“I can be very tough on myself”: Interview with umpire Louise Engzell

“I can be very tough on myself”

From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Tennis.se.

After the Swedish tennis miracle, a new blue and yellow has taken over the tennis world. In an interview, umpire Louise Engzell talks about the work behind the scenes on the international professional tennis tours. “We take a lot of crap sometimes,” she says.

Umpiring Grand Slam finals on the tennis world’s greatest scene was far from a childhood dream.  As a youth, Louise Engzell had her eyes opened to umpiring when, much against her will, she umpired matches at her home club of Sollentuna.

“We were forced to take a course when we were quite small, and that’s the way it went. I didn’t think much of it at all at the beginning. Later on we took another course and it began to be fun. We could take part in the Kalle Anka (the present SEB Next Generation Cup) in Båstad, start to travel a little and then take part in the Swedish Open and the Stockholm Open,” says the 34-year-old whose career starting point came after taking an Elite-level umpiring course.

No one needs to force her into the umpiring chair today. She said yes to going home to Sweden for the Davis Cup tie in Jönköping to work during her holidays.

“The best part of being an umpire is the challenge. You never know what awaits you when you go to work,” says Engzell, who has lived in Paris for the last few years.

What is the worst part?

“We take a lot of crap sometimes. But you learn and grow all the time. We talk a lot with our colleagues and bosses, we go through and analyse what you did or didn’t do and always try and better ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t even a mistake and there’s still an uproar.”

Scolded by Berdych

One good example was at last year’s US Open when she was yelled at by Tomas Berdych. The Czech exploded after a correct umpiring decision but said he was sorry on Twitter the day after. Only she knows what went through her head, as she won’t talk about particular situations or individual players. On the TV screen, she looks like a calm umpire in the chair—something which Engzell sees as one of her strengths.

“I can keep my cool without getting too stressed. I can read different personalities quite well and see how to tackle the different players and their personalities.”

Are you good at taking criticism?

“It’s something I can improve on. I can be very tough on myself, which can also be good. I get angry and it takes a while to get myself together. Especially if you’re not 100% sure if you could have explained things in a better way and had the match better under control. In those situations you can sit and ponder and think,” she says.

“Swedish umpires have become a thing on the tours”

Together with, among others, her fellow Swede Mohamed Lahyani and Lars Graff as well as a group of tournament officials of a high international level, Louise Engzell is part of Swedish umpiring elite.

“I don’t know why we have so many umpires. It’s actually become a thing on the tours—especially now, when we don’t have so many players at the top levels, but a lot of top umpires.”

The 34-year-old has umpired Grand Slam finals at the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Olympic final in London in 2012, but still thinks she has a ways to go to reach the status of fellow Swedes Lahyani and ex-umpire Graff.

“I’m on my way there. I haven’t been at the job that long yet. It takes many, many years to get the same respect. It’s very much about trust, that they can trust you. You can win a lot with trust. It means you can handle a match better.”

After the finals in Paris and New York, Engzell has two matches on her dream list.

“I’d like to do one final in all the different Grand Slam tournaments. So Wimbledon and the Australian Open are there.”

Louise Engzell on …

Hawkeye:

“It’s just positive. The advantage with Hawkeye is that it’s a final judgement. Whether the player agrees or not, there no one to complain to or yell at. They accept it and play goes on. It’s fantastic and makes things so much easier.”

Psychology in the umpiring chair:

“Different players react in different ways. Some players you need to be harder with right from the start, others you can use a softer approach with. Some players want you to tell them if they’re taking too long between points while others just want the warning directly. It’s about getting to know the players.”

Relations with the players:

“We have no relations with the players. Those are the rules. There can’t be any semblance of a reason to doubt your fairness because you’ve had dinner with a player. There cannot be any question. And you don’t, if at all possible, umpire a player from your own country. You try and avoid all problems that could possibly arise.”

Her best matches:

“The US Open final in 2012 between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. I think it was one of the longest women’s matches ever.”

“The Olympic final in London is a special memory. The atmosphere was fantastic even if the match was rather short. Serena won 6-0, 6-1 against Sharapova.”

“One of my best matches was the 2012 Davis Cup match between Romania and Finland. It was the deciding match and it took almost five hours. It was extremely close and tense, a really good atmosphere and ambiance. It doesn’t need to be top players playing each other, it can even be at a lower level. The atmosphere is one you can only get at a DC match.”

