Tomasz Lorek (Polsat Sport TV) catches up with Brazilian doubles champion Bruno Soares and discovers there is more than tennis about this colourful character of the game.
It was a moment of a pure magic. No scripts have been written. I conducted a lovely conversation with a flamboyant, smart and unique character: a Brazilian maestro – Bruno Fraga Soares.
Suddenly, the doors opened and a woman from Plzen arrived with her two-handed backhand. She started to jump like a little kid, waved hands, smiled and shouted pretty loudly.
For a while, we had a feeling it was an AC/DC concert at River Plate … Bruno Soares knew it was a vibrant lady from the Czech Republic – Barbora Strycova (24 WTA titles in doubles), so he joked: “Can you call security, please?”.
We all started to laugh. “Hey, I have just won against seeded No. 3: Gabi Dąbrowski and Yifan Xu. Can you imagine? Me and my partner: Marketa Vondrousova have won against great doubles players?”
Barbora is a former Australian Open girls singles champion. She won a final in Melbourne Park in 2002 beating Maria Sharapova in straight sets 6-0, 7-5. So Barbora reacted like a volcano while noticing Bruno.
Well, it’s a testament that a man from Belo Horizonte is not only popular among those who love a game of doubles, but women seem to like his personality.
No wonder: Bruno has won three Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles with three different partners: Jekaterina Makarova (US Open 2012), Sania Mirza (US Open 2014) and Jelena Vesnina (Australian Open 2016).
A family man (Bruno is married to wife Bruna and has two wonderful kids, son Noha and a daughter Maya) has travelled a tough road to become a top doubles player on the ATP Tour.
He’s been named ATP Doubles Team of the Year in 2016 with a splendid lefty from Scotland – Jamie Murray. But long before partnering Murray, Bruno has been sent to Iraq and had no idea he would have finished as a brilliant tennis player.
The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers historically known as Mesopotamia, has been often referred to as the cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws and live in cities under an organised government – notably Uruk, from which ‘Iraq’ is derived.
There’s no doubt Iraq has a very turbulent history, not only during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The thing is that from a little child’s perspective it was extremely hard to see a growing tension between Iran and Iraq. The Gulf War seemed such an unreal vision for a hilarious kid, who observed a hard working daddy somewhere close to Baghdad.
“Bruno Fraga Soares, am I right?” – I asked a witty man from Belo Horizonte.
“Yes, perfect.” Bruno smiled. He had no sign of a tough match alongside Jamie Murray under an Australian sky.
“You’re very famous for 30 titles in the game of doubles. But it has all started not in Brazil, but in Iraq’s capital city – Baghdad. Why is that?”
“Yeah, I lived in Iraq for about six years. I went there as a two-month-old baby. And for six years I stayed there. My dad was a civil engineer and he was working for a Brazilian company. They were building a highway in Iraq. There was a lot of Brazilian people living there, so… for six years we stayed and we should have stayed more.
But we all left Iraq because of the war. It was unfortunate that we had to leave Iraq. Good times.”
So, those were the days when you could find decent facilities for tennis in Iraq? Don’t forget it’s been mid-eighties.
“Um, I was really young. I started playing more when we lived for five years in a camp which is literally in the middle of the highway.”
“Build houses and small place, they had a club and a Brazilian school there. I started getting more into tennis when I was five, I think. Then we moved to Baghdad and then I started playing in the building that we lived in. They had a tennis court and a coach there. It was a hard court. But I was only five when I had my first tennis lesson.”
Bruno liked a time he spent as a kid in Iraq. No wonder Soares would have loved to have stayed there longer.
“We had a good time. It’s tough to talk about Iraq now the way the situation is in Baghdad. It’s very sad to see. But back in the days it was a good place to live. Talking to my family, we had really good time there. Of course the coach was very different, but we had good time living in Iraq.”
Bruno is talented. He speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English. Can he speak Arabic?
“No, but my Mum said I used to know a bit. I didn’t get any practice, so unfortunately not. But I would love to speak Arabic.”
It’s a cliche, but sometimes a lack of information can save your life. Being unaware of what may have happened just round a corner is a beauty in a way.
Sometimes it’s better not to be so canny as Wilhelm Canaris, Chief of Abwehr (German military intelligence service) used to be … no one has warned Bruno and his parents that a Gulf War is approaching fast.
“We actually got lucky because we went for vacation in Brazil. Three days after we arrived in Brazil they started the war.”
