(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
TG: Good. I think any time you have a victory a couple of days in a row it's always a good feeling, so a little bit more confident in my game, and just getting ready for this week
OTR: How would you rate your year on a scale of 1-10?
TG: I think me performing the things I need to be doing -- practices or some of the things we've been working on as a team, I'd probably say it was a 7, an 8. Obviously my results are not where I wanted them to be so I'd probably give them a 4 or 5. But besides that, just over all the progression of where we're trying to get to as an individual and as my team, I think we're on the right track, and I'd give it an over all 8.
OTR: Do you have any specific goals for this indoor swing?
TG: I think for me, to win as many matches as possible, you know, and ultimately to win the tournaments. That's just really my goals when I'm coming out to these events.
OTR: Did you get direct entry to any of them?
TG: No. Just have to go through qualifications right now. But it's also a good thing, you know? Like I say, it builds confidence. Some other people may look at it like it's a little tougher but that's what I'm dealing with right now, and I'm excited about what's coming up.
OTR: Where are you based now?
TG: Atlanta, Georgia.
OTR: Do you still work with Takura Happy?
TG: Yeah all the time. I mean, he's not on the road with me, but ... My main coach is Brian de Villiers and Tim de Rooij in the Netherlands when I'm in Europe over the summer, so obviously when Takura's not on the road with me, now I have someone else come out and help me. But hopefully Takura will be out there next week in Knoxville. Should be fun to have him. Great guy.
OTR: Were there any indoor courts when you were growing up?
TG: Not at all. The weather is great in Zimbabwe. I mean, it does rain probably around December and January time but not to the extent where it affects play throughout the year. Courts dry up because of the weather conditions. But no, no indoor facilities.
OTR: Tell me about growing up in Zimbabwe. There's a tennis legacy with the Black family in particular. Did you ever work with them or play with them?
TG: Actually I formally met Wayne this year and we spent some time together over Davis Cup...
OTR: Just this year?
TG: Yeah, just this year. Before that I probably watched them when I was a kid, Davis Cup -- I didn't even really go to any Davis Cup-like matches. I watched them on TV... I was never really in touch with them like that until this year. Wayne's been helping with the Davis Cup, especially doubles, just giving us some pointers here and there. That's been helpful. When I look at how the circuit is, it has evolved so much, so sometimes we compare our times now to times before, and he says, you know, "back then it was ... some things were less challenging than you probably do have now." So those are some of the things he's offered.
We also had Genius Chidzikwe, who played on the Davis Cup team as well. He was one of the Zimbabwean tennis players after Wayne and Byron and then he moved to the States for college [Editor's note: at Southern Methodist where he won the 2000 ITA All-American tournament] and spent some time on the pro tour.
After that, not really anything as high standard as you might say as Wayne and Byron. And then Kevin Ullyett as well. I met Kevin last year, I was playing the European season, got to chat with him a little bit at Queens and he gave me some pointers here and there, so yeah. I've spoken to them in recent years.
OTR: How do you see African tennis, particularly black African tennis, evolving over the last 10 years and how do you see the future of it?
TG: Frankly speaking, it's terrible. No one really has looked at helping African tennis develop to the level where the world views tennis -- in Grand Slams or Masters events. They don't have people who develop programs for them to do that. Last, I'd say, 20 years I don't think you know anybody who's been in a Grand Slam final who's African or anything like that.
So how do I look at it in the future? I have a foundation I work with, Serve 4 Africa; my manager is actually one of the founders of it. With that we try to just make sure tennis is exposed, not just locally in the countries -- which they kind of did a good job back in the day, promoting junior tournaments, local tournaments, but not international exposure. So with that, we're trying to get some exhibitions together, some investor funding just to see how we can develop a proper structure in terms of developing high-level athletes. I think that will help in the coming years, so it's growing.
With that being said, no federations really help in that or even the ITF -- I would expect them to be doing a better job with that. There's not any international tournaments within Africa for kids to be able to accumulate enough ITF points just to be able to play in tournaments like the Orange Bowl, Eddie Herr, some of the big tournaments in Europe.
OTR: Did you play much juniors?
TG: Yeah I did. I got to like 17 in the world, so that was good. That time luckily enough Brian de Villiers took me to the US when I was young so I could have the advantage of playing in tournaments more than some kids in Africa who are limited. So I had an advantage. And then the ITF funded 1 or 2 trips but ever since then really nothing.
