When you face an interview like that of Pancho Campo (Santiago de Chile, 1961) knows that he has to be prepared to speak on any subject. In this case, tennis will be an indispensable chapter of the trip, but it will not stop being that, a chapter. From a young age he dreamed of being a player, until life showed him his limits and invited him to become a coach. That change of plans would take shape when at the age of 26 he stands at the Academy of Nick Bolletieri to form. The American coach decided to make room for him and, from that moment, his life would never be the same. Travel, encounters, challenges, concerns, events, lessons, hundreds of experiences that led him to become the person he is today. And what is Pancho Campo today? It is so many things that the best thing is that he tells us himself.
How would you define yourself?
Former tennis professional, businessman, event organizer, and environmental activist. These four things are what characterize me.
And almost medical.
I studied medicine but I never got a degree, I didn’t go to college. So I don’t put it on (laughs).
How does tennis come into your life?
While still living in Chile, my father was very fond of tennis and from a young age he tried to bring me closer to this sport, but I did not like it until I was 12 years old, when I saw a Davis Cup tie between Chile and Argentina live. Guillermo Vilas became my top idol, I wanted to be like him, I read his book and he became my inspiration. He said that he got up at 06:00 in the morning to train on the pediment before going to school, so I did it too. That was when I started playing, but everything multiplied when I got to Barcelona.
Spain welcomed you and formed you. What do you remember from that stage?
At CT Barcino I met an extraordinary generation, we all went out to play tournaments for the Costa Brava and for Spain. We started playing some Satellites, but I couldn’t get results, let’s say my head didn’t work like the rest. That is when I start teaching so that I can pay for my medical degree at the same time.
It should not be easy to throw in the towel so young.
At 19, when I entered the medical career, I understood that eating tennis was going to be difficult, so I dedicated myself to playing only one Satellite tournament during the summer, but I had already opted to teach. At the age of 21 I stopped competing completely. At that time I did not know the scholarships in the United States, where you can go to study and continue playing at the same time. If I had known, maybe I would have entered another type of university, I did it out of pure ignorance.
But you changed the chip very quickly.
Since I was not a great player, the goal was to become the best possible coach. I went to the United States to train with Dennis Van der Meer and Nick Bolletieri, I looked for life to learn from the best, many times without having the means. At that time the Bolletieri Academy was the best and the truth is that working with him opened many doors for me. I was able to work with Agassi, I saw Courier, Sampras, Seles, etc. train.
There you fulfilled your dream, become a coach.
Totally. I fondly remember my first job on the tour, it was with Tomàs Carbonell, Juan Carlos Baguena and Borja Uribe. The other day I was talking to them on a Live on Instagram and I was moved by what they told me: ‘You convinced us that we could do better than we thought we were capable of.’ The year we reached the Roland Garros doubles quarterfinals was a before and after. The moment in which Carbonell joined us, brought another charisma, was key, we were more in the media, we got more support. He had traveled with Pato Álvarez and with Emilio Sánchez Vicario, he added a much more professional perspective to ours.
I am very interested in your American adventure. How did you get to Bolletieri?
The first thing I did was plant myself at the Dennis van Der Meer Academy to get the title of coach. Then I was with Jim Loehr doing courses, a pioneer in sports psychology. One day it occurred to me to do an international congress for tennis professionals, so I asked my team: Who is the most prestigious coach in the world right now? They did not hesitate for a second: “An American, Nick Bolletieri.” I kept looking for his number in magazines until I contacted him. I spoke to her secretary, she liked my story and asked me to fax everything to her. After ten days they answered me, Nick had loved it, so now it was he who wanted to make me a proposal: travel with Gabriel Jaramillo (director of the Academy) and with a boy named Andre Agassi.
He told me that he had a boy who was emerging, that he hoped he was a great player, a top 10 for sure, but that he was still very green. I had no idea who Andre Agassi was, he was 190 in the ranking at the time. Two years later, with his long hair and blue jeans, he was everywhere.
Bolletieri’s story is also pure inspiration.
Nick was a pioneer. The world’s first sports academy, with accommodation and studies, was his. Almost 50 years have passed since this. It’s funny because he started teaching at a hotel, then he took a tomato plantation and turned it into tennis courts with money left by the father of one of his players. They also rented a motel next door. The secret of this man is that he has the great ability to motivate each player very well. I convinced you that you were better than you thought. On the other hand, the Bolletieri Academy became a gold mine, there were 400 kids in there generating a lot of money thanks to the work that IMG traced from above in search of talent. Monica Seles arrived at 13 years old, Anna Kournikova arrived at 9 years old, all these children were scholarship together with their parents so that they were not far from the family, if the performance did not drop.
Did your parents get paid?
