FERNANDO GONZALEZ has been a world number five, an Australian Open finalist, carried his country’s flag at an Olympic Games opening ceremony and is one of the few active players to have reached at least the quarter final round of all four Grand Slam tournaments.
But this summer he has a more serious challenge to overcome. The likeable Chilean is attempting to rebuild his career after a series of injury problems.
Ranked in the top 15 in the world for five consecutive seasons Gonzalez is rehabilitating from surgery on his right hip
He spent most of the 2010 season and the start of 2011 recuperating after surgery – and after injury forced him out in the first round of the US Open last August he admitted: “I’m worried and I’ll have to see what happens.”
In two of his three tournaments this season Gonzalez has retired, which all makes this week’s Liverpool International tournament
ent at Calderstones Park more than a run of the mill preparation for Wimbledon.
“It’s not the beginning of the end of my career, but the beginning the last stage maybe,” he said yesterday, shortly after stepping off a flight from his native Chile.
“I like Wimbledon. I missed last year which was painful, but now I’m looking forward again. I’m fine physically. I’m not that old yet. I just need to be professional and look after my body.
“I’ve come straight from Chile to play here and it will be good preparation on the grass.
“What have I heard about Liverpool? I have heard The Beatles, I have heard Liverpool Football Club and I have heard Mark Gonzalez (the Chilean international who played 36 times for the Reds in 2006 and 2007) although my son supports CD Everton!
“I have always heard about the city but when I am in England I am usually in London, so it’s exciting that I can finally spend a few days here.”
Tournament organiser, Anders Borg, is delighted to have attracted a man nicknamed Mano de Piedra (Stone Hand) to the Liverpool International.
“Fernando has one of the best forehands on the ATP circuit,” he explained. “He is a real powerhouse from the back of the court and he will deliver some great rallies for the crowds to watch and marvel at. I can’t wait to see him on grass at Calderstones. He is a lovely guy who loves to thrill the crowds.”
Gonzalez himself believes he still has the potential to raise a few cheers from tennis crowds worldwide. “I only played tw
o tournaments last year, but I want to be a top player again,” he added. “I am very excited about the Olympic Games next year. I will be 31 years old and I feel that I can still achieve something in tennis.
To date, Gonzalez has 11 ATP World Tour titles, three Olympic medals, dozens of Davis Cup match wins and, along the way, has inspired thousands of kids in Chile.
“Fernando is a major superstar in South America and he handles it very well,” says former coach Larry Stefanki.
“Fernando is a very generous person with his time and charity work in Chile. He is extremely grounded as a person and loves spending time with under-privileged kids.”
Leader of Liverpool City Council, Councillor Joe Anderson added: “The line-up for this year’s tournament is fantastic and the thousands of people who visit Calderstones Park can expect to be wowed by some of the hottest tennis talent in the world.
“It will be a wonderful event and will showcase our beautiful park at its very best.”
The knowledgeable Calderstones Park crowd will be hoping that for Fernando Gonzalez the Liverpool International can mark a new beginning, not the beginning of the end.