SHENZHEN, CHINA – At 30 years old, Simone Bolelli is quietly putting together one of the best years of his career, reaching seven quarterfinals, with wins over Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic and battling in a five-set loss to Kei Nishikori at Wimbledon after working his way back from wrist surgery in 2013. His most notable achievement of the year, though, was partnering Fabio Fognini to win the Australian Open men’s doubles title—he's won four double titles and no singles titles, with only one final appearance. But whatever you do, don’t call him a doubles player. In a special to SI.com, Simone Bolelli sat down with contributor James Pham to talk doubles envy, Grand Slam glory, match fixing and more.
SI.com: How is China treating you?
Bolelli: It’s not really easy to play. I mean, really humidity, very hot. Food is so-and-so. I try to eat normal things like pasta or meat, but even some Chinese stuff is good.
You seem to have a connection with China. You have tattoos with Chinese characters.
Yeah, in the back, I have my parents’ names and here [on his left forearm], I have my wife. I like the Chinese signs.
At 30, you’re having the best year of your career. You’ve made seven quarterfinals. That’s good, considering your results in the last few years.
It’s good for me. After 2013, I got surgery on my wrist. From there, it was starting a new career for me. I played very good last year, almost from nothing. I got up to 55-56 in the world. I started this year very good. I won the Grand Slam with Fabio, a couple of finals in the Masters. In the singles, also pretty good, so I’m happy. I’m 30 now, but I think I have 4-5 more years to play tennis.
Winning the Australian Open, how did it feel to be a Grand Slam champion?
It was great. I mean, it was really unexpected because we start to play round by round like this. After quarters, we started to realize that maybe we could win because Bryans lost and more couples lost in the round before, so we had this chance and it was really amazing. I was there with my wife also, and with Fabio, I think, it was more than a victory because we are friends so it was really amazing. We had played a lot of really tight matches in Davis Cup, so I think we were ready to do this.
You’ve had more success on the doubles tour than the singles. Do you consider yourself a singles player or a doubles player?
For sure, singles.
Twenty or thirty years ago, there were singles players who did really well in doubles, like McEnroe and Edberg. In the years since, doubles has become pretty specialized…
I don’t know. I’m not really focused on the doubles. I’m really focused on my game as a singles player, trying to win tournaments, to do something different, to beat my best ranking. Doubles is something “more.” I mean, I play with Fabio because we’re really friends even out of the courts and we started to play doubles. We’re enjoying it and for practicing, too, because doubles has good serves, returns, volleys… and also for money [laughs]. That’s always important. So if doubles is good, then okay. But our priority, also for Fabio, is singles.
Is there a feeling in the locker room where the doubles guys are like: “You play singles. Leave the doubles to us.”?
Yeah, yeah, I have that feeling. I think if one good singles player plays doubles, it’s always tough. For sure, the doubles guys don’t like this [laughs].
Your Davis Cup teammates Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace were in the news recently for receiving a lifetime ban from tennis for match fixing. Have you talked to them since then?
No. I didn’t talk to them since this news came out. I’m sorry for them, but I don’t know what to say. I just responsible of myself, and for the others, I’m sorry.
People tend to think of tennis as quite a clean sport, compared to track and field or football. Do you feel tennis is as clean as most people think it is?
I think in the past was maybe more clean. But now, I start to see the newspaper, some bad news about match fixing and even in the tournament not so big, like Futures and Challengers, this is not so good. I always think tennis was a really clean sport, not like football, soccer or other sports, but now maybe something is going wrong.
A lot of first-time ATP winners this year. What would it mean for you to win your first ATP tournament?
For sure, it’s one of my goals for this year and one of my goals of the next year. I made just one final in my career so for sure, to win a tournament is going to be really good. I hope it’s coming soon. Now I’m 30, I’m more confident, more experienced and I think I can play much better than before so I can really enjoy tennis more than before.