Sunday News

Backchat Snakes alive! It’s tennis star Pat Rafter


Two-time US Open tennis champion Pat Rafter is coming to Auckland in October to face fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt for the Champions Cup. While it’s been more than 20 years since the now 50-year-old won back-to-back titles, he’s expecting fireworks when the duo meet at The Trusts Arena.

Tennis, however, has taken a back seat to the rest of his life, including his family and the regenerati­on of his 70 acre farm not far from Byron Bay, where he’s planting native bush, including a eucalyptus plantation, to encourage koalas back into the area.

He spoke to Zoë George while taking a break from his ride-on lawnmower and dodging snakes.

Kia ora Pat! Are you looking forward to coming back to Aotearoa?

I played a lot in the early days there,

’91 and ’92 and had some early success there. I played Davis Cup in ’94 in Christchur­ch. New Zealand and Australia to me are so closely aligned… obviously have a tradition and history in sport and then trying to rip each other’s heads off! I love it.

One good thing about New Zealand is you don’t have to worry about snakes!

I nearly stepped on a little nasty snake the other day. I didn’t even see it. My daughter was yelling at me. We have a lot of snakes on the property. That’s the only dangerous thing we have. I love New Zealand, you can walk around wherever you want and don’t have to look down.

Speaking of family, you’ve been married for 19 years and have two kids… did you ever encourage any of them into tennis?

I got my son [Joshua] into tennis, and it didn’t work. He didn’t have the right temperamen­t. My daughter [India] is more of a natural athlete, while my son was quite artistic, which he doesn’t get from me.

We sometimes get out there and have a hit together as a family. My wife [Lara] plays too. We have a laugh and a hit. That’s probably the most enjoyable part.

My daughter just turned 18, and it was a horrible, horrible experience! We had 65 kids at the house. Yeah, we won’t do that again! [Joshua] lives in Melbourne and just turned 21.

How was the 21st party? Any yardies?

There was a sculling race and I took on this young Kiwi kid, actually.

I was incredibly confident but I underestim­ated him and he got me. I was not happy with it!

I imagine you’ve popped a few bottles of champagne in your time, particular­ly when you won the US Open in 1997 and 1998. So what did you blow your first big prizemoney cheque on?

You go out whether you win or lose. You go out and open the bar up to everyone; Australian­s, close mates or whoever’s around. We did that in New York, London. I didn’t even see the bill, I don’t even know what it was! I was enjoying the moment and I always wanted to share it with other people.

Who’s the one player you dreaded facing?

[14-time grand slam winner Pete] Sampras. I hated playing him. He did everything I did, but better. It annoyed me! [Now] when I see him I have a chat, but I see him once every five or 10 years.

What’s the best thing about tennis?

I think it's just a really interestin­g game. It's like a game of chess. There are 1000s of different ways of winning, and there's a lot of different ways of getting better. It was intriguing to me that you get to work on different shots and different ideas. It’s cat and mouse when you’re trying to understand your opponent. And of course it’s really fun.

What’s the worst thing about tennis?!

The isolation of being on your own. Giving yourself a pat on the back or a kick up the bum when you’ve lost. No one else is going to do it. It’s an interestin­g game, but I understand why a lot of people don’t want to play because it’s lonely and isolating.

Back in the day you rocked long locks and a bun, will you bring back the hairstyle for your appearance in Auckland?

My hair is pretty long. It’s embarrassi­ng to be a 50-year-old man who can still do that. My beard is really grey, but my hair hasn’t gone grey yet. I can’t do a man bun. I’m too embarrasse­d to bring it out in public.

 ?? ?? In his playing days Pat Rafter rocked long locks and a bun. He’s not bringing it back for his appearance in Auckland, he said.
In his playing days Pat Rafter rocked long locks and a bun. He’s not bringing it back for his appearance in Auckland, he said.
 ?? ?? Two-time US Open tennis champion Pat Rafter is returning to Auckland.
Two-time US Open tennis champion Pat Rafter is returning to Auckland.

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