When Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are brought up in conversation, images of laser-beam winners hit by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal come to mind. One of the last topics to be associated with professional tennis is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yet she has appeared at the grass courts of London and the hard courts of New York.

Well, sort of.

Santiago Giraldo Salazar, a professional tennis player from Bogota, Colombia, has been devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe for years. He even considers her his “best companion” as he travels the world from tournament to tournament.

The 26-year-old, who spends part of the year living in Bradenton, Fla., keeps a scarf — much easier to travel with than a framed image or statue — with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it.

Salazar, currently ranked No. 31 in the world, spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie as this year’s U.S. Open, held outside of New York City, was nearing its scheduled conclusion on Monday.


You reached the third round of Wimbledon this year, where you lost to seven-time champion Roger Federer, tying your best result in a Grand Slam. Why do you think you did well there? 

The good performance at Wimbledon and other good results I’ve had this year have been because of the efforts made over many years and also because of a whole group of individuals that have been beside me. I’ve been through many matches and have been able to learn how to play the game better, which has resulted in a career-best ranking. To play in Wimbledon against Federer in the “tennis cathedral” of Centre Court is a very special moment, almost unique in my career.

 

Who did you think are the players most likely to win the U.S. Open this year?

I think that Federer (who has been my top tennis role model since I was young) was a great candidate. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are always dangerous, and you have to watch out for Kei Nishikori because he can give the big guys a surprise by beating them. Who knows, maybe next year I will be one of the candidates to win; but this year I did not go far. I lost in the first round to a good player.

 

What do you enjoy most about tennis, and what do you enjoy least?

I love tennis. I enjoy pretty much everything about it. I love to travel, to practice and, of course, to compete. What I do not like that much is maybe the lack of free time, because in order to play at this level, you have to be very dedicated. Yet I’m learning to become better at organizing and prioritizing my time. At the end of the day, I just reflect on all the good that tennis offers to me. That way, the little negatives don’t affect what I do.

 

You’ve been to Mass in churches all over the world. What are some of the most beautiful churches you’ve been to? 

There are great churches all over the world. Some of my favorites are obvious choices, like the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. There is so much grace, history and sacred artwork in these places. Sometimes you’re in awe of what you see in them. They are very impressive, and they bring you closer to God, really. They get you to thinking about heaven, which is where our minds should be.

In addition to the obvious choices, though, some of my other favorite churches are in the least-expected places. God’s grace operates everywhere, so you will sometimes be surprised by what good things you see when you are not expecting them.


Do you have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary?

I am devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, or, as we say in Colombia, La Virgen de Guadalupe. I pray to her every day, and I carry a scarf with her beautiful image on it for all my trips around the world. She is my best companion because she makes me think of what matters most: the grace for all of us to become children of God. She is our spiritual mother who is full of grace, and she wants to have more spiritual children who live Christian lives here so we can live with her and her Son forever in heaven. 

I also wear a crucifix on a chain, which brings similar feelings. I feel like I take a piece of God with me in each moment of my life because the image of his Son’s unending love for us remains right next to my heart. Crucifixes are a testimony to the power of love, so I want that love to be with me always.


What are some of your favorite aspects of the Church?

I think that all the aspects of the Church are very special. I find beauty and grace in all of them, but I love holy Communion and the reflection afterwards to be most special. That is the most important time for anyone to have with Jesus because we are so close to him then. It is almost like Our Lady at the Annunciation: She accepted Jesus into her own body and soul, and, today, we can accept him into our bodies and souls, too.

Something good to do before receiving holy Communion is to make sure our souls are worthy of that grand honor. We can go to confession and let go of our sins so that Jesus will find a good home to live in. We wouldn’t want a special guest to come into a dirty house, so we shouldn’t want the Best Guest to come into a soul that is not clean.


Do you have a favorite Bible verse? 

Yes, I carry my Bible with me on all my trips around the world, and something from Timothy, or Timoteo, is a favorite of mine. It is in 2 Timothy 1:7 and goes like this: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but, rather, of power and love and self-control.” This is very refreshing and inspiring to read because it is a reminder of the strength we have from God.

The problems of life are nothing compared to the grace God wants to give us to conquer them, but we have to ask him for that grace. When we pray, we can get self-control and love, which is a very powerful combination. Prayer is what brings that strength to us, so I pray every day for it.

 

What do you think about having a South-American pope? 

I am very excited to have a South-American pope. It is an honor that Pope Francis is Latin, so there is more thought given to how the Church is not meant only for Europe, but it is universal — for every country.

Pope Francis represents the whole Church with so much charisma and humility. He has a lot of energy, but he knows where it comes from: He lives out God’s plan for him, and he is close to the people that he shepherds. He reminds me of John Paul the Great.

Juan Martin Del Potro, who won the U.S. Open in 2009, got to meet Pope Francis last year. It was easier for Del Potro to do that because he’s from Argentina, but I still hope to meet Pope Francis one day. That would be more fun than winning the U.S. Open.

Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.