| P E O P L E |
Tennis Champion | Paris
Meet the charismatic French tennis champion WHO has traversed the globe many times over AS ONE OF the top players in the world. He shares with us the most memorable moments of his 17-year tennis career, his favourite destinations around the world and his Paris address book...
How did you first get into tennis?
PHM: I’m originally from the Alsace region in the eastern part of France, from a small village next to Strasbourg. I started playing tennis when I was three years old, following in the footsteps of my older brother, Pierre-Yves, who was a good tennis player. I was lucky enough to be scouted by the French Tennis Federation when I was seven years old, then left home when I was eleven to live, study and train in Reims, which was a 4-hour drive from where I lived. I’m so grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dream, even though it wasn’t easy for them given that I had to leave home at such a young age, and we only could see each other during the weekends.
When I was fifteen years old, I was very fortunate to be able to join the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, run by the famous American tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, where legendary players such as Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Monica Seles and the Williams sisters trained at a young age. I trained there for three years and it was a fantastic experience. I learnt a lot from the American mentality, to never give up and to go beyond your limits. Nick Bollettieri is an amazing motivator – he adapts special physical and mental techniques to each player, and he pushes you to always give the best of yourself. Nevertheless, I really missed my family and friends, so decided to come back to France when I was eighteen years old, after spending three years training in the United States.
When did you start your career as a professional tennis player?
PHM: In 2000, when I came back to France, ex-French tennis player Thierry Champion became my coach. He insisted that I should play the Roland Garros Junior French Open that same year, which I went on to win – it was an amazing achievement for me, especially after training so hard in France and the United States. After that, I decided to join the professional ATP circuit and start my career as a tennis player, which was around seventeen years ago.
What have been some of the most memorable moments of your career thus far?
PHM: I have many amazing memories playing in the Davis Cup, such as when the French team reached the final in 2002. Obviously, the singles titles that I’ve won have also been the highlights of my career, such as winning major Tennis Opens in Moscow, Lyon, Casablanca and Gstaad. Achieving a career-high singles ranking of World No. 12 was also a great accomplishment for me. Some other memorable souvenirs was that I was the last player to beat Pete Sampras in 2002, before he retired after winning the US Open. It was also an honour to be the last player to face Gustavo Kuerten when he played his final match in the Central Court of Roland Garros, where he had won the French Open three times.
You’ve also played some of the most intense matches in Roland Garros history...
PHM: Some of them were incredible! One which comes to mind is the match against Andre Agassi in 2002 – it was the fourth round, and I was leading 2 sets to 0 and was set to win. Then, Agassi came back and won in 5 sets! There’s another game which people always remind of, which I played against Rafael Nadal in 2006 – it was a very intense 5-hour match, where the first set alone lasted over 1.30 hours! So that was quite an epic battle. Another unforgettable match was when I played against John Isner in 2012. The game lasted almost 6 hours in the Central Court of Roland Garros – one of the longest games in Grand Slam tennis history. A severe knee injury and major operation had taken me off the circuit for over a year prior to that, so it was the rebirth of my career in many ways. Winning 18 - 16 in the 5th set was a tremendous achievement for me, and an amazing feeling after the difficult period I’d been through with my injury and not being able to play for so long.
In 2012, many significant things happened in your life...
PHM: That’s so true! It was a very intense year – in terms of personal victory, where I was finally able to play again after being off the circuit for 18 months following my knee injury. When I started playing again, I came back from having no ATP ranking to being ranked 55th in the world that same year. It was also a very profound year for me emotionally, as my son Gabriel was born on the 11th March that year which was incredible. However, just before leaving to Australia in December 2012 to play in the Australian Open, my partner Quiterie – who is now my wife after 13 years of being together – was unfortunately diagnosed with lymphatic cancer… it was such a terrible shock for us. At that time, I even considered stopping my career as a tennis pro. However, it was Quiterie who wanted me to continue. She was incredibly brave. After two years of battling with cancer, everything went well for her following her treatment, which was an enormous relief for us all.
During your travels around the world as a tennis player over the last seventeen years, which destinations have you enjoyed visiting the most?
PHM: One of my favourite cities in the world is definitely New York, even though I didn’t like it at all when I was younger! I felt a bit oppressed by the height of the buildings and the intense energy of the city – I was already tired before even starting the US Open! However, now I really love New York and enjoy staying on after the tournament when I can. My favourite areas are SoHo and Central Park, but I also love Brooklyn, where my sister has been living for many years. It’s more relaxed, friendly and there are so many French people living there! Buenos Aires is also a great city with beautiful architecture that reminds me Europe. The people are really kind and the food is delicious. I spent an entire month in Buenos Aires many years ago and enjoyed it so much. After my professional tennis career, I would love to take some time to visit Australia. I love Sydney and Melbourne very much, they have a great lifestyle, a love of sport and Australian people are so kind.