Her favourite tournament:

“I hadn’t been in Båstad for a very long time, so I was there this (last) year. It was really cool coming back to Sweden. I like the atmosphere, the mood; everyone’s equal and eat together no matter what their job is. Besides that, I like the Grand Slam tournaments a lot. Each one is different from the other.”

Translated from the Swedish by Mark Nixon.

Many thanks to Victoria Chiesa for the tip.

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“Do They Cheer for Novak in Croatia?”

An article by Saša Ozmo, who writes about basketball and tennis for Serbia’s B92.

Athletes are pioneers in the attempt to rebuild bridges that were destroyed during the disintegration of Yugoslavia, as best illustrated by the relationship between Serbian and Croatian tennis players.

However, even though they get along so well, the question is to what extent that’s reflected in the attitude of people in their respective countries.

It’s 2015: twenty years since the end of the war.  So, it’s appropriate to ask where we are now on a scale from “death to the neighbor’s cow” to “anything for a neighbor.”

In the last few months, young Borna Ćorić has emerged as a future star of international tennis.  In Serbia, many find him sympathetic; but, at the same time, the reader response to reports on his matches is often “Nobody’s interested!” and “Why are you writing about a Croatian player?”

And what is the status of Novak Djoković and the rest of the Serbian players in Croatia?

“Novak has many friends in Croatia—he’s friends with our players and he also left a good impression when he played here, as is the case with Viktor Troicki, who has competed in Umag and the Rijeka Challenger.  Each of Novak’s successes is viewed with approval in Croatia—and a lot of people root for him.  I don’t think people here would say something ugly, like “I hope he breaks his leg,” observes Zlatko Horvat, a reporter with Rijeka-based Novi List, adding that Ana Ivanović also has many Croatian supporters.

A regional basketball league has existed for over a decade, incidents of an ethno-nationalist nature are minimal, and water polo and handball have likewise “crossed the border.”  But tennis players are especially significant due to their close relationships and conciliatory statements.

At the Davis Cup tie in Kraljevo, fans didn’t whistle during the Croatian national anthem and Captain Željko Krajan emphasized that the whole team felt at home.  This impression is shared by Croatian journalists.

“Kraljevo has set a good example here—we were pleasantly surprised.  Let’s start to live better, both Croats and Serbs, rather than get caught up with trivialities,” says Horvat.

Although we’re no longer one country, Serbian media always pay closer attention to the achievements of ex-Yugoslav athletes—be it Tina Maze, Marin Čilić, Damir Džumhur, or Janica Kostelić.  There’s still a trace of additional interest, for whatever reason.

“I work at a daily paper that follows tennis, and Djoković gets quite a bit of coverage.  It varies, of course, depending on the importance of the tournament and match, but finals of Grand Slam tournaments are given two pages.  The recent Dubai final report took up a page,” says Ivan Jelkić, who writes for Zagreb’s Sportske Novosti.

Novak Djoković has become a global star and millions of people around the world root for him.  On Twitter alone, four million people “follow” him and at every tournament, autograph-seeking fans besiege him.

Unlike his colleague, though, Jelkić isn’t sure whether people cheer for Novak in Croatia.  But, he points out, they do respect him.

“There are always exceptions who’ll say, ‘He’s not one of us’ and ‘What do we care about him?’; but people who understand and love the sport know what kind of player Novak is and follow his matches, maybe even root for him. ‘Rooting’ is perhaps a bit strong, but they appreciate him, in any case.”

In both Serbia and Croatia, people like to pride themselves in their athletes—we often call them our best ambassadors to the world.  That’s why we could stand to follow their example a bit more in this respect.

It’s not necessary to worship Novak in Zagreb or Čilić in Belgrade; it’s enough not to hate each other.  There is no need—and these days in Kraljevo offer more proof that we are able to function quite normally together.

~

Translated by Ana Mitrić.  Feedback is welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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“Gaël will be ready to work even harder.” Jan De Witt, Monfils’ coach, interviewed in today’s l’Équipe

“Gaël will be ready to work even harder.” Jan De Witt, Monfils’ coach, interviewed by @djub22 Julien Reboullet in today’s print l’Équipe.

