du Tuesday 29 Octobre 2019 at 19h00 au Tuesday 29 Octobre 2019 at 20h30
ROLEX PARIS MASTERS From October 31th to November 8th, 2020
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Jean Imbert started playing tennis at a very young age. His father had a -15 ranking and passed on his love of the game to the whole family, including 5-year-old Jean. The chef remembers, “My father would always thrash me and my brothers in games, so we practised as hard as we could so that one day we’d beat him. We played every weekend, on a court behind my grandmother’s house.”

Invited to cook in the hospitality areas at the Rolex Paris Masters again this year, the chef – who was, at age 19, the youngest graduate of the Institut Bocuse – is the ideal candidate for answering our tennis questionnaire. “What fun!” exclaimed Jean Imbert, before sitting down for a grilling.

Which player would you like to be paired with in doubles?
I love doubles, so I’d like to play with a doubles specialist. In France, we’ve got two fantastic doubles players: Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. So I’d pick one of them. Why would I choose a specialist? To win, of course! I don’t really believe that “the most important thing is taking part” in tennis. In doubles, there’s a real playing technique, the serve and volley, always trying to get to the net, etc. That’s why I’d like to team up with a specialist: to really dive into that doubles mindset, that philosophy.

What about in mixed doubles, which active player would you love to play with? 

Maria Sharapova. Because she follows me on Instagram and because I’ve always liked her. I follow what she’s doing. She makes me laugh with her brand of sweets and all that, so I’d happily play with her.

In your entourage, who would you like to thrash 6-0 6-0? 

Everyone [laughs]! No, but you have to remember that, at home, when we lost a match, we were practically banished from the dining table! My father instilled a real competitive streak in us. And, it’s still very much alive in our family today. For example, this year my little brother Leo is currently beating me 9 to 6. We’ve played 15 matches since the start of the season! And when we go home, everybody asks, “Who won?” [laughs]. It’s true! In our family, tennis is a hot topic! So, I’d love to beat my little brother Leo 6-0 6-0 and be able to say to him, “Ha, there you go, I destroyed you!”

What type of player are you?

I’d say I’m an old-school player. Maybe because that’s how it all began. I mean, when you’re little, it’s all sliced backhands, serves and volleys… That also explains why I’ve always liked doubles. I’m an aggressive player, but that doesn’t mean I hit the ball hard. I like playing with my head, trying to work out what my opponent’s doing, making them move around. I like long rallies too. Any shot that’s out of the ordinary, actually. Drop shots, lobs, volleys, cross-court… I love all those!

Which is your best surface?

Clay. It’s awful to say it, but I don’t really like the other surfaces. Given the way I play, I like that the clay slows the ball down a bit. On other surfaces, it goes a lot faster. In fact, it’s just that in the past, I’ve always played on clay. I do like a hard surface too, though… [laughs] What’s more, I’m so used to the fact that, if there’s a dispute, you can see the mark on the clay. I always feel like, on hard surfaces, you don’t know where it is [smiles]!

Do you have a favourite player?

It’s not very original, but I’ve always liked Roger Federer. He was born the same year as me and I kind of grew up with him. I’ve always known Roger and followed him closely. And I just love how classy he is.

If you could change one thing about the rules of tennis, what would it be?

I’m in favour of an attacking game, so I’d give a double point for a winning volley, for example. People will think I’m crazy! [laughs] In some matches, players hit the ball from one end of the court to the other, but I like those that try other things. If you got two points for one shot, if the winning shot was a volley, it’d completely change how people play. Though I guess it’s a bit of a bizarre idea. [smiles] 



In your opinion, do people who excel at tennis or at cooking have any shared qualities?
The way we are constantly setting ourselves new goals. In tennis, you don’t have to set new goals for every match, but rather for every point. That’s what so incredible about it. Cooking is the same. We have to reproduce dishes and they have to come out perfectly every time. Every time we send it off, we have to start again and prepare another dish. Maybe that’s the similarity: you can’t think about any potential mistakes, you can’t think of what’s happened before, you have to immediately think about the next point. Then, obviously, like in many sports, there’s a similarity in your mindset, all the preparation and the commitment you have to show. You have to truly commit to becoming a professional chef, you have to really immerse yourself. Tennis is the same. I know a few people who wanted to make it their job. You either have to be prepared to dedicate 365 days a year to it, in which case you go for it, or you do something else.

As an avid tennis fan, you rub shoulders with a great many players. In food terms, do you know any of their guilty pleasures?

I’ll tell you about a player I really like: Stan Wawrinka. His guilty pleasure is anything that tastes good! That’s what astounds me. I’ve followed him quite a lot over the last few years and, two years ago, on the day before his Roland Garros final, I even prepared a meal for him. That year, he just turned up at the restaurant, he didn’t really know what to order and it was great to see him tucking into our pastries. No limits! He had dinner in “Chez Mamie”, the restaurant I opened with my grandmother, and he ordered everything on the menu [laughs]. His physical trainer was even eating with him! That’s what I like to see in a great athlete. There’s the training they do all year round then, just like that, they understand that the pleasure you get from enjoying a good meal can have a positive influence on your game because it puts you in a good mood. 

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