Interview with WTA Rising Star, Magda Linette

Original article: http://www.przegladsportowy.pl/tenis,magda-linette-nominowana-w-turnieju-wta-rising-stars,artykul,604497,1,289.html

Andrzej Soboń: You have been nominated for the WTA Rising Stars event that will be played alongside the WTA Finals in Singapore – is it a big honour in your opinion? How do you like your chances in the voting?

Magda Linette: I knew what nominations were about and I was really glad when I got an email from WTA. I remember a situation from a year ago when I was training with a player who took part in it. It’s an opportunity to see the WTA Finals from the inside. This competition is only a small part of it but it would be a great adventure! I know that Bojana Jovanovski or Caroline Garcia are ahead of me when it comes to success and they’re more popular than me. I’m happy about having been nominated. I’m secretly counting on the possibility that I’ve been able to gain at least a little of fans’ support and that’s enough for the second place which will give me the entry.

If you take a look back at your match against Agnieszka Radwańska at the US Open, would you change something in your game?

I’d play more calmly at the beginning. Now, thanks to experience, I’d know what to expect. I’d be more relaxed coming out on the court, more regular. I wouldn’t give away so many free points, especially at the beginning. Tactics would be similar, it wasn’t bad. I had too many unforced errors. Maybe I could have played more offensively but I got pushed back and gave her chances to play deep and high balls. I could have gone to the net in a couple of key points, play aggressively. Yes, I’d work on that.

Your first match in the second round in a major tournament made you more nervous than usual?

I don’t think so… I was just nervous before a match against Agnieszka. We had a bigger court in round two, I also knew that more people would be watching it. The fact that it was the second round didn’t hinder me, on the contrary, it helped me – I could be calmer because of the money. I earned more, so I knew it would be easier to work during the second part of the season. I gained more points so I won’t have to worry about defending my points from the previews season.

You had your leg wrapped at the US Open. Was it a serious injury?

I had a pulled muscle but that bandage hindered me in the first match so I didn’t put it back on. It’s all right now, fingers crossed. I hope I won’t see more plasters or bandages because I’ve had enough of them lately!

You said you’re focusing on your serve. How’s the training going?

We started working on it not that long ago. I had had some shoulder problems, I had to get stronger. My frame is not too imposing, we had to work hard to straighten it up, to make me stronger so that I could train properly. Before we managed that, when I’d served an hour or more, I had my arm bandaged for a week or two after. The workload was too big. We are beginning to work harder on my serve just now and there’s still a lot to do. We want to make it more effective and sustain it over a lot of matches. Of course, that’s not the only thing we’re working on but we want to visibly improve this element.

You are a bit on the sidelines of the Polish team, you haven’t been a part of the Polish Fed Cup team for some time. What’s your relationship with Agnieszka and her team?

I think that this recent Fed Cup team was really Radwańskas’ team which is still functioning. I just didn’t feel I belonged there. I practise in Croatia, I have Croatian coaches that aren’t on good terms with Polish coaches. But my relationship with both sisters is quite good. We’re not friends but we chat nicely, we joke. And not being in the centre of it all helps. Gives me more peace.

You have a new Fed Cup captain. Do you think he will be more inclined to make you a part of the team than Tomasz Wiktorowski?

To be honest, I hope so. The Olympic Games in Rio are not far and I’d love to play there. But there are rules, you have to participate in Fed Cup in order to qualify to the Olympics. Even if I’m eligible because of my WTA ranking position, I won’t meet the requirements and I won’t qualify. Playing at the Olympics is my dream. It’s amazing, it’s only held once in four years. It would be incredible to be a part of not only the show, but also history. I know I have to earn my place in the team. Before the Fed Cup matches, Ula Radwańska had better results than me. I have always tried to play as well as I can. I couldn’t have had more say on the selection process than that.

What are your plans for the upcoming weeks?

I’ll be in Asia til the end of the year. I did quite well last year, in Ningbo for example. I’ll be playing WTA tournaments now, we will see how I will perform in first five events. If I get enough points to qualify for the main Australian Open draw, I will probably play only those five or six. If my results are not good enough to realize this goal, then I’ll enter some minor WTA and ITF tournaments.