“My dad Malthus was still there. He was going to come a week later. But he got stuck, because they closed the borders. The airport, everything was closed. He ended up staying 4 months until they released everyone. So it was a little bit of a scary moment for us having my Dad in Iraq.
“And when he came back, he had to leave everything behind, because you only could take two bags, so he collected the most important items that we had back home and brought it.”
And the rest… “We left a bunch of stuff back there, but I mean. at the end, I guess we were just happy that he got home nice and safe.”
You can hear the sound of a relief when Bruno speaks about those dark days in Iraq history.
So, dad has arrived to Brazil in one piece? “Yes, exactly,” Bruno smiles.
Sport can be a very tricky game. So risky and unpredictable. Bruno studied at Colegio Pitagoras in Belo Horizonte. Tennis was an option, but just in case health issues can put a young man into a despair, why not to try a normal way of education?
“I had a normal education until the end of my high school. I moved quite a bit as well. I lived in Fortaleza. I lived in Rio de Janeiro. All because of my dad and his working commitments.
“As I mentioned he was a civil engineer, it was his passion, so then we moved back to Belo Horizonte after that. And from that point on I moved myself, because of tennis after being graduated from high school. But yeah, I was always moving,” Bruno admits.
A unique smell of a first success … every tennis player remembers a day to get a first ATP ranking point. The first title is also a very special moment. Grass court in Nottingham sounds nice.
“Yes, my first title was in Nottingham with Kevin Ullyett. Actually we beat my current partner – Jamie in a final! It was in 2008, if I remember…”
A remarkable memory. June 2008, Nottingham. Bruno and his partner from Zimbabwe – Kevin Ullyett – didn’t drop a set on the way to victory. 6-2, 7-6 against Jamie Murray and Jeff Coetzee (Scotland/South Africa).
The same year Bruno got married to Bruna on November 29. A married man is more efficient on a tennis court?
“Yes, you need to pay the bills. It always helps. I got married in 2008, that’s right, but I proposed in 2007, so I don’t know, I guess I was under pressure, too. Under pressure to earn more money.”
I-Formation is always a beauty to see on a tennis court. Through the years Soares has managed to establish himself as a versatile doubles player using various tactics.
He has partnered Marcelo Melo long before “Girafa” won the 2015 Roland Garros doubles final (with Croatian Ivan Dodig) and 2017 Wimbledon (with Polish player Łukasz Kubot).
Bruno was very successful with an Austrian Alex Peya (they finished as runners-up at US Open in 2013 (losing to Leander Paes/Radek Stepanek).
But how different is it when he plays with a lefty: Jamie Murray? “I think it’s a lot working on a strategy using your partner. I have a decent serve. I am not a man who hits aces all the time. I think the best way for me to hold my serve is working with my partner’s strength.
“I used to play a lot of I – Formation with Alex Peya, because I think Alex was very good on coming out of the I. We were good on playing with spots, things like this.
With Jamie I think he’s one of the best guys out of a regular position. He’s got a very big reach. He’s moving well, he’s got amazing volleys.
“So, with him I play less I – Formation because of that. Bruno’s current partner Murray is a lefty and there was another lefty who Bruno played with – an American Eric Butorac. What’s a major point with playing next to a lefty?
“I think it’s good. There are not many lefties on tour. But I think it’s good to play with the lefty. It gives the opponents a little bit of a hard time. You are always facing different spins, different style or angles and everything. I guess it helps.
“The three best teams ever in the history of tennis were all a righty/lefty combo. John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, ‘The Woodies’ (Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge) and The Bryans (Mike and Bob), so I guess it’s a good combo,” Bruno admits.
How about two lefties? Jamie Murray and Eric Butorac… they both won three tournaments: San Jose, Memphis and Nottingham – in 2007.
“Yes, they played together, as I said, some people really struggle with lefties and it’s a nightmare for them, but I guess changing the spins in a lefty/righty combo is a better option.”
Football. You can hardly meet any Brazilian who doesn’t love football. Cruzeiro Esporte Clube is one of the biggest Brazilian multisport clubs based in Barro Preto, Belo Horizonte. They famous in Brazil – La Bestia Negra (The Black Beast).
“I like football, but I’m not crazy about it. I’m not a huge and crazy supporter that talks football all the time.
“Cruzeiro can play and I don’t need to focus on the results. I watch a football match when I can, but I’m not upset when they lose. I’m happy when they win, but I’m not going crazy about them. I’m not going to disguise that I don’t sleep and wake up at 3am to watch them. Football is not a big passion for Bruno.
