From Guimaraes To National Glory: Sousa Making Portuguese History
When Joao Sousa was seven years old in his native Guimaraes, Portugal, he began joining his father, Armando, at the local tennis courts. The sport was his dad’s passion. And as he grew up, Sousa looked up to Nuno Marques, who was the first Portuguese player to crack the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings, climbing as high as No. 86.
“He was a star,” Sousa remembered. “It was like an idol for us, the kids, when we were growing up and trying to reach that level.”
Little did Sousa know that 22 years later, he would be his country’s star. On Saturday, the 29-year-old became the first player from Portugal to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam, which he accomplished by beating No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille in four sets.
“I didn’t turn on my phone. Not yet, but I believe there are going to be a lot of people sending me messages and they are very happy. I feel very happy as well [that] they also enjoy my tennis, my victories,” Sousa said. “It’s good for Portuguese tennis that a Portuguese player is in the second week of a Grand Slam, a major. Hopefully I can go even farther.”
And to think that all of this might stem from one life-changing decision at 15 years old. Sousa chose to uproot himself and move to Barcelona to train, leaving his family in Portugal.
“I think that was perhaps the biggest decision of my life. I went alone there,” Sousa said. “I think it was [my] one shot to go there to try and be a professional.”
And here he is, enjoying a successful career. The 6’1” right-hander has finished inside the world’s Top 100 in each of the past six seasons. Earlier this year, he became the first Portuguese player to celebrate a title on home soil when he triumphed in Estoril. Those accomplishments haven’t been flashes in the pan, but the results of a lot of hard work over a long period of time.
Watch Highlights Of Sousa's Triumph In Estoril:
“My main goal is to try to increase my level of play and play my best tennis in the big tournaments. Sometimes you have bad moments,” said Sousa, who had lost seven matches in a row before arriving in Flushing Meadows. “Sometimes it’s very important that the people around you, they support you even if you’re going through a bad moment and they enjoy with me the good moments. I’ve been able in the past years to be in the Top 100, which is very, very good for me and for Portugal.”
Typically, losing seven straight matches ahead of one of the season’s biggest tournaments would not be the best preparation. But Sousa’s three victories at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center have been a product of continuing to work hard during those low moments. There have been no revelations in New York.
“Nothing clicked,” Sousa said. “We’ve been working hard and the results just didn’t appear in the last months. But I always say that we were working very hard and we were working good. So in the end, all the work pays off and this has been the week. I’m very happy for it to be in a major.”
Now, he will get a fifth crack at two-time champion Novak Djokovic inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he played his first FedEx ATP Head2Head match against the Serbian five years ago, winning just four games.
“I have to play my best tennis and perhaps he cannot play his best tennis. Otherwise, I will lose,” Sousa said. “Every match is different, every condition is different, so we’ll see. I will face him, I will try to win and hopefully I can keep the level I have been playing with for the last days and we’ll see.”
One thing is for sure: all of Portugal will be watching.