“I felt at the end of my tether.” Stan Wawrinka, interviewed by @LequipeTestelin in l’Équipe, on the physical and mental fatigue that led to his body breaking down

Translation of the interview with Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe, print edition Wednesday 10 January 2018, pages 18-19 and online https://abonnes.lequipe.fr/Tennis/Article/Stan-wawrinka-je-me-suis-senti-a-bout/865299 by Régis Testelin.

MONTE CARLO – After five months of suffering, doubt and sweat, who knows if he’ll be able to put on a good performance at the Australian Open? The Swiss hasn’t played since his first round loss against Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon. In August, he underwent two knee operations, one arthroscopic, another to fix a cartilage hole. Five months later, he’s in Melbourne, where he’s supposed to take part in a “Tie Break Tens” exhibition with Nadal and Djokovic [he withdrew with a shoulder problem – Mark] which might give some indication of his level and perhaps reassure himself. We spent a morning with him in the middle of December at the Monte Carlo Country Club to talk about the injury, overwork and the depression what occasionally hits even the most solid players on the tour.

After three exceptional seasons, your knee gave out. Do you think you pushed too hard?

When you’re always trying to reach as high as you can, you push the machine to the limits. Still, I was careful: I never played four or five tournaments in a row, I always gave myself recuperation periods. But I’ve always known that this sport, at this level, wasn’t good for the body. You know there’ll be problems later on.

Pushing to the limit until breaking, that’s extracting the best from oneself while getting consumed. How is that experienced?

In all sports, when you reach this level, you consume yourself. It’s not by chance that I’m injured at thirty-two, that Novak is at thirty, if Roger and Rafa were. These injuries are results of wear and tear and of numbers. But when you have the chance of getting to the top, it’s a nice wear and tear. Besides, winning is addictive – you always want more. To get more, you need to do more, to do more you push yourself even more, and at some point, it gives out. When you’re on top, everything’s tougher. What I did the last few years was an opportunity, but it was demanding. I get the impression I’m on my way to the cemetery, but I telling all this with a smile [he laughs]. I’m trying to make people understand what we go through.

Do you have the impression of having pushed your body to the burnout point?

These last couple of years, I’ve pushed too far, too long, and the motor often overheated. But it’s not just physical, it’s mental too. People watch us play tennis, but we have a life outside of that which means … I felt at the end of my rope these last years; I had mental gaps. Burnout is too strong a word, because people who burnout live at the extremes. But it happens that I experience feeling at a breaking point, of telling myself “I can’t keep this up”.

It’s the interaction between what’s happening around you and the on-court demands?

It’s of a piece. If you have a full life that wears on you, you’ll get tired on the job. That applies to all trades, but even more in ours. You don’t win Grand Slams without pushing to your personal limits.

Does that mean that you’d like to change some things to better manage?

It’s difficult to change things when I see what doing those things led to: three Grand Slams and a final. That means I did those things well. If I’d rested more, I’d never have gone as far. This injury will make cleaning out all but my closest entourage easier. I won’t be spending energy on people who aren’t closest any longer and I’ll be fresher.

How did you experience this period of inactivity?

Everything weighed on me: walking with crutches, being off the Tour, doubt, not being able to do anything. When you stop for a longer period, it’s very bad for your body. It will take some time, for example, to recover full flexion on my serve. But it’s not just that – rehabilitating my shoulder will also take time. The whole body needs to be reconditioned to being under pressure and tension.

What was the hardest to recover in the last few weeks?

Knee flexion. I can’t get down very low. Reflexive movements are difficult. But, I’m playing well, my shots are good, my tennis is there.

How much were you in doubt?

Inside, I was always sure that I’d find the solution to get to a certain level. Which level, I don’t yet know. But this re-education was tougher than I thought. I wasn’t expecting it. All those phases where you had to reach the limit without going over to protect the knee.

You’ve said that without the help of Pierre Paganini, your fitness coach, you would have quit.

To come back from so far, I need someone who knows my limits. He was a lifesaver because I had moments of depression where I felt alone. What I missed the most was competing, the adrenaline, the excitement, all those things you can only experience first-hand. Stress, even when you feel bad, is basically a good thing. I was in a down period.

Would you say the toughest part to get to a Slam semi-final is behind you or ahead of you?

I’d say behind. Coming to play for two weeks in Monte Carlo in December with the guys, being able to hit with Dimitrov and realising that, despite everything, the level is there, that helped me. From the first training session, I felt that the tennis wasn’t going to be a problem. But when you lose confidence, persuading yourself that you’ll come back is tough.

Knowing that a player like Rafael Nadal came back from long injury periods, does that help?

