Robredo: ‘A Fine Young Man’ Who Went Far
Tommy, when you’re on court make sure you think about this.
About what, Sir?
If you make it through qualifying, I’ll give you a pass.
Just remember me.
It was April 1999 and Tommy Robredo was one of many teenage talents around the world dreaming of making it as a professional tennis player. He was just 16 years old, but the organisers of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell had granted him an invitation to play in qualifying at the outdoor clay-court event.
Like any player of his age, Robredo still had to juggle tennis with academic classes at the High Performance Centre in Sant Cugat del Valles where he trained. It was there that he found an unexpected source of support for his tennis in the form of Emili Luque.
Luque was Robredo’s economics teacher and was quick to strike a deal with the young man before his ATP Tour debut. “He told me that I was a fine young man, that I was smart, but I was never in class,” Robredo told ATPTour.com before playing the final tournament of a 23-year career in Barcelona this week.
Before stepping on court at the Real Club de Tenis de Barcelona-1899 on Saturday 10 April, Robredo bumped into Luque, who promised him a pass in economics if he got through qualifying. In the first round, Robredo defeated Jordi Mas 7-5, 6-3. One voice could be heard above the rest in the stands, shouting “Vamos, Tommy!” It was Luque.
Robredo listened to his mentor. So well, in fact, that he next defeated Ivan Ljubicic 7-5, 1-6, 6-2 to stamp his ticket to the main draw. On Monday, before his main-draw debut on the ATP Tour, he had to go to school. That didn’t stop him defeating Italian Davide Sanguinetti 7-6(3), 6-1 in one hour and 20 minutes.
Tommy, do you have tickets for this afternoon?
Yes, I’ll give you one so you can come and watch me.
If you win today, I’ll give you a 7.
Wow! A 7?!
In one hour and 20 minutes, Robredo left the Italian Davide Sanguinetti for dust, 7-6(3), 6-1. He had claimed his first ATP Tour victory and also bagged himself a 7 in economics. The next day, when he had to go back to class, his teacher couldn’t have been prouder. “He was bowing to me in the hallways,” remembers the Spaniard. “In the second round I met Marat Safin and he spoke to me again.”
Tommy, if you beat Safin, I’ll give you a 10.
Yes, a distinction.
Safin, who would go on to reach No. 1 in the ATP Rankings just a year later, stormed to the first set 6-1 as the young Robredo looked set to fail to deliver on the deal with his teacher. The youngster produced a stunning turnaround, however, completing a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 upset to reach the third round of the tournament also known as the ‘Trofeo Conde de Godó’.
“It was on Court 1, which is really intimate, and it fills up quickly,” said Robredo. “My friends were there making noise in the stands. But I remember, especially at 5-4 in the third set, my mother, who was with my aunt and was shouting non-stop, fainted from the stress. Everyone tried to hide her from me, and I was so focused that [even though] I realised [I] carried on with the match.”
Spurred on, he returned to the Real Club de Tenis de Barcelona-1899 to face Todd Martin in the third round. This time he had no tickets for Luque.
Mili, I’m really sorry.
I don’t have any tickets to give you this time.
I’m sorry, I’ve had too many requests for them.
Don’t worry, I have to take a class anyway.
Yet as the Catalonian took to the court against the American World No. 8, he heard a familiar voice from the crowd: “Vamos, Tommy!” Robredo did not need to turn around to see who it was. His teacher was there to cheer him on yet again. This time though, his adventure came to an end with a 3-6, 6-7(6) defeat.
The following Monday, when Robredo returned to the classroom, Luque had a small secret to share with him. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I came to school, told them I had gout and I went to Godó,’” said Robredo. “He had spoken to the door staff who knew he was my teacher and they had let him in.”
Years later, Robredo and Luque met again. “I signed up to the UOC (Open University of Catalonia) for a course for over-25s and there was a maths class, so I called him for some help,” said the 12-time tour-level titlist. “Even though he was no longer a teacher at the centre, he would come and give me lessons on the board”.