Happenstance sent former WTA Top 50 player Anastasia Yakimova into a coaching career in Denmark, writes @Pervinkel

Translation of this piece by Per Colstrup Vinkel for Tennis Avisen.

Anastasia Yakimova still knows how to swing a tennis racquet. This year she won the Leschly Cup with a win over Karina Ildor. The Belorussian’s day job is coaching for Fruens Bøge Tennis Club in Odense, Denmark.

26 and a forced into retirement

For most people, it’s a horror scenario, but for Anastasia Yakimova, the narrative has more to it than an unfortunate career retirement. It’s been six years since her body told her to stop, and the Belorussian player, who had a whole life built in and round tennis, was forced seek other opportunities. It became quickly clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: tennis was, and will always be, a part of the Belorussian’s life.
“Not being 100% and playing at the top of international tennis isn’t sustainable. I’d played on the WTA Tour for 11 years, and my body could feel it. I wanted to take a small break from tennis to discover what coaching abilities I had. It was a great experience from the beginning, and it motivated me so much that I never thought about resuming my playing career. I’ve never regretted my choice,” relates Anastasia Yakimova. Her highest WTA ranking was 49 in singles, and her best Slam result was was in 2007, when she made the third round of the Australian Open. Yakimova managed to end the year in the WTA Top 100 for three seasons.

Denmark by happenstance

In Spain she got the chance to become co-owner of a tennis school, which, among other things, arranged an yearly international youth tennis tournament. Head tennis coach Frank Petersen from Sønderborg was a steady participant with a group of Danish juniors. Relations were established and Yakimova was invited to Denmark as a guest coach at a summer school for elite players.

“My first visit to Denmark was around five years ago, and I came every summer since.  When the opportunity for a coaching job in Danmark came around, I grabbed it. It was Frank who encouraged me to do it. It suited me perfectly, as it came at a time when I was looking for new challenges,” relates Anstasia Yakimova.
Besides being a part of the first team in Fruens Bøge Tennis Club and playing a series of international club tennis tournaments, the Belorussian is also functions as coach for the clubs top players. It’s a unique opportunity for a provencial club to attract a coach with so much international experience as Anastasia Yakimova.

A world of difference

One thing is how we see ourselves. That would never be a 100% accurate. We think as Danes that we do pretty well, not the least in giving our children the best opportunities, and making sure that all became part of society.
For Anasasia Yakimova, the Danish experience has been interesting in this area. It’s taught her some things  about how to approach life, things that weren’t part of her growing up in Belarus.
“When I started as a small child in Belarus, there was no opportunity to play tennis ‘for fun’. It was all about becoming professional and earning money. That’s a contrast to the experience in Denmark. Children have a lot of opportunities, which means they can prioritise tennis at exactly the level they wish. That’s the big difference between my former and present countries. There are a lot more here in Denmark who play tennis because they enjoy it. It’s a lovely experience for me to see that you can enjoy tennis without striving after results. I work daily, though, with the serious players, those with ambitions. They’ll always be the ones closest to my heart,” Yakimova explains.

Even though there are big differences between Belarus and Denmark, there are also many similarities. According to Anastasia Yakimova, it’s that tennis gives a good start in life for most youths. It can help them move on in life even without racquet and balls.

“Playing sports keeps you going, you’re active. Competing and solving problems on your own gives young people important tools, tools they can use later on in life. Because when you’re out there on the court, there’s only you who can find the solutions. No one can do things for you. It’s helped me a lot, also off the tennis court,” relates the Belorussian.
She admits that it’s still misses the WTA and tennis at the highest level, the travelling around the world, and the experience in first class. On the other hand, Anastasia Yakimova stresses that she really sees tennis as life education, an education at the same level as what a university can offer. It’s an education that has led her to Denmark.
Can the local tennis players in Odense be inspired by Yakimova’s story? It’s to be hoped.

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Toni Nadal before Roland-Garros: “Today’s young players lack commitment.” From l’Équipe by @djub22

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet in l’Équipe, May 24, 2019.

It’s mid-April in Monte Carlo. Toni Nadal is here all week with family to follow his nephew’s tournament (he’ll lose in the semi finals to Fabio Fognini) and to promote the tennis academy he runs in Manacor. He’s agreed to share some of his observations on the current tennis scene and on his very famous ex-pupil. Asked about who would win an imaginary match between the Nadal of 2005 (the year of his first French Open) and the Nadal of 2019, had fun answering, “the Rafael of that time had more power , but today’s Rafael plays well too. In 2008 and 2010, what he produced was pretty incredible. But the past one against today’s? Frankly, I can’t answer that,” and ends laughing, “It’s better that he faces someone else.”

