Watch: World’s best under-18 tennis player speaks Afrikaans

Henry

Do yourself a favor: Pull your smartphone closer and take a quick look at Joël Schwärzler’s profile on Instagram. After all, it paints the picture of a tennis master in the making.

But footage of beautiful forehands on the clay courts of Paris or the hard courts of New York – of course together with quite a few confident trophy moments – do not tell the full story.

After all, this is a story of a young Austrian tennis player with local roots. A young star who is the number one under-18 racquet player in the world, but who also likes ProNutro and crumb porridge; someone who still speaks good Afrikaans with his South African mother.

“I have lived in Austria for 11 years. We moved here in 2013 when I was seven years old,” Schwärzler told RNews on Wednesday.

For the first few years of his life, he grew up among top quality cucumbers and drove cattle with his grandfather on a farm just outside Derby in the North West, while he was also for a while a learner at the German school in Kroondal.

“I can still speak Afrikaans well – I often talk to my mother (Ilse) and to my family in South Africa. I can’t write that well in the language,” he jokes.

These days he is an independent young man who lives on his own in an apartment in Vienna, wins one tennis tournament after another, unleashes major sponsorships, rubs shoulders with top players and fires chest shots at 215 km/h.

His triumph in last year’s ITF Junior Masters in China is the achievement he is most proud of as it underlined his status as the best of the best in his age group.

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In addition, Schwärzler’s impressive tennis certificate must also say “European under-16 champion” in bold letters. An achievement he shares with renowned players such as Carlos Alcaraz and Roger Federer.

So speaking of Federer: Although most Austrians probably believe that Schwärzler can follow in Dominic Thiem’s ​​footsteps, there are of course similarities between him and the Swiss tennis legend.

Both players have a South African mother and as professional racquet players they represent a small (especially in terms of population numbers) European country.

Schwärzler’s father, Matthias, himself at the time as a junior player fought with the eventual winner of 20 Grand Slam titles on the court.

Federer’s name was also immediately mentioned when the young Austrian was asked about a dream opponent.

“He is just the best player ever,” was the simple answer when a reason was sought for this choice.

Yet his great hero is the Spanish matador, Rafael Nadal.

“I have liked him since I was very young and I have an appreciation for his approach to the game. We have visited him three times at his tennis academy in Majorca.”

However, Schwärzler’s life does not consist only of success, photos with trophies, autograph sessions, meals with sponsors and ample attention from admirers.

It takes a lot of hard work – especially if your ultimate goal is to one day be among the top ten players in the official ATP rankings.

He started playing tennis at the age of seven and three years later he started traveling on his own with his coach. Since he was 16 years old, he has lived in an apartment eight hours away from his parents’ house – a home that he could only visit for a few days in 2023.

“I train up to seven hours a day. In between the track work, I visit my physiotherapist and also fit in sessions with my conditioning coach. On Saturdays you’ll find me in the gym when I’m not in action at a tournament.”

But South Africa is still an inseparable part of him.

He was on a Garden Route holiday visit with his family not too long ago and he hopes to make a visit again soon.

“My mother orders me ProNutro over the internet, she brings me biltong back from South Africa and she bakes me biscuits. People here don’t really know what it is, but my friends really like it too.”

But his all-time favorite is definitely crumbly porridge – something he can eat every day of his life.

As Dricus du Plessis would say: Joël Schwärzler also knows what the rest of us South Africans know.