Tennis Prose



Biofile Jeff Tarango Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Former ATP pro 1989-2010. Won two ATP singles and 14 doubles titles. Reached 3R at each Grand Slam and his best ranking was 42 in singles. Currently the tennis director at Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Los Angeles. Also 1999 Roland Garros doubles finalist with Goran Ivanisevic.

DOB: November 20, 1968 In: Manhattan Beach, CA

Childhood Heroes: Rocky Balboa, Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver.

Early Tennis Memory: I remember the first time I won a set at a tournament. I was just turned eight years old and we went to Farrell’s afterward because I’d won my first set and I got to eat one of those huge bowls of ice cream. It took me thirteen tournaments to win my first match. So that was a long time coming. I’m telling you this bowl of ice cream had like a hundred scoops of ice cream in it, absolutely disgusting. It was every kid’s goal to finish that thing but nobody could even finish it.

Favorite Movie: Princess Bride.

Nicknames: No, I don’t know of any.

Musical Tastes: REM, Pink Floyd, Frank Sinatra, anything that suits the mood is cool with me.

First Job: I didn’t even get my social security number until I was 21. At the end of my first tennis year they made me get my social security number. My father (Henry Robert Tarango) said he worked all his life so I wouldn’t have to work.

First Car: 1967 white Buick Skylark. One of the last classics. The front seat to the back seat was like a living room. Biggest car in the city. Just a boat. We had to throw an anchor to get it to stop [smiles].

Pre-Match Feeling: At this point, a little apprehensive. I always wonder what the tennis gods have to offer today. Every match throughout my career seemed to be a little different. It’s always fun to go out and compete and see how the ball bounces. It’s fun. When I first started, I had that Rocky Balboa attitude. And now I go out more to enjoy the match. And enjoy the tennis and have fun. My priorities are shifting now. It’s unfortunate but I think it’s general. Earlier it was that I wanted to win every single match. No matter what. And fight my hardest for every single point. And stretch and dig and scrape for every shot.

Greatest Sports Moment: It’s coming at the 2000 Olympics. To be there, fighting my hardest. Be a part of what athletes always dream about – it’s competing at the Olympics. Competing and giving your best effort no matter how it is, knowing that it’s okay, because there’s 40,000,000 other people who would like to be doing that. So if I go and try my absolute hardest, I can’t have no regrets. (Beat Diego Camacho of Bolivia and lost 2R to Mariano Zabaleta 62 63).

Most Painful Moment: Jeez…most painful moment…I think that’s the first time I played Sampras after I came out of college (Stanford). I think he was already no. 7 in the world. And I lost 76 (75) 76 (75). In Osaka or Tokyo. I had always figured that when I came out of college, I would just pick up where I left off…and it was 13-0 against Sampras and 9-0 against Chang. That I would just continue beating them and I would take up my spot in the world rankings. And that was the most difficult moment for me, was losing to him, eventhough he’s such a great player and turned out to be such a great player. It kind of burst a bubble that I had, thinking that I would always be better than those guys.

Funny Tennis Memory: The time I was losing to Michael Chang and my racquet got caught in my pants string and I jerked it out and my pants fell down. In Tokyo. That’s a funny tennis memory because in Tokyo, they just weren’t ready for something like that. It was really, really hilarious. For a few days it was just a big hilarious joke. His game point after I had a few break points. And I ended up at the net. And we had a like a few balls rally exchange. And you know how they have like the strings on the shorts, they didn’t use to have this elastic on here. I pulled it and my pants came down. It was pretty funny. I lost the point, lost the game. And like two games later I couldn’t even focus on the match anymore. I was like, Michael, I have to stop. This is getting unprofessional, ridiculous. He’s like, All right. It was the first time I ever saw Michael Chang smile on the court. So it was quite an accomplishment [smiles].

Favorite TV Shows: (As Anna Kournikova walks by our interview in the US Open players cafeteria)…Hello sweetie, how are you? You played really good last night…All In The Family was pretty funny. That and Sesame Street [smiles].

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Strawberry.

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: It used to be that Cracklin Oat Bran. That’s good stuff. And Quaker Oats with honey and brown sugar.

Favorite Meal: A really good hot and sour soup. But I think my favorite meal is always the first meal I have whenever I go to Rome. Because the food there is unparalleled.

Closest Tennis Friends: My old coach Robert Lansdorp. I feel like I’m good friends with so many of the players. Tough to single out a couple. Right now I like Andrei Medvedev a lot. And Elena Likhovtseva, she’s really cool. Amy Frazier is really cool. And Jens Knippschild from Germany.

Funniest Players: I think all the guys have a good sense of humor. They take life pretty well. They approach tennis really well. I mean, there’s such a great group of guys out here. It’s tough to single anyone out and say there’s a class clown. Because I think all these guys, when they were in school, were the class clowns. It’s a pretty cool group. (You were class clown?) Yeah, I was the class clown. all the way through kindergarten, junior high school, all the way through.

Toughest Competitors Encountered: Andre Agassi, Chang, and Jim Courier. The three toughest competitors I ever came across. Andre – we have similar games. He just always has a mentality when he goes out there that he’s gonna do everything a little better. And he’s gonna push himself hard enough to do everything a little bit better. And that’s frustrating.

Chang – he’s just so tenacious mentally. He’s got the Never Say Die attitude. And he’s just a little bit quicker than everybody else out there. That takes the wind out of your sails when he gets that one ball back that you don’t expect him to get back on a big point. Against him you always have to play on more shot than normal. It’s disconcerting.

Courier – was a tough competitor because off the court he would push himself harder than everybody else. And that would just carry over to the court. He was an iron cast piece of armor. You couldn’t hurt him physically. He was the first player that was really overpowering to play. He would just blow you off the court.

Family: Wife, Jessica, five children, Nina Rose, Katherine, Jesse, Ace, Jackson.

(Note: This interview was done in 2000 at US Open.)

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