Carina Witthöft Interview and Snippets

Original Source (Print): Tennismagazin 3/2015, Page 102ff

Miss Witthöft, you reached the third round in Melbourne, beating the No.17 seed Carla Suarez Navarro on your way. How would you have reacted if someone had predicted that before the tournament?

I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me beforehand. The third round was insane. I’m incredibly satisfied and happy, but I would’ve never expected it.

Do you feel you are playing in a different league now?

It depends. If I’m consistently playing my game, like I managed to do in Melbourne, then yes. Then I belong there. But if that doesn’t work the tide can turn in an instant. That’s the five percent that decide whether you are successful on the WTA or not.

Are you vain?

What? Why would you ask that?

We’re asking what you’re thinking when you see scenes of yourself after a match with your muscles tense and your face distorted?

Aha. No, I don’t really like that too much. Nobody likes that, I think. I’ve talked about that [with other player] and everybody gets mad when such pictures get printed in a newspaper or a magazine (laughs). But there are also nice tennis photos. And I like photo shoots like today.

Today you were styled by a make up artist. How much time does it take for you to put make up on before a match?

Not much to be honest. I just do my hair and put on very little make up, just mascara.

But would you agree that looks are more focused on today than in the past?

Yes, definitely. Sure, some players still don’t care much, but for others it’s extremely important. You can see that on them – often it just is too much. But in general I like it when players pay attention to their looks. It makes the sport more attractive.

Maria Sharapova unites both like few others: Looking good and playing well.

Sharapova is a big role model for me, no doubt. She has everything, the whole package is right. There’s a lot you can copy from her. Her demeanor on and off the court, her charisma.

Have you met her in person?

We’ve met, but she is rather aloof. She is with her team most of the time, has five or six people around her. But when she enters a room all eyes are on her, she almost takes over the room. She’s very tall, too.

What distinguishes the tennis player Maria Sharapova?

We’re all ambitious, but she is extremely focused, before and after every point. That’s impressive. Especially these kind of qualities one can copy from her.

Focusing also consists of rituals like aligning strings or not stepping on lines. Do you copy these kind of things?

I step on lines, they’re there. A ritual has to fit yourself. If it isn’t authentic it doesn’t make any sense. It looks silly if you copy something like that. I have my own rituals.

What kind of tics do you have?

Someone once suggested to me to count my steps after a point. I tried that and it worked well. If you’re agitated after a long point it calms you down. You just count: One, two, three…you just have to plan your steps so that you’re back at the baseline after eleven or twelve steps.

What does professionalism mean to you as a tennis player?

I radically changed my nutrition. No wheat, few carbs. I barely eat any sweets. I used to devour chocolate. If you’ve made it for a few weeks without sweets the desire for them is gone. Last year I didn’t open a single door of my advent calendar. [A German tradition that counts down the days to Christmas with a little chocolate hidden for every day.]

How important is sleep to you?

Very important. I have to sleep at least nine or ten hours, otherwise I’m very tired. But if you are on court the whole day and practice then you automatically fall asleep early.

And if a friend calls you and says “Let’s go out partying tonight?”

On the weekends the latest is one or two o’clock, otherwise I might as well forget about Monday. But I don’t like partying as much as I used to anymore. I’d rather relax and watch a movie. I’m only 20, but I’m not a college student who can get away with it, like my sister [laughs].

Is alcohol a taboo?

If we go out for cocktails, I’m ordering one for me, too. I don’t think that’s so bad. But I’m not getting drunk when we’re out clubbing.

Many young people at your age primarily think “Party, party, party!” Have you ever been really drunk?

[laughs] Cool question. No, I don’t think so. I’m saving that for my first big win.

At the German championships in December, where you lost the final 4-6 6-2 5-7 to Antonia Lottner, you were without someone from your family or a coach. Was that a conscious decision to cut the cord?

It wasn’t my first time alone on tour. Nevertheless I don’t like being alone. I prefer to have someone on my side to talk to. If it’s not going well I need someone who catches me. Going to your hotel room alone after a match is dull, I think. During practice it’s important that someone is telling me what went wrong. Alone you don’t notice these kind of things. And then you immediately suffer the consequences during the match.

When your mother Gaby is travelling with you, how much is she your parent and how much your coach?

Difficult to say. During tournaments she is probably more coach than mother. We primarily talk about the match, the tactics, the opponents and not so much about private stuff.

Your boyfriend Phillip Lang, who is playing for [the tennis club] TTK Sachsenwald in the Nordliga is your hitting partner. Who wins?

He would probably say that he wins. But the truth is: I win! [laughs]. Two years ago it was close. Back then sometimes he won and sometimes me. But by now that has changed. His serve is good, but not enough to beat me.

To complete the humiliation: Does he have to do the dishes and iron at home?

Nonsense. I’m not a witch. During the matches he is annoyed sometimes, but all is fine afterwards.

Can you relax at home or is tennis a permanent fixture even in your private life?

No, it works well. Phillip has good instincts when I’m totally annoyed by something. Then he just skips the topic.

Do you dream about matches or ponder [about tennis] before falling asleep?

That depends on who I am playing. If it’s a match I’m sure I will win, then I can relax very well. I don’t think about and sleep wonderfully. If I’m afraid, then it’s difficult for me to rest. But it’s never so extreme that I think “Shut up up there!”, thank god.

You parents have two tennis sites close to Hamburg. Was it always the goal that you or your sister become pros?

The opposite. It wasn’t planned. I played Kindergarten tennis early on and then practiced at the club from time to time. But I always got better anyway. Then I myself was so ambitious that I told my mother: “Mama, I want to practice more.” Suddenly I’m playing the Hamburg city championships – and win. Then came the first national tournaments, and I played well there, too. When the age group rankings got published and I was No.1 I thought: “Man, I’d really like it to continue like this”. But it was never like my parents thought, “Carina has been born, we want her to become a tennis pro.”