Do you like the Asian atmosphere more than European or the one in the USA?

I like Asia, it seems to me that my game matches well against players here. I like places that are a bit on the outside, there’s less pressure. I’m not used to being surrounded by many people. It’s probably a key factor, it’s difficult for me to hold my concentration in places like courts at the US Open. But when it comes to climate, Asia is more difficult. I like competition, it gives me more energy. I like bigger challenges. Sometimes we laugh with my coach that the more difficult the conditions, the better it is for me!

Does the Asian climate and culture appeal to you? Do you like the lifestyle there?

People in Asia are very nice and helpful. Even if they don’t speak English, which happens a lot in China, they smile a lot and you get it when they say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”  They are very nice, they don’t get angry when you want something from them. They do it in a really nice way and I can’t even get irritated. I’ve been preparing for the season here and I’ll probably do the same before the next one. I spend a lot of time here. I got to like Chinese food but you have to know where to go. When you are with people who live here and who know where to go and what to order, then it’s a nice change for us, Europeans. Asian dishes are incomparable to what we can get in Europe or in the USA. It’s also not very expensive here, even in best hotels. And the standard is very good.

Do you try to find some time to get to know these places during your preparation?

We are really trying! I’ve been hoping to see Tokyo but it’s raining all the time. One of my coaches really likes sightseeing so if I’m not too tired after practice, we try to go somewhere. We managed to see a lot in Hong Kong. We’ll be in Beijing soon, so I hope to go a bit farther and see the Great Wall because I didn’t do it last year and I regret it a lot. I also like karaoke here despite the fact that I can’t sing at all.

Do you try to sing in Chinese?

No, they’re English songs! You can really have a great time here but you have to be willing to learn about the culture and the people.

~

Translation: https://twitter.com/jesna3

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An Italian view of Pennetta’s US Open win

Original article: http://www.corriere.it/sport/15_settembre_13/pennetta-l-addio-con-titolo-dell-us-open-mia-vita-perfetta-6d756444-59e8-11e5-b420-c9ba68e5c126.shtml#

In Italian from Corriere della Sera by Gaia Piccardi, 13 September 2015

Flavia is quitting tennis (and had been thinking of it for some time) so that she can devote herself to what she’s always had to put on hold: having a family, making a home and enjoying the other small things in life.

“By winning the US Open, my life is perfect.” It has comes as no surprise or great shock. The 33-year-old winner, ranked number 26 in the world (but who will rise to number 8 from Monday), has grasped every opportunity that life had promised her 20 years ago, when she left her home in Brindisi at the age of 14, culminating in her becoming the queen of New York on a rainy Saturday, when things went a little bit crazy.

Pennetta, who else? There is basically a sense of justice about her success here in Flushing Meadows, which has shaken the tennis world to the core. This is the veteran who is about to bring to an end the cycle of tournaments, travelling and globetrotting routines, and who has now been presented with the loveliest present imaginable, handed to her by the best opponent she could have had, Roberta Vinci.

REAPING THE REWARDS

A scenario, which had seemed until yesterday totally radical, almost perverse (in the US, which was expecting a Grand Slam victory for Serena Williams just like Americans expect pancakes for breakfast, the prospect of a Pennetta-Vinci final didn’t offer any great appeal…), now, the day after, has created a deep sense of reward. A beautiful, happy and rich life for the work and sacrifices that have been made, but one which is anything but normal, just like the life of any top-level professional athlete. Flavia had been thinking for more than two seasons about wanting something else. Such as a house where she could arrange flowers that don’t die because of her being away for long periods of time. A less haphazard routine involving baggage, metal detectors, hours spent on flights, checking in and checking out. A fridge filled with fresh food rather than long-life products which don’t perish. A husband. A family. Children. She has the blueprint to follow in front of her very eyes with her mother Conchita and father Oronzo in Brindisi, who are one of the best-known couples in the city.

