One last hug for the daughter, a goodbye kiss for the wife, luggage and out the door.
When Harri Heliövaara leaves for the airport and a tennis tournament to be played somewhere in the world, he doesn’t know when he will next be playing Duplo with his daughter Alba.
In tennis, a player’s tournament can be over in one day, or it can continue for up to two weeks due to wins. If there is a tournament to be played the following week, there is no need to go home at all.
Alba’s 2nd birthday party is marked on the calendar, but the father’s presence is determined by success on the playing fields.
– It’s a bit sad on some level, Heliövaara admits.
“I have to be quite selfish when I have a tennis career, and at the same time I have to be able to give as much as I can to the family. I have had to wrestle with myself many times.”
Chasing tennis dreams and worrying about the family getting along without him is a contradiction, which Heliövaara has sought the right approach to with the help of a sports psychologist. There is no need to go to the big stadiums of the world’s most beautiful places with a bad conscience.
– The moment of departure is always a bit wistful. But you have to give yourself permission to enjoy when I’m playing the games where I’ve always dreamed of playing. I think you need to be able to momentarily put aside the fact that the family is at home.
The wife is supportive, even if she takes it in stride sometimes
The story of Heliövaara cannot be told without mentioning his four-year competitive break from professional tennis. Heliövaara was at his best in singles at number 194 in the world list, but he ended his career at the age of 23 and studied for a master’s degree in engineering.
Actually, we should talk about a break, because Heliövaara returned to the professional tour in 2017. This time the focus was on doubles.
During the break, Heliövaara had time to do more than study. Heliövaara, who was already interested in aviation as a child, worked as a terminal guide at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport eight years ago. There she fell in love with her colleague Sin, whom she married a few years later.
“I’ve enjoyed Helsinki-Vantaa since I was little. I like tinkering with machines and doing everything related to aviation. I also found my wife here. Not a funnier place at all.”
Heliövaara only worked at the airport for a year, but the courtship continued, and the wedding bells rang a few years later. Back then, Heliövaara’s everyday life and life looked very different compared to today.
– When we started dating, I didn’t play tennis. And when we got married, gaming wasn’t at this level yet. My husband didn’t necessarily know where he was going.
Last season Heliövaara rose to the top of the world in tennis doubles. With the top results, he was away from home for well over half of the year, as he accumulated a total of 238 travel days.
Housework is not shared equally.
Sini Heliövaara laughs and admits that sometimes it takes a toll.
– The whole family’s life revolves more or less around the tennis career. It does take a toll when you are responsible for a child 24/7. If I get sick or something else, I’ll be flexible. I will miss work and cover my own expenses. That’s how it goes.
The importance of support networks is emphasized when one of the parents is away for so much of the time. Open communication is also important, but sometimes planning is almost impossible.
The tour life of a tennis pro is unpredictable.
– Sometimes there are situations where I come back either in three days or four weeks. It’s hard to communicate back home. Especially if it’s a more difficult situation, those are awkward conversations. Yes, sometimes you have to twist it a bit.
Heliövaara has a fresh memory when he came home from the Dubai race at the beginning of March. The tournament had gone well, as Heliövaara advanced all the way to the finals with his British partner Lloyd Glasspool.
However, time with the family was nothing but a fleeting moment, because the next tournament was already knocking on the door.
– The wife asked when I would leave next time. I replied that tomorrow morning I’m leaving for the Yankees, this is less than a day’s visit home. After all, it’s better than nothing, but it’s easy to get sad.
As a professional athlete, you can’t afford to miss practice even between tournaments. When making decisions and choices, success as a tennis player weighs heavily on the balance sheet.
Heliövaara is currently at the peak of his career. The iron is hot, and now must be forged.
Heliövaarat has agreed that when Harri is at home, he will take the main responsibility for running the children’s everyday life.
“When I’m on a trip, my wife takes care of everything. When I’m at home, I try to take care of as much as possible. Even then, I can’t do everything, but I try to help my wife get some rest.”
Despite everything, Heliövaara has had his wife’s full support for his tennis career from the beginning. He is extremely grateful for that.
– My wife understands very well that I have to travel a lot and that I make decisions and choices for that, because I want to be a good tennis player. I probably couldn’t have received more support. In that sense, I have found the right kind of person by my side.
However, for Sin, standing by her husband’s side has been a matter of course. When Harri once thought about returning to professional tennis, Sini didn’t want to stand in front of it.
– I have always been of the opinion that if there is an opportunity, then of course. You have to pursue your own dreams, and I don’t want to be an obstacle, but a support.
Wimbledon will be missed when another child is born in the family
Another child will be born in the Heliövaara family this summer. The calculated time coincides with the tennis grass season, which means that Heliövaara will miss the classic tournament Wimbledon this year.
The holiest of the tennis world, which every player dreams of winning, remains second on Heliövaara’s priority list.
Birthday cookies can still be avoided, but he is not going to miss the birth itself.
– After all, the birth of your own child is such a rare event that it’s harder to be there when it happens. They are really important things in life.
However, Heliövaara admits that for tennis, skipping the grass season was a difficult decision. After all, it also affects his partner Lloyd Glasspool, who has to temporarily find another partner.
Heliövaara realizes that, after all, he is in a privileged and extremely happy position. He fulfills his dream by playing tennis at the top of the world, he has started a family, and the papers for his master’s degree in engineering are already in his pocket.
There are great challenges in combining the everyday life of a professional tennis player with family life, but in the Heliövaara family it has been successful. He is proud and happy about that.
– Both are the sweetest things in life. Very few people can do this. I am proud and happy to have the opportunity to do both.
In tennis, Heliövaara is fascinated by competition. Man against man twisting, against the best in the world.
And winning. The euphoria it produces is easy to recognize from the wild fanning that has already become Heliövaara’s trademark.
“Winning on the sports field is a matter of life and death. The competitive situation has always fired me up a lot. You are hooked on winning.”
In Heliövaara’s opinion, the best thing about being a family man is the child’s smile when he arrives home from a race trip.
– You can’t get a better feeling than that – outside of the tennis court at least.
At the end of the interview, you have to ask what Heliövaara gets more pleasure from, his child’s smile or winning.
– I’d rather throw myself on my back to ventilate for winning than for a child to smile!
– But maybe that child’s smile is a more comprehensive feeling like that.