Finalist Joao Sousa wins over Auckland fans
When asked how to say his name Joao Sousa responds, Joao like ‘wow’.
It’s an appropriate answer for a man that moved as a dark horse into the final of the 2017 ASB Classic. He played in Auckland three times before (2012, 2015, 2016) but never won a match until 2017. Now, 27-years-old he’s found his footing. To reach the 2017 final he claimed the scalps of eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis, Robin Haase, Brydan Klein and fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Sousa says to reach the final was very special. “Every player professional tennis players we work hard to achieve our goals and of course we always try to win titles, it’s not easy on the ATP Tour, but another final and another chance to get a title.”
While the Portuguese number one lost 6-3 in the third set to Jack Sock, he puts the strong start of the 2017 season down to hard work in the pre-season. He lives in Barcelona and trains with Rafael Nadal. Sousa is currently ranked 44 in the world, but reached a career high 28 in May 2016.
“I made a really good pre-season. I feel great. I’ve been playing better and better. I’m moving well on court,” he said.
Sousa is truly a global citizen with six languages in his repertoire - Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, English, French and Italian. It’s the life of a tennis player who’s grown up, grinding it out on the European circuit. He left his parent’s home in northern Portugal at 15 years old and moved to Barcelona to pursue his dream to be a professional tennis player. His country didn’t have many training facilities or sponsorship opportunities and he knew he would have to sacrifice the comforts of home to claim the riches of his chosen sport.
Sousa struggled financially until 2013 when he won his first ATP Tour singles title. He is the only Portuguese player to do so. From rags to riches, he has since accumulated US$3.5 million in earnings on the Tour. He collaborates with clothing brands in Europe, has graced the cover of Men’s Health Portugal and hosts high society events. He even has the same agent as compatriot footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. And yet, he plays down his success and has endeared the Auckland crowd with his modesty.
He told reporters the 2017 ASB Classic is the furthest final from home he has ever played. The time zone has not been kind to Sousa, whose friends and family woke at 4am to follow his progress against Baghdatis in the semi-finals.
“I feel the fans are with me in Portugal and here as well. I feel great.”
His biggest fans may come from the suite of sponsor’s Godfrey Hirst. During a visit he was asked, “Why do you grunt?” His response, “To scare my opponents, of course.”
His quick wit and humility has built him a significant base of kiwi fans, who will follow his burgeoning career as he moves on from Auckland.