THOUGHTS ABOUT RETIREMENT

At the end of 2014, when Pennetta was ready to take the big leap into real adult life, her coach Salvador Navarro had managed to convince her to wait for another season. He told her to enjoy the pleasure for the last time. Just as well he did. On Saturday, in New York she received the prize she deserved. A 7-6 6-2 victory over Roberta Vinci, the first and last grand slam evolving around a friendship going back almost 20 years, sealed by the close embrace at the net and by the exchanges between the players on the court, who had a bit of reputation in their young days, while awaiting the grand award ceremony. “I still enjoy training. It’s the competing side of things that I find hard. I’m going to finish the season and then stop. It’s fantastic for me to be able to make this announcement after winning the US Open.”

Can you imagine any better moment to announce this to the world after confiding in only her close entourage about this? This came as a shock to others, but not to Flavia and those who know her. The relationship with Fabio Fognini, who returned to New York to surprise her by appearing in her box to support her, is ready for the next big step. Flavia has a strong head, heart and legs, along with the courage to succeed after tennis, even in tackling the more difficult challenge facing her – a life without tennis. But with the chance to live life even more to the full.

~

Translation: GJM

Interview with Stefanos Tsitsipas

Original article: http://tennisportalen.se/stefanos-tsitsipas-i-intervju-med-tennisportalen/

Stefanos Tsitsipas is currently ranked as the world’s 17th best junior and perhaps the greatest talent Greece as a tennis nation has produced.  Tennisportal Editor Alex Theodoridis got hold of Stefanos through Twitter.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has played tennis since he was 6 years old, and he usually trains in Glyfada Tennis Club in Athens when he is not traveling and competing around the world. Although he is now trying to break into the senior level, Stefanos has a genuine interest in tennis.  In his spare time he voluntarily runs the Facebook groups TenniscoreITN and TenniscoreITT with 17000 and 2500 followers respectively.

You are the greatest talent Greece has produced in years, maybe in history – do you feel any pressure?

– Tennis is my passion. I am proud to represent Greece. My goal is to always do my best on the court, always be better. Pressure is just a word.

Where do you train in Greece in the summer? Are there any indoor courts nearby or do you simply practice in the evenings?

– I play a lot of tournaments in the summer in different countries so the warm climate of Greece does not interfere with my tennis.

Who do you train with at home?

– I work mostly with Theodoros Angelinos (866) and Paris Gemouchidis (formerly 582). Sometimes I practice with Alexandros Jakupovic (434).

How popular is tennis today in Greece and how well do you think it does against the more major sports in the country, such as basketball and football?

– Tennis is not as popular in Greece today but I still think that the popularity is increasing slowly. Tennis is however very expensive today.

Describe your strengths as a tennis player.

– The forehand is my biggest weapon, but I feel very stable in my ground strokes. Also my serve, when I feel it well.

You play with a one-handed backhand, something that we see less and less in today’s tennis compared to 20-30 years ago. Was it something that your coaches from a young age recommended or was it simply something that you wanted to teach yourself?

– It was my decision. I never liked the double-handed backhand and for me the one-handed backhand is the most natural stroke in tennis. Classic!

Which players do you currently look up to?

– I like Wawrinka, Del Potro and Federer. Each one for their own characteristics.

Why, do you think, have Greece not produced an established ATP Player earlier, when tennis today is a global sport with players from all over the world? Could it be economic or traditional aspect that comes into play?

– Well, partly it is the economic part and also the organization of Greek tennis. Our nation is not as structured and disciplined as the other countries in tennis. I can only take Constantinos Economidis and Theodoros Angelinos as living examples. They were two very talented players who were hungry, disciplined and determined. They really wanted to do something with their tennis. That’s what it comes down to, how much you are willing to sacrifice. It is tough, and you must be able to manage to travel all year round and be without friends and family.

The players had no support from the Greek Tennis Federation?

– I’ve spoken to them and they have hardly received any help, just a couple of plane tickets.

Do you get any financial support from the Greek Tennis Federation?

– No, but I’m already sponsored.

