Warwick’s own talented wheelchair tennis player, Dani Caverzaschi, initially found it tough to adapt to juggling his sport and studies in England. He now believes he has found the right balance between knuckling down with work and training hard, in his fight for a place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
**Firstly, do you prefer being called Dani or Daniel, or have your friends at Warwick got a nickname for you?**
I hate being called Daniel, I like being called Dani and I don’t really have a nickname!
**Dani it is then. Tell me a little bit about your life so far, whereabouts did you grow up, for example?**
I was born in Spain. I lived there for two years and then I moved to the USA with my family because of my father’s job. We lived there for eight years: one year in Chicago, seven in Miami. Since then I’ve been living in Madrid, which is where I’m from and it’s been great. I’ve been playing tennis and studying there, and now I’m finally in Warwick having a good time.
**So how on earth did you get into wheelchair tennis?**
I tried a tennis clinic which was organised in the Madrid Tennis Federation. I trained there and liked it, and since then I began to play more and more there. Then there was this coach who spotted me and started giving me lessons for free, and that’s when I started to improve a lot. I went from training one hour a week with other people, to having individual lessons with a really good coach. I’m not with him anymore, but I can say that thanks to him I got where I was. Also, until like four years ago I used to compete in Alpine skiing and tennis, and in the end I chose tennis, and I don’t regret it.
**Seems like a good choice considering in September you won the ITF Izmir Open and ITF Bulgarian Open which were your second and third international men’s titles, respectively. You’re also placed 54th in the men’s singles world ranking. So what else have you achieved so far in the sport?**
Well, I’m also the number three Junior in the world, which is 18 years and under, and I’m currently World Junior Champion, with my teammate, representing Spain, which was in May of this year, in South Africa. It was probably the most amazing experience you can have, winning the World Championship with your country; it was really incredible. I’m number two in Spain in Men’s and number one in Juniors. Oh, three years ago my team and I got the bronze medal, in Nottingham actually, in the World Junior Championship. Last year in Turkey, [we got] the silver medal, and this year gold, so progression every year! It was really good!
**Tell the readers a little bit about your life at Warwick: what do you study and where are you living here?**
I’m [in my first year] studying Economics, so I’m going to spend three years here doing my Economics degree. I live in Arthur Vick on campus. I’m enjoying it a lot.
**Has the transition been hard, moving from Spain to England?**
My first week was tough because there was a real difference from being with my parents, like having my mum cook and clean for me! My dad is sort of like my manager; I already have an agent, but he controls my budget and everything. Now, living alone, I have to do a lot of things on my own, so it was a bit tough, but I’ve got used to it and I’m having a really good time. I’m actually a good cook now, I was absolutely shit – can I say that? – I mean terrible, and now I’m getting the hang of it, so it’s good.
**Are you not used to moving around the world by now?**
Well, I’m used to travelling and stuff but obviously living in another country it’s completely different. So yeah, the transition in the first week was really hard, but now I’m having lots of fun. I’ve learnt how to balance my time with the tennis training, work and studies, but now it’s good.
**You recently took some time off uni for the National Masters Valencia Open 500, how was that? Surely it must be hard keeping up with your studies whilst keeping up with tennis commitments?**
Yeah. Since I’ve been here I’ve taken time off twice. First I played the ITF Cardiff Open and two weeks ago, to go to Valencia, I missed four days. I’m really used to missing a lot of lessons, a lot of days of classes. Last year during my A-Levels it was especially tough because while everyone was studying at home, I had to train everyday from 5pm to 8pm. I had to work a lot and make personal sacrifices you know, it’s inevitable. Instead of going out twice you need to go out once or not go out at all, you have to find the balance especially when I have to go to tournaments.
For example, the week before [my] year 13 A-Levels in May, I went for 16 days to South Africa for the World Cup. [There was] a tournament previous to that, and it was 16 days of missed classes. I took all my books on the [trip] but I didn’t study at all! If you commit to it and work hard everything’s possible. It’s been worth it!
**Well I’ve heard it’s not been all work no play for you here, Dani. A little birdie’s told me you get out a fair bit at Warwick, what’s your favourite club here?**
I have to admit I like going out here; it’s pretty cool. I like the atmosphere here at Warwick, the people are nice. I wouldn’t say I prefer it more than clubbing in Spain; Madrid is pretty much a party place. I like Evolve in Leamington, I’ve been there a couple of times. Smack and Gatecrasher are good but they’re full of stairs, so it’s a problem. It’s a pain in the arse but it’s still really cool.
