Since 2010, Stéphane Matheu (49) has watched over the destiny of Team Pro Winamax. Having become a coach, primarily mental, of the best poker team in Europe, the Francilien was nevertheless promised during his young years to a royal future on the tennis courts. Back on a trajectory as unexpected as it is fascinating.
It all started with one phone call. More exactly of a bet. The bet, finally canceled, was never taken up. Stéphane Matheu (49 years old) therefore did not have to discover tennis on one foot. “As soon as the exchange started, I had to get on one leg. It wasn’t for lack of training though. ” During three months “. On the other hand, he had an encounter that day that changed his life. And the former great hope of world tennis among juniors to switch to a completely different world: poker. A meeting that this child of the little yellow ball owes to a certain Gus Hansen, Danish poker champion who also played tennis before shining on the tables. Seventeen years later, Matheu, who has become the mental coach of one of the best poker teams in the world (Team Pro Winamax), can still barely believe what fate had in store for him during the summer of 2005. on the Las Vegas side. “Gus introduced me to the world of poker. I didn’t know anything about it, not even the rules, I didn’t even know that there were professional players. When he told me he was a pro, I wondered what discipline he was talking about. From the top of his eighty-five meter, the ex-future great of tennis who is still big by size will quickly be put in the scent. “One evening, Gus suggested I go see a cash game game (Editor’s note: poker game played with chips corresponding to real money and allowing participants to enter and leave the game as they wish ). We both went to the Bellagio. I’ve seen most of the world. There were all the poker superstars of the time. I didn’t know anyone but it was impressive. »
During his “first career”, he occupies the 286th place in the world
The 35-year-old Frenchy student is stung. Tennis ? He hasn’t thought about it for a few years already, for lack of having touched the motivation on the flop. Then the real estate cards in hand, he prefers to fold rather than try to see and again crosses the poker on his way. Coach (already) but sporting only on a reality TV show focused on his new passion, he met Bertrand Grospellier, alias ElkY, the first French poker star, and accompanied him on the professional circuit. “It was amazing. He earned five million the first year in tournaments. The tandem panics the counters and does not go unnoticed. Winamax approaches the former tennis player, he hesitates, then gives in. We are in 2010. “It was very hard to stop working with Bertrand because I loved working with him, it worked well and it was a great life experience. I also thought it was an opportunity to see if what I had done with him was just luck or something that I could reproduce on a larger scale, “says the one who had climbed up to 286th place in the ATP rankings at the height of what he calls his “first career”.
Sparring partner of Sampras, matches against Federer and Roddick…
French number 1 among the cadets, European reference among the juniors, “Steph” preferred to take another trajectory when he understood that he would not be “a great champion”, hampered in particular by a serious knee injury. . When he is content, at 27, to become “the best player in Las Vegas behind Andre Agassi” and to coach the teams of “Sin City” – “to pay for (his) studies” – he nevertheless leaves behind him three participations (in qualifying) at Grand Slam tournaments or training sessions against monsters of this sport. “I had the chance to meet the greatest on the circuit. I was Pete Sampras’ sparring partner at the end of his career, I played against Roger Federer before he turned professional. I also played a match against Andy Roddick…” At the time, the current chaperone of this Team Winamax lacked only one thing, which notably includes among its ranks the world champion Romain Lewis, the rapper legendary Kool Shen or the Belgian genius Davidi Kitai: to be able to benefit from a mental coach as precious as he himself has become today.
He dreamed of himself as Guy Forget, he became… Toni Nadal
“I asked myself a lot of questions, especially about why I wasn’t better. And I came to the conclusion that it was the mental aspect that I was lacking (…) It is obvious that the Stéphane Matheu of today could have helped the Stéphane Matheu of the time. On arrival, it is the pros of the Winamax poker team who benefit on a daily basis in their careers (and even more at the end of tournaments, “when the stakes become high and the emotions more complicated to manage”) from the one whose coach, cradled in poker by Gus Hansen, took “a long time to mourn”. Since then, he lives again, and his happiness transpires. You only had to see him last month during the WPO (Winamax Poker Open) in Bratislava or more recently during the WiPT (Winamax Poker Tour) in La Villette briefing his little proteges with the greatest benevolence before to let them go to fight at the tables. “I manage the group, I’m there when they need me. It’s also a lot of logistics and planning, ”says however the modest and humble Stéphane Matheu, 49 years old today, and still the same desire as when he still saw himself becoming the future Guy Forget. He never will be. On the other hand, from a Toni Nadal of poker, he certainly has everything.