After 15 years the Tennis Academy of China Sanchez-Casal is a reality in the historic city of Nanjing with the temples of six dynasty’s surrounding it, is the biggest challenge for the future of ASC.
I’m sitting here surrounded by mountains finishing the presentation for the Chinese press and the numerous audience of the Tennis Academy of China Sanchez-Casal. On my left there is Mrs. Li, President of the China Tennis Association, and on my right there is Mr. Yan from the Samaranch Foundation. The General Director of Sports from the Jiangsu province, Mr. Chen, is giving his speech about values, education, opportunities, and competitiveness. It is the third speech that conveys the same message, and listening to this key people in China I realize that our mission and years of dedication to others are the goal of any institution. I’m thinking that with a half-smile on my face.
As I look around, something is moving inside of me, similar to the feeling you have when you are going to compete, and you feel a fire in your belly. I feel confident, proud, challenged, and competitive, I feel that the dream is finally coming true and that I am part of it. I am ready for the battle. After 15 years of talks and negotiations, the day has arrived.
Sanchez-Casal is going to open the new Asia-Pacific Academy.
Today starts a new battle, I also know that this match is not going to be easy, no one before has succeeded in this amazing country, everyone who has tried has failed, and here I am starting a new project with uncertainty but also with lots of knowhow, energy and a great team.
Since I founded Academia Sanchez-Casal back in 1998 with Sergio Casal, our goal was to set-up a school in Europe (Barcelona), in the USA (Naples) and in Asia. My first trip to China was to Chengdu to do some clinics and after I went to Beijing to talk with the Beijing Association in 2001, after a few trips looking for sites and some time trying to convince them to send us their best player to try to make it competitive for the Beijing Olympics; he came to train but after 4 months he had to go back to defend his province. For that reason after the second time it happened it was impossible to close a deal since their expectations were to win locally with the province in Nationals instead to improve to arrive to Olympics. We could train him only for 3 months and the rest of time he was in China; it was a pity but after 2 years the collaboration ended.
The year after I started conversations with Singapore, an amazing island that had all the ingredients to become a Tennis Hub for the Asia-Pacific region. I got really involved, prepared a project, went there and presented it to all the different departments; it arrived in the government hierarchy to the Minister of Sports, he was really keen. They also visited Barcelona with 2 delegations. But at the end the urban department turned it down. Later in the year and trough our kind agent Mrs. Ho, we got into conversations with Shanghai, the governmental bus company was responsible of running the incredible facilities where the Masters took place, they were looking for partners. I made one more trip and put lots of energy but at the end nothing happened again. In the meantime we also visited Japan but the site didn’t have the requirements needed.
Singapore people found out about our conversations with others and they called again, this time it was serious, we even had a local government partner and the operation looked almost closed, but again the urban department offered a ridiculous price one more time. The Singapore government had the vision to become a sports hub in 2030 and the Academy was in their plans but the Urban Department just didn’t understand how difficult is to run this business. Not even for building a Four Seasons would we pay that amount for the land. My idea, efforts, trips and visits were not materializing, but I had to keep going; tennis taught me that you have to keep fighting even in the adversity, you have to be resilient and you may turn the match back to your side. Opportunities like trains pass close to you and you have to decide if seizing them or not. Suddenly in 2012 we closed a very good deal and opened our American operations base in Naples, Florida. My people thought that I was crazy but I decided with the support of my wife to move to the US to start a new operation.
At that moment I had two proposals on my table again, the first one in Shenzhen, which was not going to be possible because of the differences between our models, as they did not offer the option to open our high school. Thailand made a really good offer but when we got to investment / funding they backed up. And Shanghai again, this time they contacted us trough J.A. Samaranch and the Samaranch Foundation, but after a site visit and before looking even at numbers things again didn’t work. This time I was devastated, I started to doubt that we could one day find the good fit. But I was so busy with the USA business, permits, licenses, applications, and building the club there that I was not worried at all, I had enough on my side, my team of people in Naples was not stable, I had to really work hard to settle things and move along.
In the meantime in Barcelona we had the most horrible news, the soul of the academy Antonio Hernandez left us, we all were in shock. Things were uncertain, but like if his soul stayed around, the team fought hard, they succeed, and the last 2 years there were really impressive results, that allowed me to focus on the US project. And I want to say a few words about my team, my people, they had for sure been inspired by Antonio, but they showed me and I suppose as well to themselves, how capable they are, and they can be proud to have taken ASC to its present level. I have to say that after 2 years I still miss him a lot, and before taking decisions I always ask myself, what would Antonio do? His legacy is inside all of us and he can be very proud wherever he is.
