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Fred Hemmes Jr.

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Report: The Battle of Hemmes junior



Between the glory and the gutter

Away from the spotlights there’s a true survival going on. Freddy Hemmes knows all about it. He’s trying to keep up with the rest at the smaller tournaments and he becomes more and more succesful. His goal: That top 100.


“Technically good”, that’s what Hugo Walker would probably have said, would he have been around the court. Indeed, Freddy Hemmes’ game looks well provided for. Nice looking one handed backhand, big forehand, all strokes well prepared. A little bit like Sampras, his big idol. But he isn’t winning. At least, not today, in the qualies of the 31st ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament. In each of the two sets, he has to allow his opponent Michel Kratochvil a break of serve. That’s not a shame, taking into account that the Swiss is a refined player, who won the live fith rubber in the Davis Cup against Holland last year, beating Martin Verkerk in the process. There are a lot of positive things you can take away from Hemmes’ performance, but eventually what counts is that he failed  to take some opportunities and lost the match. The 23 year old is fed up with it. A wrist injury, probably caused by more topspin in his strokes and a different kind of string/string tension of his racquet, spoiled his day. “So frustrating!” he says, head hanging down when he leaves the court,  after signing autographs for a group of enthousiastic kids. “I couldn’t put any pressure on him with my forehand. You can’t say for sure that I would’ve won if I could have done that, but I would definitely have been a lot more dangerous. I couldn’t do anything with the balls that came above shoulder height.” The way to the locker room is long and lonely.


GLAMOUR: Freddy Hemmes jr., son of the former Davis Cup player with the same name, has everything it takes to be a teen idol. Goodlooking, boyish face, steelblue eyes, gentle look. If it wasn’t for the fact that he is the no. 198 of the world and for now playing a modest role in the global tennis world, he would’ve been regularly featured in “Break Out” or other dutch teen magazines, just like his 3 years older tennis colleague Raemon Sluiter. Still, there is a website (731 visitors to date) dedicated to him, with lots of photos, tournament reports and other information. Not that Freddy is really occupied with the glamourous side of tennis. Everything in his life is all about tennis. He doesn’t even have time for a girlfriend.

Hemmes was born in Goirle, where his parents still live. Since of late, he owns his own appartment in Amstelveen. That’s where he came from early on this important day. At half past 8 in the morning he reports for duty backstage in the Rotterdam Ahoy’ (tournament venue). It’s more than an hour and a half before his match. Since he forgot to put his name down for the qualifying draw in time, he even needs a wildcard to enter this event, because of his low ranking. There are 3 wildcards up for grabs in a field of 16 players. First time tournament director Richard Krajicek gave the other 2 wildcards to young dutch players Igor Sijsling and Robin Haasse.

Hemmes is drinking some coffee in the players restaurant. His coach Tom Nijssen has arrived by now. The guy from Limburg (part of Holland) made it to the top 100 of the singles ranking in his days, but had his biggest successes playing doubles. At the end of last year Freddy and Tom played a doubles match together in a small tournament. In New Caledonia they steamrolled, beating two relatively unknown French guys with 6-0 6-0. “Yes, we could’ve formed an excellent doubles team together”, says Nijssen (39). “It’s just that I was born a few years  early.” While Hemmes is taping his wrist, they babble along. Not a word about the match tactics and that is how it’s always gonna be. “To some people you can say more than to certain others”, Nijssen tells us later. “Essentially, you need to build your match tactics based on your own strengths. A tactical talk before the match could just as well backfire.”

Nijssen has been working with Hemmes since August last year. He accompanies him fulltime. On every journey abroad, he is there. He has also taken charge of Peter Wessels. Peter would have played in Rotterdam as well, if it weren’t for the fact that a groin injury has side-lined him for now. With his serve Wessels has a weapon that can make him rise above the mediocre tennis player, but he is injured too much to prove that he really is that good. Last year, the two faced eachother in the final of the challenger tournament at Reunion Island. That was Hemmes’ best performance to date, but he got trashed in that final by Wessels. “Fred had a backache back then”, Nijssen tries to explain. “There was a lot of wind that day and he didn’t want to make matters worse. It just happened. They always practice together and then in a final, they suddenly have to play eachother. For some people that’s easier to handle than for others.”


BATTLE:  Ever since Hemmes is working with a fulltime coach, he’s making progress. In the official rankings he went up with about 60 places. His goal for this season is to climb another 50, in order to finally cross that magical threshold into the top 100 and to be of constant value on the ATP tour. That’s what all young players want and since they all play some great tennis, the competition is tough. Every match is a fight, a struggle to survive. “It’s starting to get better and better”, according to Hemmes. “At least my results are starting to get more consistent. I beat some good players lately, guys ranked between no. 50 and 200.” Nijssen nods in agreement: “In Auckland he beat Pavel. That’s a very good player. A week later Pavel reached the 4th round of the Australian Open. Fred also beat Soderling, who plays Davis Cup for Sweden. He totally trashed that guy. That was his best match ever.”

