In the Players’ Lounge in Toronto, by @QuentinMoynet of l’Équipe

Translation of the article Salon de recréation by Quentin Moynet in l’Équipe of July 30, 2016, page 25.

The Players’ Lounge – Toronto

The players’ lounge is a separate part of tennis players’ lives, where they’re pampered. We spent a few minutes in the one in Toronto.

‘When will Mr. Anderson’s hairdresser arrive?’ Seated behind a desk, the volunteer notes down the South African’s appointment. The notebook is full. The hairdressing service is one of the most used by the players, along with massage. All these requests are made in the Players’ Lounge, an essential part of every tournament on the professional tours. Some spend several hours a day there, others content themselves with passing through on the way to the dressing room. In Toronto, organisation members are there from  7 AM to Midnight to answer all the requests of the players, their staffs and families.

At the entrance, to giant security men only allow through those with the right letters on their accreditation. “M” for the media isn’t one of them. “You must be accompanied by an ATP member to enter and to leave,” we’re told.

Escorted by an “A” letter, we find a small Ali Baba’s cave. Several newspapers, both foreign and domestic, lie on a table. Julien Benneteau glances at them, but doesn’t appear to see anything he wants. Beside it, there’s a corner with sweets, and cupcakes decorated with Canadian flag frosting. ‘Those are dangerous,’ says a coach, smiling. ‘A bit won’t hurt,’ says the barmaid, who serves tea, energy drinks, but also alcohol.

Life in the players’ lounge is permanently accompanied by the clicking of a ping-pong ball. The table is much more popular than the pool table a few metres farther along. “Most don’t know how to play pool. They’d bury the cue tip into the felt,” murmors the ATP official who is escorting us. It’s different with a racquet. The young Canadians Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Benjamin Sigouin play matches and exchange bursts of laughter. “They never stop, they’re tireless,” whispers our escort. “You can see they’re still kids. Félix is only fifteen!” Then Nick Kyrgios arrives. The Australian grabs a racquet and imitates players. ‘Here I’m Roddick!’ From a seat in front of him, the Czech Radek Stepanek says to him, ‘why don’t you put as much intensity into it on the court? You’d have better results!’ Kyrgios stops, smiles, then continues.

Further away, some players are sitting comfortably on the large sofas at the end of the room, watching the matches on the television. In a few minutes or a few hours, the break will end and it will be their turn on the court. Perhaps with a new haircut.
Translated by MAN

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe talks about his thoughts during and after his 2015 RG final against Djokovic

Translation of this article from l’Équipe web site, page 24-25 in the print edition of Saturday, 21 May.
First game – Djokovic 0-0 Wawrinka

The first game, it’s serious. We went right at it. To me, it was important. I was super nervous before the match, I had a lot of doubts: ‘Everyone says he’s unplayable. What’s going to happen?’ Once I was on the court, during the warm-up, I tried to take advantage of the situation. I told myself several times: ‘Stan, you’re in the final at Roland-Garros. How often have you dreamed of this? Look at the stadium, look at what’s happening!” In fact, I looked at it as if I were almost having an out-of-body experience. ‘Come on, enjoy! Do your thing!’ I listen to the announcer who’s reading out all of Djokovic’s accomplishments, I look at the crowd to see if they applaud, I look at the sky because it’s a beautiful day …

I sit down on my chair and I switch in a second. It’s easy for me: I can have ten million things going on in my head, but I can switch and concentrate in a second. I’ve done it lots of times. In my chair, I’m already in the first game: ‘How are you going to serve the first point? Are you going to let loose right away? etc.’

I have a very clear game plan, but it’s open to modification. I knew that with him there was no feeling-out round. The proof is the first game. I play incredibly, and yet I’m on serve. Djoko is a machine and the motor is already running.

But, at the end of the first game, everything’s good mentally; physically, I’m fine and I’m not going to lose because of my level of game. It will be played on nerves, hesitations, but not on game feelings. From the very first hit, I feel on top. It’s good, the final has begun …

Djokovic 5-4 Wawrinka – last game of the first set

It’s a key moment. Novak broke me quickly because I was too hesitant. Actually, I haven’t let loose, really get inside him. I have a little mental block. When you’re behind in the score, when you’ve been broken , you always play a bit tighter. You look for something to come back with. But at 5-4, 40-15, I make two points that are essential to the story of the final. First, I make a passing shot. Then I win a point on a dropper. I end up losing the game, and then everything changed for me in my head, but I don’t know why. I feel I’m on the way, I’m there mentally. I needed some sort of small trigger to let loose. I found it there. The match really starts here. It was that game that gave me confidence for the rest ot it. Why? Because I did what I wanted to do at the start of the match. I want to push him, push him, and if he’s stronger than me, good on him. But I tell myself, I’m going to go and get this match. That’s how a lost game can be a release.

