Marc Lopez: "In a way, it’s all thanks to Rafa"
A first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros with Feliciano Lopez in June, Olympic gold with Rafael Nadal in Rio in August, not forgetting a Masters title back in 2012 with Marcel Granollers: Marc Lopez has starred in all of the most important Spanish doubles victories in recent years. Here we chat to a player whose story at Roland Garros began 17 years ago, with a win in the junior doubles in 2000 alongside another great name in Spanish tennis: Tommy Robredo.
You won your first Grand Slam title at the most recent Roland-Garros tournament. How did you feel at match point?
Elated. Ever since I was little, I’d dreamed of winning a Grand Slam tournament, and in particular Roland-Garros. I can remember all the Spaniards I’ve seen winning the tournament: Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moya, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero… As a child, it was the tournament I’d most often watch on the television, the one that made me fantasise the most. In Spain, we play a lot on clay and so it’s always been my favourite tournament. My dream very nearly came true in 2014 when I reached the final with Marcel Granollers, but we lost against Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin… So, being able to make this dream come true two years later was really incredible. It was the happiest two weeks of my life. For me, winning Roland Garros, even in the doubles, is a dream come true.
"The relationship between doubles partners is like a couple"
When did you decide to team up with Feliciano Lopez?
I’d played with Marcel Granollers for four years and, though the first three years were really good, the last one was less so. The relationship between doubles partners is a bit like a couple: we talked, he told me that he was thinking about changing partners because we hadn’t got such good results in the last year. I completely understood his decision, and a few days later Feliciano offered to play with me. I was delighted because he’s a great player and one of my best friends. We’ve known each other since we were 12 or 13, though we didn’t play together when we were young because he’s a year older than me. At the time, I played mostly with Tommy Robredo, with whom I won the junior doubles at Roland Garros, and with David Ferrer too. We’d played together a few times in 2009 or 2010 and so we fell into step very quickly. What’s more, we won our first tournament together this year, in Doha. I’m delighted with our results and all of the great experiences that we’ve had together.
Last summer, you became an Olympic champion…
I’d never even dared dream about it, because I never imagined that I would get to compete in the Olympic Games. In Spain, there are so many outstanding players that even being picked for the team was extraordinary. And, in the end, the opportunity came up. I was supposed to play with Feliciano Lopez but Feliciano didn’t end up playing. Rafa was supposed to play with Fernando Verdasco, who didn’t play either, and so we paired up. I just focused on playing as well as I could in each match, and we pulled it off… The Games are only held every four years, so winning an Olympic gold medal is something really special. At my age [Ed.: He had just celebrated his 34th birthday], I knew that it was my only opportunity to get a medal. So, to win a gold medal… I cannot describe how that felt. From Roland-Garros to the Olympics, I experienced my two greatest sporting achievements in the space of two months.
"It's thanks to Rafa that I'm able to experience everything that's happening right now"
Rafael Nadal has played a particularly important role in your career…
It’s thanks to him that I’m able to experience everything that’s happening right now. I owe him a lot. In 2008-2009, I was going through a hard time. I nearly gave up tennis because I kept getting injured. I’d dropped way down in the singles rankings [Ed.: His best singles ranking was No.106, in 2004] and had kind of lost the desire to play. It was then that Rafa offered to play doubles with me in Doha, in January 2009. I’d decided that that season would be the decider for my career, and winning a tournament together, seeing that I was good at doubles, encouraged me to carry on. I entered the Top 50 for doubles and at the end of the season I decided to continue my career, but only in doubles. The following year, we won the Masters 1000 at Indian Wells and that earned me a place in the Top 20, which really kicked off my second career. When you’re young, you dream of playing well in singles, but I certainly don’t regret the decision I made to concentrate on doubles because it’s allowed me to achieve things that I never would have achieved in singles, such as winning a Grand Slam, Olympic gold, playing in the Davis Cup… And in a way, it’s all thanks to Rafa.
Why do you enjoy doubles so much?
Playing alongside somebody else and sharing your dreams and happiness are things that you can only do in doubles. And being able to do it with your best friends, as in my case, is incredible. In singles, you can share things with your team, but being able to do it out on the court is amazing. That’s why I love doubles and I think that the spectators are starting to see this and like the discipline more and more.
You’ve played with almost all of the best Spaniards of your generation, but rarely with players from other countries. Is there a particular reason for this?
The main reason is that I don’t speak English very well [laughs]! But above all its because I prefer playing with people I am close to, and I spend most of my time and share most things with the Spaniards on the tour, and some of us go way back. It’s pretty simple, my best friends on the circuit are my most frequent partners: Feliciano Lopez, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Marcel Granollers.
Read more: Rafael Nadal, the King of kings
Which of these players has taught you the most with regard to their work ethic?
Rafa, once again. By spending time with him on a daily basis, I’ve been able to learn about his routine, how professional he is, and everything he’s done for tennis. He lives for tennis, he trains obsessively and is very ambitious… And he’s very humble. I’ve known him since he was 14 or 15 and I’ve been to Mallorca to train with him on several occasions. He tries to surpass himself every day and that’s how he’s achieved all that he’s achieved – and I’m sure that he’s not finished yet. I have a lot of respect for the player and man that he is. He’s a very special player, different from the others. And, since he’s also a good friend, that further strengthens our bond on the court.
Roland-Garros 2014 finalist, with Marcel Granollers
What dreams have you still to achieve?
Winning the Davis Cup is one of my main objectives, that would be fantastic. If you enjoy playing as a team, if you enjoy playing for your country, you’re bound to love the Davis Cup! But there are still loads of things I want to win. I’d love to win the US Open, or another Roland-Garros title... No one ever gets tired of winning. Yes, I’ve already won a lot, sometimes I think about it and I have trouble believing it [laughs]!
And the world No.1 spot?
That would be incredible but I can’t really see myself as the world’s best doubles player. Of course, I’d be delighted if it happened one day, but I’d rather think about winning tournaments, trying to stay fit and carrying on enjoying tennis than the rankings.
"I've never felt more motivated than I do now"
You seem to really enjoy your life on the circuit…
Yes, it’s been nearly eight years since I went through that transitional period, when I decided to specialise in doubles, and I’ve never felt more motivated than I do now. We’ll see how much longer I stay on the circuit because it’ll also depend on my private life. I got married last year, and maybe when I have children I won’t really want to keep travelling all around the world… We’ll see.
Have you already talked about the 2017 season with Feliciano Lopez?
Yes, we’re going to carry on playing together and I’m delighted. I have a lot of fun with him on the circuit. We have such a great bond that we can tell each other anything and that helps us a lot on the court because we have complete faith in each other.