I’ve always been fascinated by sportsmen, in particular the difference between the team culture of the collective and the pugilist psyche of the individual. Having worked in and around elite rugby a lot, I can’t wait to see the world’s top tennis players go toe to toe in London next month when the chips are down at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals.
This year I started working as part of the dedicated ATP Tennis Radio team from the Masters 1000 events and getting to know the players and coaches has been a real pleasure. Over the past 18 years I’ve interviewed a lot of leading sportsmen, but it’s mainly been in team sports. The very first was South Africa’s Rugby World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar and since then most have been in rugby, from Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jeremy Guscott and Martin Johnson to international stars like Richie McCaw, John Eales, Dan Carter, Joost van der Westhuizen or Bryan Habana.
It’s always been an honour to be welcomed, for a fleeting moment, into their team. And therein lies a fascinating difference. Even if they don’t need it, rugby affords its players safety in numbers. The team ethos cloaks them, protects them, all the same, while the individual stands alone. He stands alone, trains alone, battles alone, wins alone, loses alone, answers alone. And in being exposed alone, he somehow becomes more vulnerable, more human, while also being more rarefied and exotic.
I find it a fascinating contradiction and working on the ATP series it’s been genuinely eye-opening to see how unaffected the players are, how generous with their time, given the microscope they’re under. They’re a credit to the sport and it will be a privilege to work among them at the Nitto ATP Finals at London’s O2.
Sometimes I’m asked if I get nervous interviewing people and the answer is no, although the heart did quicken for Daley Thompson. Boyhood hero #1.