Djokovic 6-4 3-4 Wawrinka – at 4-3 in the second set

When I hit the net twice with my racquet, it was the only time I felt frustrated during this final. Why then? Because I’m ahead 4-3, and that since the start of the second set, I feel I have chances to move ahead. And I don’t do it. On the second dropshot, I’m upset because I can’t miss a shot like that when I’m on it. ‘Shit, you’re screwing up, don’t miss shots like that!’

From the start of the second set, I sense him starting to hesitate. If he’s hitting dropshots like that, it’s because he’s not finding answers from the baseline. He’s starting to back up on long rallies. At the start, each tried to impose themselves from the baseline. But I start to hit so hard and heavy that he doesn’t quite know what to do from the baseline. In fact, he’s being dominated, and he needs to change something. That’s true of all players who feel they’re being dominated. So, in the second set, he starts to hit dropshots. In the fourth, he’ll serve-and-volley to save break points.

Sure, I see that as something difficult, but against Djokovic, you always walk a fine line. What I mean to say is, Djokovic is different: even when he isn’t playing as well as usual, he’s always present in the moment. That’s why he’s better than anyone else in the world.

Djokovic 6-4 4-5 Wawrinka – final game of the second set

The sound my shots are making is huge. I’m playing with incredible pace. I saw the speed of my baseline shots: 145 kph, 150 kph, 160 kph … The set point, against a lot of players, I win it five times. But he’s getting all my shots back. At the end of the game, I’m at the point I was looking for: I managed to get ahead. I sense he’s nervous, but I’m not surprised: when I play well, I know I make him nervous. I’ve felt that before at the Australian and US Opens. He can’t be serene; after that game, he knows that I can be the stronger one. But it’s not the turning point of the match. Against him, as long as you haven’t won the final point, there’s no turning point in the strict sense.

That gesture to Magnus where I tap my forefinger on my temple, at the end, that’s just a natural gesture. It just means, “I’m there, I know exactly what I’m doing, I won’t let up mentally.”

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 2-3 — Third set break and the the famous backhand hole shot

At 3-2 in the 3rd set, I hit a huge forehand and a backhand down the line. I start to really open the throttle. On top of that, Novak looks at his team with the air of someone asking, “What do you want me to do?” Later at 5-2, there’s the famous backhand from the corner … I say with all humility, it’s not an unlikely shot. After all, I’m four in the world, I’m the final at Roland, which means I’m playing very well. I see the hole and I go for it. I’m very far from the ball, but I control my slide really well to take the ball really low. It wasn’t lucky, I hit it to make it. Besides, three weeks later at Wimbledon against Verdasco, I did it again.

It’s obvious now, I’m bringing the juice. But, before that hole shot, how many shots was I hitting in that zone at 150 kph? And then, the better you feel the more the ball gets close to the lines. It stays inside the court for a good reason: there’s no hesitation. Now I’m really on top of what I can do. That final, it’s the best match I’ve ever played in my career. I feel like a steamroller that wants to finish the job. Once you release the brakes, once you step on the accelerator you just play. I mean, you play the tennis you know how to play.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 3-6 3-1 Wawrinka — the break back

I win the second set 6-4, the third set 6-3, and yet I’m behind 3-0 in the 4th! I said it before: against him, you walk a fine line. Instead of going down a level, he adds a level. But he submits anyway. You can hear it in his grunt.  It’s not the same grunt as when he controls a point. The long thirty-shot rally, it’s to show him that I’m not letting up. I feel him tamed physically. His grunt is different – he’s trying to put extra into his shots. Winning that point makes me stronger. I want absolutely to stay in contact in the 4th set.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 6-3 4-5 – the final game

I’m still on top, but I’m fried. There are long rallies, we hit, we hit, we hit … he starts to serve-and-volley, he’s at the net more often and I hit a passing shot to break him. I make a simple gesture, and in a half-second I’m already in my next service game. I’m very calm. I walk calmly to my seat. No need for a ‘come on’. After, it’s the last game … I’m serving for the match. And when I need to save a break-point, I don’t panic. I tell myself, ‘If that’s the score, it’s because you’re playing better than he is. At the worst, it’s 5-5. And so? Well, we’ll just start over.’ That frame of mind makes the difference. That detail is probably what bests sums up my final. I couldn’t have had a nicer match point to win Roland. Big serve outside, backhand down the line: that point sums up my whole game and the whole 15 days.