Nadal and post-injury recovery

— I think Rafael has a very good head on his shoulders, because every time he’s had problems, he’s come back almost as if nothing had happened. It’s happened very often during his long career, so it’s pretty anchored in him. When he doesn’t manage to come back from these forced absences, it would simply mean that it’s the end, but, for now he comes back every time, and there’s nothing to indicate I should think differently. So, unless something else happens, I tell myself that it will be the same this time again, and he’ll rediscover his best level. Could it happen that he could only play on clay for the final seasons of his career to save his body? No, I really don’t think so. I think he’s totally committed to tennis and that’s why he won’t be content with playing where it’s best for him. He’ll play everywhere, right to the end.

Nadal and the lost final in Melbourne

— The Djokovic that I saw in the Australian Open final was really good. I remember telling myself while I was in front of my TV, form the first game: “Wow. This is going to be tough.” But I also think that Rafael didn’t produce his best tennis during the match. And I especially think that he wasn’t good tactically. When Djokovic plays very well, you can’t try and play the way he does. It’s like when a football team plays FC Barcelona at its best: you MUST NOT play like they do. If you do, you lose. Rafael had played well the whole tournament. He played quickly, which was good against those opponents. When I saw him again back in Manacor, I told him it was perhaps a shame that he didn’t use a Plan B, maybe by serving less hard, hitting more (he doesn’t finish the sentence, but mimes a curved trajectory) … But OK, Djokovic was very strong in any case.

— It always surprises me when Djokovic has difficulties because I find him to be such an incredible player. In Miami, in March, when he lost to Bautista-Agut (in the round of 16 (1-6, 7-5, 6-3), he almost won the first set 6-0, then almost got the break in the second set. Up til then, he was huge. But after that, everything changed, and I really don’t know what happened to him. It doesn’t hinder that with Roland-Garros in sight, I still think that it’s Djokovic who’s most dangerous when he’s playing well.

The Spanish tennis succession

— What we’ve had and have for years and years in Spain isn’t ‘normal’. The little Carlos Alcaraz (16), I’ve seen him play twice, once at our Academy, and I said right away he’ll be in the top 10. He does everything very well, and I think he could become a good champion. It’s a very good thing for Spain. But, careful, he’s sixteen and he needs to improve every day. If he does that, yes, he’ll be very strong. After all, you don’t need to be very strong very early to become good. Look at the Italian Lorenzo Sonego, who only started playing tennis at eleven. I do a lot of business conferences in Spain and I often say the same thing: if a person WANTS to be good at something, why not? If you start at eleven, you have to work a bit more than those who start at five, but you can become very good nevertheless. I think someone like Ilie Nastase started late, especially in international competition [he couldn’t get out from behind the Iron Curtain until he was 20], and he still became world number one, right?

Talent, a volatile concept

— We often talk about a person’t talent but, in my opinion, there’s a special talent that’s more important than all of the others: the ability to improve. Lionel Messi was incredibly good when he was young, but, if he hadn’t improved day after day, he wouldn’t be the Messi of today. That also applies to a Federer, for sure. To a Rafael, to a Djokovic. It’s a comparison that’s often been made, I know, but at fifteen, Gasquet and Nadal were on the same level. Why the difference in career trajectory later on? Because Rafael maybe has a superior ability to improve, and, in turn, that also depends on what they REALLY want to do.

Young players: work to do

— The new generation needs to reach a top level, or Federer will still be playing finals at 45 [laughs]. What’s abnormal is that the youth aren’t ensuring a succession. But it’s not just tennis. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are still there, I’ll try and say what I want to say tactfully: perhaps the young players lack some commitment towards their sport and careers. I think they could be a bit more dedicated. They’re very good, Shapovalov, Zverev, Tsitsipas etc. But I sometimes get the impression that, when they’re winning, everything’s good, and when they play badly, they don’t do all they can to try and change something. Turn it around and look at Djokovic, Federer or Rafael. When it’s going well, they play well, and when it’s going badly, they’re not playing badly, and they still win. They find some way or other to get there. I saw Rafael against three young players in Australia in January (De Minaur, Tiafoe, Tsitsipas) and I didn’t see them try and change anything. When Rafael was seventeen against Hewitt (Australian Open 3rd round 2004), he was present all the time, and he tried to win one way or another. He lost (7-6, 7-6, 6-2) but he tried. Still, some of the young players behave very seriously, very consistently, like Borna Coric or Jaume Munar (both 22). I tell the students at Manacor that they need to watch Munar.