(The problems Tsitsipas are talking about are unfortunately something normal for many of the players on the Futures and Challenger Tours. Without financial support, it is almost impossible to take the steps into the ATP level, and some players thus have much greater ability to go all the way. While there is no guarantee at all of success whether you have financial support or not, the probability is of course much higher if you don’t.  That Economidis and Angelinos completely lacked financial support from the Greek Tennis Federation is of course shocking, but is at the same time says something about the country’s dismal status as a tennis nation.)

You finished third in the U18 European Championship in Switzerland a few weeks ago, was it the highlight of your career?

– It was a good experience, certainly, but I can not say it was the highlight of my career right away. A good tournament simply.

What does a typical day look like for you as a tennis player?

– I wake up, eat breakfast and then go and practice tennis. After that I go to the gym, lunch, rest, once again tennis, swimming, rest and sleep. I forgot dinner as well.

It sounds like a very hectic schedule?

– It is, absolutely. On Sundays I go to the movies though!

Have you dropped out of school or are you studying at a distance?

– I do all my courses through the Internet.

What have you to say about Mikael Ymer who is the same age as you, and additionally won the U18 European Championships?

– Mikael is a very good player with a great attitude. He really gives everything on the court and he’s always tough to face.

How does your schedule look for the rest of the year?

– I leave tomorrow for a 15,000 dollar tournament in Italy and then several Futures tournaments and Challenger-qualies are waiting for me.

We at Tennisportalen wish Stefanos the best of luck in his future tennis career and we want to thank him for taking the time to speak with us!

~

Translation of his original interview by Alex Theodoridis from tennisportalen.se  – https://twitter.com/tennisguru100

Kristina Mladenović: “Sport is in our blood.”

This is an English version of an interview published on Serbia’s B92.

