Aleksandra Krunić on her US Open breakthrough and more

Krunić: “Everything clicked in New York”

From a pre-season interview with Saša Ozmo on Serbia’s B92.

On her US Open experience:
“That memory is unreal to me, especially from a distance of three months, since I had poor preparation—two tournaments on clay where I wasn’t successful.  There was no indication that I’d play well at the US Open.  I didn’t have a coach either, so I was thinking about that, too… I wanted to be home in Belgrade, and my whole team is from Serbia, making it complicated to have a foreign coach.  In the end, I decided to have Bane Jevremović with me: I’ve known him a long time and trained with him when I worked with Biljana Veselinović.  I really couldn’t go to the US with a stranger.  Then, in New York, everything ‘clicked’…  For a year and a half I was ranked around 150 and I kept thinking, ‘What do I need to make a jump?’  I was training hard, I have no injuries—it really wasn’t clear to me.  But it’s no good wondering.  It just comes.”

On why things “clicked” in New York:
“The only thing I can think of is that I was a little more tolerant with myself at the US Open.  Normally, I’m a perfectionist and if something’s not ideal, I act like I don’t need it.  There will be maybe five matches of the year that go as well as that…  Then, I dropped the ball in New York—everyone makes mistakes, including me.  To outsiders, it must sometimes seem arrogant, the expressions I make, like ‘I can’t believe I missed that.’”

On her loss to Azarenka at the US Open:
“Experience was the key in that match.  Even if I’d won, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it—a Grand Slam quarterfinal would turn my life upside down.  You need to be mature enough for that kind of thing….  I was up a set and 3-2 in the second and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could make a Grand Slam quarterfinal!’  Who made me think that?  That might have ruined the match for me.  You simply can’t completely escape those thoughts, especially in front of 20,000 people at Arthur Ashe Stadium and with Azarenka across the net.”

On her post-breakthrough perspective:
“My expectations for myself have grown—I’m always battling with that; but after the US Open, even more so.  As far as pressure from others is concerned, [it’s changed] somewhat… There are many people here who love to get involved.  I remember in 2011, when Novak lost one match and there were immediately comments like, ‘What happened to him?’ or ‘How?’ …  Or when Ana once lost to Stosur—I looked at our own and Australian newspapers and with us it was ‘Sam smashed Ana’ but with them it was merely that Sam won.  That fascinated me.”

On being consistent throughout the whole season:
“That’s the hardest part and it’s the difference between those at the top and the rest of us.  I need to be persistent in practice—that depends solely on me, which isn’t always the case in matches.  I played the best tennis of my career at the US Open, but I’m aware that won’t happen every week.  That’s why my main goal is to raise my base level of play—and not fall below that line.  It’s also important that I enjoy what I do.  Whatever is happening, I need to stay positive—that attitude will help me improve.”

On her goals for 2015:
“I want to make the Top 50 before the end of the year, but the most important thing is to stay injury-free.  I’d also like to be in the main draw of every Grand Slam tournament, which would be a sign of progress.  Plus, I want to get out of this group in Fed Cup—where we are now is a catastrophe, after being in a final.  Game-wise, I would single out needing to improve my first-serve percentage; but the main thing is to be hard-working in practice and stick to the basics. ‘Keep it simple,’ as they say.”

On what constitutes a good coach:
“Above all, I think a coach needs to be a good psychologist, particularly when working with women.  Every day is different—when someone’s in a bad mood, the coach needs to find a ‘hook,’ to think of something interesting in practice that is useful at the same time.  The easiest thing is to say, ‘I don’t care how you’re feeling; this is what we’re doing.’  So, the coach has to understand the player—of course, there has to be good communication, since no one’s a mind reader.  Also, a coach needs to adapt to the player he or she is coaching; many coaches have their own ideas about how tennis should be played and don’t take the tennis characteristics of the person they’re working with into account.  The game should build on the player’s character—you can’t make a naturally aggressive player a retriever or the other way around.

“A coach is someone you’re with 24 hours a day, more or less, so you have to be close with that person.  I don’t think a distant player-coach relationship works.  Of course, coaches are there because it’s their job, and you’re paying them—nobody’s going to work with you for free.  But if you find the right balance and your team functions well, with everyone getting along, that’s the real deal.”

On WTA stars she likes:
“I saw Kvitova crying in the gym after our match in New York—and I like her so much, I just wanted to hug her.  She’s completely normal and grounded, and she doesn’t have the need to be completely dressed up in ‘Louis Vuitton’ or drive a plane or whatever…  She’s just doing her job and I have tremendous respect for her.  Besides her, Radwanska is totally relaxed, and, of course, Jelena Janković—she’s always the same, regardless of whether she’s ranked first or the last in the world.”