Seles was given a scholarship with all expenses paid, including a salary for his father and brother. Kournikova the same. This was the way they had to identify and capture that talent, they were treated very well, meanwhile the machine generated money on the other hand: golf school, tennis school, language school, summer camps, etc. That mattress allowed the best players to be awarded a scholarship.
What was your role in the structure?
He convinced me to be his representative in Europe, his objective was to open a Bolletieri in Spain. So I threw myself into the ring. He suggested that I gather groups of people to go to Florida in the summer. I started making groups of Spanish trainers through which they went there for a week with everything included. People had a great time and we also learned a lot. Let’s say that I was in charge of giving mini courses of the Bolletieri system throughout Spain, which at the same time served to promote the great course that was done twice a year in the United States.
Can it be said that the success of Spanish tennis owes a little to Mr. Nick?
Definitely. All the people who attended these courses are now super high: Igor del Busto, David Serrahima, Oriol Vega, Jorge Mir’s father, etc. They were all established coaches in Spain who wanted to go even higher. I brought Nick three times to our country to give conferences, so yes, I think we did our bit in that Spanish tennis boom.
Why can’t we have this kind of Academies in Spain?
The United States Academies are successful because they give scholarships. Point. Most parents go with their children to the Academies because, no matter how bad you do it, it will help you to get a scholarship that can range from 25% to 100% coverage. American universities allow you to continue competing, they give you a scholarship and you ‘pay’ it by competing for them on behalf of their university. The higher you are, the more grants from the federal government that university will receive. We don’t have that here, university sports don’t exist here.
And even so, we have several Academies that are benchmarks worldwide.
I am very close to Emilio Sánchez Vicario. In fact, the Academy he has in Barcelona, 80% I designed for him based on what I had learned riding the Bolletieri in Spain, Italy and Dubai. I did an 80-page project explaining the topics of finance, marketing, etc. But of course, having no scholarships, you had to find another source of income, weddings, baptisms and communions. If this is not impossible than it works, the high competition is ruinous, it does not leave money. If you draw a good player, someone will appear who will give him a scholarship and take him away. So you have to have sources of income, not to worry about money in high competition. If you find a good kid and try to charge him, you lose him
With fewer resources and millions than the rest of the countries, Spain has been a world power for thirty years. That is the big question.
There are several reasons, although I will give you my personal opinion. There was a generation that brought together great Spanish tennis players, but not good enough to be top10 or top20. These guys, when they retire, had a tour experience that the other coaches didn’t have, so they start traveling with other young players. This, added to the congresses and symposiums that took place, formed a breeding ground that originated everything that came after. What was missing? A great figure. This is where Bruguera, Corretja or Costa begins to emerge. Tennis schools were fed from all this, the numbers went up, the boom exploded.
It has much merit.
The opposite has happened in the United States. When I first got there there were 38 million licenses with federated people playing tennis. Today they do not reach 20 million. It is true that in Spain we are also losing people, even with the Nadal effect there are fewer and fewer people playing tennis. We must make people want to go to tennis simply for the love of playing tennis, that weekend schools are full of children.
How do you do that?
The problem is that we have focused too much on competition. We have gone from having almost no players, to having many top players, all of them in competition. What the system does not understand is that there are people who do not want to compete. My son, for example, likes to play tennis because he has fun. What happens? They told him that this way he would not get to anything, that this way he would not reach the top100. They did not understand that he was not looking for that, that the professional circuit did not attract his attention. In the end he got bored and ended up leaving him.
Surely in Bolletieri you could witness many cases like this. How are those moments of doubt managed?
Agassi explains it perfectly in his book, Open. He did not like being in Bolletieri at all, he was quite rebellious. Then you have children who are very much at home and it is normal, I have never been in favor of a child under the age of 12 being in a tennis academy. A child, up to the age of 14, lacks that family environment, that emotional support. If you send it to an Academy, it’s normal for performance to drop, unless you build a tremendously independent guy. In my time, the normal thing was to play the Challengers with 16 years and the ATP circuit with 18; Now people don’t enter that last stage until they are 23. We have realized that if someone is not emotionally mature, no matter how good you are, sooner or later you will pay for it. Seles or Capriati were thrown onto the circuit at the age of 14, but at that age a person cannot be prepared.
Many things have been written about Bolletieri. Is it as hard as it seems?
Nick in the past was a military man, that vein always came out a little, but then over the years it softened. Obviously, he acknowledges having made mistakes with very young children, putting too much pressure on them, or perhaps not putting it on. Look, I remember a workout with Nick and Agassi, the last workout before traveling to the Rome tournament. That day Andre was not getting anything, he started screaming, he loaded a racket and said he was going to Italy. The physical trainer with his brother tried to convince him: ‘They are going to fine you, they are going to sanction you!’ That didn’t give a shit, he didn’t want to go. We all thought Nick should talk to him, but he got a tantrum. Rather than tell him straight, he was too soft.