Why didn’t you want Gaël Monfils to play in the Davis Cup first round?

− Together with Gaël and his physical trainer we’re trying to optimise the time we have available to reach the objectives we’ve set. Part of the time should be devoted to playing high level matches and improving his game of course. But another part should be set aside for working and resting. Look at the best players in the world: Gaël’s the one who had the shortest off-season because of the Davis Cup final and the IPTL. We need to find a balance where his body breathes a bit then gets stronger. He did exactly that superbly before the Davis Cup final where he put everything together and was totally involved.

This balance meant rest now?

− Gaël has played a lot of matches in a short amount of time. So I insisted and ended up convincing him that that it was time to recuperate to build up his body, to find his best form and make sure that no big injury puts the brakes on things again. We’re in complete agreement about that. In turn, Gaël convinced me that after the Marseille final the time wasn’t right for him because he felt the need to be with his team.

Is your relationship with the staff of the French team tense now after this?

– Arnaud [Clément, captain] and “Lio” [Lionel Roux, coach] are doing their job which is  putting the best team possible together for Frankfurt. We’re communicating very well with each other even if we don’t always share the same opinions. Of course we agreed that the team was stronger with Gäel but they couldn’t convince me it was the best choice possible for my player in the current situation. I love the Davis Cup and I want my two players to win it, but as a responsible coach have to look at the season as a whole. In the end, it was really Gaël who showed me how much he wanted to play and he convinced me that he would be ready to work a lot more during our next work session before Roland Garros. Because the big objective − or dream − is to win the French Open.

Is it win-win? In other words, is there some kind of deal with Gaël like: “You let me play the Davis cup and after I’ll follow to the letter everything you tell me”?

− No, that’s not how it works. Gaël listens now − more often than not − to the advice he gets. And there are many things in our working together that suit me, lots of aspects that are improving. Anyone who saw the Marseille final noticed that there were areas of improvement. And you know, I can can be convincing without being menacing. In any case, the player should follow my advice, or what would be the point of working with me?

Have you considered possibly stopping working with him because he’s sometimes difficult to understand?

− No. Gaël doesn’t have the same background as I, neither as a person nor tennis-wise. But he’s a super guy and we understand each other better and better. And remember, when we started working together it was you guys who said that our association was fire and ice. I imagine the ice was me, the cold-blooded German. And if that’s the case how can you ask me now if I want to stop because understanding Gaël isn’t easy? If you think I’m as rational as all that, then I would have realised that that part of the job wouldn’t be at all easy. I guarantee you I’m fully aware of it.

Translated by Mark Nixon

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Sunday fun with “The Monf-Bennet-Simon Show”

From the 14 September 2014 edition of l’Équipe. Quoted by Frédéric Bernès after the French team beat the Czechs 4-1 in the Davis Cup semifinals.

It’s never insignificant when the substitutes of a team, some of them legitimately offended by being cut out, improvise a comedy show at the press conference.

Julien Beneteau, called “the bridge player” by the two other provocateurs, who don’t need much convincing to make fun of his old age; Gael Monfils, teased for his baroque tournament scheduling; and Gilles Simon, called the “lemon slicer”; the three benched players of this semifinal were laughing like madmen when they arrived in the press room. It was a mess, but it was hilarious. We tried to reconstruct, as best as we could, this fun moment which says a lot about the atmosphere in this group. As we didn’t have any alcometers, we won’t take position on the nature of the liquids that were consumed in the secrecy of the locker room. But we have some idea.

Julien Benneteau [supposed to reminisce on this Davis cup campaign]: “Fuck, I don’t even remember who played in Mouilleron-le-Captif [against Australia in the first round].”

Gael Monfils: “It wasn’t me! (laughs)”

Julien Benneteau: “We’ve lost our memories. We’re all drunk (laughs). And we know that this is going to be a long evening. Pff, with the two beside me, it’s going to be very tough. We have to hope that we will all be healthy for this final. For those two, it’s not a good start. [We ask JB a question that starts with “as a doubles specialist…”] That’s nice! Like: you’re 30 in the single rankings and you suck.”