**Back to sport, what can you say about your training regime here at Warwick?**
Here I’m training a little less than in Madrid. I’m training six hours a week with Matt Thomas who’s my new coach at Warwick, and then two hours more just hitting with players from the University team because they obviously hit faster than me being standing up. It’s good for me to practice with them because I can get used to that rhythm and speed, so when I’m playing wheelchair tennis it seems easier. So seven or eight hours a week but apart from that, the gym. I try to go three and four times a week here.
**Has Warwick Sport helped you keep up with your training programme to date?**
Yeah, I’m really grateful towards them, they’ve helped me a lot since I got here. I spoke with the people from Warwick Sport, with Terry (Director of Sport Terry Monnington), he’s really been helping me a lot. I’ve been granted sport membership and access to the gym for free, so that’s really useful because I need to go there a lot. They’re helping me a lot with the courts, with funding. With wheelchair tennis and all sports, it’s really expensive, so any help that’s given is really beneficial.
**I saw somewhere you were in an advert for Vodafone, what can you tell us about the sponsorship you receive from companies and the Spanish Paralympic Team etc.?**
Back in Spain I’m a member of the Vodafone team which has me as the only disabled athlete. It has five other sports-people; a tennis player, football coach, skier, golfer and a Le Mans driver. It’s not a direct sponsorship, but basically Vodafone pays for our classes of mentoring, which is a new thing created by a sports company in Spain called CLC (the Crow Legacy Company). It aims to develop athletes not only as a sportsman but as people in general. They teach us how to communicate to the public, sponsors and set your goals and targets to improve.
Having a huge company like Vodafone on your back is really helpful. My old school in Madrid is also sponsoring me and giving me financial help and the Madrid Tennis Federation is helping a lot too.
**You’re obviously not the only left-handed tennis player to come out of Spain, have you ever spoken with Rafael Nadal?**
Yeah, I’ve met Rafa. I know his coach, Toni, and he invited me to a match of his at the Masters in Madrid. I met him and he’s a really nice guy. He’s really humble, it’s amazing how with all the fame and everything, him and his uncle are just normal people. I’ve met lots of players on tour. In the Valencia National Masters, the one I played in two or three weeks ago, it combines with the ATP Tournament so Roger, Soderling, Tsonga, Ferrer and Verdasco were all there, which is always cool.
Y**ou might be able to sense the eagerness for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in England, how excited are you to possibly be part of it?**
Ahhh absolutely excited! It’s been my dream since I was small, and my goal for the past two or three years to qualify. I still haven’t qualified because I’m 54th in the world and you need to be below 58th or something like that. If the deadline were today I’d be in, but the deadline is in May, so I need to maintain myself at this ranking. Hopefully I’ll make it, and I don’t defend any points. You defend points that you won last year, like a ladder, but I don’t defend any, so I have a good chance of qualifying but I don’t want to be over-confident. Before May, I plan to play in lots of tournaments; three tournaments in Australia for three weeks in January, and to South America in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, as I need to play tournaments to get extra points, just in case I don’t qualify with the points I have now. But hopefully I’ll qualify! It’s a dream of every disabled athlete to be in the Paralympics.
**Could you see yourself making a full-time career out of your sport, or have you got other aspirations?**
That’s a good question. To be honest, I don’t know! On the one hand, I would love to dedicate myself to my passion, but wheelchair tennis isn’t like able-bodied tennis so you don’t win lots of money. You can only live off tennis if you’re in the top ten or twenty and to be there is really difficult. Hopefully I’ll make it – that’s what I’m training for – to one day be up there, but it’s really difficult to live off tennis.
I’d love to play tennis full-time, but meanwhile I’d like to get a good degree at Warwick and see what happens. I always want to be related in some way or another to tennis though.
**Finally, what are you hoping to get out of the 2012 Paralympics, if you make it?**
Obviously results-wise it will be difficult, but just to participate in it will be pretty amazing.
There’s a really slight chance of getting any medals, so my goal is to go there and be part of the Paralympics experience and play at home… well, where I live now! My friends here are all going to come and watch me, so yeah, just the experience, I can’t say the results. Maybe next Paralympics I can aim for good results but not at these ones.
**Fantastic, thanks very much for your time and fingers crossed that you’ll make the Paralympics!**