Soares also enjoys playing poker. Something to refresh his mind.
“Poker I really like. It’s one of my favourites hobbies outside of tennis. Not only playing. I really like to study the game and talk to poker players. I think it’s a great mind game. Really good poker players are good mind readers.
“Their skills set for like reading people, managing situation, strategies, how to deal with a pressure, reading people, all these things.
“I think it’s really nice and poker is a game that the skills in poker you can apply on everything that you do in your life. Like a regular daily basis or a job or mortgage, everything. It’s a game I truly enjoy.”
Flying from Doha to Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne, Melbourne to Rio de Janeiro gives you a bit of a time to read books. Is Bruno a big fan of literature? “I don’t read books at all. I wish I did. Books, it’s tough for me, because I read really slow” – he says.
Amazingly. Bruno is such a wise person. So, how does he broaden horizons?
“I do watch movies and I like to talk to people a lot and learn. Poker was a great platform for me just to talk to people about things in general. But I read really slow.
And I tend to lose focus when I’m reading. I don’t know why… I’m usually a pretty focused guy, but when I’m reading for some reason my mind goes away. And then I read one page and all of a sudden I finished the page and I say I don’t remember a one word from this page. So, I have to read it again. A book which consists of 300 pages takes me six months to read. So, I lose interest.”
Bruno Soares has been compared to a phenomenon like scientist Albert Einstein? He used to say that imagination is far more important than a knowledge.
“Yes, could be. I mean, it’s good for me with TV, social media, YouTube, you can watch so many interesting stuff, so I watch a lot of documentaries. It gets my attention better when I see something than when I am reading. So, I always enjoy that and that’s why I think overall I have a decent knowledge about different stuff” – he says.
Soares is always hungry to meet new people, see new places. He travels a lot. In 2010 a dozen top freestyle motocross riders arrived in Fortaleza to perform their amazing tricks. Estadio Casteloa in Fortaleza was ready for a great showdown in FMX World Championships.
“I haven’t heard about backflips. Fortaleza is by the ocean, so it’s pretty laid back people, they enjoy the surfing.”
Does Bruno consider himself a good surfer?
“I did as a kid. I’d love to. Unfortunately there’s no beach in Belo. Belo is in the mountains. I think this is something I will do when I stop playing professional tennis. Right now I just don’t really have time to go. But I really enjoy the competition as well. I like surfers and watching them on the waves.”
Soares admits it’s pretty hard to travel with kids all over the world. Bruno’s son Noah was born in February 2015. His daughter Maya in June last year. At the Madrid Open earlier this year, Noah enjoyed a “short practise” with Grigor Dimitrov, former World No.3 and 2017 Nitto ATP Finals winner.
But it’s a huge effort to be a pro tennis player … You don’t want to see your kids being professional tennis players, do you?
“I think sport is pretty beneficial. Growing up I’d love to see them playing something. But again. Whatever they want. If they want to keep on playing, if they’re decent and they play on decent level in professional tennis or whatever they’re playing.
“I’d be happy to support them. I mean for me at the end of a day, whatever makes you happy … I’ll support them, as long as they do what they have to do, decent grades at school, be good people, I think that’s the most important,” he says.
Tennis is not always a bed of roses… Bruno has suffered a lot and had a tough time. Between July 2005 to July 2007 he played at only two tournaments (Florianopolis and Bogota) due to a career-threatening knee injury. During that break, he opened two fitness centres in Belo Horizonte.
“It was tough. At one point I kind of doubted, but I never gave up and I wanted to do everything to play tennis again. I had no perspective on coming back, I had no idea.
“So, I started working doing a few things back home. I always took care, I tried to come back to tennis, but I started with a plan B, because I didn’t know if I was gonna be back on a court.
“And the moment I realised I could do it, then I focused 100 per cent on tennis again. But it was tough, it was a long journey. I was young, I still really wanted to play tennis. But it was very uncertain that I could come back.”
In 2016 Bruno Soares and Jamie Murray were crowned Grand Slam champions in doubles winning a title in Melbourne Park, watched by hunger brother Andy as he prepared to battle Novak Djokovic.
More glory at the 2016 US Open when Jamie and Bruno beat Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Jamie and Bruno clinched the title in Sydney this year 2019, but deja vu doesn’t happen too often.
No matter what the future brings, Bruno is a happy man, both on and off the court. And that’s what really matters. Being happy with your life is a crucial thing to breathe and wake up every morning with a smile on a face. Perfecto, Bruno.