But did he go to Rome or not?
It wasn’t, he got away with it. Nick said to him that it is worth, that they would not go to Rome. The ATP fined him $ 25,000 and we went straight to Roland Garros.
Tennis is wonderfully complicated when one hears these stories.
Tennis is a very complex sport psychologically, too many factors intervene. Now you see a player and no one has a fault, all have a backhand, forehand and service piece. In my time there were many profiles that played with cut backhand all the time, who only knew how to defend themselves, who hid certain blows. Today they are machines, the difference is in the coconut. You travel for twenty weeks a year, eating in different restaurants, sleeping in hotels, combining different cultures, far from your home, and only some privileged people can afford to travel with the family. All this adds stress to a sport that is already very stressful.
That stress is also experienced by the best. Going back to your experience in Bolletieri, is it true that they were fighting over Nick’s love?
Nick had his own section, which was closed. You couldn’t go in there, that was like Fort Knox, it was all covered with windbreaks so that the photographers didn’t take a single image. There was even a barrier with a guard. All the players dreamed of getting to Nick’s section and staying there as long as possible, on the court with Nick. Yes, there was a lot of rivalry between the kids, but it was healthy, it motivated them to play better than the rest to be able to share time on the track with him, that was the prize.
Yes, there were many privileges in there, there were the best trainers, the exercises were more intense, there the local cream and cream gathered. They also had different food and better accommodations.
At what point do you decide to break with all this?
In 2000 I started to organize concerts and there I made the big mistake of forgetting a little tennis. We made so much money with Enrique Iglesias that this adrenaline completely changed my focus. Then came Sting, then another, then another … I completely neglected my sporting ambitions and focused solely on big events. Now I regret it, the truth, tennis was always a thing that I liked, I was good at it, also tennis never stopped feeding me. With the events I have earned a lot of money but I have also had good milks.
It is never too late to return …
What I would like the most right now is to organize something with the coaches, those trips we used to make to the United States. In its day I took 50 Spaniards, 40 Mexicans, 40 Argentines and 30 Brazilians. Imagine them all on a track watching a demo where the student was Andre Agassi, the coach was Nick Bolletieri and the one who was throwing the balls was Gabriel Jaramillo. Then in the afternoon, another demo with Monica Seles. Of course, the level of knowledge that one had there was brutal, I loved organizing these kinds of events. Right now I do not know the pulse of the sector, that did not mean that I would not go back in, but before I would have to do a little market study. I would love it, without a doubt.
Tennis has changed a lot in the last twenty years.
Of course! What strikes me the most is the number of people who have stopped playing. Secondly, I am surprised that tennis is still so fragmented, there are about seven organizations looking after the interests of the players. And finally, it is the only professional sport in the world where elite athletes can be trained by amateur people. You to be a coach of Real Madrid you have to get the UEFA license, the maximum there is, it does not matter if your name is Zidane or your name is Paco. Well, in tennis, any father of a child or any smart guy starts to travel on the tour and is a coach. This, which has been allowed by the players themselves, should be regulated.
Of all the personalities you have encountered on this trip, which one marked you the most?
President Obama is a person who marks you when you meet him. He has an exemplary presence and knowing how to be, a guy who moves masses and who communicates very well. I remember him arriving at the event that we organized in Portugal with his caravan of six cars, four motorcycles in front and four motorcycles behind. Being the former president! Imagine if he were the current president. In addition, then it had 700 people looking after its interests, among the secret service, a group of assistants, nurses, first aid, police, firefighters … thus up to 700. This in itself already catches your attention, it was another League.
How did you get to him?
It was somewhat gradual. The first celebrities I worked with were tennis people, then I was with Enrique Iglesias, Sting, Tom Jones, Pink Floyd, Jamiroquai, the Gypsy Kings, etc. From there I went on to organize conferences and the first international dignitary I had was Vice President Al Gore. That’s when you learn to deal with these kinds of people, it’s another protocol. I was also with Kofi Annan, so when Obama’s day arrived I already had the necessary notions. They must be treated with the utmost respect, but without forgetting that they are human beings like any other.
Any anecdote from that day?
I remember my daughter continually asking myself: ‘Am I really going to meet Obama? Really? ’I said to him: ‘Of course, both you and your brother, as well as your mother, all of you are going to meet President Obama.’ I couldn’t believe it, but I had the license for ten people in my group to meet him and take a photo with him, so I decided to take advantage of it with my family. I will never forget the amazed face that was left on my daughter when she saw her appear, we have her in her room (laughs).
Any character that has surprised you at short distances?