Mladenović was born in France in 1993, about a year after her parents moved from the former Yugoslavia for her father’s job.  Dragan Mladenović was a professional handball player who was part of the Yugoslav Olympic team that won a gold medal in Los Angeles (1984).  “Kiki,” a top junior in 2009, made her first WTA singles final this year, losing to Sam Stosur on the Strasbourg clay.  Points from her wins at the US Open this week will put her at a new career-high ranking.
AM: What question, if any, are you tired of answering?
KM: There are obviously routine questions about matches, but it’s normal to respond to those.  I think it’s annoying to have the French press always asking, “Are you ok handling the media pressure & expectations?” because it’s been a few years now since I first arrived on the tour.  That’s part of the job and it’s actually a good sign if I have to deal with it.
AM: Both your parents were professional athletes and you & your brother have chosen to follow in their footsteps.  What do sports mean to the members of your family, since everyone is involved in sports but each person is doing something different?
KM: It’s a big thing–sport is in our blood.  To us, it’s normal and natural.  But to have such a family–my father was a professional handball goalkeeper, my mom played volleyball at the international level, my brother is a promising young football player, trying to become professional as well, and me on the tour–it’s amazing. It’s not like our parents pushed us into their way of life.  I’m actually impressed with all of us–it’s something really special. We make fun of it quite often, actually: like when friends come over, there’s always some game on tv and they ask, “Can’t you put a movie on or something?!”
AM: Are you competitive amongst yourselves?
KM: Definitely.  In our free time, I might go watch my brother or play with him or we’d go for a run all together.  We’re a really sporty & healthy family.  This is our style of life.
AM: Your parents clearly understand the pressures & traveling & other aspects of your professional life, but you’re the only one in the family playing an individual sport.  Does that mean there are some things they don’t really grasp?
KM: Yeah.  I’m quite lucky that because they’ve been professional athletes on such a high level, they understand a lot.  They can’t really help me tactically or technically, even though they’ve been by my side for many years and are also improving and learning a lot about tennis.  But they know me best and are such nice and cool parents–and they understand that though tennis is my job, it’s not my whole life.  It’s amazing to have such a good relationship with them.
AM: How did it come about that you chose tennis?  Did you also try team sports like volleyball when you were young?
KM: Yeah, actually I was playing both volleyball and tennis. My parents just introduced me to tennis as a change of pace.  There was a club close to home, so I thought it was a good idea.  As parents, they just wanted my brother and me to be healthy–you know, for kids it’s great to be sporty and not always inside playing video games or whatever.  Actually, I was really talented in volleyball–even better than at tennis.  But I was just a little bored with it; at a young age, like 8-9, it wasn’t that interesting for me because I was already much taller than the other kids & playing better.  So, I chose tennis & went my own way both because I was talented and because it was also more of a challenge.  I fell in love with the sport and had success at an early age, playing my first Slam at 14 and a half.  But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy–everyone has their own story, a tough path to achieve what they want.
AM: I wonder if there’s also a cultural aspect to it, too, with the long tradition of tennis in France, whereas in the former Yugoslavia there was more of an emphasis on team sports?
KM: Yeah, actually, I have this inside me: even though I chose tennis & I’m a professional player, I’m really a collective-minded person.  So, I really love all the Fed Cup stuff and Olympics–I get so pumped.  It’s different when I’m playing alone–I handle myself differently.  I definitely feel like I’m coming from a team-sport family and culture–and I can’t deny my Serbian roots.
AM: I was going to ask you about the cultural connection.  Obviously, you were born in France, speak the language, & play for the country; but do you go back to Serbia often to visit?  Do you still have family there?
KM: Unfortunately, my two grandmothers died recently, so I have no more grandparents left.  That makes it more difficult to get back there, even though I have uncles and cousins.  It’s especially complicated with the tennis schedule and all the travel–I’m not often at home either.  But I always say in my heart I’m French and in my head I’m Serbian–and let people guess what that means.
AM: Though you’re a singles player now near your career-high ranking, your biggest titles are in doubles. How did your partnership with Daniel Nestor come about & what effect does all your doubles success have on your singles career?
KM: It started easily: he asked me one year before Roland Garros, and I was really impressed that someone like him, a doubles legend who’s won absolutely everything, wanted to play with me.  So, I said “Of course!”  And right away we made the French Open final, then won Wimbledon and the Australian Open.  It’s amazing–really unbelievable–for me to already have all these experiences and titles at age 22.  What can I say?  At the beginning of my career, I played doubles as a way to practice for my singles, since that’s my priority.  But to have Grand Slam titles on your record is such a big privilege and I really respect that and try to remind myself every day that it’s something I can talk about with my children in the future.  I’m enjoying doubles, I’m proud of it, and I’m happy it’s helping my singles–to reach the same level in singles, if possible, is the goal.
AM: In Washington, you won the doubles title playing with Belinda Bencic for the first time. Now you’re back with your steady partner, Timea Babos?
KM: Yeah. She’s exactly my age–four days older than me–and we have such a great relationship.  I know Timea really well and we decided at last year’s Wimbledon to play together.  It’s definitely great to have a fixed partner: there’s all this routine stuff which makes it easier to practice every day. And when it’s your best friend on the tour, it makes it even better.
AM: Last December, you were one of the breakout stars of the IPTL. What were the best things about that experience?  Do you think it had an impact on this season?