No. I mean, it’s possible, but everyone’s different. Obviously, it’s tougher coming back from a knee operation than a wrist injury, for example, because with a wrist injury, you can keep working on everything else physical. But, tennis-wise, it’s tougher coming back from a wrist injury, so … Everyone manages their own injury; you can’t compare.

Magnus Norman, who’s been your coach since 2013, suddenly left you in October.

I didn’t see that coming. It was a shock and a disappointment. I’ll always acknowledge what we experienced together, but the timing was difficult. When you start again from zero, you need people around you who know you so you can recover your lost confidence. He has his reasons [spend more time with his family] and I accept them. We’ll delve more into the reasons for the break at a good meal. It will be easier then. Thanks to him, I won three Slams, and they’ll never be erased.

You say you want to play another three or four years. Will one of your goals be detaching more from results and taking advantage of that?

– Yes, but that will be impossible. The more the years pass, the more difficult it is to look back and tell yourself, “OK, I lost but it doesn’t matter.” There’s less time left, and you can’t miss your chances.

Translated by MAN

*Edited to fix an incorrect date.

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“To prove to myself that I’m alive.” Marion Bartoli interviewed by @sophiedorgan about her illness, being gaslit in a toxic relationship, and the profound reasons for her comeback

My translation of the interview with Marion Bartoli by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe, print edition, Tuesday, January 9, 2017, pages 2-3.

After spending Christmas and New Year with her family, Marion Bartoli returned to the National Training Centre (NTC) to prepare for her return, forecast first for March 7 at Madison Square Garden for an exhibition against the Williams sisters, then officially at Miami on March 21. Tired from a fitness session and preoccupied by a meeting with French Federation officials, she agreed to return at the end og last week to talk about what motivated her comeback.

You announced your comeback three weeks ago. Have you received many messages?

I received messages from Serena and Monica Seles. They were very positive messages. When Serena tells me I’m really a proof of courage, that pleases me very much. The same with Monica Seles, who was my absolute idol when I was small. When she tells me: “You’re a Wimbledon champion, something I never was”, that’s something exceptional. Monica advised me to really take my time. She reckons she came back too soon, with a bit of excess weight, and she paid for it with quite a few small injuries. She told me to be very careful and come back at my in form weight. Advice I’m going to follow.

Any messages from French women players?

No, none [smiles], but I’m expecting some.

And Yannick Noah?

Yes, he sent me a very nice message. He told me he was following my comeback, that he’d heard that I was training very hard, and that he was a captain who’d give me my chance if I deserved it. I think he’ll wait for my results, which makes perfect sense.

What’s your daily routine right now?

When I’m at the NTC, I arrive at 9.00, and I leave at 21.00. I do around 3½ to 4 hours of tennis every day, 2-2½ hours of fitness, then the recovery and the kinesiologists. Between sessions, I take a little siesta just behind [she points to the French club’s sofa at the NTC].

Does that rather monastic life suit you?

I love it. I think all high-level athletes love it. To achieve the top results, you have to live like that. It’s impossible otherwise.

You still have the need to prove things to yourself?

I need to prove to myself that I’m alive.

But your organism still suffered.

That’s why it took me a year-and-a-half to get to the correct energy level.

Were there after effects?

Not any more, but I had them for a very long time. I couldn’t eat what I wanted.

Are you obsessive about your weight?

No, especially after what happened to me [smiles]. That lets me put things even more into perspective. Before, I complained a lot after a hard day of training. Today, I don’t experience it in the same way at all, because it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through. I’m happy just getting up in the morning, being in good health, having energy and getting through the day. Going radically to works and losing 10 kg in a month, that’s not possible. On the other hand, I stick to my dietary regimen.

No danger any longer of being skeletal, like at Wimbledon?

No. I’d lost a lot of weight before my virus because of my ex, who made my life hell. He was really a total arsehole. I learned a lot there too. Because of my personality, I accepted the unacceptable. I was telling myself, “no, it’s not serious, no, it’s not serious”, and it completely destroyed me. I don’t want to live like that any more. It’s true, I’d lost a lot of weight, I was weak, and with a weakened immune system, I caught a virus in India that finished me. I was already extremely thin, or even skinny, but I didn’t see it.

You kept hearing you were overweight …

When I retired, I was the happiest person in the world. Then I met my old boyfriend in 2014, and every day he told me I was fat. Every day. When he saw a thin girl on the street, he told me, “you see how she’s thin and pretty”. That wasn’t helpful.

You wanted to get thinner for him and it turned out badly?

Once you’re caught in the trap, it’s tough to escape. After, I stabilised at a weight that was weak, but I stabilised. But at ‘Wim’, that was the lowest of the low. I couldn’t swallow anything any more.

After more than a year, there’s no medical risk in training so much?

