The team at The Thread sat down with Pat Rafter in Sydney to learn how to he rose to the top in tennis and won the hearts and minds of people around the world.
Pat Rafter is one of Australia’s most loved sports stars. A former World No. 1, he won 11 career singles titles including two U.S. Open titles and a Davis Cup. He also won 10 doubles titles, including the Australian Open, and earned over $12 million in total career prize money. Since retiring, he’s been named Australian of the Year, inducted into the International Tennis and Sport Australia halls of fame, coached Australia’s Davis Cup team and had centre court of the Queensland Tennis Centre named in his honor.
The team at The Thread—a 10-part documentary web series created by two Australian mates, Jack and Hugh, looking to share the thoughts and advice of Australians who have made a name for themselves—sat down with Rafter in Sydney to learn how to he rose to the top in tennis and won the hearts and minds of people around the world.
This interview transcript has been edited for clarity.
The Thread: Righto Pat, what motivated you as a tennis player?
Pat Rafter: What motivated me to be a tennis player was to win Grand Slams. What motivated me to be a tennis player when I was young? I just loved the game. How it was every different shot was a different shot and you had to learn different wind, different ball conditions, different court surfaces, different speeds. Everything was changing the whole time. It never got stale. So for me, I was motivated enough to try and master it and see how good I could get at it.
As a younger player, just say 16 or 17, were you motivated to make a name for yourself?
PR: Yeah. I think so. I think one of the things that really motivated me was if I could afford my own house, wouldn’t' that be just great? And that was all I really wanted. I grew up with mortgages and things all around you. So you sit there and you think, well I am going to try and break free of all that. I saw life as having a family living in the house and that was all cool and if I own my own house then that was successful.
Where has your family held you back as a tennis player and where have they helped you along?
PR: It's been a really remarkable life, mate, that I've lived. Now if I had everything given to me and I came from a very wealthy family, I may not have had that drive to play tennis. But what I did have was support from every single one of them and I had time from my parents. Amongst all the other kids in the family, and an opportunity. And positive energy and I think that's really important. Sometimes you come back and you're brothers will slag you off for being a bit of a prick but that was all part of it as well. Get a bit of a big head, they'll knock you down. But it wasn't a negative thing it was just the Australian way.
How did you handle setbacks in your career?
PR: You're going to have wins but you're going to have a lot of losses. Every week you're losing pretty well so if you're not going to get used to it, don't play the game. Get used to it.
Do you have to be obsessive about what you are doing to be successful?
PR: I think to a degree, you have to have it. I think it is important to have balance though and I was someone who looked at the bigger picture of 'what happens when I finish my career? What happens with my life?' I never wanted to be someone who was so caught up in the tiny little world of the tennis reality that it was going to affect everything else that was going to happen around the world. So I know what you're saying but I was never someone who was totally focussed and that was all I was going to do. But it still was my first priority. So I felt like I struck a bit of a balance.
And Pat, you're one of Australia's most loved sportsman. Have you found the public life rewarding?
PR: Yeah mate, I've had really good positive feedback from the public. I always try and be pretty honest with them. And I try and stick pretty close to my morals that have been brought up by my parents… and if I stick to those morals and try and be normal, live a normal life, I find that the public really like that. I had to be careful. There was one or two occasions where I had to work at it. Of making sure if there is negative publicity, trying not to be too hard of that person. Ask them and talk to them and you can turn media around. And once you’ve got the media on your side, it’s very hard for them to write a negative article about you. Because everyone will bag that person. So I try to be honest. You know, every now and then I stuff up like everyone does and I am in the spotlight a lot more than probably the general person. And I am not against that. I'd prefer if I didn't have it but if I didn't have it, I wouldn't also live the lifestyle I have. So you can't cut something off and abuse one side of it and say 'I want this' because it sort of goes hand-in-hand. The media have built up my profile and with that comes endorsements and sponsorships etcetera. So I have felt my relationship with the media has been really good and really positive. I'll be honest with them and they can be honest with me and it works well.