When Feliciano López starts talking, his enthusiasm is immediately evident. At 40 years of age, he understands that everything he now gets from tennis is a bonus. At the BNP Paribas Open he will set yet another record in the sport by having competed in 139 ATP Masters 1000 events, more than any other player.
He previously shared the record with another player from his generation and one of the greats, Roger Federer. Before embarking on a new adventure in the Californian desert, the eighteenth of his career, the Spaniard spoke to ATPTour.com to discuss a new feat of longevity in an already impressive career.
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When you play your opener at Indian Wells on Thursday, you’ll become the player with the most ATP Masters 1000 participations.
Really? I honestly didn’t know. I knew that I’d played a lot of tournaments, but I had no idea I was about to break the record here at Indian Wells.
You’ll also be taking the record from another player born in ‘81, a certain Roger Federer (138 appearances).
It’s definitely not normal for us to be playing at 40. Unfortunately Roger has a knee injury. For my part, I’ve been lucky enough not to have anything serious and to continue competing. I think I can be very satisfied and happy about it, because I can still be here now.
At this rate you’re going to break all the records for longevity…
(Laughs). No, no, the important thing is to keep playing and to be at another Masters 1000. I wasn’t expecting it, because I didn’t get straight in. In fact I went back home (Madrid, Spain) from Boston.
What does this type of record mean to you?
They’re little gifts that tennis is giving me. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be playing at Indian Wells at 40. That’s why I’ve been trying to make the most of it for a while. I think it’s worth the effort. I came back from Boston and flew back to the US, leaving my family at home. Although it may seem stupid to some, it’s a Masters 1000 and another opportunity to compete at the top.
The Endurance Of Feliciano
You’ve surpassed 500 ATP Tour wins and you have the records for the most consecutive Grand Slam appearances and total participations in Masters 1000s. Which means the most to you?
I think the 500 wins. Purely in terms of tennis, reaching 500 wins is something that very few people do. When I look at that list and see my name there, it makes me feel proud. The records in Grand Slams are a reward for my consistency, my passion for tennis, for not having been injured, for having taken care of myself… but in terms of the game of tennis, I value having won so many matches much more.
You’ve mentioned your trip to Boston from the Laver Cup and returning to California for Indian Wells via your home. Where do you find the motivation to keep going?
On the one hand, I should be grateful. Tennis and life have given me this chance, it would be a little off not to at least try to make the most of it. On the other, I’m looking for points to finish the year in the Top 100 and to be able to play some Grand Slams next year.
Your competitive spirit must also be an important factor?
It’s just really difficult to stop. When I talk to players who have retired they tell me to savour it because I’m going to miss it. Now that I play fewer tournaments, I don’t win as many matches as when I was younger and I’m the director of the Mutua Madrid Open, competition is my priority, but it’s not the same as when I was 20 or 25. I miss competing more, I’ve been doing this all my life and in a way I can’t stop.
You always talk about the ‘gifts’ that are allowing you to enjoy yourself so much in recent times. You recently formed part of the European team at the Laver Cup.
I was lucky enough to play in a Laver Cup, to share it with the great Bjorn Borg and all the guys, some of whom weren’t even born when I started playing. It was a happy week, we won and suddenly I found out I had to go back to the US to play in a Masters 1000. It’s worth trying to make the most of those little gifts. Indian Wells is not just any tournament and I don’t know how many more I’ll play.
How are you feeling coming into Indian Wells?
If I do well I could pick some points up, which would help me achieve my goal of ending the year in the Top 100 so that I can keep competing next year. At the moment, I have to try and make the most of the opportunities that tennis keeps giving me, because like I said, they are little gifts that I can’t squander.