Alexander Waske: Retiring On His Own Terms
by Matt Fitzgerald|
Germany’s Alexander Waske has announced his retirement from the ATP World Tour. The 37 year old reached career-high South African Airways ATP Rankings of No. 89 in singles and No. 16 in doubles, winning four ATP World Tour doubles titles. He posted an 8-1 record in Davis Cup action, with seven wins coming in doubles.
Waske struggled with an elbow injury from 2007 to 2011, playing a limited schedule, but used his time away from the game wisely to open a tennis academy, going into business with compatriot Rainer Schuettler. In his final season this year, Waske reached three tour-level doubles semi-finals and won his first round match at Wimbledon with Yen-Hsun Lu.
ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett said, "I would like to wish Alex all the best in the next chapter of his life and congratulate him for his results on the ATP World Tour which include four doubles title. Alex together with his fellow German Rainer Schuettler, who also recently retired from professional tennis, runs a very successful academy in Germany, the Schuettler Waske Tennis-University, so he has already started to pass on his knowledge to the young players."
ATPWorldTour.com caught up with Waske to discuss his plans moving forward, his career highlights and more.
How did you come to a decision to retire from playing? And was there any particular reason for doing so in Vienna?
No, there was no special reason to finish in Vienna. It was the last tournament I was able to play due to my ranking. It was also a tournament I was able to play with Janko Tipsarevic. But there was no bigger importance to the tournament.
In the summer, I made the decision this would be my last season. I was very thankful to be able to play again after being out for four years. I had four elbow surgeries and couldn’t play from September 2007 onwards. I had a lot of well known doctors tell me I wouldn’t play tennis. It didn’t feel good that the decision to no longer play was taken away from me. It’s much better now that I’ve decided at 37 years old, I need more time for other things. I have a successful academy with Rainer Schuettler, I’m the official consultant of the MercedesCup in Stuttgart, and president of the GPTCA, a newly formed coaching association, so I have a lot of things I’m doing. It feels right to stop now, even though I’m still able to play a good ball.
Speaking of the Schuettler-Waske Tennis Academy, is that your main focus moving forward? And what prompted you and Rainer Schuettler to go into a joint venture together in 2010?
One of the reasons was because I was injured and I had a lot of time. I always had a plan of opening an academy like this, but I didn’t have the time. Rainer was still playing full time and I used all my time and effort to build this academy. We started with one player and from there, went on and grew. We worked with Andrea Petkovic, Angelique Kerber and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and had great success stories with them, which gave us a lot of positive press and recognition. We had to hire more coaches because more players wanted to come. It’s a business now and it needs more time and devotion.
Quite a few ATP and WTA players train at your academy. How beneficial is it for your students to be around top tour players?
We have a lot of great younger players, some that were in the Top 20 in the juniors. It’s great for them to learn at a young age how the top professionals are working. We have players like Janko Tipsarevic, Yen-Hsun Lu and Benjamin Becker practising here weekly, and are using the younger guys as hitting players. It’s good for them to feel how hard they play and work. I’m a big fan of having these talented younger players compare themselves to the top players and realising that it doesn’t matter if I’m No. 1 in my age group, I still have a lot to do.
You reached the Top 100 in singles and doubles but peaked at No. 16 in doubles. Why do you believe you were able to thrive in the discipline, ultimately winning four titles?
The doubles game suited me. My best stroke was my serve and my second best stroke was my volley. I’m also a team player. I played my best matches for Germany when I played with my teammates. I never had a focus on doubles. Before the injuries, my priority was singles. I was very happy making No. 16 in the world without playing a lot of the big events in doubles. When others were playing the Masters 1000 events in doubles, I was playing singles Challengers to keep my ranking inside the Top 100.
You managed to motivate and bring out the best in yourself and your doubles partners in many matches under the German flag. Can you talk about some of your most successful partnerships?
The most dominant partner of my career was Michael Kohlmann. I think we just worked well together. We’re friends on and off the court and respected each other. Our different game styles matched well together. Michael was an incredible returner whereas I was more of a hard hitter. It was very important to me that the personalities work together. I could never play with someone I didn’t click with as a person. I also played a lot with Andrei Pavel. I became very good friends with him. I played with Tommy Haas in the Davis Cup several times and we’re also friends. I guess I could not stop mixing business and private life.
