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40 LOVE Icons: Angélica Gavaldón

As the WTA celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, wtatennis.com will be looking back at some of the players who left a lasting mark in the game - first up, Mexico's greatest player ever.

Published April 19, 2013 12:00

40 LOVE Icons: Angélica Gavaldón
Angelica Gavaldon

MONTERREY, México - There was a familiar face kicking around at the Monterrey Open recently, most noticeably on center court, conducting the post-match interviews with the WTA stars. It was Angélica Gavaldón, who was one of those WTA stars herself as she played between 1988 and 2000.

Gavaldón burst into prominence at the 1990 Australian Open when, after getting into the main draw as a qualifier, she made it all the way to the quarterfinals - two WTA semifinals and three more WTA quarterfinals later she did it all over again, reaching the quarters of the 1995 Australian Open. It was in early 1996 when she set her career-high of No.34, the only Mexican ever to rank in the Top 100.

Who did she look up to when she was getting started? How does she remember her playing days? What has she been up to since those playing days? Here is the Mexican tennis icon in her own words...

Talk a little bit about your upbringing...
"I grew up in Tijuana, Baja California, México. I first started playing tennis at the age of six. My dad was always a big tennis supporter and played a lot on the weekends - my mom was state champion. So both my parents got us all involved in tennis. My brother Ángel and sister Adriana also competed in tournaments and most of our weekends were spent travelling to tennis tournaments in México and California. My mom was a tull-time mom and my father had department stores in Baja California."

When did you really start taking tennis seriously?
"I started taking tennis seriously very quickly. I saw Wimbledon on television for the first time at the age of six and told my dad I would play there one day. Ten years later my dream came true. As I walked through the Wimbledon grounds for the first time I had a flashback to when I was six, watching Chris Evert and Hana Mandlikova on TV, knowing I would some day be where they were at. I played my first international tournament at the age of nine, "Mundialito" in Venezuela. I lost in the finals against Monica Seles and we won the doubles together. I don't ever remember tennis just being something I did during my spare time, I always remember it being my life from the first time I ever hit a ball."

Which players inspired you most when you were growing up and why?
"I loved Chris Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez when I was growing up. I loved their style of play and how they always looked so pretty wearing Ellesse outfits! And I loved their pretty groundstrokes and baseline games. I watched them on TV a lot and would try to play like Chris Evert in my practices."

Talk about your first few years on the tour...
"I think the first year was my easiest. I was so innocent, fearless and felt no pressure. I had success so quickly that I went from being nobody to the one to beat fairly quickly. I remember agents and managers following me trying to sign me - it was all very weird, and I was definitely very unprepared for it all! The second year I felt the pressure tremendously. I felt a huge responsibility to win and not let anybody down. Looking back I wish I would have enjoyed everything more, but playing my first pro tournament at 14 and turning pro at 16, I really had no idea I would soon feel so much pressure to perform and defend points. I remember playing tournaments, doing well, but then the following year worrying about having to defend - also signing contracts knowing I had to keep my ranking up so I could keep all my sponsors happy. And playing exhibitions on weeks off for someone so young gets tough. It was glamorous on the outside and looked so exciting, and it was at times, but at other times it got to be a lot. I was very fortunate that I always had somebody from my family with me."

What do you remember about your run to the 1990 Australian Open quarterfinals?
"I remember the great chocolate chip cookies and apricot bars at the food court! But also playing Hana Mandlikova on one of the stadium courts and looking at the scoreboard, my name next to hers - it was surreal, growing up watching her then beating her. I remember getting to the warm-up tournaments in Brisbane, barely making the qualifying draw and no one wanting to really practice with me, to all of a sudden having agents wanting to sign me. It was so exciting to live this experience with my mom."

What do you remember about your run to the 1995 Australian Open quarterfinals?
"I remember having a lot more experience. I was much more aware of the level and the pressure. I remember having worked so hard to be there again - I had basically stopped playing for a whole year, my ranking dropped to the 300s and my agent dropped me, and I really had only my family believing in me. I worked so hard to come back, so getting to the quarterfinals for the second time was a huge accomplishment for me. I also remember being called "chunky" at the time! But strangely, I felt the strongest I have ever felt in my career, and I worked harder than ever in my off court program."

What else would you consider to be among your career highlights?
"Probably my wins over Amanda Coetzer, Jana Novotna when she was No.4 in the world, Helena Sukova at the Barcelona Olympics - and having the opportunity to represent my country at Atlanta and Barcelona was an honor. And also beating Iva Majoli at Wimbledon. And other moments, like playing exhibitions against Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf - those are also among my greatest memories."

What led to you deciding to retire?
"I think I started so young that it took a toll on me after so many years. I started to get some injuries that are very common among players, but each time I found it a little harder mentally to come back. I think a player needs to stay driven and motivated in order to keep succeeding, and I felt I was losing the drive that I needed to compete, so I decided to retire. It was by far one of the toughest decisions of my life, since tennis had been everything to me since six years of age. I thought to myself, 'What will I be without tennis?' It's a question I am sure many palyers ask themselves. It was scary to go into having a normal life. I remember Martina Navratilova once saying something along the lines of, 'Why would I miss a normal life if tennis has always been my life?' And what she said is so true.

"Stepping into a new life felt very out of my element, but as time went by I realized that tennis did not define me - it was a huge part of my life, but it was not who made me who I am."

What have you been doing since your retirement?
"I have a beautiful three-year-old son named Noah who changed my life forever. He is my everything. I also have a tennis program in Coronado and I have stayed involved in it. I was Fed Cup team captain for México as well, and I have done work for television in México for sports and other tennis events. I enjoy doing this very much. I also write for a magazine in San Diego called Giving Back."

Do you still watch tennis, and who are your favorite players?
"I try to watch as much as I can, but being a mom takes most of my time up! But I defenitely keep up with it, especially since I am coaching and at times doing television, so I need to keep current.

"I love Maria Sharapova's passion on the court and admire how strong she came back after her shoulder injury. I also like Angelique Kerber - I like her name, of course! But other than that I met her briefly at the Abierto Monterrey this year and she is really friendly and very nice to everybody."

Angelica Gavaldon, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

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