Djokovic 6-4 4-6 63 6-4 – The joy and the ceremony

Already before the Melbourne final, I asked myself what I’d do if I won. Roll around on the ground? Lie on the ground? Fall to my knees? And I did nothing. Afterwards, Gaël told me, ‘Shit, Stan! I was waiting for you to do something nuts and you did nothing. I’m crushed!’ I’ll never have an answer, but I think it’s just the way I am. My joy is enormous, but it’s internal. You can’t imagine it, but there are so many things going through my head … It doesn’t come out. And I would dream of rolling around on the clay and having a mythical photo taken. But that’s the way it goes … It’s not because of the way I was brought up, but because of the way I learned my tennis. I never dreamed of winning a Slam. Because I never though I was as good as those who were there. I saw them all on the TV. To me, those who win Slams are monsters. I have a lot of emotions during the ceremony, but it’s the same thing, I don’t show them. Maybe except for when I lift the trophy. Because, still, it’s THE moment.

Translate by MAN

Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN

“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe on playing Novak Djokovic, friendship and his career

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet @djub22 in l’Équipe.

CONFIDENT

‘Novak: I can’t wait to play him again’

‘What does it give me, concretely, to be introduced as the “anti-Djoko” solution? Pleasure, obviously. But, having beaten him twice in Slams and pushed him to the limit at other times, it especially gives me confidence. In fact, I completely shook up Novak at Melbourne in 2013 (12-10 loss in the fifth set), our Slam matches have always been very close. USO semi in 2013 lost in five sets, quarter at the AO 2014 win in five, semi in Melbourne in 2015 lost in five, and finally my Roland win (4-.6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4) of course …

‘But as I often say, you still have to play him, and considering our rankings, it can only happen at the end of big tournaments. Most of the time, he’s there and I’m not .. It’s too bad, because I love playing him. Because playing the best is what I love the most. They’re the ones who give you the most problems. Playing Roger (Federer) in the semis of the last US Open ? I loved it. I lost in three, but I loved it. Novak, obviously, I can’t wait to play him again. My regret last year was not winning my QF at Wimbledon (lost to Richard Gasquet) to meet him in the semis, because then I’d have played him in every Slam.’

OPTIMIST

‘Some sand can get into the machinery’

‘I’m not the only one who has the weapons to bother Novak in a Slam. Roger has everything necessary. Was it because of mental problems or playing level recently? Only he knows, because he’s the one who lived through the matches. He he didn’t miss by much, he had so many chances. (loss in five sets, Wimbledon final 2014, then in four, Wimbledon final 2015, US Open 2015 and the semis at the last Australian Open). How long will Novak’s grip last? One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: Roger dominated in the same way for a long period. And during the years he was largely on top of everyone (between 2004 and 2007, especially) we heard people say: “But there’s no one who will beat Federer in the next five years”. Except that didn’t happen. And Nadal, the year he imposed himself (2010), we heard them say: “OK, he’s going to win three slams a year for the next four years.” But the year after, his level dropped.

‘I think some sand can get into the Djokovic machine. When Novak is 100% and everything is working, like right now, no one can take him. What he produces is incredible. And that’s not going to change from one day to another. Just look at what happened after his Roland loss last year, he was huge (only three losses for the rest of the season) …

‘But getting back to the question: if, in 2016, finally, he only wins two slams, will we still say he’s dominating or it’s changed compared to last year? A little grain of sand, two losses in the semis at Slams and that would change his year, which would still be exceptional and he’d still be world number one. I think the change will mostly come from Novak himself. Just like Federer at the time: we didn’t see how he could lose, and the answer came from himself.