Tennis headaches

— Tennis has changed a bit the last few years. In France and Spain, historically, we practise and teach a form of tennis where it isn’t just about hitting the ball. There’s also an element of thought attached, an attempt to create, hit a ball here, a ball there. It’s stayed more or less the same game on clay as before, but in general, the game is taking the route of ‘no-thought’. Roughly, it’s: “I hit it. If it goes out, too bad, and if it’s in, that’s better.” This absence of tactics, maybe it’s what America likes, but it’s not what I like.

The modern disease of frustration

— I have the impression that today, frustration takes over players more quickly than before. And it’s not just in tennis, but a lot of other areas in society. I think we’re too used to only saying nice things to everyone: “You’re very good”, but the truth is often different, even the opposite. At the Academy, when kids are upset because the ball goes out, I tell them: “What’s the problem? It goes out because you weren’t very good.” Why did Rafael lose to Novak in the final in Melbourne? You don’t need to look very far, he lost because his opponent was better. Rafael didn’t play well, but he didn’t say a word when the score was getting away from him. Behind two sets to love and 4-2, he wins a point and clenches his fist. He doesn’t talk to his team in the box. You need to learn that sort of attitude, that’s what I tell the kids. But when they’re back on court, they’ve already forgotten. We all think we’re better than we really are, and I’m the first. If you think you’re too good, you want everything right away. But if you think you’re not as good as all that, then you tell yourself you need to learn, do, redo, and redo again. And it makes all the difference. Reality is essential, dreams too. It’s the most important thing is to try and improve.

Translated by MAN

Pauline Parmentier: The Confessions of an Almost Retired. She almost hung up her racquet in March before finding new wind in her sails and playing with a smile. Interviewed in l’Équipe by @sophiedorgan

My translation of this online piece by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe.

Just before arriving at at the National Training Centre in a small car, Pauline Parmentier took the trouble to tex and excuse for being a bit late. When she gets out of her car, she greets everyone with her big smile, then takes the time to talk about her personality and her career.

The good friend

It’s a role I like a lot. I do it naturally. It brings a lot of good feeling with it. It has a good side and a bad side. People tell me from time to that I should be a bit nastier, think more about myself. When the Fed Cup was over, Yan [Yannick Noah, the captain] to be more forward. Thinking of yourself is fine, but it seems bizarre. You need to find a middle ground so you’re not the good friend on the court. But it’s brought me bigger emotions than someone who lives things in their corner.

It’s a bit crazy with highs and lows. Like me: I’m en emotional roller coaster. I can be really emotionally affected and then suddenly burst out laughing, then be vexed all at once. These emotional Alps mean I experience things totally. At Mouilleron [two losses to the Belgians in the Fed Cup quarters], the pressure destroyed me completely, and I told myself I’d never get back up again. And at Aix [two losses but two excellent matches in the semis against Stephens and Keys), I was on the very edge of crying on court because of the crazy atmosphere.

Her level of play

During Fed Cup week, Yan, who puts so much effort and energy into it, told me that is was a monster performance. So, it wasn’t too bad then [laughs]. I need to hear it from someone. When I played against Wozniacki [win by retirement 4-6 6-3 in Istanbul], even if she had the thing with her abdomen, I felt I was stronger than her at bottom at one point. I thought, “It’s weird. Calm down. You’ll burn four matches in a row and you won’t understand it” [laughs].

Retirement

Before Aix, I wasn’t looking too far ahead in my career. There was a little light … but not on every floor [laughs]. When you take it on the chin 6-2, 6-2 against a girl of 16 [Amanda Anisimova] at Indian Wells [first round], I told myself it was a sign. I had the feeling she was showing me the door. I was afraid of reaching the point where I hated tennis. I wasn’t having any fun on the court. In Tunis I chucked my match away [against nr. 329, the Italian Anastasia Grymalska 7-5, 6-0], something I hadn’t done in years. That wasn’t me. I couldn’t retire like that. I wasn’t going to do it with a shitty attitude at a $25 K. I told myself that if I didn’t restart on clay, it was the end. I think it’s the end soon because I don’t want to play until 35. I have other wants in my life. But I want to end well.

