Catching Up With... Meilen Tu
Published February 18, 2010 12:00
Meilen Tu won the US Open juniors as a 16-year-old in 1994, beating a certain Martina Hingis in the final. During the decade-long pro career that was to follow the American won a singles title at Auckland and four doubles titles, before leaving the Tour in 2008. This week, almost two years after her last match at Indian Wells, 32-year-old Tu entered the doubles in Dubai with Natalie Grandin. Though they had the misfortune to bump into fifth seeds Alisa Kleybanova and Francesca Schiavone in the first round, Tu has been kept busy doing double duty as agent to the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka. Keeping it in the family, Azarenka is now being coached by Tu's husband, Samuel Sumyk - once coach to Tu herself.
We caught up with Meilen during the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships.
Meilen, are you the next comeback kid?
MT: Ha! It was kind of spur of the moment thing. I was coming to Dubai anyway for my work as an agent, and the opportunity came up. I've been keeping in shape and in December I hit a lot and spent plenty of time in the gym. But my work comes first, so for three weeks during the Australian swing I didn't hit a ball. It's been nice to play in Dubai because when I was playing the Tour I always played Memphis in this calendar week.
Is there a sense of unfinished business?
MT: When I stopped playing I had some hip issues and that was taking a toll. I also wanted to explore other areas of life and for eight months after I stopped I didn't hit a ball. But the love of the game has always been there and I never really said 'This is it'. It's a bit of a battle to balance work and training but I'd like to play one more Grand Slam… hopefully Wimbledon.
Looking back, do you feel you maximized your potential on the Tour?
MT: That's a tough question. I'm not tall, but I moved well and for 5'3" I hit a fairly big ball. Obviously if you have a huge serve it helps, but at my height I wasn't getting many free points.
What do you consider your greatest strength as a player?
MT: I was fast around the court and mentally pretty tough - I always fought to the end of a match.
What was your finest moment on court?
MT: I'd have to say it was when I won my title at Auckland in 2001 and dedicated the win to my father, who had passed a way a couple of years before. Also, to reach my career high ranking of No.35 in 2007 after being out of the game for a while with injury was very gratifying.
Is winning the US Open junior title still a strong memory for you?
MT: I remember it like it was yesterday. The stadium was packed and I can picture everything, right down to faces in the stands. I probably didn't realize the importance of it at the time, though. Actually the first time I played Martina I think she was 11 and I was 13 and she killed me, 60 61. People were wondering how I could lose to an 11-year-old but I could already see she was going to be an unbelievable player.
Who was your toughest opponent?
MT: Everyone! Venus Williams. She really had my number - just incredible.
Did you have a favorite Tour stop?
MT: Aside from Auckland - for obvious reasons - I particularly enjoyed the French Open, I always seemed to play well there.
How did your work as an agent come about?
MT: I was approached by BEST to give it a try. They have a great team, I've been doing it for about a year and I love it. I think it's our duty as players to give back to the game and this is one way to do it. I also get great pleasure from helping out with kids aged in that 7-15 bracket whenever I get the chance.
As a former player, what do you feel you bring to the role of agent?
MT: Maybe it helps me relate a bit better, knowing when to say certain things. Also, it's a very masculine business, maybe 80 percent, so I think being a woman helps… we have our moments! They know I'll be honest with them.
You're working with two of the brightest lights in the game, Caroline and Victoria. What sets them apart?
MT: They're very mature for their age. They'll fight for the last ball but they are still nice, kind girls at heart - and down to earth considering that they are superstars. I mean, Caroline asked me to hit with her this morning, before we both had to play our matches. It's fair to say there was more in it for me… she didn't have to do that.
Did you have tennis idols when you were younger?
MT: I looked up to Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Monica Seles. She was such a feisty player, a real fighter on court, but also a very, very nice person - friendly and bubbly in the locker room.
Would you have liked to have played in another era?
MT: When I look at the videos from the 1980s I have so much respect for Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and all the players of that era. I don't wish I played at another time but I think the game right now is just amazing - so fast and physical.
Given your family heritage, what do you make of the growth in Asian tennis in recent years?
MT: I'm absolutely thrilled about it. I really want to see tennis explode even more in Asia. And why not? They're such hard workers. Zheng Jie and Li Na reaching the semis of the Australian Open was fantastic. My parents were born in Taiwan and now I am fortunate that one of the players I'm working with is Chang Kai-Chen. Taiwan has produced some excellent players, especially in doubles, and I think she has so much potential. I speak Mandarin and hope this will be useful as the game expands in that part of the world.
What do you do for fun away from tennis?
MT: Just last week I went skiing for the first time, in Switzerland. I loved it - I've been telling all my friends that this will be my next sport!