He talks in halting English. But there is nothing halting or stuttering about Felix Mantilla's game. When he hits the ball from the back of the court, it stays hit. Like all Spaniards, Mantilla (pronounced Mantiya) is very strong on clay and pretty good on hard courts. But grass? Well, let us leave it to the cows.
Mantilla, who at one time was in the top 10, has scalped top-class players such as Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter, Guillermo Canas, Thomas Enquist and Mark Philippoussis and Roger Federer.
In Chennai for the first time, Mantilla, apart from looking to win the Tata Open, is also looking for a 'History of Chennai' in Spanish! let us wait and see whether he manages to claim both by the end of this week.
Excerpts from a chat with the 29-year-old Mantilla:
How would you look at your career now?
Well, I could have done better had it not been for the injury I sustained in 2000. I was out of the game for more than six months. It was very difficult to come back from such a long lay-off. But I managed to come back, and I consider that as an achievement.
What kept you going in those tough times?
It is difficult to say. But basically I am an optimist who likes to look at the brighter side of life. You need to have a large heart to take the rough with the smooth.
But was there any specific person who inspired you?
In a sense, it was Andre Agassi. He gave me think. If he could do it (win tournaments) well past 30, I thought I could also do it. He is a great player. He also has a huge heart. Thatís what keeps him going.
To whom do you owe your game?
My coach Jordi Vilaro has had a huge impact. He coached me from when I was in under-16. He was a very hard taskmaster. He was persistent too.
Is he still your coach?
Well, I parted with him a few years back. It was a tough decision. But I had to take the decision and move on in life.
What has been your best moment on the Tour so far?
Well, the title at Rome. It was very satisfying. I managed to beat Roger Federer, who is one of the best players on the Tour, very easily. That was very satisfying. Of course, the semi-finals in the French Open was good. I would have been happier had I made it to the finals.
What do you think of the talent in Spain now?
It is pretty good. Spain has a tradition in tennis. Most players are clay courts specialists. But most of them are now playing very well in hard courts too.
Who among the Spaniards is the one to watch?
Nadal (Rafel). He is a good talent. He can go very far on the circuit. He has an all-out game and has a good temperament too.
Have you set any specific goals for yourself?
Nothing really. I want to keep on playing to the best of my ability as long as possible.