Life always goes around and after a few months J.A. Samaranch calls me back. ”We have to go to Nanjing! This is our chance! It’s an amazing venue! The government wants to make an offer!” After all these years I never thought that this could be the good one, I was not excited but my friendship with the Samaranch family and my respect for the Samaranch Foundation convinced me to make the trip to China from the US, around the world for 2 days to check another site.
We visited the facilities, met with the politicians, and this time the feeling was different, Mr. Jiang really wanted to reach an agreement, he was really keen to make a collaboration agreement, negotiations started, followed in Barcelona and then through the great work of the staff of the Foundation we clarified all details, finally agreed on terms, had to write the contracts, so many difficulties again but when people want to do it at the end things happen. And looking back I’m so thankful to the Samaranch Foundation, without them I would not be here today. I have to take a moment to talk about the legacy of Mr. Samaranch in the Chinese Sports, the respect everyone has for him. Being grateful is something that they have here, and even many years after he left us, we can say that today the Samaranch foundation is the vehicle from the Chinese Government to support unprivileged through sports.
Samaranch is probably one of the key actors in sports in China this century, and I’m proud as a Spaniard that they are so thankful to him. In Spain we should learn how to thank the people that made a difference. Big lessons learned.
Juan Antonio’s son is following his footsteps and he arrived the day after the presentation for support, thanks for the trip, for the help, for the partnership to help others.
I have seen many clubs and academies in my years as a player and I can say that I’m so fortunate because this facility has everything needed to be successful: 8 indoor courts, 14 hard courts, 7 red clay courts, 4 natural grass, club house, gym, lodging, restaurants. The mountains around the facilities are magic, you can breathe the history; we are surrounded by all the castles and the palaces of the six dynasties that reigned China for more than 700 years, when Nanjing was its capital. The Tennis Academy of China Sanchez-Casal is inside the University and around the Nanjing Institute of Sports where they have a research and innovation center focusing on development of athletes, so I can say that this time we were lucky, very lucky.
The past goes through my head, very fast, Shanghai, Singapore… And all the difficult negotiations are all past, we are here and I can start to work, my expression is the same than the one you have when you finish a match and win, it has the light of the victory. April 2016, 15 years after my first trip, today I can say we have a presence in the 3 continents. Tennis Academy of China Sanchez-Casal is a reality.
This past March we started a campaign on TV and media called “Intercontinental program”, which is UNIQUE in the tennis world; 2 continents, 2 cultures, one school Sanchez-Casal. Today I am already thinking in the next campaign; 3 continents, 3 cultures, one school Sanchez-Casal.
I turn to my right and see my team, 4 coaches have transferred their lives to China. I look at them with admiration, 4 professionals that have decided to leave their comfort zone and move to another country, to start a new project, to fight the uncertainty and work hard. One more time people is the key to go ahead and pass barriers, and I look at them and feel their loyalty, their respect, their fighting spirit, they have all my support and I believe that they will make Sanchez-Casal a success because they know but more than anything because they care for the others, and that makes a big difference.Sanchez-Casal after almost 20 years is located in 3 continents; our mission of giving opportunities in tennis and education expands to a new venue for the future. These 4 coaches have an incredible opportunity to grow, to improve and to learn, and I hope they will take it, like many others did in the past in the USA or in Spain.
The energy generated in Education is key because you write stories and you are part of them, today they know us because we have put 20 top 100 in the Pro Tour, 5 of those top 5 with more than 10 slams. And not to mention names Murray, Kuznetsova, Sanchez, Ivanovic, Hantuchova, Monaco, Dimitrov, Serna, Muller, Gavisbhily, and many others. These stories of success are great but the ones I love the most are the ones from our students that want to play college tennis and write their stories with an amazing education and hard work, more than 150 of our students have entered college tennis teams. Being part of the lives of these kids give us energy to continue, being part of their lives keep us young and our journey in this world makes sense, because helping others to live better is always rewarding. Today we can bring our philosophy to a new culture and in some years we will review if we were able to write more stories.
I always tell my coaches that we are part of the circle of life and that is not changeable, that stays, we make a difference in people and we accompany them, we are very fortunate.
At this moment I’m in the flight arriving to Florida and I can share with you that all the efforts during all these years putting together the centers, working hard, giving everything for the kids, is worth it and I know that this tough match is going to be remembered, because we start again and will write stories that have a positive impact on others, and this is priceless, is what give us the energy to keep fighting and win the matches. There is no better example than after so many lost sets, 15 years later ASC wins the match.