KM: Yeah, of course. It’s related to what I said before about collective sports, team spirit.  It was a lot of fun and completely different from what we are used to on the tour.  It reminded me a bit of Fed Cup, but it’s not your country people.
AM: You were on the mostly Balkan team with Novak, Zimonjić, Čilić, Ivanišević...
KM: Yes, exactly. It was definitely an amazing experience to be part of such an unbelievable group, filled with Grand Slam champions in all disciplines. There were just a few exceptions–showmen like Monfils.  I was really impressed & I’m proud to have been called to participate again in such an event.  I think it’s great for tennis to have a different kind of competition & also for the crowd to follow it on tv.  The rules are fun–not that it will become like this on the tour any time soon, but to have it during the off-season is great for the fans.  For myself, I really enjoyed it: stadiums were packed, the atmosphere was amazing, and I had very tough matches–interesting to play at such a high level [during a break].
AM: Caroline Wozniacki was the other woman on your team, but since she wasn’t there as much, you had to step up. Some of those match-ups could have been quarter-finals at a major tournament. KM: Definitely. My teammates were making fun of me, saying “You are the MVP!” Obviously, there was a lot of expectation and pressure, as you had to try to bring as many games as possible to your team.  I think I responded pretty well.  I loved it and felt good playing, so I can’t wait to have some more fun again this year.
AM: You’ve been on tennis fans’ radars for a while and won your first major doubles title in 2013. Now that you’re in the top 40 for singles, do you feel like it’s taken longer or about what you expected to get here?
KM: I was also #35 about two years ago, my best ranking, so I’m coming back.  You know, everyone has their own story, their own way, their own process–you never know. For some, it goes easily and they stay at the top; for others, it’s up and down; some arrive to the top 10 and then they’re struggling.  There’s not really one key to success.  The only thing I can request from myself is to work hard every day, to know where I’m going and what I have to improve. Once I do this, I can do more.  I’m happy just trying to do my best–I’m not worried about the time it’s taking; I’m just trying to enjoy every win.  And think that’s the best way to improve.
AM: You experimented short-term with a couple of Serbian coaches, Dušan Vemić and Nemanja Kontić, but that didn’t work out. What’s your coaching arrangement now?
KM: Since February, I don’t have a coach.  And, actually, I think it’s working pretty well so far.  Those two experiences didn’t work out very well–I didn’t feel myself in that kind of structure.  So, I decided to go on my own. Of course, I’ve always had my family support around me.  They’re not annoying, pushing, and trying to advise too much in tennis–they can advise about other stuff. They would never say, “You have to do forehands like this.”  That’s why they’re really cool and bring me a lot of support about the important things in my life.  Right now, I think I’m handling it pretty well–I know what I have to do to improve, so I’m just doing it on my own.  I don’t pretend I can reach my goals alone, and the situation is pretty open–I can always find someone, but it has to be a good fit.
AM: Do you set goals for the season–and is it about ranking or more specific things?
KM: When you’re at this level, you really have to think about stuff like that–it’s what pushes you to be better.  Of course, I have technical goals–I have to improve this and that, my fitness, my forehand, my backhand–but you also try to put yourself ahead in the ranking.  So far, I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved.  For next year, I think it would be nice to be a seed [in the top 32], because I’ve been playing a lot of seeds in the first round!
AM: Getting a former US Open champion is a tough draw.  What does the win over Kuznetsova (6-3, 7-5) tell you about your current form?
KM: Yeah, when the draw came out I saw it would be difficult. I respect Svetlana a lot–she’s a two-time Slam champion and really a tough player with a huge career.  On the court, I had to play great, a very solid match, to beat her and it’s definitely one more very nice win for me. I’m definitely pleased–every first round in a Slam is very difficult to win. This is what’s amazing in women’s tennis today: everybody has improved a lot & I feel like every player can be dangerous.  I’m trying now to focus on each match, even if it’s not such a famous name.  I’m a humble person and respect every opponent–anybody can be tough and play great tennis, especially for one match.
After her 7-5, 6-1 win over Bojana Jovanovski, we followed up with some routine post-match questions.
AM: How did you feel about the match today?
KM: The score definitely made it look easy, but it was actually a really tricky match, as I expected.  I was down 4-2, almost 5-2 in the first set and I somehow fought really hard and turned it around.  I don’t think either of us played our best–it’s never easy when you know each other really well.  We’ve practiced together many times–and we’ve known each other since we started tennis.  A funny story, actually, is that I played Bojana in my very first tournament–in Serbia, when I was in holidays with my parents, around 7 years old.  When you know somebody really well, sometimes you try to change the way you play to surprise her somehow. So, with this kind of match, I’m just really glad to get through.
AM: Are you feeling lucky that instead of facing Sharapova in the third round, you’re getting an unknown 18-year old, Daria Kasatkina?
KM: Well, it’s true that it’s an unknown name and I don’t know much about her either, but it’s tough to say.  Instead of Maria, I could be playing Gavrilova, who’s beaten her in the past.  So, Maria was the higher rank and the best player in this part of the draw.  But this girl has an unbelievable story–she’s supposed to be out of the tournament already and now she’s won two interesting matches against solid players and two completely different styles of game, which means she must be pretty talented and solid mentally as well. She’s stayed composed and got two wins in what may be her first main draw of a major–that’s pretty amazing. So, I’m actually expecting a tough match.
With Maria, you don’t have anything to lose and you know her game perfectly well through watching and playing against her.  You know how to play and she has all the pressure–plus, I have the game.  This way, it looks much easier on paper and I have more experience; on the other hand, you don’t know anything about the opponent and it’s an important match, which can be dangerous.
~Interview conducted by Ana Mitrić and translated by Saša Ozmo.

