Exclusive/Interview – Antso Rakotondramanga (Tennis-Madagascar) : « Anxious to replay the Davis Cup »
What are your feelings after the defeat to Luxemburg and your relegation to group III?
First of all, we were not favourites. We knew Gilles Muller will be present so that gave them already two points (world no 60, he played one singles match and one double). The double would have been decisive. The captain (ndlr, Harivony Andrianafetra) decided to pair Lofo (Ramiaramanana) and Jacob (Rasolondrazana) on Friday and we found ourselves two sets down and from there, it was very difficult to find our way back. Maybe by choosing another pair, we would have finished they day on 1-1 and for the double, that would have changed everything, particularly at the level of the pressure. It would have all been different for us as well as for Luxemburg. But the captain decided, he had his reasons, he made his choice. We have accepted all the results but a different pairing would have changed the results though I am not the one who decides on the strategies to adopt.
You are the only one in your team to have won a match, despite all does that give you a personal satisfaction?
That enabled me reveal myself to the Madagascar public. Given that I live in France, people don’t really know me, not knowing how I play and this weekend I showed them that I was the no 1 but not on paper (laughs).
How did you witness the encounter?
It was really unbelievable. It was the first time I was playing in front of a large crowd but particularly in front of a crowd that supports me. It is a unique experience and I will live to remember it for long. I am anxious to replay in the Davis Cup for Madagascar. When you are playing against people who don’t know, it is always a bit difficult but on the contrary, the public was 100% behind me and this was really wonderful. In the future I will hope to frequently return to Madagascar if the President, Stéphane (Rakotondrainibe) succeeds in organizing several tournaments regularly in order to help develop tennis in Madagascar and so that I can be known to the public. I will try to be back in August for the national championships.
According to your judgement, can Madagascar ascend back to group II?
We know very well what it is all about because we had succeeded in ascending to this group in the past. This was already an exceptional year for us (it was the first time Madagascar was playing in group II). Next year in group III, there will be Morocco, Egypt (they were relegated last weekend) and it would be very difficult but we know we can make it. For example in the second singles game on Sunday, Ando played very well even though he lost, we know that we have very good players in the team and that we can quickly ascend back to group II.
What next for you?
I just returned to the National Tennis University Centre in Grenoble called CNUT (Centre national universitaire de tennis) in sports studies. We have the status of high level sports student and that enables us to have assets, facilities to be able to train and participate in several competitions. It is a partnership between the French Tennis Federation and universities to promote high level sports and studies at the same time. We are eight of us at the CNUT.
Your next competitions?
I don’t yet have a programme because I have exams coming up. But in the summer I hope participate at the « futurs » (the junior categories in the ATP tournament) and French tournaments. In August, there are the Madagascar championships and if I succeed to put it in my programme, then I will participate.
How did your passion for tennis come ?
I was born in France and I started very young at the age of four. I father introduced me to this sport with my brothers. I have therefore always practiced it because I was used to. Then my desire to burst to the scene came later when I was 18, I was ranked 2/6 (French rankings) and I decided to go further, to train even more alongside my studies and continue with my university studies.
What were your feelings after making your debut in the Davis Cup in 2005?
It was in Egypt against several nations given that we were in group III (group system). I was a bit scared; I was the 4th player so I played unimportant matches. It was a first experience which was nice to live. The Madagascar federation called me to propose to me to play in the Davis Cup and obviously, I did not hesitate…
Last year you were ranked 1 438th in the world, what has happened since then?
I won my ATP points in Pointiers (France) last year but I did not succeed to conserve it, that is why I lost my ranking. I did not participate in several “futurs” but I will participate in several of them as from this summer and next year.
Do you have as objective to be ranked?
I have two dreams in life: the first is to participate in a grand slam which means i must be at least in the Top 200 to proceed to the qualifiers and the second is to participate in the 2016 Olympics, it will be more difficult. But it is a dream.
What characteristics do you possess in your game?
I have a very offensive style, whenever I have the opportunity I try to get a winner I like to go to the net, and be master of the game.
Who do you dream of ever playing against?
Federer, a player I love so much, it would be a very good experience. But this weekend I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to play against Gilles Muller because for the moment, I have never played against a player of hi level. I don’t want to play particularly against him but I want to challenge against players in the Top 100 to compare my level and see how it is being done at that level.
Tell us a bit about players in Madagascar and the training…
Jacob is 28 and if he succeeds to return to France, I think he would improve again because he has a great potential. It is the same with Ando (Rasolomalala), he is 21 years old. But the problem in Madagascar is there is a high level, not as many tournaments as well as players. I talked with the President of the federation who told me that there are 600 licensed players on the island. It is just about the number of licensed players you have in my club. There are a lot of youngsters in the youth category. The ITF (International Tennis Federation) helps the federation by sending young Malagasy to Africa to participate in international competitions. There are others who go for training in South Africa Zarah Razafimahatratra ? She needs to be help in order to continue developing her talent.
As from 18 years, that becomes very difficult because you need to have the means to leave the islands in order to play against better players and progress. Until June 2010, the federation did nothing special but since then, there is a new President, Stéphane, who is trying to shake things around. It is thanks to him that Madagascar hosted the Davis Cup last weekend. The organization was really perfect. Even the Luxemburg players were telling us that in ten participation in the Davis Cup, they had never seen such hospitality so I know that with a young (36 years old) and dynamic President like him we can take tennis in Madagascar to the next level. He has projects to develop, develop infrastructures and the ideal thing will be to set up a centre like the one in South Africa to host tournaments, host foreign players and help take Madagascar tennis to the next level.
What is lacking in African tennis which hinders it from developing?
It is mainly an issue of means. Egyptians and Moroccans have succeeded to move to a higher level. What is lacking in Sub Saharan Africa is a financial means which hinders them from participating in “futurs”, challengers and have the means to tour the world.
Do you have future projects?
On a long term I would like to promote Madagascar’s tennis. If I could return to Madagascar in the federation, it will be very good. There is really a lot of unexploited potential in Madagascar and this makes me a bit sad when I see that and that on the international scene we are poorly represented. And that, in several other disciplines…