The new generations of tennis lovers, those who grew up with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are unlikely to know who Guillermo Pérez Roldán is. A few days ago, LA NACION sought him out with the intention of reviewing his career and learning about its current status abroad. However, after finding him in Chile, what began in one direction turned into a shocking and profound confession, in the relief of a strong but wounded man who needed at the age of 50, for the first time in his life, to exteriorize and tell about a case of abuse of which much of Argentine tennis had knowledge but always remained silent.
// // //
Some young people, perhaps, have hardly heard his name as player or coach. But those who are over 35 know him well. Rocky, as he was named for the power of his drive and his physical strength, was number 13 in the world in 1988. He won 9 individual titles. The first one of these, in Munich 1987, made him the youngest national tennis player to win an ATP trophy: he was 17 years and six months.
Guillermo roared the Argentine public at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club in the Davis Cup series against the US in July 1988, when John McEnroe and Andre Agassi had the ropes against them (Argentina fell 4-1). Due to its popularity and image, between the '80s and' 90s it was usual to see him on magazine covers (not only in sports). But an injury in his right wrist, for which he underwent three surgeries, pushed him into premature retirement: he competed regularly until the end of 1993 (he was 24), reappeared for nine tournaments in 1996, and returned to play a handful of games in 1998, 2004 and 2006. But since his retirement as a player, Pérez Roldán departed from the local lights. With a low profile, Italy and Chile were the places where he developed his capacity as trainer and coach.
In the working method of Raúl Pérez Roldán, creator of the successful Tandil tennis school at the Independiente club, discipline and severity were non-negotiable rules. But, with these methods, according to Guillermo's confession, Raúl crossed the line and his children, Mariana (51st WTA in 1988) and, above all, Guillo, suffered it.
In the first telephone contact with LA NACION, the interview with Pérez Roldán lasted for over two hours. The 1988 Rome final against Ivan Lendl, his duels against Andre Agassi and his sparring times for Guillermo Vilas were some of the many sporting themes. There was only one question related to his father. This was the dialogue:
-You've had some differences with your dad. How rigid was he with his training system?
-I'm going to tell you without fear: he was a very good visionary, extraordinary in technical details and a great coach, but unfortunately I was his son. I would have preferred to have a worse coach and a better father, just that. It makes me very sad: he was so good in what he created, it was a system that worked, I don't know if it was a requirement, but I lost a father. It is a sad part of my history. I hope that we can get closer sometime, because at the end of it all he is my father.
-Don't you have contact?
-No. I have no contact in any way, unfortunately no longer.
A few hours after the interview, while he was spending time with his wife (Daniela), getting ready for the birth of his third son (Damián), walking through the hills of the Las Condes neighborhood in Santiago, where he lives, Guillermo Pérez Roldán, who will turn 51 in October, contacted LA NACIÓN through WhatsApp audios.
It was during an afternoon. He had been thinking a lot, he said. He wanted to expel, in a way, his pain. He resolved to narrate a nightmare. He needed to bring to the surface a situation that has haunted him for almost three decades. And so he did. First, with audios.
The betrayal of a father to a son is terrible. At my wedding, three years ago, I invited him, he asked me for forgiveness and he sang me a song, but the next day he screwed me up again
- "I would like to have a better father. Let's see if one day he gives me a hug and make it no longer an economic matter. I am on the court justo like I am in life. Before they win, they will have to break me. Too bad. Having two daughters, now coming the guatón... (NdR: Chilean term, refers to the baby who would be born in those days), I can't believe ... Oh, God, it hurts, but it's been too many years".
- "The truth is that. Everyone knows, but nobody talks about it, I never told a journalist. But it was like that. When I finished playing I had to ask my grandmother for money to rent a place. I am in peace with myself, happy with my wife, my daughters, my friends, my job. But it is hard. I had a difficult life. I move on. I feel sorry for them, for my parents and my sister. The betrayal of a father to a son is terrible. When I married Daniela, three and a half years ago, I invited him to the party, he asked for forgiveness in front of everyone and he sang me a song, but the next day he screwed me up again. One always has to cling to oneself and to one's capacity of will. I train four hours a day because I know that after this virus [N. de la R .: has tasks and positions in Italy, in the development of tennis at TC Cagliari and with the federation of that country] I have to go back to work and keep on living. I am 50 years old and I have more desire to live than ever".
- "If I really talk about it all I would have to talk, for instance, about the time I lost a game, went into a room and was punched in the middle of the mouth with his fist. Or the times he hit me with the belt or put my head in the toilet. Or about the robbery of four or five million dollars. Everything I earned playing tennis, was gone the next day. My mother [Liliana Sagarzazu] and my father took all the money out of my accounts".
// // //
In the '80s, Raúl Pérez Roldán put up a team to travel to compete abroad, among which, in addition to Guillermo and Mariana, were Franco Davin and Patricia Tarabini. Guillermo had an outstanding junior career, winning twice Roland Garros (1986 and 1987) and the Avennire of Italy. En 1986 he alternated juniors with professionals. "I am a sincere and very frontal guy. I always kept my private life private. But I got tired of protecting everyone from the things they have done to me", Pérez Roldán says. He, who at home does not display any of the trophies he won because he understands that "staying in the past makes you unable to look to the future," closes his eyes, looks back, and expels demons.
