GUIA DE ISORA, January 21, 2024
While most tennis fans are focused on the Australian Open these days, there are some professionals who haven’t made the journey to Melbourne. One of them is Austrian doubles specialist Philipp Oswald, who, for the first time in 10 years, didn’t start his season Down Under. The 37-year-old eleven-time ATP Tour doubles champion didn’t make the cut to enter the first Grand Slam tournament of 2024.
Instead, Oswald exchanged the Australian summer for the winter on the Canary Islands and competed in the Tenerife Challenger with his partner Roman Jebavy from the Czech Republic. Although they lost in the quarterfinals, Oswald considers this hard-court tournament as a kickstart for a return to the extended elite of the doubles competition.
We had the opportunity to talk to Oswald in Tenerife about his current situation, his sporting goals, and his memories of the Australian Open.
Tennis TourTalk: Happy New Year! How did you spend the off-season?
Philipp Oswald: In terms of tennis, it might not have been the best off-season I’ve had in my career because I didn’t train as much as in previous years. Nevertheless, it was very cool to be home for five weeks. Of course, I would have liked to fly to Australia at the end of December, but it didn’t work out with my ranking. So, I decided to start on the Challenger Tour. Therefore, I only flew in January and had one more week at home, which was a nice time with my children. My son learned to ski, and overall, it was very enjoyable.
Those are rare experiences for frequently traveling professional tennis players.
Yes, I went skiing for the first time in seven years. I was convinced that I still had new skis. However, they turned out to be a bit older (laughs).
The last time you didn’t start a season in Australia was in 2013. Was it challenging for you not to be able to compete in Melbourne?
Initially, I was very satisfied because I could enjoy time at home. However, when I was on the plane to Tenerife, and all the photos and impressions from Australia came through social media, it hurt a bit. The Australian Open is one of my favorite tournaments. I have good memories of the event. It was always a highlight, and honestly, I would have preferred to be in Melbourne.
Three years ago, you reached the quarterfinals in doubles there. What makes this tournament so special?
It’s the overall vibe. You practice in Austria in the winter in the snow and just look forward to the climate in Australia. Additionally, Australians are very sports-oriented and easy-going. I remember when some players used to skip the tournament. Today, it’s a highlight. Organizers invest a lot, and the event grows every year. It’s also a very player-friendly tournament. For example, we receive a Travel Grant.
What does that mean exactly?
Players receive approximately 5,000 Australian dollars (about 3,000 Euros) in addition to their prize money from the tournament to compensate their travel costs. The journey is still long and exhausting, but with this subsidy, you can almost afford a business-class ticket.
Is there a particular event that immediately comes to your mind in connection with the Australian Open?
Reaching the quarterfinals in 2021 was, of course, a highlight of my career, but it was born out of necessity, making it so special. My partner Marcus Daniel and I were both affected by quarantine during the pandemic as the only complete team. We were locked up for 15 days because we came to Melbourne on a plane that had positive Covid cases. Therefore, our expectations for the tournament tended towards zero. To then reach the quarterfinals out of nowhere was very special. It was an overall experience that I won’t forget quickly.
This year, it’s the Tenerife Challenger. What are your impressions?
I’m here for the first time and thrilled with the tournament. We lost yesterday, but we spontaneously decided to stay one more day because we like it so much. We want to make the most of the good weather here before heading back to the indoor tournament in Belgium next week. Overall, the event here is very nicely organized.
Is there a particular spot here that you especially like?
The beach at our hotel is very cool. Generally, the climatic conditions are fantastic, considering it’s mid-January, and we can enjoy a lot of sun and temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.
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You played with different partners last season. This year, you started with Roman Jebavy in Oeiras, Portugal, and you were also competing together here. Do you intend to stay together as a team for a longer time?
We decided to start the season together. We both have hardly any points to defend, but our rankings are also not that good. Roman is ranked World No. 116, and I’m at 97th position. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to participate in ATP Tour tournaments. We wanted to gain a few points, which unfortunately didn’t quite work out. But it gets better with every match, and we have to wait and see what the next few weeks bring. I’ve played with Roman in the past. We reached the third round at Wimbledon. Even though we have never played together for a longer period of time, we have a shared history. He told me yesterday that his last title win in Marbella 2022 was with me.
You have been on the tour for many years. What goals are you pursuing this season and perhaps beyond?
I definitely want to play the remaining three Grand Slam events. Then we’ll see. I’ll turn 38 next week. My wife has already nailed the nail into the wall at home; now I just have to hang up the racket (laughs). It depends, of course, on my performances, but 2024 could be my last season.
But you still enjoy the tennis tour?
Absolutely, but here on the Challenger Tour, for example, I sometimes know more coaches than players (laughs). In addition, young players are coming up. This makes it exciting.
Has the level on the Challenger Circuit increased compared to when you turned pro?
It has definitely become more professional than it was 10 years ago. You rarely saw doubles players on the Challenger Tour who were traveling with their coaches back then. Moreover, you almost exclusively find doubles specialists in the field. Although doubles is marketed more as a niche sport by the ATP since the retirement of the Bryan brothers, it seems to be very popular among players. The competition has also become more open.
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As you briefly mentioned before, things can change in the private sphere over time.
My children are at the super cute ages of two and four. Currently, my wife works 70 percent and has to handle things at home alone. She has put her career on hold for the sake of tennis. However, she has also said that I should go all in for this year. Then it might be enough, and it’s my chance to stay at home, allowing my wife to pursue her career more intensively, and giving her something back.
Do you have any plans for after you professional tennis career?
In some form, I want to stay connected to the sport. Tennis is my passion. I might not immediately return to the tour as a coach, but I can imagine an engagement in the region. Now, the focus is still on this season, and making the best of it.
Good luck, and thank you for the interview.
Interview: Florian Heer