Rising star: Gabriel Decamps, back at Roland-Garros where it all started
Because they are young and brimming with talent, and because their styles of play, careers or simply their natural affinities point to success on clay in general and at Roland-Garros in particular, Rolandgarros.com has picked out 20 rising stars – 10 young women and 10 young men – to keep a close eye on throughout the year. 16-year-old Brazilian Gabriel Decamps already has fond memories of Roland-Garros. He won the "Rendez-vous at Roland-Garros in 2015" tournament which earned him a wildcard for the boys’ singles. He describes that experience as a "kick-start", and judging by his current No.30 world junior ranking, it certainly was.
Unlike most of the other "rising stars", Gabriel Decamps is not the kind of player who has had his every move and every result followed, scrutinised and dissected from an early age after the pundits decided that they were destined for greatness. But who knows, maybe there is still a place in the 21st century for those who are not identified as potential stars as soon as they are old enough to hold a racquet – like a certain Gustavo Kuerten back in the day, who slipped under the radar throughout his early career before exploding onto the big stage at Roland-Garros when he turned 20… And Decamps is another Brazilian who is inextricably linked with Roland-Garros, as his results began to improve exponentially after he played in the French Open boys’ singles last year, having won the wildcard that was awarded as part of the "Rendez-vous at Roland-Garros" event. He was down at No.150 in the world juniors at the time, but a year on he is now up to No.33, and will be back at Roland-Garros again this year by direct acceptance.
At the time, he had never played an ITF tournament outside of South America, and he now sees that his baptism of fire in Paris last year was a much-needed "kick-start. I learned a lot from my match against Taylor Fritz who is now No.70 in the ATP rankings (which he lost 6-1, 6-4). He was the best player I’d ever come up against. It was really tough but I had my chances in the second set… I realised that I wasn’t that far behind players like this in terms of ability, and at the same time I became aware of all the work I still had ahead of me. I need to learn not to be scared, think about having fun on court and getting forward more often. I have an attacking game but I need to learn to finish things off at the net more often, and that’s really what I’ve been working on since last year." With the Brazil – Roland-Garros link set to be repeated this year, it will be interesting to judge how much progress he has made since receiving the wildcard that proved to be such a catalyst.
Decamps was born in Brazil to a French father and a German mother, making him quite the linguist. Like a certain Novak Djokovic, he is at ease in a number of different languages (French, German and Portuguese and also Spanish and English). And he also likes to draw inspiration from the Serb’s style of play. "I like Novak Djokovic’s game. You get the impression that he’s never afraid of anything out on court." The young Brazilian is also a fan of Rafael Nadal. “It’s his attitude that I love. He fights for every point. He never gives up, even when he’s losing. He’s already won everything there is to win, but he still fights just as hard. You have to admire him." His role model in terms of game plan however is fellow South-American Juan Martin del Potro. And why not? At 16, Decamps is already 1.93m and knows exactly how to use his height to dictate the game behind his service, which is "a strong one, a bit like del Potro’s", he explains, before humbly adding "but obviously not to his standard!"
He is a little too young to have thrilled to Kuerten’s exploits, but he has obviously seen footage of Guga’s successes at the Porte d’Auteuil, and would love to follow in his footsteps at the stadium where the three-time winner made his name. "It would be great to follow on where Guga left off in Paris," he says as he day-dreams his way to No.1 in the world. His head is certainly not in the clouds when it comes to fulfilling these dreams, however. He knows that it will be a long road to the top, but he is already his own hard task-master. He gets up at 7.20 am every day and practices until 11.30, before doing an hour of school work. There is then two hours of strength and conditioning training after lunch, before hitting the courts for another hour, followed by a session with his mental coach and then stretching to finish the day off. He leaves nothing to chance, like a real pro. And though he left school at 14, he has not given up his studies and has on-line learning from an American high school. "Every evening after dinner I study for a couple of hours. It’s quite difficult because the level of English required is advanced, but I’m making progress and I have a few teachers who come and help me. And I’m the one who chose this life at the end of the day. I’m highly motivated, and with Roland-Garros to look forward to, I try to give it my all every day." Despite these busy days, Gabriel still finds the time to catch up with his friends, "playing FIFA or going to watch São Paulo Futebol Clube play".
Career to date
Decamps has always been surrounded by tennis fans and had no hesitation when it came to choosing a sport. "My grandparents played tennis, so did my parents and my sisters. I started at the age of six in São Paulo, at the academy run by William Kyriakos who is still my coach today," he explains. He was soon hooked on the sport and the more he trained, the higher he rose in the various age groups in Brazil. His first international results came when he turned 14 in 2013, with a maiden U-14 tournament win in the Netherlands followed by a final in Ecuador and an invitation to the highly-reputed BNP Paribas Cup in Paris (where he reached the quarters, and even had a match point to make the semis).
He won his first ITF event, a Grade 4 in Guatemala, in 2014, before his career really took off post-Roland-Garros 2015. He has picked up three ITF titles (a Grade 4, a Grade 3 and a Grade 1 at the beginning of the year), and also found the time to play a major role in Brazil qualifying for the final phase of the junior Davis Cup in autumn 2015. He is still only 16 and therefore happy to focus on the junior circuit, but the pro tour and Futures tournaments are just around the corner.
What can we expect from him this year?
Roland-Garros is obviously one of Decamps’ main objectives this season. And while he still has plenty of time to win the junior title (since he was born in August, he could still – ranking permitting – theoretically play in the boys’ tournaments in 2017 and 2018 ), it would be a good milestone for him if he were to get through a couple of rounds this year, depending on how kind the draw is. And once the summer comes around, it will be time to concentrate on the Futures circuit and pick up his first ATP points. Taylor Fritz has already shown him the way...