Where does your singles victory over Rafael Nadal in Halle, on your home turf in 2005, rank on your list of career achievements?
It’s obviously very high because Rafa is one of the greatest players of all time. For me, it’s an honour to have him on my list as one of the player’s I’ve beaten. When the draw came out then, I knew it was tough, but I also felt there was a chance for something great. My coach always told me I would be better off playing the bigger matches, rather than someone ranked near me. It was a great playing against Rafa, a guy who runs for everything. There was an awesome feeling when I had the volley at match point, and I put it in the open court. He stopped running and I realised it was over.
There is a funny story with my mom. Before the match, I was asked what I felt about the draw when it came out. I called my mom first and she said, ‘oh my gosh boy, come home!’ She was scared he was going to tear me apart. In the end, she was sitting at home, watching me talk on TV after the match. When I told the story, everyone was laughing on court because they loved the story. They all had a mother who would have felt the same way, scared if their kid was going to play someone like Rafa.
You played NCAA tennis at San Diego St. from 1997-2000. Looking back, was that the best decision you made as a tennis player to develop your game in the college ranks?
Yes, for sure. John Nelson, the head coach of San Diego St., was the first one to see big potential in my game. When I did my recruiting trips, there was no internet. I had to go to the America house in Germany, look through a big book of phone numbers and call coaches to see if they had a look at me. I went to UCLA, Pepperdine, and some other schools to see if I could play for them. But John Nelson was the first one.
I was ranked No. 199 in the German men’s rankings. He believed I could become the Top 100. I also said I would break the Top 100 in the German rankings and he started laughing. He said I’m talking about the ATP rankings! I told him he was joking, he knew nothing about tennis and that I’m so far away from this. Seven years later, when I broke the Top 100 for the first time, he was the first person to call me. He asked me again, ‘who is the smart one now?’
I owe him so much. He changed a lot of things in my game and my mind. He’s one of the big reasons I made it on the tour, along with Larry Willens, the assistant coach. He once coached Rod Laver, so he’s very well known on tour as well. They both gave me the tools to make it out there. I invited both to come to the US Open this year to see my last Grand Slam tournament, and both made the trip out to New York. It was a great honour that they came to watch me play.
Dirk Hordorff has managed and coached you and Rainer through your careers. How big of an impact and help has Dirk been for you over the years?
He first saw me when I was 18. In the beginning, he didn’t think I could be that good and he told me that. But I really appreciated when he talked to me when I was 270 in the world, and said, ‘I didn’t believe you could get as good as you are now, but now, I believe you could be much better than where you are now. You’re a smart boy. Watch the Top 100 and look around to see what you’re doing and not doing, and maybe there’s something you can improve to make it.’
Two weeks later, I had a travelling coach, a fitness coach, and I started working much harder. One year later, I broke the Top 100. When I reached a higher level, I asked Dirk to become my manager. I don’t know anybody on tour who has such a brilliant tactical mind and is a smart problem solver. He’s also brilliant in business decisions. I’m very thankful he helped me throughout my career and gave me great advice, which I mostly followed.
Is there anyone else you would like to thank for getting you to where you are today?
First of all, I have to mention my family who’ve been very supportive. My father helped finance my career in the beginning, giving me some money to travel. My mom was always nervous watching me play but she has such heart. And my brother travelled with me whenever he could and is still my biggest fan.
And then I need to thank my fitness coach, Christian Rauscher, who is the head athletic coach at my academy. And also my friend, Matthias Groschel. He helped me a lot after my surgery. He built up my arm and always believed no matter how much my arm had been destructed, we could work hard to rebuild it. A lot of doctors said I would never compete at the tour level again, but Matthias believed I could and made it happen.
Lastly, please reveal the three best matches you were a part of on the ATP World Tour?
The match against Rafa in Halle is definitely one of them, since it’s my biggest win in singles, but since we already talked about it, I’d like to mention three others.
I would have to name the final of the World Team Cup, when I partnered Tommy Haas and we played Guillermo Coria and Guillermo Canas. We beat them 6-2, 6-1 in 51 minutes and completely killed them. It was almost a perfect match on our side. The other two would be a win over Carlos Moya in Tokyo, which gave me my first Top 10 win. That meant a lot to me. And then the only singles rubber I played in Davis Cup. It was against Thailand and I beat Paradorn Srichaphan to clinch the tie 3-1. I think those matches were all at a high level and mean the most to me.