
For me, the athlete is the best ambassador of his country in the world. Do you know how many people will watch the match against Novak Djokovic? How much would it cost Peru to publicize his name at such an event? But unfortunately the people who are in politics and in charge of sports don’t see it that way. Juan Pablo is a great ambassador of Peru, he has not only been these days and now, he will continue to be.
-To give some dimension: Is what Varillas did in France similar to Peru’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia? Only without the same impact.
What happens is that it seems incredible to me that being fifth in South America is a great achievement in football. That is being a small country. For me, the Varillas thing is ten times bigger than qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. Juan Pablo’s effort is much more than being fifth in South America.
-Should the country recognize this type of achievement more, not only in tennis but in sports other than soccer?
Don’t know. Peru has to recognize all its athletes. But the affection of the people that is perceived in the networks, the one that shows the fans of tennis and the Peruvian in general, he also perceives it. The Peruvian greatly appreciates what his athletes do abroad. I am sure that Juan Pablo feels that recognition. Whether an authority does it or not does not matter much.
-Varillas said that to prepare and be where he is, he had to put money out of his pocket. How do you see this situation from the outside?
The tennis federation has to take care of amateur tennis, of the boys, that they grow up and contribute from there. When you’re a professional, you have to dance with your scarf. The federation can’t keep you for life. It is my position and not everyone can think the same.
Doesn’t that position keep boys away from tennis?
I don’t think it drives them away. What happens is that I think that what the federation should do is educate the boys, train them and train them very well, and go to all possible youth tournaments. They must grow the base. Because if you spend the little budget on the professionals, it will not be enough for anything.
-How do you perceive Peruvian tennis in these years? Have we improved compared to your time?
In the years in which I played there was Pablo Arraya who was among the first 40 or 50 in the world. There was also Alejo Aramburú, who was ranked 120th, or Carlos de Laura, who played very well in doubles. Today, tennis in Peru is sustained by individual efforts and there is not much else to see. There is not a good amount of budget, there is no development, there are no public courts. The infrastructure is very poor and, in the end, without the latter it is not possible to think of a sustainable development of the sport.
-What do you think the latter is due to? Whose fault is it?
Due to lack of interest from the competent authorities. Municipalities should develop their sports areas in their communities. Can you imagine if you put public fields in San Juan de Lurigancho, Villa El Salvador… or in Arequipa, Cusco, Chilca, Huaraz? We would have a lot of tennis players. But there is not a single court. So it’s impossible like this.
-Juan Pablo Varillas said that it seemed good to him that tennis players get involved to seek the growth of the sport. Why did you walk away?
I think everyone has their time. I was captain of the Davis Cup for several years, it was a good contribution that we made. Today Lucho (Horna) is there. Alejo, Tupi Venero are also close to tennis. But finally each one chooses a little his way.
I have worked in the news industry for over 10 years. I have a keen interest in sports and have written for many different publications. I am currently working as an author at 24 News Recorder. I cover mostly sports news but also write about other topics such as current affairs and politics. I have a strong interest in social media and how it can be used to engage with audiences.