On WTA players’ relationships:
“Each of us maintains distance and has certain defense mechanisms, so it’s hard to get close.  I think the male players respect each other much more—they always extend a hand.  It’s not the same with us—half the players don’t even say ‘hello.’  We’ve got some issues, that’s for sure.  Billie Jean King talks about how the players used to help each other, cheer for each other, and nowadays that’s impossible.  God forbid that you ask someone, ‘Where do you practice?’ or ‘What are your plans?’—they’d immediately wonder, ‘Why is she asking me that?’  Of course, it depends on the person: a lot has to do with what you were taught at home, then some with the team of people around you.  I just don’t see how it would help my career to wish someone else ill.”

On athletes’ rituals and routines:
“I don’t know if they’re rituals or insecurity—something is probably being covered up with that [behavior].  They’re routines which make you feel comfortable.  On the tour, we’re constantly traveling, there’s always a lot going on, and it’s normal to have a need for something that’s yours alone, even if it’s just a small ritual.  Even when we return home, it no longer has that feeling—I don’t know where my home is, though it’s probably here in Belgrade when I sleep in my own bed.  The airport is my house— I’ve already gotten used to it.

“I like to have at least an hour and a half between the end of warm-up and the match.  Before the first point, I read a prayer and that’s it.  I’m not one of those people who only pray to God when they need something, but I’m not too pious either—I believe in destiny: that a path is charted for each person.”

On sports media:
“I don’t follow the media, but my mom reads everything—both articles and comments.  Honestly, it doesn’t interest me.  Sometimes, people tag me on Facebook; so then I see stuff…  And my family got in touch during the US Open to say that I was being written and talked about, but I didn’t look at anything.  Just once, I was annoyed during Fed Cup when we played against Canada, and someone wrote: ‘Who taught this Jovanovski to play tennis?  She has no idea—and Krunić belongs in a zoo.’  It was clear to me then: there are always fools and those who are dissatisfied with their own lives, and they vent their frustration [online].  If you have time to comment all day…  We’re an emotional people.  They elevate us [athletes] to heaven, and then we fall at the first opportunity.  Yes, we love our athletes—they love us whether they spit on us or not, but I think that it’s all a reflection of dissatisfaction with their own lives.  It’d be stupid to let that affect me; but I’m sorry for my mom, who gets torn up over such things.”

On social networks:
“Everybody says, ‘Get on Instagram!’—and I don’t even get Twitter yet.  At one point, I erased all of the applications—there’s always something ringing and I can’t take it anymore.  Then, it’s a problem if I reply to one person and not to another…  On the other hand, I’ve recently signed a contract with Octagon—I needed an agency.  But if I leave it up to them to take care of my accounts, then it looks like I can’t put three meaningful sentences together by myself and that’s just silly.  People want to be in the loop, to know what you’re up to, and I guess it’s only going to be more pronounced if I keep progressing, even if I don’t like that kind of self-promotion: ‘Here I am in Amsterdam’ or ‘Here I am having lunch with my grandma.’  But that’s how it is today—everybody is always on the phone.  ‘What’s the wi-fi code’ is the first question everybody asks when they enter a players’ lounge.  I don’t like it—it’s sad how much you miss while you’re staring at your phone.”

On her off-court interests:
“I live with my grandmother—it’d be stupid to have my own apartment when I’m never there.  I stopped eating meat before the US Open, and my grandmother doesn’t get it.  Now I eat tofu, soy—I’m teaching her.  I love animals and I watched a documentary about the meat industry— the meat they produce isn’t what it should be; who knows what they put into it…. I like historical documentaries (about communism, World War II), but I also watch ‘Car Rescue,’ some mysteries, and You Tube is constantly on.  Because I’ve been to Amsterdam, I want to see the documentary ‘Red Light District.’  I’m interested in those girls’ stories—they’re almost all forced to do what they do.  My friend told me that many of them were promised jobs in fashion, dance, or something similar, and then they end up like that.  Seeing it disgusted me: not because they’re half-naked but because they’re kept in a glass case.  It’s terrible.

“Right now, I’m reading a book about the Romanov dynasty, but it’s very difficult and requires serious concentration—I can’t be tired when reading.  Honestly, I prefer to watch than read; but I still plan to read the whole school reading list.  In Russia [where Krunić grew up], they require War and Peace, Dead Souls too early; it has absolutely no purpose then—you read it and don’t know what it means.  I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame recently, and I inhaled Dreiser’s famous trilogy: The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic.”

~

Translated by Saša Ozmo with an assist from Ana Mitrić.  Please let us know what you think in the comments.

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