Sánchez-Casal Academy Hosts ATP Challenger Tournament This Week

Tournament director Sergio Casal (photo: Florian Heer)

EL PRAT DE LLOBREGAT, October 8, 2018

The final ATP Challenger tournament of the season, held on Spanish soil, is taking place at the Sánchez-Casal Academy this week. The Academy was founded by Emilio Sánchez Vicario and Sergio Casal in 1998 and is located in the greater area of Barcelona.

Tennis TourTalk met tournament director Sergio Casal on the first day of the inaugural edition of the €43,000 ATP Challenger clay-court event. During his career, Casal won two Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as the men’s doubles Silver Medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

The Barcelona native turned professional in 1981. He won his first top-level doubles title in 1983 at Aix-en-Provence and captured a total of 47 men’s doubles trophies during his career. Partnering his fellow Spaniard Emilio Sánchez, he won the men’s doubles titles at the US Open in 1988 and the French Open in 1990.

Tennis TourTalk: When did you come up with the idea to organize an ATP Challenger event here at your Academy?

Sergio Casal: We didn’t have too much time to think about it. It was maybe in April when the Spanish Tennis Federation announced to execute three ATP Challenger events. We run a lot of junior tournaments here for teenagers and our last ITF tournament just finished on Friday. Organizing a Challenger, however, is different, as you must follow a lot of ATP rules.

Is there anything that surprised you the most in terms of organizing the event?

Emilio and I organized ATP-events in Marbella and Valencia in the past, so I knew a bit what to expect. Those were bigger tournaments, but the requirements are more or less the same. You also have to consider that the Academy doesn’t stop. There are still one hundred kids around, having daily school and practice. This makes it a bit more difficult. We don’t have additional staff to organize the Challenger. Everyone involved in the tournament is from the Academy and has to give some extra input.

What are the goals you want to achieve with the tournament?

We started with the Academy in 1998, celebrating 20th anniversary this year. Our mission is to give young players the opportunity to compete at high level and go to school at the same time. There is a focus on the youngest, but we also want to help those, who are close to become professional tennis players and for them a tournament like this will be very nice. We also would like to fill our stands and hope that a lot of people will come to watch. I think it is a great event for the area, as we have a lot of very good players here. If the players, who compete here this week, are pleased with the courts and the atmosphere, everything will be fine for us. We will put our heart and soul in it. There will be still two more editions to come and we want to go step by step, trying to improve year by year.

This is the third ATP Challenger this year, which will be held at a Spanish tennis academy following the tournaments at JC Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy and the Rafa Nadal Academy. Did you visit the other tournaments or were in contact with the organizers?

I think it is a great thing that Challengers are held at the biggest tennis academies in Spain. Some people from our Academy went to Manacor to attend one or two days at the Rafa Nadal Academy. However, there is not that much of co-operation between the different academies.

Do you have a favourite to win the tournament here?

Roberto Carballés is the top seed and probably the favourite but you never know. There will be good matches, as most of the players are ranked inside the top 200. It will be very competitive, and I think it also depends on the form on the day. It will also be interesting to see how the experienced players like Tommy Robredo will compete with the youngsters.

Was there a reason to play on clay, as there are also a lot of hard-courts at your Academy?

We just prefer clay-courts, as we believe this is the toughest surface and the most traditional one here in Spain.

The Academy has expanded to the United States and Asia over the last couple of years. Can you tell us a bit about your strategy?

Barcelona was the first one. Then we opened an Academy in Naples, Florida. Emilio moved there with his family. The Academy is run by himself plus our coaches. There is also a school and students have the chance to switch between our two bases in Spain and the United States. Both are having the same system. That makes it interesting and pretty unique. Nanjing in China has become our newest place, established three years ago.

Talking about your great career. Your biggest successes came in doubles, but you also competed in singles at highest level. How would you describe the differences between these two disciplines?

The natural mentality of a professional tennis player is to become the best in singles. So, a lot of them forget about the doubles. I like players, who can concentrate on both, as doubles can help to make you a better singles player. Emilio and I just started to play together, and we lost a lot at the beginning. Then we split for one year but tried to team up again. Then we started to get better results, but I also continued to play singles except for the last years of my career maybe. Most of the top guys at that time like John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg also played doubles, but this has changed over the years.

You beat Boris Becker twice in singles: in 1985 when he was still unknown to most of the people and two years later as a two-time Wimbledon champion.

Yes, that is true (laughs). That’s pretty interesting, as Boris didn’t lose that many matches in Davis Cup but lost twice to me. The first time was indoors in Sindelfingen. Later that year he won at Queen’s and Wimbledon. The more important win for me took place in 1987 on home soil in Barcelona. There are still a lot of people who remember this match as it was the final and decisive rubber. This is what happens. You spend 15 years as a pro on the tour and for a guy like me, who did okay but wasn’t at the top of the game, have this one or these two great moments.

Was it the best match of your career?

It was special for sure, as it was a Davis Cup tie. But I also beat McEnroe the only time we played against each other. It was in Paris-Bercy. When we meet today, he still tells me that we have to play again, as he is not happy with his negative head-to-head record against me (laughs).

Looking ahead: Is there a headline you would like to read by the end of this week?

It would be just nice see that our effort pays off and that a lot of people will come out from Barcelona to attend the final weekend of the tournament. I hope that the players will be pleased and will come back next year. We will try to do our best.

Thank you for your time and all the best during the week.