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Chocolate for All! 07/03/2008 - 8:23 PM


"Is that the secret?" I asked him.

"For Rainer?" Dirk Hordorff, Schuettler's coach, replied, smiling. "No, no, it's for the kids."

It was a few hours after Schuettler had polished off the latest of his improbable Wimbledon victories when I wandered up to the player's cafeteria and spotted Hordorff stuffing fistfuls of candy bars into a brown paper bag as the woman behind the register tallied up his purchase. "Aha!" I thought. Schuettler is all sugared up--no wonder he's on such a great run. Hordorff didn't discriminate. Nestle Yorkies ("It's Not for Girls," the wrapper reads, emphasizing its point with an image of a handbag carrying woman canceled out by a no-smoking circle), Big Kat Kit Kat bars, the tasty Toffee Crisp: 22--yes, 22--candy bars in all. Maybe Schuettler had eaten nothing else since the tournament began! And now I had caught him.

Hordorff let me down easy.

He and Rainer were staying with Marcos Nagel, one of Hordorff's first students when he began his coaching career in Germany. Nagel later discovered he was better at finance than tennis; after earning a Master's degree in the U.S., he moved to Cobham, a 25-minute drive from Wimbledon (and where the Chelsea soccer team practices). Nagel and his wife have three sons, ages 14, 7, and 6, and the boys, one can safely say, are mad for candy, though their parents don't let them have much of it. Hordorff, seeing an opportunity to get into these youngster's good graces, has taken up the role of the kindly grandfather or uncle who spoils a child all day and then leaves trivial problems like broccoli and bedtime edicts to the parents.

"This adds to 38 I already bought," Hordorff said. "It's a depot. The kids are going to an American school so they have a long holiday. It will be for the whole holiday."

Sixty candy bars and still at least another day of Wimbledon to go! Schuettler is playing the best Wimbledon of his career, but those three boys, well, I doubt they'll ever recall any days of their lives more fondly than the ones that ended with Uncle Dirk dumping a bag of candy bars on their living room floor. They are Schuettler fans for life.

It's going to be a while, though, before they replace Hordorff as head of the fan club. He and Schuettler have been together since 1992, half of the 32-year-old Schuettler's days. Hordorff is a small man with thinning hair that falls from one side of his head to the other. He smokes cigarettes. He seems to drink a lot of coffee. He speaks calmly and evenly and gives the impression that he has recast every word two or three times before he let's you hear it. I've spoken to him on several occasions over the years, and he has been unfailingly friendly no matter how well Schuettler was playing--and for the last three years, you've heard by now, his pupil's playing wasn't pretty. Three months ago, Schuettler lost in the second round of a Challenger event in Puerto Rico. His opponent? Martin Fischer, ranked 260 in the world.

Asked if he was surprised that Schuettler had stuck with tennis for this long rather than give up during three futile years that included a bout with mononucleosis, Hordorff said, essentially, yes and no.

"He has some of the German attitudes like working very hard, he's very consistent," Hordorff said. "If you would ask me, normally I would say at 32 you should stop playing tennis, especially at this level. But on the other hand tennis gave him so much and it would be so disappointing to stop after three years bad experience and getting off the court with feelings--when he didn't enjoy tennis. A tournament like this gives him the chance to enjoy it, and if he stops, to have really good memories about his career."

Schuettler and those chocolate loving children, it turns out, have a lot in common. Tennis, when reduced to its essence, is an addiction, and once you're hooked, you're hooked and there's no going back. Injuries, disappointments, failures, fits of anger, self-imposed exiles, more failures, well-meaning advice from your loved ones, none of it stands up to the possibility of one more fix, one more day when every ball flies off your racket just so and there's nothing your opponent can do about it.

"It's always funny," Hordorff said. "If you see a young guy and he plays like three or four years, he says, 'I hope I can stop very soon, it's so annoying, I have to go all the life around the world, I have no friends.' He only sees the negative points. If you speak with the older guys, they are happy for every year they are allowed to play on the circuit. If Agassi, for example, wouldn't have been injured I think he would still be on the tour. I made a joke with [Rainer] when he made the last eight this year, 'Now you are stopping with tennis?' He said, 'I'm not sure, maybe I can play on until Wimbledon next year.'"

Play on, Rainer. Those kids will love you for it.

(For more on Schuettler's wacky victory over Arnaud Clement, have yourself a dose of Peter Bodo.)


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Posted by Rolo Tomassi 07/03/2008 at 09:10 PM

Hey, Tom - fun one!

I wonder if guys like Schuettler are even more addicted to the game itself than the Agassis of the world - Agassi had fame and fortune to extend - the Schuettlers often just have the game to enjoy (or not).

Posted by jb 07/03/2008 at 10:19 PM

Nice read Tom, you and Pete did the 'oldsters' proud with these posts. It was nice see this unfold this week; 2 'journeymen' just grabbing their chances and running with it.

Good point rolo - these seem to be the players whose 'love' of the game seems a bit more tested than the top players who live a very different life of private jets etc than the guys further down the tennis food chain.

I was thinking about that difference earlier this week, watching the tourney's going on and seeing a lot of the players I know already playing again in dublin, lugano and pozoblanco, (whereever the hail that is) while most of the tennis world's attention is still rivetted on SW19. And while some of the 'top' guys who lost early are enjoying their vacations... Definately a different world.

Posted by Shabazza 07/03/2008 at 11:22 PM

Uhm...jb, you know that Rainer Schuettler earned 6 million $ in prize money alone (remember he is a former AO finalist and was 5th in the world). He's not really a poor journeyman.

Anyway, glad to see some writers actually writing about the 4th SF finalist here.
You'd think Nadal wasn't even playing tomorrow.

Posted by Backhand blaster 07/03/2008 at 11:47 PM

Great article. Something I would have never known. And I agree with tennis being hard to quit. I know that only too well.

Posted by darthhelmethead(lurker in reform) 07/04/2008 at 12:07 AM

I'm glad to see that this easily ignored storyline has gotten some attention. I bet Ted Robinson doesn't even know that there was a men's quarterfinal today. Watching the match today I was pulling for Clement, but after this article I'm glad that Schuettler won. And those candy bars most likely won't last the month if those kids have anything to say about the subject.

Here's to a Schuettler-Safin final.

Posted by 07/04/2008 at 01:04 AM


Posted by Jerell 07/04/2008 at 02:59 AM

great to see this indeed

Posted by Sahadev 07/04/2008 at 05:10 AM

What's with tennis players and mono?

Posted by Tom in Smalltown 07/04/2008 at 09:56 AM

I enjoy the relatively obscure story. You've found that part of the tennis world that brings it close to my own mundane life.

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