I lost and [after the game] he started hitting me with a belt because he said I did not moved well
"I suffered physical abuse. Everyone knew. Me andmy sister at the beginning. But when I started to earn money my sister was push to a second place. I have to say, he was a great trainer. But a shitty father. Winning a game was a relief. I was not able to enjoy at 19. So once I told him: 'Go on, when I need you technically, I'll call you. Buy a field, go to races, whatever, but leave me alone'. After him, I had no other coach. I played many years alone. So I stayed with my friends, some substitute coachs, like Kiko Carruthers, with whom I traveled to two tournaments and won both. I gave my dad all the tennis credit, because he created a dictionary of what to do, but I am referring to the family part. One year I won three ATP tournaments, in '87, I was a junior, I was 17 years old! After winning Buenos Aires I went to Itaparica, in the first round I had to face a boy named Tore Mainecke, I played on another surface, he came from one that was super slow, it was hot, I lost and [after the game] he started hitting me with a belt because he said that I did not moved well".
-For how long did this happen?
- The abuse ended at 18 or 19 years old because I told my father I was no longer going to play tennis like that. I grabbed him after winning the Palermo tournament, I don't remember if it was in '89. I sat on the plane and I said: 'Look, starting next year I want to travel alone, I don't want to travel with you anymore. Decide what you want to do'. That was it. I began to enjoy, until I married the first time at 24: he took all the money without notifying me. They were family accounts with three signatures. ATP checks came in with my name. By signing two, father and mother, they could take out the money... I never knew where the money was. And so I started again, at the age of 24. My career ended so I started working with Vilas, life took me to Italy, I spent ten years there and then I came here, to Chile. My daughters are still in Italy.
-And regarding the economic thing, what happened?
-I finished my career and after three months I was poor. I didn't even have a car. I discovered the fraud in 1994. I called the bank, asked for some money to go on vacation and they told me there was no more. Several million dollars. In addition, we had houses, race horses, a restaurant, an apartment, etc. I do not count on that and I know that I will never have it back. Then I married a second time, in Chile, and my wife convinced me to invite them [his parents]. So my dad asked me for forgiveness in front of everyone, he told me that we were going to fix things but he screwed me up again. He wanted me to sign some things. I went to Tandil and I said: 'Well, give me back some of what you took me'. Always trying to be generous... But he did not. So I said: 'Look, dad, let's go each his own way, that's it'.
LA NACION tried to contact the house of Raúl Pérez Roldán in Tandil, to get their opinion, but in none of the cases could reach him
While recounting each event, Guillermo takes a big breaths. His torture can be heard through the telephone line. Each photograph is engraved in his mind. But he feels strong. And surprises with another confession.
"In 1993, after Roland Garros, we were with my father in Genoa, but since I had the day off before playing, we saw [Mariano] Zabaleta, who played Avvenire in Milan. When we got back, we stop at a train station to buy something to eat and I start talking on the phone. When I look back, two guys were hitting my father. I went out, hit them, put ice in my hand and continued. The next day when I woke up my hand looked terrible. when I came to Argentina, I knew that I had something broken, so I played very few tournaments. Afterwards I had several operations. To this day I still have my hand without a normal movement. I never had a problem with my hand, elbows or shoulder because of tennis. So the reason for my retirement was for defending my dad, who, as always, was doing stupid things. I think the problem was who was first to load gasoline. And I defended him; he was my father. I don't know how my dad was with the others, but with me he was ridiculously bad".
At that time, how did people around you act? Did they know?
-This was a thing he handled. I remember perfectly when he said to me: 'You trust me, I am going to protect your money' . But I told him: 'Give me just half, because you were part of this' . He was in Mar del Plata and I was in the city and went to visit him because the money had disappeared. I said: 'Look dad, I'm already married, I recognize you 50%, I don't recognize you 10, 20 or 30. I give you 50%, you can do whatever you want with that. We distribute it and that's it. I can't play tennis anymore'. He replied: 'No, you are going to spend it, I am going to take care of it all' . 'You are no longer my dad'. That was my answer. As being a father, I can not understand it. How can it be? When my daughter calls me, I try to help her. But not him. He used me to get my money. Of what I did in my career, I have nothing; zero.
-In spite of everything, ¿would you like to meet him again and receive a hug?
-He already did it and he let me down again. I trusted him again and again and he stabbed in the back. It is difficult. Sometimes I would like that, before one of us dies... Imagine if money matters to me. He is my father... And I would like to understand him sometime or at least have a talk... Why was he always trying to chet on me? I want to ask him what satisfaction gave him... You have to be more evil than the devil to treat your son like that.
-Is your decision to live abroad linked to this traumatic event?
-One of the reasons why I went to Italy was this fight, yes. I went to Italy, a country that I love as much as Argentina.
-How do you manage your personal experience at work with youngest players?
-I give courses to teachers and I tell them that they not only have to study technique and tactics, but also know how to approach, because there are parents whom you have to contain so that the children do not suffer. There are parents who generate wrong expectations... A boy unfolds much better if they let him be. Sometimes I see boys who are really hard-working, but their parents treat them wrong and only talk about money.
-It exacerbates you.
-I try to mediate and contain. I am a sensitive guy, those who know me well and who have worked with me know me. I keep a super low profile... I don't think of going back Argentina, the conditions to work aren't goog there. I adore my cpuntry and I miss it a lot. It's been a long time since I acces to give an interview... I want to write a book so my daughters understand who their father was.
-Have you ever told your daugthers this story?
-They intuit some things because they have no relationship with my father. I'm spilling it up now because I need it. Of course my closest friends know it all, my wife knows it all, Franco [Davin] and Eduardo [Infantino] know it all, Mariano [Zabaleta], who lived in my house, knows too. It is difficult to tell something like this to a journalist. But since my third son I don't care anymore. I like to make it public so no other boys lives something like this again, so they gain the courage I did not have.