Gael Monfils: “Gillou, you smell of beer—you’re drunk.” (laughs)

Julien Benneteau: “The difference between Guy Forget and Arnaud Clement? Easy: twenty centimeters. One is a lefty with a slice backhand . And the other is not. ”

Gilles Simon: “My schedule until the final? Well, the Masters, it’s going to be hard to go, no?”

Gael Monfils: “You had a pretty bad start, yeah”

Gilles Simon: “But we have time before we have to think about this final. If we are going to compete with each other? What competition? Also a three-months-away match, it’s a pretty long time. Who do we want to play in the final?  It’s nice, Naples, in November. It’s warm. How are we going to adapt our scheduling? Well, for Gael it’s simple.  He does it all year long. [“As his new coach, reference to the last US Open, what schedule are you going to plan for him?”] You really like this one! Well, Gael, even if you don’t like going to China, you are going to go for five weeks!”

Gael Monfils: “Ah, coach Gillou! You’re laughing but you could make a lot of money in false advertising!” (laughs)

Gilles Simon: “For the advice, it depends on how much he pays me. We haven’t discussed it yet.”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s hard to tell ourselves that we’re not going to play too much and preserve ourselves for the final. If you only play a little, there’s the chance that you won’t be as good. Well, ‘la Monf,’ he can do it, he’s used to it. How does the competition between us manifest itself? We settle it at Fifa. And it’s violent.”

Gilles Simon: “Exactly, the winner plays the match.”

Gael Monfils: “Guys, no! It looks like I have lost at Fifa! I never lose at Fifa!”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s true, you’re better at Fifa than on the court.” (laughs)

Gilles Simon: “You’re the doubles specialist and me, I slice lemons.”

Julien Benneteau: “It’s going to be war, the competition. We are going to push each others down the stairs. It has already begun.”

Gilles Simon: “I’m totally drunk (laughs). Where’s the Corona?”

~

Translated by Suze.

“It’s a heartbreaker”: Gaël Monfils on his decision not to play Davis Cup

Interview by Sophie Dorgan in the 21 February 21 2015 print edition of l’Équipe.

Will you be playing in the first Davis Cup round against Germany?

“No.  It’s a decision made recently with Jan [De Witt, Monfils’s coach] and then I talked to Arnaud [Clément, the French DC captain].  To be honest, it’s more Jan’s decision than mine.  Jan reckoned that I’m not getting into shape, that I haven’t done the basic training he would have liked and that my results are average.  He finds that I’m playing too much.  That’s why he didn’t want me to come and play here.”

Was the decision difficult to make?

“Horrible.  It’s so important to me.  It’s a heartbreaker.  I love playing on the French team, being with my mates, and I’m never reluctant about playing the Davis Cup.  It’s a sacrifice.”

Why did you make it?

“It’s working very well with Jan, but there are quite a few of his decisions I’ve ignored and that annoys him a lot.  He didn’t give me an ultimatum, but almost. He told me: ‘If you hire a coach, it’s to listen to him.’  He knows that for me the Davis Cup is a goal just like the big tournaments.  We discussed it a lot.”

Do you regret playing the ITPL [a new exhibition tour] in December?

“No, even if I hurt myself a bit towards the end.  It didn’t slow me down, but it did shift my training around.  It was mostly personal problems that ate at me.  I didn’t arrive in good shape at the Australian Open.  At Montpellier (almost 15 days ago), I had flu.  Now it’s better.  But Jan sees that I’m not getting into shape.  The guys [other team members] have been in better shape than me from the start of the year.  You have to trust the guys and tell yourself the truth.  I want them to win!”

If you didn’t have a coach, would you have played?

“Yes [smiles].  I would also have played Dubai (next week).  I haven’t been playing well—I need to win and feel better.  I didn’t agree with Jan, but I couldn’t not listen to him because I’ve run out of chances with him.  It’s only the start of our working together.  He wants me to work with the long term in mind.  My goal is to win a Grand Slam, and he keeps reminding me that the team doesn’t absolutely need me and that it would be better in the end if I didn’t play in the Davis Cup.  In the end, I trusted him.”

Did you try and convince your coach?

“Obviously [smiles].  But that’s also why I chose a tough coach.  He has his say and I trust him.  If it turns out to be a bad choice, I’ll have to make the necessary decisions.”

What did Arnaud Clément say?