Danish ATP player Kenneth Carlsen on coping with his undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

From Ekstra Bladet http://ekstrabladet.dk/flash/dkkendte/article4317153.ece by Alan Lykke (2008)

Without ever being diagnosed with the disorder, the now retired tennis player is convinced that he at least had the symptoms of OCD for most of his career.

OCD is described medically as a condition with forced thoughts and actions. Definite rituals must be performed exactly if the day isn’t to be ruined.

For Kenneth Carlsen, the goal was to win tennis matches, and out of fear of losing he developed a pattern of behaviour, originally meant as a safety net, but which, over time, became a plague that he only managed to control late in his career.

Most people interested in tennis have seen his serving rituals. First he rolled two balls in one hand, then put one into his pocket with the one hand, then he stuck the other in his pocket, adjusted the strings on his racquet, blew into his hand, and bounced the ball before hitting his serve.

But this regular pattern, which he considered a thinking pause while he considered where to place the serve, was just one of many even worse rituals that ended up plaguing him, he wrote in his book Alene på banen [Alone on the Court] which was published at the end of September 2008.

Hopes to break down taboos

“I’ve included the mania in my book in the hope of breaking down some taboos. There’s a lot of superstition in sports. We need to always perform, we’re always judged. That’s why a lot of athletes – but many others also – have a some fixed things they do in a given situation. Or else they think it will end badly.

“I imagine we all have it to a certain extent, and I open myself up to such a degree in the book that people might get the impression that I should be committed.”

The mania started as a young player, when Kenneth Carlsen rode the bus back and forth from his home on Amager to his club in Frederiksberg. To pass the time he started to say aloud the names of the shops he rode past – but in different ways. Fona became Nafo, Matas to Tamas, Gammel Kongevej to Vejkongen Melgam.

Started as an innocent game

“It started as an innocent game, but as the pressure mounted, the game changed in character. First it became serious, then an absolute necessity, and at the end it became a plague I couldn’t escape from,” writes Carlsen.

He had to sleep exactly eight hours every night, the water bottle had to be placed in a special way, the towel folded according to a definite pattern. If it didn’t feel right, he might turn around and walk back to adjust it, even if he’d just got up to go back onto the court to resume the match.

His sports bag got the same careful treatment. It couldn’t just be picked up from the floor and slung around the shoulder. No, it had to be done carefully and correctly. Four times while Kenneth counted to four each time. If there was a cock up, he had to do it four times four – 16 – times.

Trouble with the bag almost cost him an ATP tournament win.

“The supervisor got me back onto the court where my opponent stood and waited. I half panicked. I didn’t feel I’d done the bag ritual properly. I was beside myself, but I ended up playing fantastic and winning the match.”

Couldn’t you have put yourself outside the rituals when you won without them?

“That’s easier said than done. When you’ve already stressed yourself up totally it can be hard to let go.”

How did you get out of it?

“I did it during my 19 month injury pause in 1999. I got a healthier perspective about my job. I got out of the bell jar, was allowed to live stress-free. I could relax, drink a glass of red wine in the evening and go into town with friends. I didn’t touch a racquet for six months. The I came back and won my biggest ever tournament in Tokyo.”

And that was without the rituals?

“Yes, I didn’t want to return to the bell jar. If the problem returns, and it does from time to time, I nip it in the bud.”