What followed

It’s a bit vague once again [laughs], but I know I’ll pick my programme. There are things I don’t want to do. I know that. You can quickly be weighed down by the rankings, the points. You always chase something in this sport, but I’m not setting any goals. Is it my last Roland? No, but it’s possible [laughs]. I’m not telling myself anything, frankly, I just want to take advantage and surf the wave, keep training, groove on it. I keep saying it, but it’s really what the French team staff insisted on for the last 10 days of the meet. The week befor Aix, I dined with Kiki [Kristine Mladenovic], who was one of the only ones who knew I might retire soon. At my last match [against Keys], she followed me [she changed next to her] and told me: “You’re grooving, you’re grooving.” [Trans. note: the French word is ‘kiffer’, which derives from ‘kif’, which means hashish. ‘You’re stoning’ sounds a bit weird, so I settled on ‘grooving’]

The French team

After Tunis, I was in the dumps, but I was looking forward to spending the time with the French team, even if I was agonising a bit because I was affected by the last Fed Cup. I never got to express myself on the court. It was a bad experience. I was burned out, I wasn’t really playing. I got plenty of messages from people who were telling me they felt sorry for me, and that they pitied me. That was nice, but pity, that’s horrible! That’s just the worst reaction to get on the court. No question of experiencing that, not at that point.

The ‘LOL’ to Caroline Garcia[*]

It was at road stop. There were a lot of things that weren’t managed well at that moment, and we [with Alizé Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic], we started on this thing and it was very, very clumsy. If we could do it over again, we wouldn’t. It was dumb. There we were playing for the French team, and everything was about Caro [Garcia], who ended up being treated as the victim. We didn’t find that fair at all.

(*) April 10, 2017, Parmentier, Cornet and Mladenovic reacted to Garcia’s withdrawal from the Fed Cup team by Tweeting out a ‘LOL’.

 

Translated by MAN

Novak Djokovic: “I felt without motivation.” Équipe interview with Vincent Cognet and @QuentinMoynet — His questions, his doubts, his bouts with the blues: the Serb answers with a lot of sincerity about the last, sensitive year.

Translation of this Équipe online piece.

Rome was a very important week for you. How much relief did you feel about rediscovering that level of game?

-More than relief, it was the result of very hard work and my confidence in the ongoing process. It’s difficult sometimes in recent times to have a broad perspective. There were days, especially in the last twelve months, where I felt unmotivated because of the injury and the challenges that awaited me. But that’s life! There are days where you just have to grit your teeth and gather all your strength to keep on your path, and others where everything is perfect. It was especially important for me to establish day-to-day goals, to reach my long term goals.. I mean what I had to do with my body and my spirit, improve my game, my conditioning and my mental state to reach the level I wanted. My trajectory has always been rising since I turned pro. I’d never missed a single Grand Slam [before the 2017 US Open]. The last six months of 2017 were very strange for me. Not playing, watching matches on the TV, restarting my training and feeling pain again, it was really a challenge for me. I had to accept it. Those are situations that make you stronger. It was good getting rewarded in Rome after all that I’d been through. It was certainly the best tournament I’ve played in the last year in terms of quality of play. Since the last grass season, in fact.

What are the biggest areas you need to improve? Physically, you seem to be far from how you were a few years ago …

I don’t think it’s the physical. The mental is the most important. I still love the sport. I’m still playing because I still feel the desire. If I didn’t, believe me, I wouldn’t be playing. Being loyal to my character and to my values, never letting anyone influence me and my decisions have always been important to me. I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my career that have made me proud. I could stop my career tomorrow and be satisfied with my record, but I’m not motivated only by winning. I don’t play just to win titles and be world number one. Obviously I would like that! But if I play, it’s because tennis is a great platform to have an influence, especially on children. That’s my objective. All great athletes have the chance to make an impact because of their popularity and successes. I can talk to the media every day. It’s a privilege, even if there are days when I don’t feel like talking to them [smiles]. It’s how I can get my message out: by going on court, by doing what I love, by working, by devotion and fight.

Were you in despair after Indian Wells and Miami, where you were just a shadow of yourself? And how did you overcome that dark period?