“He doesn’t agree.  But he respects my choice.  I talked to Jan and we’ve talked all three of us.  Most importantly, I’ve talked with all the guys.  We don’t lie to each other.  They know why.  Gilles [Simon], Richard [Gasquet], and Jo [Tsonga] understand my choice.  That’s easier.  I trust my mates—they’re playing well right now and it should be OK.  Arnaud knows very well that if it goes badly, which I hope it won’t, I’ll be there for the play-off match.”

What will you do after Marseille?

“I’m going straight to training.  I have some big training sessions ahead of me.  I’d have preferred to be with the French team than go running in the mountains [smiles].”

~

Translation by Mark Nixon.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Juan Martín Del Potro talks injury and Davis Cup in radio interview

From a 12 February interview with Juan Martín Del Potro on the Argentine radio show El Grupo de la Muerte from Vorterix Radio. You can listen to the original here.

Question: Hello, Juan. It’s been a long time—how are you?  How’s everything?

Juan Martín Del Potro: Very well.  Resting before the afternoon practice, and the hand treatments later; I’ll finish with everything tonight.

Q: Well, for many of us, myself included, to hear you saying “the afternoon practice” is already big news—the fact that you are working physically already.

JMDP: Yes, a couple of days ago I started hitting forehands, serving, volleying. Obviously, backhand will be the last thing I’ll start to practice because I’m still doing mobility exercises for my wrist.  If everything goes well, next Monday I’ll start going to the gym and trying to strengthen it; and possibly by the end of next week, I’ll start hitting with my left hand to continue to advance my rehabilitation.

Q: What did Dr. Berger explain to you about this surgery compared with the last one you had?

JMDP: It’s a lot easier and a lot simpler than the other injury.  In my backhand movement, before the impact with the ball, I had some injured tissue, the product of bones that were colliding and rubbing that tissue and damaging it.  It was very hard to fix it with other treatments, and when he saw me he recommended the surgery, one that was not as serious as the one I had before—and I didn’t want to waste any more time.  The time for this rehab is much less than the time for my previous rehab, and I’m looking forward—I’m very anxious to play again, whether it’s in the upcoming tournaments in the US, Indian Wells and Miami, or it’s in the clay tournaments in Europe.  It’ll be great if [my comeback] could be in that span of time.

Q: There’s a big difference between this surgery and the other injuries and procedures you had—you’re looking at much closer targets, you’re talking about Indian Wells and Miami, that would be March; and the other tournaments you were mentioning would be in April.  If we understand correctly, your comeback could be really soon.

JMDP: Yes, well, obviously with the hand like this it’s difficult to set exact dates because I’m going day by day; but compared with the other process, I’m going much faster.  After a week without the cast, I have almost 100% mobility, I’m starting to do strengthening exercises.  Last time it took me months to start doing all that, so… I don’t know today exactly what tournament I’ll be coming back.  I think that when the hand allows me to—when I don’t feel any discomfort or fear or any serious pain—I’ll go out and train during competition, during tournaments, because that helps me so much more than just staying in one place with my coach.  I feel like I advanced so much during my run in Australia, during those matches I got to play in Sydney.  That helped me much more than if I’d kept training in Buenos Aires.  That’s what I need: competition-level rhythm against big players.  Those things that I can only get when I’m on the tour.

Q: In the little time you got in the tour this year, what was it like to come back? Who greeted you?  How did your occasional rivals react when they saw you again on the tour?

JMDP: The truth is, everyone was really cool.  Sydney was my first encounter with my colleagues.  Leo Mayer was there, Charly Berlocq too; we were training together in Buenos Aires and we get along well.  Fognini, the Spanish players, players from other countries.  People from the ATP, the Australian fans—I had won that tournament the year before, so they were happy to see me.  Then, when I arrived in Melbourne, I met Rafa, Roger, Djokovic, their coaches… Going back to the world of tennis that I missed so much for so long was really nice; it lasted so little, yet I enjoyed it so much and it was very useful for me because it gave me energy to face the complicated period that I’m going through now.  Those days left me with a very positive feeling.  All the people that set their alarms to wake up early to see me, all the nice stuff that people were doing, I felt it, and they gave me strength to continue and to not give up.

Q: Did you feel in the match against Fognini that maybe you could let loose your arm and unleash your backhand?

