Teddy Riner: "My favourite player? Rafael Nadal"
As well as being the flag-bearer for the French delegation at the Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Teddy Riner is one of the favourites to bring a gold medal back from South America. The eight-time world heavyweight judo champion, who also topped the podium at the London Olympics in 2012, is here however to talk about Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal and Yannick Noah…
What is your relationship with tennis?
It’s a sport that I really like, and this dates back to childhood memories of France winning the Davis Cup, with Yannick Noah falling to his knees then jumping around everywhere, and my Dad in front of the TV singing Yannick’s "Saga Africa" song! I did actually play tennis when I was younger, and even now when I get a spare moment, I go and knock around with my friends.
How good’s your game?
My backhand’s pretty weak (laughs)! It’s one-handed and I don’t play it very well.
Do you know the French players?
I know them all to varying degrees, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga more than the rest. I’ve also met Yannick Noah two or three times at different sporting events. I really like the fact that he’s back in charge of the French Davis Cup team. He’s the last guy to have won that many tennis titles in France, so obviously that can only spur the players on to do well. It’s like Zinedine Zidane coaching Real Madrid. When someone’s had that much success, you listen to them, so clearly he can bring a lot to the table.
Who is your favourite player?
Rafael Nadal. I love that guy. He’s the best – he is the perfect combination of the physical and the mental side of the game. He’s got strength, and he never gives up. And he’s got stamina as well. Even if he’s less consistent than he was before, I still love to watch him play.
"Roland-Garros is nothing like any other tournament"
Who would be your dream doubles partners – men’s and mixed?
Rafael Nadal for the men’s, Serena Williams for the mixed.
You’re a regular visitor to Roland-Garros. What does the tournament mean to you?
It’s a tournament that I love. It’s really special. It has its own particular atmosphere. The French is nothing like any other tournament that I’ve been to. The US Open, for example, is great, but Paris is different. It’s our home event, it’s on clay, there’s everything that goes on in the Village… It’s as if the whole city comes to a standstill – it gives Paris a real ambiance and makes everything seem nicer, more attractive. And it’s a good thing that the stadium is being brought up to date. It needs impetus, even if it is a historical venue that we’re talking about. It needs new infrastructure. The economic well-being of the sport and of the players needs to be taken into account.
You are highly involved in the Paris Olympic bid for 2024. Do you think that the prestige associated with Roland-Garros could have a role to play?
For sure! It’s a legendary tournament, and has the infrastructure to welcome the best men’s and women’s players on the planet year in, year out, and Paris is one of the finest cities in the world. These are all real pluses when it comes to the Olympics. I was there for Paris 2012 (when Paris lost out in the Olympic bidding to London) and that was a real disappointment. If I can help Paris and the people of France to secure this event, I’ll be delighted. We need to fight for it. I don’t think I’ll still be competing in 2024, but it’ll be good for the next generation.