I didn’t despair, but I didn’t feel good mentally after Miami, that’s true. Losing in the first round at Miami and Indian Wells, that’s never happened to me before [five wins in Indian Wells and 6 in Miami]. I’ve always loved playing there. So it was a big shock for me, to be honest, not because I of the losses, but because of the way I played. But, after two or three days, I realised that I wasn’t sufficiently prepared. I wasn’t ready physically, at playing level and mentally. I’d had an operation four or five weeks before. I came back too quickly. The doctors did a good job, but no one advised me to come back at Indian Wells. They all told me to wait until Miami or the clay season. I insisted because I wanted to play. I skipped the last six months of 2017 because of my elbow. I took six months to recuperate. I wasn’t operated on because no one told me I should. I started to play again and the pain came back. It was so frustrating! So, I got an operation. I asked myself: “What’s happening? Should I cut out now?” And I was impatient. I know it. I wouldn’t say it was my fault. I thought at the time that it was the right decision. I don’t regret it because I know there was a reason for me playing there, to learn a lesson: be more patient and to deal differently next time. It was serious with my elbow. That sort of operation doesn’t only affect the elbow, but the whole body, my game, my confidence. Everything! When you start to overthink during a match, it’s not good. Everything should be automatic. You don’t have time to reflect at this level. You need to be reactive and play. I started to overthink. “Why am I serving like that? Is it the right racquet? My technique? Am I ready physically? Do I need to change my team?” A million things were happening and I wasn’t mentally lucid enough to face them. It’s different now. I’m starting Roland Garros in in a different mental frame, more positive. I’m more comfortable with my game. I know I can still improve it, it’s not at the level I want, but we get there softly.

Between your title here in 2016 and today, did you have periods when you lost your motivation?

Of course. Quite a few times. I’m like everyone. A lot of champions in a lot of sports ask themselves if they should keep going. And if yes, how? For how long? The balance between family life and professional life? But that’s life! You change as a person, you evolve. Today, I can’t concentrate only on myself and my career. I have two kids and they’re the most important part of my life. Without the slightest doubt. It’s taken me some time to find the right balance: how do you do it? It’s become clearer in the last two months. Before, I had highs and lows. It’s the burden of every athlete on the planet. At bottom, I try to remember to be aware. I play this sport I love and I play it at the highest possible level. There are people on this earth who live in conditions where they have no chance to live their dreams. They weren’t born in the right place, But they’re talented. I know, I come from a country that’s known two wars twenty years ago. All that humbles me. I wouldn’t exchange my life for anyone else’s. I’m just trying to grow.

Why did you chose to recall Marian Vajda to your side? Why at this precise moment? How is he different from other coaches?

[He thinks] I can answer those questions with three words: Simplicity. Clarity. Loyalty. Marian knows who I am, both as a person and as a player. Ten years of working together … When I realised I needed someone to who could help me simplify things, to be very clear about my priorities, Marian was the best possible choice. We share the same dreams. He’s much more than a coach. He’s a friend. He’s shared with me the most extreme experiences on a daily basis. He masters situations. He believes in me. He trusts in me and it’s reciprocal. He’s a man who has values, one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.

That’s far beyond just training sessions.

— Absolutely.

Has he changed the content of your training sessions?

There are always technical details to fix whatever shot we work on. One day, your backhand is impeccable, the next not at all. That’s what practice is for: to maintain a certain level and to feel good on the court. With Marian, we started by going back to basics, to understand well the fundamentals of my game, concentrating on my strong points to bring them back up to the surface. I’ve done it before. We just have to be patient. It takes time to build the body, be confident, be competitive. Marian knows that. I find myself very at ease with him.

Getting back to your elbow problems – in Miami especially, everyone was shocked because they didn’t recognise your backhand any more, your forehand …

Me neither, I didn’t recognise them! [Laughs]

Do you feel better now every day?

Actually, it depends on the day. But on the whole, it’s much better today than it was in Miami, for example. I grew up on clay. I love this surface. I’ve had my best results on hard courts, but Roland Garros is a special place for me. And not only because of my title in 2016. I’ve always had good results here. I can’t even remember when I’ve lost before the second week! [In 2009 when he lost in the 3rd round to Philip Kohlschreiber). The crowd is behind me here. I hope all that all that energy will help me get to the level I want.

What would be a good Roland Garros for you?