JMDP: It was hard.  It was hard because when you are playing every day, recovery time is very short, so treatments don’t really help with that.  The hand wasn’t responding like I wanted, and I think even Kukushkin realised that in the next match, because he started to hit everything to the backhand, and the effort that I had to do to avoid it was really big.  Because of that, I said to myself, “I don’t wanna lose any more time, I’m off to see Berger and try to solve this once and for all, and go out and play in even conditions.”  After that, it’ll probably be a long process of wins and losses, but the main thing for me is to be healthy and be in equal conditions [with my opponents].  That would be a great relief, especially mentally.

Q: There’s a little time now until the Davis Cup tie against Brazil.  Can you put in your own words your position on the Davis Cup and Argentine tennis?

JMDP: That was the thing that I was trying to say through the open letters that I wrote back in the day, when I started to speak out and try to communicate with some leaders.  Some time after that, there were some changes: Diego Gutierrez showed up, “Palito” Fidalgo, Cervone… We started to have a good dialogue, a respectful one, and together we started talking about what would be the road Argentine tennis should take to grow, beyond me playing or not in Davis Cup. Back then, I talked about Argentine tennis not having a top performance centre, about a lot of junior players not being able to afford to travel overseas, or about how hard it is to start playing tennis because of how costly it is, and lots of things that structurally didn’t work.  With being injured, I had a lot of time to think about all that stuff, about the path we should follow, and obviously about the day that I could return to Davis Cup, because I really love to play it.  All of this was done with the purpose of seeking that goal.  Luckily, the new leaders [of the Argentine Tennis Association] are heading in the same direction—we all want the same things.

It was not easy—everyone knows it.  I suffered a lot during this time, even more without playing.  When you’re playing and winning, you can handle it better; but this way, I lived it more in the flesh, and I learned a lot.  My best source of strength was my belief in my convictions, my trust in myself that I was doing the right thing.  I tried not to listen and act in silence, like I did before.  I tried not to listen to the lies—and with these new leaders, I felt like I was being listened to and I felt less alone, that I was not the only one thinking that things needed to change in general in Argentine tennis.  Today, things are going the right way and we have a positive message to give.  Particularly for me, the good news I have to give is that I will be playing Davis Cup again, as soon as possible.  It’s a beautiful thing that I wanted to share with a lot of people who were waiting for this—a lot of people who were waiting with me, suffering with me, listening to many painful things.  But that’s looking back, and the best thing we can do is to look forward now that Argentina has a lot of power, a lot of potential.  There are a lot of players raising their level and that’s really important.  We shouldn’t think so much about the Davis Cup—we should think about more global things, like the great federations of the world do.  We should start to change things so we can compete with those worldwide powers.

Q: Juan, in conversations I had with people who know about this subject, they were saying that obviously everyone knows the importance of Juan Martin playing Davis Cup, but there are a lot of other things about your presence that are influential: being close to the team, close to the young players, and so on.  What I want to know is if there’s any chance of us seeing you around in the tie against Brazil or not.

JMDP: Yes, well, [being around] helps a lot.  One of the things that I was saying before is that whenever I felt like there are other people who are willing to change Argentine tennis with me, I was going to be there in any form, if they needed me.  As of today, with my hand the way it is, I spend most of the day rehabilitating and working to come back to the courts; but I also know that I can help by being around in Tecnópolis [Argentina’s training center]—hitting forehands, serving to my teammates, spending time in the locker room, sharing experiences, talking.  The captain knows it; I gave him this message.  My teammates also know this, and they are aware of the situation today.  No doubt, I will be there against Brazil cheering and supporting the team—and I’ll be there for anything they need.  That’s all I can do these days, and hopefully if we win this round, I will be able to play in the next tie and be on court and not on the side—because that’s my thing, and I want to enjoy it, like I did when I played Davis Cup before, like I did at the Olympic Games, and like I always do on the tour.

Q: One of the things we heard your colleagues say about you this last time when you had to pull out of the tour again—I think it was Dimitrov and Nadal who said this—is that maybe you should try to change the way you hit your backhand. How long can it take for a player to change his style of play when he’s built a whole career playing a certain way?  Is it possible to change the way you do something, when you’ve done it your entire life in a determined way?