ALTRUIST

‘If I can help them, I try’

‘It’s true that I played a role in Mikael Tilstrom’s (Swedish coach) and Gaël Monfils’ association. Gaël he’s a friend, and we talked about it in August of last year. I saw that he was uncertain (about whom to work with), so I tried to add some depth to things. I asked him to name me some coaches he’d like, and he mentioned Tillström, saying he’d asked him two years ago, but Mikael had said no. And Gaël didn’t want to ask again, thinking he still didn’t want to. That’s when I acted a bit as an intermediary. I tried to convince Gaël to try again, and, at the same time, I tested the waters with Magnus (Norman, who works with Tillström at the Swedish Good to Great academy). I went back to Gaël and told him the answer might be different this time. He was trying to find himself, he didn’t know in which direction to go but he wanted to. I hope it works out.

‘Friends? If I can help them, I try. I don’t think about competition. In Chennai, at the start of the season I talked a lot with Benoit (Paire), and gave him my thoughts on a lot of things.And then Yannick (Fattebert, a friend his own age from Valais, Switzerland who follows him on the tour for a few weeks every year as a hitting partner) who was there told me: “It’s incredibly cool what you’re doing, because he’s an adversary.” Maybe, but Benoit is a friend. OK, he’s a potential adversary, but first of all, so much the better if he progresses and, secondly, how many times will we face each other during our careers? If Gaël improves because of Tillström and beats me, it won’t change my life, it can just change my week [smiles].

NO LIMITS

‘I hope to be at a very high level at 35’

‘I don’t look ahead but my goal is to play for a long time. I hope to be at a very high level at thirty-five. But is this very high level 15th in the world, and that would be good because I’m not Federer? Or is it top 10? I know how fast things can change. So I don’t set goals, but I don’t set any limits either. And that’s why I won the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland in 2015. I never tell myself: “I’d like to win this Slam” or “I’d like to win this Masters 1000”. That’s not me and, in any case, I’m not strong enough to do it. My goal is to be in top form each time I go on court. That’s my way of managing things so sometimes, like last year at Roland, something big happens. I’m not as strong as the best. They’ve been there for ten years, me, I’m new. I feel strong enough to beat everyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

‘With Magnus (Norman, his coach), we haven’t set any time limits. It’s important that we both want to see each other, to train and to look a bit further ahead. I think we’ll both know immediately when that’s no longer the case.’

Translated by MAN

 

“He gives you nothing, not even the time of day.” Emmanuel Planque, Lucas Pouille’s coach, on the improved Milos Raonic by @flaberne of l’Équipe

Translation of the article by Frédéric Bernès on page 19 of the January 26, 2016 edition of l’Équipe.

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.”

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.” I told you that just after the match against Lucas (Pouille). I was a bit dazed coming off the court. I re-watched the match several times and the impression remained. OK, I wasn’t thrilled by the way Lucas started off sets … but Milos gave us nothing. That guy doesn’t even give you the time of day. Right now, I find him fit. We’ve been talking about him as a future Slam winner for two years. Like Dimitrov? Yes and no. I’m sure Dimitrov will come back. But he’s less formidable and less well prepared than Raonic. He he has fewer weapons.

“Second serves at 220, 224, 226 kph”

“He’s super confident with his serve. At Brisbane and Melbourn, he was hitting second serves at 220, 224 and even 226 kph. At some point you don’t know how to return them: if you back up, he hits a kicker that bounces really high; if you move up to cut down the trajectory, you get a bullet at 220. The average first serve speed is often mentioned as a way to judge a server, but don’t forget the second serve. He powers it but it doesn’t mean that many more double faults. That’s tied to his current confidence and the fact that he hasn’t played the top two best returners yet, Murray and Djoko, who can bother him. The idea is to make him run so he’ll serve at between 160 and 180. Because if he serves at 130, he’ll be more accurate, more coordinated, more relaxed. But it’s hard to make him run much when he’ll try and shorten the point quickly.”

“Before, he could miss a series of returns”

“He’s improved his base game considerably. Mainly because he doesn’t have any physical problems. Last year, he had a nerve in his foot operated on. Good health means more training intensity. You can tell he’s worked on his returns. He’s much more consistent. Before he could miss second serve returns in bunches. Today, he puts you continuously under pressure without taking any crazy risks. He returns hard up the middle which allows him to take a lot of second shots on his forehand. And then it’s difficult to escape. Facing him, you get tense and you lose 10-15 kph on your serve. I think Milos has assimilated the fact that the best players in the world aren’t the best servers. His goal is to get a ratio of quality of serve/quality of return that’s much better than the others.”

