Julien Benneteau. Benny. Lamb. Muffle? (It says that’s his nickname on the ATP site.) He’s the quiet veteran Frenchmen best known for his upset over Federer in Paris in 2009 and his Davis Cup heroics with doubles partner Michael Llodra. He’s also the subject of quite a few of my gifs.
He’s on the comeback trail after a suffering a wrist injury last year at the U.S. Open. He was nice enough to sit down with me for an exclusive interview at the Winston Salem Open after his first round defeat of Richard Mello 6-1 6-3.
When reading through this I encourage you to insert lots of dramatic sighs, thoughtful pauses, and a thick French accent to really get the feel of the interview. Just trust me.
You played really well today! It looks like your game is coming together. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling really good. It’s a good win. The way I’m playing was good today so I’m happy to move on in the tournament.
You just got awarded the Wildcard to the U.S. Open. Were you expecting that?
Yeah I knew it several weeks before. We have an agreement with the French Federation and the USTA to exchange, and it was bad luck I didn’t get in the main draw by my ranking because it was a matter of one week. One week before I was in and then the week of the line I was out so the French Federation helped me giving this Wildcard and I hope I will profit of that.
How’s your wrist feeling?
It’s okay. My wrist is nice since Wimbledon. It’s okay so now my game is back and I don’t think anymore about my wrist and I can play my best tennis so this is the most important. I’m trying to win a lot of matches before the U.S. Open and to travel and to be a good ranking at the end of the U.S. Open so it’s hard work but it’s okay now.
What was it like coming back from such an injury?
It was tough. I was playing some of my best tennis, first. Second, I was on the French team for Davis Cup. My injury happened two weeks before the semifinal in France. It was near my hometown in Lyon. It was very painful to miss that, also to miss the final. Even (though) I was there with the other players who were injured (and) we went to Serbia to be with all the staff and all the players but it’s different. So it was difficult. I worked hard to be ready, maybe for this event, I couldn’t make it. Maybe it wasn’t a good decision but you never know before. You always know after what is good or wrong to do.
You mean your decision not to play in the final?
Yes. Okay, but you know that’s life. I was lucky since the beginning of my career because this was my first real injury so it’s okay. Now it’s behind me and I hope that it’s just a bad memory.
France is back into the semis for Davis Cup. Do you know the team yet? Will you play doubles?
Maybe, but if I want to be on the team I have to make a very good performance in the U.S. Open so I don’t think too much about that. It’s going to be a tough semifinal in Spain against Spain on clay courts. It’s going to be very very very very difficult. But we have a good team, a strong team, I hope that the guys who are going to be selected will win.
What’s your favorite Davis Cup Memory?
Yeah last year the Quarterfinal at home in France we played Spain already and we won 5-0. It was something special because we clinched the doubles- it was very tight, 7-6 in the 4th, so it was a good good feeling.
Who are your best friends on tour?
Nicholas Mahut. He just got a child 2 days ago.
Have you seen him?
A picture (smiles big). And Michael Llordra and … Clement. A lot of the French, we are close.
You’ve had some of your best results later in your career. What do you attribute that to?
I don’t know. Maybe my maturation is a little bit slower than some others. I don’t know, I just try to improve and to play my game. Maybe at the age of 20 I wasn’t completely ready for the tour- physically, mentally. After you get some experience you are used to the tour, to the tournaments, to the players and you get more confidence with the years. So I don’t know- it’s the fact of a lot of things.
What are your goals for the rest of your career?
I’d like to win a singles tournament- I’ve won six doubles titles, made four finals in singles on the tour so I’d like to win at least one tournament. Then to be healthy for sure because without that you cannot compete. To be healthy and to try and win this one tournament. I made one time Quarterfinal in the French Open so doing something like this in a Grand Slam is always good and I wish I could make another.
What do you like to do in your free time? Like on Friday night when you’re not playing a tournament.
Dinner with friends and spending time with my girlfriend. To have friends at home or to go with friends to a restaurant and just have a good time.
Do you prefer clubs or more low-key dinners?
More low-key dinners.
Do you have any favorite TV shows?
I love all the sports on TV.
What’s your favorite sport?
Soccer. I like American sports too. I follow a lot of NBA, NFL, NHL.
Do you follow any specific teams?
It depends because before I was a huge fan of Chicago… I would wake up in the middle of the night- because of jet lag it was during the night. And now they have Joakim Noah who’s French and he’s the son of Yannick so I like them because they are French.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done for you?
Nothing special, nothing crazy, no. I’m not famous enough for that.
You have a lot of fans!
(Smiles and laughs) Well…
What do you plan on doing after tennis?
I don’t know yet. I want to stay in connection with sports. I like a lot sports and I like to share that with the- to be a journalist… not specifically tennis, all sports. Maybe radio, TV, I don’t know. Maybe that. Maybe I can give back to the Federations what they’ve gave to me. To help maybe some young players, to go sometimes to watch them practice. I don’t want to be the coach because I don’t want to travel full time. The life of the coach is the same as that of a player. After tennis I’d like to have time for me, for my family.