Today, I really don’t think I’m putting myself in any danger. If I thought I were, I’d stop. I’ve done every medical test, and everything’s OK. If I increase training a bit and I see that it’s starting to endanger my health, I’ll stop my comeback and I’ll say, “sorry, I pictured it, we thought it was possibly, but medically I have a contraindication, and I’m stopping.” It wouldn’t be a personal defeat. It would just be that, at thirty-three, with everything I’ve been through, my body can’t take any more.

Why start with such a big tournament like Miami? Nishikori and Agassi, for example, decided to go through Challengers.

It’s not the same comeback situation. They hadn’t gone through being close to death. Honestly, I’m not going to put up with playing Challengers. I played the $50K’s when I was sixteen. I’m not going to do it at thirty-three. If I’m coming back, it’s to try and play big matches on the big courts and experience those feelings. It’s not a question of ranking. I’m not going to have a twenty-five match schedule.

Do you foresee skipping clay?

If I start in Miami, I won’t skip. I’ll play a lighter schedule, with Madrid, Rome and Roland. If I don’t start in Miami, I’ll skip clay and I’ll do Nottingham, Birmingham and Wimbledon.

Will you play practice matches to gauge yourself?

The period of practice matches in February will be very important. I need to them to reassure myself and see if I have the level. If I take it on the chin 6-1 against girls who are between 15th and 30th, it won’t be possible.

If you play ranked at 100, you won’t come back?

No way. I’m not coming back to be ranked 100. I spent my entire career in the top 20, and at my best in the top 10. If I’m playing top 100 in February and getting my butt kicked by top 30 players, I’ll really need to question myself. If, with no pressure, during practice sets, with my coach behind me, I don’t have the level, I won’t have the match level. I might give myself a longer training time up to grass, and if I then don’t have the level … I’m coming back to have fun, play big matches and enjoy myself.

There won’t be any shame?

Oh yes, I’ll take it very badly [laughs].

Playing ranked 30 isn’t obvious

– If I have the level in practice, but I can’t carry it through to matches, that’s one thing. But if I don’t have the level in practice, that’s something else. Without any pretension, with my career, it seems logical. I’m not coming back at thirty-three to be ranked 80-100. That’s of no interest. At fifteen, a girl can start the year at 80 and end the year at 20, but not at thirty-three. That’s not going to happen.

And you reckon you have the level?

Yes. I’m hitting well. Is that enough for today’s level? I don’t know. It will be important to gauge it.

Is the timetable you set holding up?

I obviously need to lose some weight, between five and seven kilos. I’ve been playing with a seven kilo weight vest. When I lose it, it’ll be easier. Doctors Montalvan and Barbiche are helping me with my nutrition. After what happened to me, it’s even more difficult to manage. They’ve worked out a nutritional plan that suits me and that I can maintain every day. Right now, the whole plan is working out. My weight loss will be the measure of my comeback. I won’t go back on court if I’m not at the right playing weight.

When we remember you at Wimbledon, we can’t help wondering if you’re putting yourself in any danger by coming back.

If I get there, it would mean that I have an inner strength.

But you’ve already shown that!

I’m not so sure [smiles]. I have to prove to myself at least a second time. Not to others, but at least to myself. I let myself be destroyed by someone and I didn’t think that was possible. I let myself be swallowed up. I’m so happy when I’m on a tennis court that I’m reliving happy times every day. They make up for the “unhappy times”, in quotes.

Do you have a psychologist to help you?

No, because it’s so complicated, it wouldn’t be of any use. I don’t feel like it, it would take too much time.

Your ex devalued you so much, you feel the need to rebuild your self-image?

There’s that. There’s a double process in this comeback, and that’s why I’m putting so much force and energy into it. It’s both to escape this illness, to prove to myself that even if I was centimetres from death, I can once again be on a tennis court and fight for three hours to win a three-set match. And the second reason, it’s for everything that devalued me. Every single day, in an insidious way, he made me lower than dirt. I want to prove I can get back up again.

It’s a rebuilding process?

I came out of Wimbledon [2013] telling myself: “ I’ve realised my dream, I’ll be happy ever after.” I had a huge daily joie de vivre. He took it all. He extinguished it bit by bit every day. He even took away my love of playing. Every time we played tennis together, he did everything to beat me playing doubles by putting himself with the best possible player and me with the worst. He did it even with singles. So, he took everything. I managed to get out of it, but it took time. Eighteen months, that’s a long time. I was very young in a real love relationship, living with someone everyday. But I didn’t think I could be walked on – I had character.

There’s a sort of revenge?

Certainly.

The comeback is doubly important for you.

Yes, but, whatever the result, it will be won when I’m on the court. I’ll never forget Wimbledon 2016, I’ll never forget it. When the doctor told me I couldn’t play legends because my heart was so weak, I risked having a heart attack on the court, when it’s been three years since your name was on the board, it’s a punch in the face, it’s violent! … But I was grabbing on to that. That was it. When I went to bed, I didn’t know if I’d still be alive the next day.