I try not to have special expectations. those expectations have been a burden for me for the last five or six months. I know the level I can play at. That’s why the matches in Indian Wells, Miami or Barcelona made things difficult. I didn’t understand it. I started to think about it every single day, to try and improve to reach 100% of what I could do. But, in that regard, I don’t come to a tournament just to participate. I come to win. I hope that my game will fall into place and improve in every round. I hope to put myself in a position to lift the trophy.

 

Translated by MAN

Rafael Nadal: “Very proud of my longevity.” Interviewed by Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe, who asks questions from all directions.

Translated from the print edition of l’Équipe, May 27, 2018, pages 30-31

Relaxed during his Roman week, the Spaniard plays the question game, which come from all angles, some anecdotal, some serious, about him, his life as a champion and his attitude towards tennis.

Rome ten days ago. Rafael Nadal leaves victorious his match against Fabio Fognini. After the presser and food, he plays a game of Parchis (a Spanish board game), then decides to do the interview in the garden annexed to the players’ room. In a comfortable mood, Nadal will nevertheless answer with priceless seriousness.

From the beginning, what made you happiest about tennis?

The competition. In tennis, it’s very intense because it’s every day. and it’s face-to-face. I always loved competition whether it’s sports or games.

So it’s nothing to do with the racquet or the balls?

[Smiles] Seriously, I don’t remember that well.

Many players mention the importance of feeling with a racquet in hand. How do you experience it?

I’m like any other player. I found a simple solution: you need to be positive and play with the right attitude, even when the feeling isn’t there. What’s important is to forget the frustration and accept the situation.

As a kid, did you play pretending to be someone else?

[Firmly] No. I loved training, I loved spending hours and hours at the club. When I was a kid, I could spend entire days at the club playing tennis or something else.

<Did you learn watching others?

Of course. In life, it’s easier to copy than invent. I observe others and try and understand what they do well. It’s not possible to give a specific example because it’s not about copying someone. It’s more seizing the idea the player has in his head and adapting it to your own style. It’s more about positioning, ways of moving and placement in relation to the ball. I’ve watched hundreds or thousands of videos of other players on You Tube to try and seize ideas.

<Even the black and white ones of old players?

Yes, but not for that. If I want to see something specific, I choose present day players.

Who were your idols when you were a kid?

[Thinks] Tough to say. I grew up with Sampras and Agassi. Later, I was close to Carlos Moya [his coach].

Were you for Sampras or for Agassi?

Neither of them. I liked the rivalry.

Does the history of the game interest you?

Of course. It’s very important. It’s the old players who created the values of this game.

Can you watch a match just as a spectator?

Yes. But we know each other so well as players that we understand very quickly what’s happening on the court. Even if we’re not doing a real analysis, it’s impossible to watch a match as an ordinary spectator.

Do you glance at others’ practices?

[Amused] No. Never.

Because you find it boring …

No. When I’ve finished my time I need to do my recovery, my treatments etc. I’m not saying I don’t glance at the court next to me, but never more than five minutes.

Do you watch tennis sometimes late into the night?

Normally, no. Unless there’s a very special reason. Sometimes I’ll watch golf and that can finish sometimes past midnight.

It’s never bothered you the next day?

No! I can sleep five or six hours if I have nothing special on the next day. It’s not the same as going out and drinking a few. If you only sleep five hours after that, it’s not enough. But if I’m watching the TV, relaxing on my sofa, no problem. If I’m there, it’s because I appreciate what I’m doing. So it’s OK.

Do you agree with the commentators when you watch tennis on TV?

[Exhales] Not always. I know it’s a difficult job. I know they have to commentate quite a few matches during a day. It doesn’t shock me if they wander a bit during the match. Honestly, there are some matches that aren’t fascinating. [Amused] But it’s true I don’t always agree with what’s said about the match! What annoys me the most is when spectators show a lack of respect for the players. But that’s it.

Do you understand the existing debate about tennis’ format and the needs of TV?

It’s very complicated. The ideal solution will never exist. But I think it’s important to respect the history of this sport. And to know it very well. It’s tradition that helps our sport to become even bigger. Besides that, I realise that there must be innovation. What could be done is try the innovations at small tournaments. But don’t touch the big tournaments. There can’t be changes that are too drastic. Move forward in small steps. We can’t get rid of five set matches at Slams. They’re what create the dramas and the most exciting matches. Even if they’re not perfect for the TV, they’re terrific for the spectators. All the emotions, all the passion, come from those matches. If we touch them, tennis will lose a lot. The most important matches in tennis history have been played in five sets.

Are you interested in statistics or records?