OTR: Do you look at players like Sekou Bangoura, Frances Tiafoe, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Ymer brothers -- people who have African parentage but who are now representing Western countries -- do you feel any kinship toward them? Do you talk to them much?
TG: Yeah I think we do speak but our issues, even though they're Africans, are totally different than me actually being from there. Because I know what it's like ... I'll give you an example. Just to travel: the documentation I need to be able to come and play tournaments overseas, like if I want to wake up and go to Thailand tomorrow, I couldn't do that. Remote areas where I can -- I don't want to say accumulate points -- or if I wake up tomorrow and want to go to India then Australia just like that. For them, you know, they don't need visas to process so for me that means I have to go through that process. Which means that if it doesn't work out, I'm stuck not participating in tournaments, so my ranking may not be going as high as I'd like it to be at that rate. So that's just one of the issues. Obviously there are other ones.
Tennis, when we're playing on the ground it's even, but there's also things like structure, the development. I don't know what they get, their funding or grants or stuff like that. But, you know, that plays a factor. But we talk. I think I'm good friends with almost everybody. I don't think I have any enemies out here. Except on match day. (Smiles.)
OTR: You had a GoFundMe campaign, is that right, recently?
TG: Yeah, a year ago if I'm not mistaken, for Australia. And that was one of the things, just to fast-track my program, because at that time I needed funding. I was in a good position in terms of my ranking, pretty close by in the events I was playing, probably needed some sort of assistance on the road in terms of coaching. When that started I was shooting for playing the Aussie Open [qualies]. I was playing springtime in Europe at that time actually, and then it's also tricky. If you don't have a base in Europe, you're just sort of going to tournaments every single week. So I needed to get good funding so I could find a coach where we could structure ... just something to say, "we're here, we're doing this." It was a good thing, we learned from it, but some people took it wrong, back in Africa. They thought that the money I needed there was what I needed for my career to just blossom and be Top 50 by then. So that had some negative media, and some positive. But we learned from that. If we were to do it again, we'd probably restructure it a lot better.
OTR: For people who haven't watched you, what would you say are the main strengths of your game?
TG: [Exhales] What do you think? Have you watched me?
OTR: Well, yeah! You got a big forehand obviously.
TG: I try to use my serve to set up plays, to dictate my groundstrokes, my forehand. I would consider myself probably an all-arounder but more being aggressive at the back, still polishing up my game to transition to the net. So I'd say I use my serve pretty well, use my forehand to control the court.
OTR: What would you say is your best win on the circuit?
TG: That's a tough one. Man, I've had several good wins. I don't know. Probably a good match I played was Sam Groth in altitude. He serves pretty well, you probably know that. I returned well.
OTR: Where was that?
TG: In Guadalajara.
OTR: What advice would you give to young people in Africa who are looking at a possible pro tennis career.
TG: I think just to be able to actually decide what you want out of a professional career. Professional ... obviously people say it's to make money, which is true ... but what's your target ranking, what are you trying to do as a professional? So if you can decide that at a young age, even at 10 years old, you'll have more time for molding [your game] and staying on track. The main thing is just deciding exactly what you want to be doing in the professional career. So that's really narrowing down the goals of your ranking, narrowing down on the type of attitude you're carrying.
OTR: Was college ever a consideration for you?
TG: Yeah, I had a lot of offers. I think in 2009 I was probably like the #1 recruit, and I probably could have gone to any college I wanted. But the backfiring of it, because I couldn't really decide what I wanted to do as a professional when I was young - I was dilly-dallying with that idea, will I go to college, will I be a professional? Kind of took me a little bit of time to really narrow down what I wanted to do even at that stage. College was on the mind, but not really seriously thinking about it.
OTR: There are a lot of guys from Africa who have gone to college.
TG: I think probably 90% of players from Africa end up going to college. I don't think I've ever heard of any tennis player ... I've heard of them, but not many that you hear that after 18 they turn professional. By 16/17, they're looking at colleges they want to come to. That's more the line that they take. So we're trying to change that, to say you can't just look at it like that's the only way. You can be professional. College in itself has other requirements that it takes ... not that I'm saying it's bad, but just to be professional I think it's a different mentality.