Besides competitive sports you also finished your Abitur [highest level of secondary education in Germany]. Was it difficult to balance tennis and school?

At times I was contemplating to quit school, but my parents just said: “No way.” I skipped Ninth Grade and then switched to specialized sports school. That way I was able to balance tennis and school well. When I was playing tournaments I was given leave – just for the Abitur exams I had to be there. Otherwise I could have been playing the Qualies at the Australian Open two years ago. I was ranked 220th back then.

You first entered the Top 100 late last season. Novak Djokovic said as a child: “I want to be Number One!” Do you also make goals like that? Do you tell yourself: I want to be the best in the world?

Yes, I’ve told myself that. I believe that every player secretly wants to be No.1. But I wouldn’t name it as a goal publicly. These are things that I negotiate with myself alone. If, at the end of the day, it’s just Nr.50 you just unnecessarily made yourself attackable.

Barbara Rittner, the captain of the Fed Cup Team and the Porsche Junior Team coached you in Melbourne. Was she able to help you?

Yes, of course. I benefit from her advice. Before that we’ve already always had good talks and she tells me her opinion honestly. She’s not part of my very inner circle, but she for sure is a very important person to me. I can always ask her for advice.

Has Rittner already given you some hope to be nominated for the German Fed Cup team?

Not concretely. I read a newspaper article that she wants me bring me close to it. If that will be the case I would be totally happy.

You have the image of being not very easy to coach?

I think all good competitive athletes are difficult because they have their own head. They scrutinize things. My family and I have certain idea of what constitutes a perfect practice. If someone can’t fulfill these we keep on looking [for another coach]. A good example is conditioning. We once had asked a coach to work on [my] speed on the court. He showed up with dumbbells and worked on my arms. Then we just say: Alright, Bye!

And now you are happy with your mother as coach?

Sometimes we fight, but for the moment it is the best solution.

~

Some perspective on Witthöft during the AO

Original source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/sport/carina-witthoeft-bei-den-australian-open-wie-eine-planierraupe-1.2314389

Like a Bulldozer

She’s adding a fresh, confident note to the German tennis camp: The 19-year-old Carina Witthöft surprises in Melbourne.  According to Fed Cup captain Barbara Rittner, “She has no upper limit”

It’s still vacation time in Australia. You notice it in Melbourne by the long queues you see at every corner. “From the sidewalk to the catwalk,” for example is the name of an exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria close to the famous Flinders Street in central Melbourne.  Fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier is showing pieces of his “fashion world” there. Tourists don’t mind queuing for tickets.

Despite being a fashion-conscious woman you won’t see Carina Witthöft waiting there, though – that much is certain. “I need the tournament feeling the whole time,” the 19-year old from Wentorf close to Hamburg says, and that’s why she isn’t enjoying the attractions of the city, but rather dedicating herself – and that’s a positive German message in this first week of the Australian Open – exclusively to her profession.

Witthöft, who a year ago was ranked around 200 in the world and now will break into the Top 100, has reached the third round, after a bulldozing win against the overwhelmed American Christina McHale. “Of course I want to go far,” Witthöft says. It’s not unimaginable for her to go one round further.

How early it still is during her apparently promising career is illustrated by her hotel booking troubles: “Last year I had to leave my hotel because I had only booked for the qualifying week but then made the main draw,” she tells me. This time the 24th of January is the planned check-out date.

[…]

“The lightheartedness of the unknown is useful for her,” says Barbara Rittner. The Fed Cup captain is this time coaching the talent herself. [Witthöft’s] path was presaged. Tennis is the life of the Witthöft family.  Carina’s parents operate two tennis facilities around Hamburg, her father Kai used to manage Carina before they hired an agency, and her mother Gaby is coaching her. And her boyfriend, who traveled to Melbourne with her, chips in as athletic coach. Only Jennifer, her sister, is attending university, but she’s still supportive of her sister, who was crowned city champion of Hamburg at the age of 14.

On Wednesday all  Witthöft’s friends and family got up in the middle of the night to watch her second round match, “Even grandma and grandpa,” Witthöft tells us, while repeatedly playing with her left earring. You can sense the bafflement about her own performance. In the first round she had dominated the Top 20 player Carla Suarez Navarro with scores of winning shots from almost every position. She knows, particularly because Rittner keeps preaching it to her: “If you scale back by just ten percent your opponent will get back into it.”  So she doesn’t scale back by even one percent and that can, as against McHale, look spectacular. She took the break point to win the first game of the second set with a laser-like shot down the line while running at full speed. The spectators were gasping as if they just had seen an elephant in a pink dress disappear on Court 6.

[…]

Possibly there indeed is no “upper limit” for Witthöft, who is remarkably athletic, as Rittner bravely predicted earlier. And that there are difficult years like 2013 is probably part of the development process of a young athlete, who after all is still a teenager. In any case, the respect for her is growing these days. Her wins “don’t surprise me,” said Julia Görges, who also reached the third round, “but that the scorelines are so clean,” did surprise her.

Witthöft has trained with Görges several times, and they live close to each other. But deducing from this that there is a lot of contact with the Fed Cup players is wrong. They talk, but “it’s not like we’re friends,” says the high-school graduate, who clearly is the first face of a new German tennis generation. Supported by the Porsche Talent Team of the German tennis association, she gets financial support that will, despite the 50,188 Euros Witthöft secured herself in Melbourne, continue for the time being.

~

Translations by Katja

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