Yes, but not crazily. Sure, I know that our generation have broken a lot of records, and that makes me happy.

Are you a stats nut?

Not really. I like checking some things, but … Carlos [Moya], on the other hand, loves them and it’s interesting talking with him after my matches. They can help some things, like court positioning etc. But I’m not going to lose my day reading numbers.

Do you know any stats about you that are less well known to the general public?

Absolutely not. When I beat a record, it’s often you, the journalists, who tell me. The best example is my fifty straight sets won on clay. I only found out about it during it.

Beating records helps motivation?

[Hesitates] It depends. But my real motivation is going out on court every day and playing in the biggest stadiums in the world in front of thousands of spectators. Playing in a stadium filled to bursting with passionate spectators, that’s really a very special feeling.

When we think deeply about it, twelve years between your first major and the last, isn’t that a bigger thing than the sixteen titles?

I’m very proud of my longevity. [A bit mockingly]. Especially because they didn’t stop telling me during my career that I wouldn’t last long as a player because of my playing style. I ended up believing it! I’m very happy to still be competitive at 32. Because it says a lot. It means showing that you can keep the same mentality and the same passion for a very long time.

Would you have been able to share your life with a woman who knew nothing about tennis?

My partner loves tennis. She loved it before we met. But I could very well have lived with a woman who knew nothing about tennis [laughs]. I haven’t tried, but there wouldn’t be a problem. My partner and I talk very little about tennis.

Do you sometimes talk tennis with people who know nothing about it?

[Amused] I can. If they don’t pretend to know, no problem. If the opposite’s the case, I let them talk!

What would you change in the way the tour operates?

I favour a two year ranking and not fifty-two weeks. It’s the best way to protect players in case of injury. I’ve thought that for years, but it’s even more important at the end of a career.

And in the rules of tennis?*

I don’t know how, but attention needs to be paid to the serve and to power in general. The players are bigger and bigger and it’s getting faster and faster. If we don’t find a solution to the serve, then tennis will reach a point where it’s summed up by that shot. In ten years, tennis could be in danger.

Are you for or against cutting out one of the serves?

Why not? We can’t say it’s stupid. We can only try it out. I’m in favour of innovations. Why not try it at small tournaments? I don’t know … But we could at least consider it.

Do you sometimes play tennis on the Play Station?

Never. Even when I was a kid. I play football on the Play Station. Tennis, I play that all day.

In your opinion, what players have contributed the most to the game?

I can’t answer that question. To answer it, I’d have to have lived in the different eras. It’s an interesting question, but you’d have to ask someone who knows the 1960’s or 1970’s. I know who Rod Laver, Björn Borg or John McEnroe are. But I can’t judge their importance because I wasn’t there.

When you watch old videos on You Tube, who is your favourite player?

Tough to say. I like Ilie Nastase. But I like the tennis of that era because power is less important. There’s more magic. Talent counts for more, tactics too. There was more point construction. That’s what I miss in the tennis of today. Clay is the last surface where you can still construct points. You can still try things. On hard, it’s become almost impossible. It’s too fast.

*Added 21:15

Translated by MAN

 

Alizé Cornet: “I held my head high and back straight.” Interviewed by @sophiedorgan, Cornet talks about her nightmarish wait for her hearing, and the support she got from players in the locker room

My translation of this Équipe interview of Alizé Cornet by Sophie Dorgan.

Cleared on 15. May, the woman from Nice talks about her six nightmare months of waiting after her hearing for three no-shows. Before her fourteenth Roland, she’s savouring her second career.

Installed Friday in the players’ café with her partner and coach Michael Kusaj, Alizé Cornet is on time for the interview, and reflects, between a big smile and a few tears, on her five months of “nightmares” between the announcement of her three no shows and her being cleared, And talks in passing about her hearing.

The looks from others

“When it came out in the press (24. January), that was by far the most difficult week. I didn’t take it being exposed to the world very well. While it was between my team and me, I managed it more or less. When everyone knew, it was like I was stripped naked. In St. Petersburg [beginning of February] I had to face the looks of my colleagues. I was more afraid of what my fellow players thought of me than the public. There’s not a lot of talk about players with two no-shows, but there are tonnes. A lot of players are panicking. It’s a taboo subject. Every tongue loosened with me. Players talked about their own experiences. I found out some crazy things. All who are part of the anti-doping programme know about the constraints involved. They were kind and understanding. I was agreeably surprised and hugely reassured. I passed the test in St Petersburg.”