Hemmes has been a regular on the smaller pro tournaments for a few years now. More and more he finds himself among the last eight in the tournament or even better. His father, who was a national top player in the sixties, taught him how to play tennis. With Fred sr. as national coach, the women of the Dutch Fed Cup team reached the Fed Cup final in 1997. His son was in the national junior team until he was 18. “But I left, because there were some disagreements between my father and Michiel Schapers (junior team coach red.). That was a difficult situation. The (tennis) union wanted to let my father go because of a reorganisation. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I didn’t misbehave, nor did I have bad results or anything. Seriously. I did get a contract for another year, but things just weren’t ok between me and Michiel. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the situation with my father. But they didn't have any reason to fire my dad. Of course it was easier for the union to get rid of both of us. Somehow they tried to make life as hard on me as they possibly could.”

In his early years, Schapers and co worked hard to change his technique, according to Hemmes. “They changed a few things that I really regret looking back on it. Back then I had a really good serve. It’s only starting to come back now. My forehand changed too. For what reason, I don’t know exactly. When you’re young you’re an easy push-over. Michiel was a good player. What he accomplished in his career is fantastic. That’s why I took his advice. Reluctantly, but I was afraid I would be in trouble if I didn’t. It backfired eventually. My father made some comments about that, yes. It was hard for him to criticize the union, cuz he himself was still working for them. Oh well, it’s so easy to say all this, looking back at it. You learn from these kind of things.”

After he left the KNLTB (Dutch Lawn and Tennis Union), Hemmes worked with a variety of coaches, among others with Stephan Noteboom, Henk van Hulst and his own father. The last thing worked out for a while, but it wasn’t a ideal situation for either one of them. “A father-son relationship is hard in tennis. There are so many emotions in the game. You play a match, make an analysis of that match and that's it. My father was emotionally involved with me. He wanted the best for me. Every now and then there was some friction between us and I would take that with me on the court. When you’re on court, you try to shut down everything, but if there are some things that aren’t ok, that will surely show (in your game). You are slightly restless or might take wrong decisions then.”

The union did support him financially after their split, because Hemmes was in a “late developer” project. But there was no money for a fulltime coach during the tournaments abroad. Until there came some unexpected help, that is. René van den Berg, a wealthy tennis lover from ’t Gooi (part of Holland where a lot of rich people live), the big man behind Dutch tennis league’s first division club Hilverheide and the pro challenger tournament of Hilversum, offered to pay the salary for a fulltime coach for both Hemmes and Wessels. “He is totally crazy about the game. For me, this is fantastic. These are the kind of pieces of luck one needs in a career. You can make the best progress with a coach by your side. Those are the little things that can make you a better player. Without a fulltime coach by my side I made it to being no. 300 in the world, with Tom I hope I’m able to make the final step. It most certainly has advantages. My tennis is getting better and it’s pleasant.”


SPICING IT UP:  That those ‘little things’ can make the difference between the gutter and the glory becomes clear during his qualifying match against Kratochvil. Despite his wrist injury, Hemmes isn’t playing badly. He keeps attacking from the baseline and even makes some unbelievable points. But not all points are of the same importance. “His problem is one on decision level” notes Tjerk Bogstra (dutch Davis Cup team coach, red.) who is attentively watching the match from the sidelines. “Sometimes he just makes the wrong decision.” That, for example, becomes clear in the final part of the first set, when Hemmes casually fails to convert some breakpoints to undo his loss of serve earlier, which could’ve brought him back into the match. After a fault by his opponent, he produces two weak returns on some second serves. Therefore, on 5-4 in the set, Kratochvil leads 30-15 in the game, where he could or maybe even should have been down 0-40. “This is a different kind of game to play than on 1-1”, Bogstra grumbles. “He should spice it up a bit. And look at that attitude: immediatly looking down at the ground. You have to show your opponent  that  you are still there.”

That there is a lot of room for improvement on the mental aspect is something Hemmes has been told before. He mostly agrees with that and that’s his first step to improvement. “I don’t deal with disappointments all that well. That was my main weakness. I still have it sometimes, but I mostly handle it well nowadays. I got a lot tougher mentally. I notice that I start inching closer to the big players, just because of that fact. It’s all about the big points. Those guys play those points a lot better than the boys who have no experience.” Nijssen: “That’s something you just have to learn. After a while you get aware of your strengths, what to do and how to play. Shot selection, to make a decision. What to do with which ball. On 30-30 the ball has to go between the lines. Not every ball necessarily has to be a winner in that case.”

As the coach shouts some instructions into the hall and makes some short notes on his palmtop (small electronic notebook), the second set goes by nearly the same as the first one did. In not even one and a half hour the match is over for Hemmes, who is gonna consult the tournament doctor about his wrist immediatly afterwards. Rest is the best remedy, that’s what he’s being told after two doctors examined his wrist. Rest? One day, that’s all he’s got to get better. One day tops. Because in two days he has to play doubles with Dennis van Scheppingen. And next week he’s scheduled to play the first one of two tournaments in Asia. A professional tennisplayer has to move forward, all the time. Certainly as long as there’s room for a forward movement.



Original text by: Coen Vemer            Photos by: Vincent Basler.


Translated by: Eliane and Margo (webmasters)

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