It’s really exciting to participate in major tournaments around the world, to stay in the most beautiful cities and hotels, and to play in front of so many spectators. However, as tennis players, we unfortunately rarely have time to really enjoy the city a lot of the time, as we're usually so focused on the tournament. A typical day usually involves training sessions, playing tennis matches, spending time with my physiotherapist, meeting with the press, and then heading back to the hotel to rest.
Where do you like to escape to on holidays?
PHM: We play almost all year long and have only two weeks break in November. I really love Mauritius, so much so that I’ve been there on holidays for almost 15 years in a row! We are in love with the island, the people, the landscape, and in addition, it’s always sunny and there’s no time zone difference with France. We stayed at the Beachcomber Paradis for several years, which is a fantastic place where I can play golf in the morning while my wife reads books on the beach facing the sea. For the last two years, we've stayed at the Sofitel SO Mauritius which is a fantastic hotel in the south of the island with amazing rooms, food and service. We love it so much that we went back there last November to celebrate our honeymoon, which was an unforgettable experience.
What are your favourite places in France?
PHM: Corsica is a spectacular destination with such exotic scenery, yet is less than two hours flight from Paris. One year, we stayed at the Hotel & Spa Des Pecheurs in Cavallo Island, which is part of the Lavezzi archipelago. Cars aren’t allowed there, so the experience was really unique. As Monaco is surrounded by France, I would also recommend the Hôtel Hermitage Monte Carlo, which is a mythical hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. I was invited there last year for an event and was really impressed. One of my favourite gastronomic experience of all times was at the Auberge de l’Ill restaurant in Illhaeusern, close to Strasbourg, which is where my family is from. I’ve had the chance to go twice and was so impressed by the talent of chef Marc Haeberlin, the professional service and the spectacular setting. In Paris, I love Il Vino, the restaurant of Enrico Bernardo who was awarded the best sommelier in the world in 2004, which serves refined Italian-inspired cuisine. We also really like Le Relais d’Auteil, the traditional French gastronomy restaurant of Patrick Pignol, which is within walking distance from Roland Garros. My wife and I also really like burgers, so we have two favourite places: Big Fernand, which has several locations in Paris, and Tough Burger in Boulogne, which is close to where we live. Over the last few months, we've also really enjoyed going to an Italian restaurant called Inconito, also in Boulogne, next to Roland Garros. They make great pizza and it's the only restaurant where I eat pasta. When we feel like having something sweet, we really love going to Merveilleux, which makes these fantastic French-Belgian pastries made with meringue and whipped cream. Although I'm not super strict about what I eat, sometimes I like to treat myself!
What’s next in the life of Paul-Henri Mathieu?
PHM: After spending so many years travelling, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to leave home and to be away from my family. My little boy Gabriel is 4-years old now and I love to spend time with him, picking him up from school and playing tennis together. Our little baby girl was just born in early March 2017 which is another amazing milestone in our life, so this could be the last year of my career as a professional tennis player. I would love to continue being involved with the tennis world, and I think that I could bring a lot of experience and guidance to new young players.
I’m also interested in other areas outside of tennis. I've been really lucky to have several sponsors which reflect some of my major passions in my life! I’m really passionate about watches and it’s been fantastic to have Dubail, the French jewellery and luxury watch specialist, as one of my sponsors. I love to collect watches, such as the current model I’m wearing which is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. I also love wearing my Rolex, and also my Lange & Söhne watch which is a great German brand. I visited the Jaeger-LeCoultre atelier in Switzerland and was so impressed by the complexity and sophistication of their watches. Over the next few years, I would love to learn a lot more about watchmaking. I really love sports cars and am proud to be an ambassador for Maserati, the luxury Italian car manufacturer – it's one of my pleasures being able to drive their Levante SUV which is so great for my growing family! I was also lucky to be a model for Hermès during one of its fashion shows at the Mini Palais in 2012, which was an amazing experience.
I’m also involved with a fantastic non-profit organisation called Du Sport et Plus, whose mission is to improve the daily life of hospitalised children by collecting funds and gifts via charity sporting events. I'm one of the ambassadors for the organisation, along with other sports personalities such as professional racing car drivers Margot Laffite and Kevin Estre. Despite my busy agenda, I always try to be present for the children and their parents. Last year during Roland Garros, we were able to bring together Longines – the Swiss watch brand and official Timekeeper of the French Open – and the French Tennis Federation to raise significant funds for the organisation.
The next stage of my life is like jumping into the unknown, so I’m really excited about where life will take me in the coming years!
Interview By: Enrique Nalda & Kimberley McLoughlin
Photography: Marcel Hartmann
Fashion: Paul Smith, Hermès; Location: Lagardère Paris Racing
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .
F O R M O R E O N P A R I S . . .
PARIS CITY GUIDE
The Ultimate City Guide