Of all the personalities that I have met, Andre Agassi is undoubtedly in my top 10. I remember him as a guy who talked a lot, he was always telling anecdotes, he also had a very good heart. At that time I was in conflict because I didn’t know what to do with my hair, my pants, I always wanted to attract attention. All the people who have had this type of success are for something, they are people who have something special, be it the charisma, the way they communicate or whatever. They have something different from what you or I have. And when they are bigger, they are simpler.
After all, turning away from tennis also gave you unforgettable moments.
My dream was always to organize something with Pink Floyd and luckily I did it. After that we were about to close the Rolling Stones, we had everything approved, the signature needed to be signed, but just at that moment the Gulf War began. There everything had to be canceled and I had to go back to Spain. Bottoms out.
But life still had a mission in store for you: an environmental activist.
At the moment we have three very big crises. The first is the health crisis, where we have not yet found our way. The second is the economic crisis, which in Spain is going to be brutal. Finally, we have the climate crisis. Coinciding with World Environment Day (June 5), it occurred to me to create the first virtual forum where we would bring together the economy, society and the environment. It is totally supportive, free and non-profit. I started to call contacts to give a mini conference, exposing a clear, concrete message, showing their positivity.
June 5, Marbella Future 2020. Who will be?
The first one I got was Sergio Scariolo, then Àlex Corretja, Feliciano López, Ferran Adrià… and up to 58 speakers from different sectors of our society. We even have a Nobel Prize winner who, precisely, won the award for his studies on climate change. Then we have Carlos Latre who will do a small show to liven up and add a note of humor, or the singer of the Gypsy Kings, who will play a couple of songs from Miami. The event lasts from 10:00 until 21:30, so you can connect whenever you want. You just have to register on the website: acmarbella.es. The goal is to bring ideas to people.
The idea of saving the environment has been on the table for many years. Why do you think it does not quite penetrate society?
Because everything is politicized. Look at the coronavirus, the republican people in the United States or the right-wing people in Spain want to open businesses as soon as possible because they know that the economy kills almost as many people as the virus. Then you have the vision of the Democrats, who prefer to take care of health and not yet revive the economy. With climate change the same thing happens: if you are on the right you cannot believe in climate change, that is a red matter. But they are wrong, it is a problem that affects everyone equally, regardless of race, sex or whether you have money or not. As long as it remains politicized, the problem will still be there.
I know you have traveled a lot to verify everything that is happening.
Without being a Google researcher, I have gone to the Arctic and talked to the tribe of the Sami, I have asked them if they have really seen any change in the weather and they themselves admit that they have. And these are not politicized! The chief of the tribe had never heard of the concept of ‘climate change’, but he did tell me that winters have been less harsh for fifteen years, that they have to go further north to find the temperatures they need. The same when I was in the Caribbean: when the water temperature rises, the corals die and the fish migrate. In Ecuador there are very poor countries that depend on fishing, if the fish move away from the equator, how are they going to eat? I was also in Iceland watching the melting of the glaciers, that image is brutal. You cannot deny what is happening, you can debate how much influence man has had in all this, but what is happening is evidence.
Are we in time to change it?
Yes, of course. I am concerned with both climate change and pollution of the planet, the day you see animals dying you change the perception of everything. When I was diving in the Cayman Islands I discovered manta rays, an animal that when it sees a piece of plastic mistakes it for a squid, its main source of food. That produces brutal indigestion, and if the piece of plastic is very large, they directly die. The same with turtles or dolphins. The amount of shit and garbage being dumped into the oceans is so great that we should be ashamed.
All this that you tell me is not usually seen on television.
The sad thing is that the world of sport, especially tennis, is the one that has received the least echo from these environmental news. To this day it is still played on courts that are painted with paint, a derivative of petroleum. The windbreaks are plastic. Tennis balls are made of rubber, another derivative of petroleum. The most common synthetic strings are also usually made of plastic. Then at a press conference each player comes out with a plastic bottle in front of the microphone. “No, but the plastic is recycled.” It’s still plastic, gentlemen.
What would you propose to give a touch of attention?
If tomorrow Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic starts a campaign to protect the environment, the young kids will follow suit. I would be the same with Cristiano Rolando or Messi. These people have a beastly summoning power, especially with the young. Instead of paying attention to Greta Thunberg, who doesn’t convince me, the children would pay much more attention to a Federer or a Nadal.
The day we knock down the coronavirus, do you think it will change anything?
Unfortunately I think not. We are animals of customs, we find it difficult to get out of our comfort zone. I wish we were more supportive, more educated, although I have noticed that now people are a little more respectful. I am afraid that all this that we are experiencing will quickly be forgotten. We have become a tremendously consumerist society, the most important thing is to pretend. I hope we realize that there are values that are above all that.