Playing to forget

“In my mind, I had no other option than to play. I had nothing to reproach myself with. I wasn’t going to stay at home being gloomy. If I didn’t play tennis, I would have thought about it 24 hours a day. The only place I didn’t think about it was on the court. It was my outlet. The court saved me. I had a weight on my shoulders but I kept acting as if it were nothing. I trained the same way with the same intensity. I didn’t look for excuses. My body held up, my spirit held up, for better or worse. Nothing much changed on the court. It was more off the court my routine changed. It was the only way to stay out of a depression. That’s when I realised I was strong mentally and especially that those around me are good. It saved my life [starts to cry]. You see the love around you that helps you overcome all that. It was a traumatising experience, but enriching at the same time. I held my head high and my back straight. I proved things to myself and it gives me a lot of confidence in what I can endure.”

The hearing

“I prepared myself mentally, but I didn’t prepare what I was going to say. I’m a spontaneous person and I’ve always been best when it’s instinctive. I’ve often more confidence in my head than my tennis [smiles]. On the other hand, I was mentally prepared to hear false accusations, potential provocations for the other party’s lawyer, questions from the jury etc. I was questioned for one hour and 15 minutes in English. That’s a long time. I put a sort of armour on to arrive serene and confident, telling myself: ‘Believe in yourself — you only need to explain the truth.’ The only thing that had me doubting a bit was if my English level would hold up under the stress. In fact, I found the words right away. I was hyper calm, in the zone, like in a match where I had nothing to lose. If I were as concentrated on a tennis court, I could do some damage [laughs]. I was confident in myself and in my lawyers who had done good work. The judges recognised that I was straight and honest. It was the match of my career.”

The wait

“The two weeks of waiting after the hearing were tough to get through. You expect an answer almost every day, and it comes at the last minute of the last day. I knew it would be Monday or Tuesday [14 or 15 May]. I was on edge every minute expecting a call. Alexis [Gramblat, her lawyer] was supposed to call us. Those two days felt like an eternity. They were longer than the previous six months. I’m managed emotionally super well for six months, but I almost had a nervous breakdown those final hours. When I read the text message “We won …” from Alexis, it didn’t sink in right away. We all cried with joy and especially relief. It was a very heavy moment. It was the victory that started the rest of my life. Even though I’d gone as far as a hearing and they’d made me very afraid, it was the biggest lesson of my life about that thing. Mica and I built this thing with 12 alarms for Adams [the IT anti’doping system]. We check it 10 times a day. It’s a trauma and it’s become an obsession. When I had two no-shows, it was there already, I was on the alert, but it was badly set up. In the end, I was cleared and I told myself there was justice.”

A new youth

” I know that everything that happens from today is something I might not have experienced. Every day spent here I consider a bonus. Win or lose, that’s secondary in the end. Going on court, being able to play, making myself happy, playing matches, I’d taken it all as a given, and today I’ve regained ten years. I don’t know how I’ll play, but mentally I won’t be the same player. I’m an adolescent again. I rejoice in all I see. I’m rediscovering Roland with new eyes. I bounced around impatiently waiting to take the plane here. Normally it’s a pleasure, but also stressful. This year I’m too content. Yesterday [Wednesday] I was on Catrier. I sat down on the the bench, I looked around and I stoned. When you’ve been a pro for so many years, they’re things that seem normal but really aren’t. There are millions of kids who dream of that. I’ll try and keep it precious.”

No going backwards

“At draw time, I was a lot less stressed than normal, when usually you can’t talk to me for an hour. I saw I was playing Errani and I thought, ‘Damn! I’m going to be doing nothing but run, we’ll be playing four hours.” We had fun. [laughs] I didn’t even look at the rest of the draw. I’m taking whatever comes with a minimum of concern. And there’s always my perfectionism that catches up to me. You need to make the difference between putting things into perspective and ‘I couldn’t care less’. ‘Couldn’t care less’ isn’t my cup of tea. There’s a chance I’ll be a bit nervous [laughs], otherwise it wouldn’t be me. But it won’t be in the same way. Lately I’ve been anxious, heavy-hearted, uneasy. Now, if I’m nervous, it will be a bit healthier. I might moan as usual, but it won’t be as much of an emotional overload. It would be bizarre if that changed. But perspective will help me be a bit more calm and lucid.

Translate by MAN

“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.