 

Translated by MAN

Piotr Wozniacki interviewed by @johasger: ‘My son paid a price when we concentrated on Caroline.’ On the tough choices made, and advice to parents: “Don’t coach your kids”

Translation of the article in Extra Bladet December 23, 2017, sports section pages 8-9.

Also read: Interview with Piotr Wozniacki: “I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself and I regret that”

When Caroline Wozniacki was in her mid-teens, Piotr Wozniacki made a decision that not only was the springboard to his and his daughter’s tennis adventure – it also involved a painful choice. He revealed it when he was answering the question: what would he have done if she had chosen to thorw away her racquet and go another way.

“I don’t know. But I think I would have helped Patrik more,” referring to her older brother. “He was a pretty good footballer, but needed some support and help from me. I made the choice then, when Caroline was producing promising results. That meant that I had to be closer to one of my children than the other. It was tough.

“Without a doubt, being so close to her has been a huge gift, but also meant that I would have to be away from my son.

“We all talked about it together, and I’ve very proud of the fact that Patrik accepted it the way he did. He also wanted to help his sister the best way he could.

“Caroline also understood that we needed to do everything possible to keep contact with Patrick as best we could. The two of them are luckily just as close now as they were then.

“It wasn’t just Caroline and I who discussed things. All four of us did. Anna and I motivated the children, showed them the sports world and told them that if they had a dream, they had to believe in it and follow it. Then we’d support them.”

He turns back the clock 20 years to when Caroline chose tennis:

“She was around seven, and we drove around to a lot of tennis clubs to practise and train with those who suited her best. We lived in Herfølge, and drove to Vallensbæk, Birkerød, Værløse Farum …

He didn’t anticipate that the many hours driving and waiting would turn into a full time job:

“I hadn’t foreseen that future. The daily routine was driving Caroline and Patrik to tennis and football, do homework with them – and I don’t know how many times we ate in the car.”

The mayor of Farum, Peter Brixtofte helped them get an apartment in Farum Midpunkt, so the 12-year old Caroline had a shorter trip to the Danish Tennis Association’s (DTA) elite centre, where she could practise on a dispensation.

“But there were problems with being allowed to do physical training and with travelling. They kept saying, ‘we need to wait a bit. She’s too young.’

“So I made the decision that I had to travel with her, because I couldn’t wait for them while they considered their decisions. We travelled to the big junior tournament in Osaka and won. Then won a series of tournaments.

“She was so young, yet she could still compete at that level, so I thought: ‘We need to do something extra.’

“We got a sponsor deal with Nordea, Europæiske, Sony Ericson and many other small firms we drove around to. My business and sport friends help a lot, and so did Farum Tennis Club.

“It was work eight hours a day with practice, travel planning, physical training and doing marketing by driving around and telling people, ‘this little girl will become a top player’.

“The situation was such in Denmark that there really weren’t any coaches with tour experience we could travel with. We trained with people in Denmark, but I was beginning to focus internationally. When she turned 16, we moved to Monaco, and I began to get help from people on the WTA Tour.

“Nothing was as I’d imagined it. Everything was new to me. Everyday contained a small risk of doing something wrong, and all the while, Patrik was very alone home in Copenhagen. It wasn’t an easy choice, because we wanted the best for both of our two children.”

Slowly the father and daughter began to realise what they’d undertaken. The learned together and acted together. Caroline began early on to book their trips.

“We both began to realise what kind of job we had to do.

“I wasn’t a tennis coach. For the first five-six years, I was the worst tennis coach in the world, but all the talking with others on the tour has helped me.

“We’ve also been lucky in that the little things have gone our way, but, from the start, Caroline was very disciplined and willing to do a lot of hard physical training.

“She saw that I went 120% in for everything, whether what I did was right or not. I think I was an OK father, too. That’s how we could stay together for so long.”

Once in a while he considered stopping.

“It happened once in a while. I wanted to find a better coach for her. But Caroline made the decision herself that that wasn’t optimal for her. She thinks I’m the best for her.

“We’ve always discussed all our decisions together. We’ve chosen the path together. It was always important that we agreed.”

Only the fewest of those sorts of partnerships have lasted and been successful in the long run on the Tour. And Piotr Wozniacki would definitely not advise other parents to try and imitate him. He has quite the opposite advice:

“Get a real coach, and help from the second row. DON’T be a coach –be a father or mother.

“I’ve spent an amazing amount of energy, and we reached an understanding. I don’t think many others could. I’ve seen thousands of examples of the opposite, because parents didn’t get the right kind of advice.

“As a parent, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening, but don’t be front and centre. The kid needs a father and mother to come home to.”

Translated by MAN