02 Apr 2013

Former star footballers turn to tennis

News Article

Photo: Srdjan StevanovicElvir Bolic (BIH)

According to his Wikipedia entry, Elvir Bolic is considered a legend in Bosnia and Herzegovina, having scored 22 goals in 59 appearances for his national team. Italian Stefano Torrisi has shared a pitch with all-time greats like Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. Last week, these two former international footballers swapped the pitch for the tennis court as they took part in the ITF Seniors World Individual Championships in Turkey.

The two have very different backgrounds in tennis. Torrisi played tennis even before football as a child, and in fact he says he would have preferred to be a tennis player rather than a footballer. 

“But I made the right choice,” he explains. “At 14, when I had to make the decision, I was still playing national level tennis tournaments and at that age you need to be playing internationally to have a chance.” 

He also says that as a young teenager he was not mature enough mentally to dedicate himself to an individual sport, and preferred to play as part of a team. Bolic, in contrast, only took up tennis for the first time after retiring from football at the age of 36.

After five years of training, he decided to join some friends in entering the Seniors World Championships, and has been impressed by the level of tennis on display. However, he feels that it’s easier for a footballer to start playing tennis in his mid-thirties than the other way round, a view shared by Torrisi. 

“I think with a good coach, anyone can learn how to play tennis,” Bolic says. “For football, you need to have talent.” 

Torrisi offers a more technical explanation. “It’s a question of coordination," he says. "The coordination between brain and hand is easier than the coordination between brain and foot.”

Another thing the footballers agree on is that while tennis may be easier for a thirty-something to learn than football, it is also the more physically demanding sport. 

Bolic cites watching professional players battle for four or five hours before coming back the next day to do it again, while Torrisi has experience of the high levels of fitness required even at the senior level. He lost in the third round of the over 40 singles to the seventh seed Christopher Bloemeke, and felt that he did more running in that match than in a typical football match. Some players even joked with him that he was overweight. As a result, he says that he has already started training for next year’s event.

The two footballers may be at somewhat different stages of their tennis careers, but both appreciate the benefits of the seniors game. After playing a team sport all his life, Bolic particularly enjoys the individual nature of tennis. 

“In football you can be the best player on the pitch and still lose,” he notes. “But in tennis, all the responsibility is on you.” 

It may have been a humbling experience for a man who once scored a Champions League goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford to go out as he did in the first round, but Bolic is looking to the future. Being in Turkey made him realise just how much work he still has to put into his tennis, but he is already eyeing up the possibility of making the Bosnian team for the 2014 World Team Championships in Florida. 

“We have a few good players, but maybe I could be the No.4," he says. "I could maybe play one or two matches.”

For Torrisi, tennis has given him a continued competitive outlet after the end of his first sporting career. 

“Some guys play golf when they retire, but I’m competitive – I like to fight,” he says, noting that many footballers find themselves at a loss for what to do when their playing careers end. Torrisi feels lucky that the seniors game has enabled him to live out his childhood dream of travelling the world playing tennis. He likens the circuit to a travelling circus, going from country to country, seeing old friends and making new ones. “It’s like a second life,” he says happily.

Despite his third round appearance in the singles in Turkey, Torrisi doesn’t have lofty ambitions in the game. “I want it to keep me young and keep me healthy. Nothing more,” he insists.

The last word on the advantages of seniors tennis goes to Bolic. 

“It’s very relaxed, people are having fun,” he says, gesturing around the bar area. “Players are drinking a beer together after their match. In professional football, you can’t do that!”