JMDP: Yes, I listened to those things.  Dimitrov even told me this in person, that I should start to hit a one-handed backhand.  I think if I start practising one-handed backhands today, I wouldn’t even be able to hit it like Franco [Davin] hits it today (laughs).  But, it’s too hard.  It would be way too complicated.  I’m not even considering it.  I want to recover my hand and be able to hit [my backhand] hard like I’ve done throughout my career.  I think they meant something like, “If this is a career-threatening thing, then you should try to hit it with one hand.”  If that was the case, I’ll take it as advice; but right now, I’m willing to make the effort to recover my backhand.  I want to have not only a powerful forehand but also a powerful backhand, like I always did.

Q: Since 2010, when the problems on your wrists started, were there moments of discouragement?  How did you feel when these issues started to pull you away for so long?

JMDP: Injuries are the worst thing that can happen in the life of an athlete.  In the last years, I’ve felt like my life had lots of ups and downs—at some point, I could go back to my best ranking, and then again things changed because of an injury and all the bad things came back.  And that’s how these last years have been for me.  It hasn’t been easy.  It’s not easy to live with an injury that pulls you away from the courts for so long.  It’s the hardest match I’ve ever played.  It tires you physically, it wears you out mentally, it fills you with fear, doubts, and uncertainty.  You wake up every day thinking, “Will this be the end of my career?”

But today I feel very strong—I won’t give up because of this.  I know this is a big rock in my road, but I’m really trying.  I have great desire to play again, and this Davis Cup news fills me with energy, with good vibes; those are the things I need to play tennis again.  After that, I will try to put together an intelligent schedule to take care of my hand, and to enjoy playing, because all this time I was out I had a really bad time—I cried a lot.  It’s truly ugly to watch on TV, to see that the big tournaments are opening up, and the big names winning Grand Slams are starting to change, and me feeling like I could be there and not being able to compete… It’s really hard.  But, well, I had to go through this and I have to be strong now.  After this, just by playing again, I will be happy and I’m going to enjoy it a lot.

Q: When Marin Čilić, who is your friend, won the US Open, it was like he was saying, “Juan, come back—we’re waiting for you.”

JMDP: Yeah, I was in touch with him, and I was very happy for him.  We’ve known each other since we were 12, and there he was living the same thing that I lived a few years ago.  Winning such a tournament is not easy and he really deserved it.  Nishikori, who reached the final, is also one of the kids that I grew up with.  I think it’s really good for tennis to see those new names winning Grand Slams, so people won’t get bored seeing the same guys winning all the time (laughs).  I did think, “That could be me, competing in the best tournaments against the best players, and instead I have to deal with this wrist.”  But, like I said, this is one more thing in my career and I’m making a great effort to get over it; hopefully, the things to come will be great.

(…)

Q: Did you feel during this time that your career might be over—that maybe you wouldn’t be able to play anymore?

JMDP: I felt that way five years ago with the injury to my right wrist.  Now, I am not at that point.  Obviously, in this situation, you tend to think the worst things almost every day.  You feel bitter—the worst feelings you can have come to you when you have a serious injury.  But, somehow, I’ve always found a way to find inside myself the extra motivation that covered up all those bad thoughts and made me get out of bed and go to the gym, or go hit forehands, or go to rehab.  In Sydney, I felt in those two matches the same feeling that I might have playing a Grand Slam final, when in reality I was playing an ATP 250 tournament; so, you can imagine how important that was for me emotionally.  That was enough for me to realise that tennis is what I love the most, and that I want to recover so I can enjoy it again, and the people can enjoy it too.  The fans, they’ve let me know that, because they were getting up at 2 in the morning just to see me, even if they knew I wouldn’t win the tournament.  To me, that is priceless and I’m so proud and super grateful to all those people.  They’re another reason for me not to give up.

Q: What is your ambition now?  What is your goal on the tour in the short term?

JMDP: After everything that has happened to me, all I ask is to be healthy and to be able to play any tournament I want to play, injury-free and with no pain. Knowing me, I’m going to want to win a match, then a tournament, and then climb the rankings.  I have faith that with my hand in good condition, I can fight with the best in the world.  I don’t know if I will be in top-5 level, or in top-10 level, but beating a top-20 player in Sydney made me believe that I can do that again— and that’s great motivation.  That’s what is keeping me confident and with great desire to come back to the tour in the best way possible.

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