“To me he’s not a Canadian at all”

“He’s part of a very strong project. To me, he’s not at all a Canadian. He’s a Yugo (born in Podgorica, Raonic lived in Montenegro until he was eight). He reminds me of Djoko with his ambition and application. Raonic is upright, intelligent, a worker. The guy could easily have been an engineer. Now he’s a tennis player, that’s his job. He’s not emotional, he’s rational. He works on his mechanics. Ljubicic (gone to Federer) helped with his serve and second shot. He leaves and he takes Moya, who’ll help him with his returns and bring him the deep parts of the game. And above all he has Piatti (ex-coach of Ljubicic and Gasquet) who’s a super coach and who’s doing an admirable job with him.”

“It’s lousy, it’s not sexy? I don’t agree”

“Would it hurt tennis if Raonic became number one? I don’t agree with that sort of pessimism. I hear people say Raonic is dull, isn’t sexy, he’s boring … No! It wouldn’t be dull because those chasing him would be interesting. It would be really exciting. Sure, the tennis of tomorrow will be guys 1.95m moving like guys 1.75 and who can return too. Can these criticisms affect Raonic? I sense he’s there to win. The rest …”

Translated from the French by MAN

Umpiring: Aurélie Tourte, a woman in the chair

Translation of this online article

Aurélie Tourte
Aurélie Tourte,  standing on the left, the most highly ranked French umpire when she got her Silver Badge in 2014, travels around the world at the beck and call of tournaments.

It wasn’t love at first sight between umpiring and Aurélie Tourte.

“Me, I liked playing tournaments or team matches for my club in Plaisir (the Yvelines),” she explains. “I discovered umpiring via the ITF Futures organised by TC Plaisir and during team matches. Without being completely seduced.”

Around 20 at the time, Aurélie was taken in hand by two umpires who give her the chance of umpiring in Deauville during the ATP Rennes Challenger. It was the turning point.

“I was able to see professional umpires at work, and it started to interest me. Gradually, encouraged by Maryvonne Ayale, President of the CRA (Regional Umpiring Commission) and the Yvelines League, I got taken with it and started passing my certificates.”

In 2014, Aurélie umpired for 26 weeks (Roland Garros, US Open, Monte Carlo,  ATP 250s, the WTA tour, ATP Challengers), which led to her being granted the Silver Badge in December of last year.

“I was proud about getting it, but it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as I’d umpired quite a few matches and got good evaluations.”

In 2015, her programme up to June was just as busy: Feucherolles, a Fed Cup in Sweden,  then Marseille, Acapulco, Monterrey, a break in March, the Saint Breuc Challenger, Monte Carlo, Marrakech, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg (WTA) then Roland-Garros. The objective was straightforward: getting to know the Top Ten players of the WTA and ATP. “I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. So I need to learn to talk to them, to get ‘run in’.”

Temping as a nurse

Despite careful planning, expenses (travel, hotels, food sometimes covered) paid, Aurélie still hasn’t made the choice between professions. A nurse by training, she takes advantage of the shortages in French hospitals to work as a temp when umpiring gives her the time. Of course, in daily life, the travel isn’t easy to manage.

“Sure, my apartment is more of a furniture warehouse,” smiles the 31-year-old woman who still lives in Plaisir. “And as a woman it’s difficult fitting it into family life.  But now that I’m the highest ranked French woman, I’d like to see where it leads, as there have been only two French Gold Badge umpires in history (Anne Lasserre and Sandra de Jenken).”

Among the necessary qualities required she cites, randomly,  excellent sight, good communication with the players and the public, but also being able to make quick decisions. And especially a strong character. What’s not obvious: “Promoting women’s umpiring is complicate in France as it is elsewhere. You need to find your place in a man’s world. But you learn about yourself, you discover countries, people, ways of life. If you have a passion for it, you must grab on to it.”

This passion has allowed Aurélie to experience some big moments such as the 2012 Olympics, where she was a line umpire for the five finals, and being in the chair for the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros in in 2013.

 

Translated by Mark Nixon