Heads in France, but hearts in Serbia with two different sports and teammate fathers: Kristina Mladenović & Nikola Karabatić

WTA tennis player Kristina Mladenović and handball player Nikola Karabatić not only share close trajectories—their values of team play are inherited. Translation of the article “Le sport et dans notre sang” by Sophie Dorgan from the February 10, 2017 print edition of l’Équipe.

When he saw Kristina Mladenović arrive in the Équipe offices, Nikola Karabatić immediately went out onto the street to greet the player’s parents. With the handball player and the tennis player, it’s above all a story of family—with fathers who were international handball goalkeepers in ex-Yugoslavia, club teammates, then immigrants in France—and sports. So when they met this day in December, a few weeks before the new title of world handball champion, they spoke… of family and sport.

Do you remember when you first met?
Nikola Karabatić: I was in Montpellier and Dragan [Mladenović, Kristina’s father] was playing in Dunkirk. I must have been 18-years-old and Kiki nine. Our fathers had played together in Niš, in Serbia. They were the club’s goalkeeping pair. Papa left for Strasbourg, Dragan stayed.
Kristina Mladenović: Branko [Nikola’s father, who died in 2011] was the number one goalie. Papa told me he was a super person who helped him, who taught him a lot of things, and that it suited him when Branko left the country, because he took his place.

There was a cult of winning in your families?
N.K.: It wasn’t father who inculcated us with that. I don’t know how it arose.  Luka [his younger brother, international handballer] and I, when we were small, both hated to lose or get bad marks in school. We had a spirit of competition. Paradoxically, it doesn’t come from our parents, who were quite content with us just playing sports and doing OK at school. It wasn’t serious for them if we didn’t win. We lived sport. Our father was tough because he saw we wanted to succeed and that it was our ambition. He accompanied us, but it came from us. It wasn’t badly meant.
K.M.: My parents didn’t push us in our sports. Luka [her younger brother] plays football and me tennis. It really just natural for us. Sport is in our blood.

Nikola, you said that you learned the taste of effort and sacrifice.
N.K.: Not necessarily on the court, but outside. Together with my mother, he decided to come to France. There wasn’t as yet war in the Balkans, but he wanted to try something different, and in ex-Yugoslavia, they allowed athletes to leave after they’d reached 29-years-old. My father came to France, and we stayed in Serbia at the beginning, because my mother needed to finish her medical studies. Once she got her degree, she joined my father in Strasbourg. Then we got the chance to come down to Montpellier. They ‘sacrificed’ a bit their life in Serbia where my father was an international and had real status, and there my mother was a doctor. They put everything aside to live in France. My mother was a caregiver in a retirement home, a very hard job. It was backbreaking work. Along with Luka, we saw how our parents did everything they could for the both of us so we could live in the best place and get the best education possible. It really affected us.
K.M.: It’s unbelievable how many similarities there are. When my father left in 1991, there wasn’t yet war, my mother stayed in Serbia, where she played volleyball and studied engineering. She had to make a choice with regard to papa: would she follow him or not? If she followed him, it meant that her studies were dead, and the volleyball, so … She decided to follow her love. Papa had signed for two years in Dunkirk, and it basically was to progress as a player; he wasn’t to stay. The aim was to come back to the country. I remember a German club made him an offer, and I explained to him in a drawing that I really liked my school and my friends. So papa decided to stay in France because of us, because we were in school. And after, they reviewed their family project because I started to do well in tennis. There, they stayed because of me.

When you have parents who ‘sacrifice’ themselves, you have even more the duty of succeeding?
N.K.: They don’t put pressure on us, but unconsciously, yes, it’s an example. My parents were my idols. The best thing was to make them proud, make them happy I’m playing well, that I have good marks in school. That’s the sum of it.
K.M.: This is where the story is nice. We didn’t get pressure from our parents, it wasn’t a weight on our shoulders. We wanted to make them proud, succeed and do well, but that pulled us up. It wasn’t a negative pressure.

You both seem to withstand the pressure. To different degrees, you like the big events?
N.K.:
Dad always told me: “You see the big players at the big matches.” It’s true that I almost played my best matches at a very young age at the important ones. I don’t know why I played best at those times [laughs], but it was weird.
K.M.: Me, I struggle finding the same level for the smaller tournaments. Maybe it’s because they both were goal keepers, but dad also told me, “in the big matches and at the important moments,  it doesn’t matter if I don’t stop all the shots. The important thing is stopping the penalty shot you need to.”

When you’ve heard that all your lives, it’s less frightening?
N.K.: I feel pressure before matches [Mladenović nods]. Once it starts, it’s gone.
K.M.: I don’t arrive relaxed at Roland Garros or the Fed Cup. [Laughs] But I love it, we love it.

What is that sensation before a big match like?
N.K.; It’s the fear of not being good. You have to be at your best, both for my teammates and for my team. I always have that fear. I’ve always played on teams that were expected to win. Like, on the national team, we’re always favourites. You need to question yourself for every match and we start again almost from zero. You’re fine being World Champion the year before, but the year after, if you lose, it can be a catastrophe [smiles].  You’re always under pressure. You have to be able to manage that.
K.M.: It’s a sort of big ball in your chest. I’m in an individual sport, but it might be more logical for me to be in a team sport. On the French team, we share, we’re in the dressing rooms, there’s a captain in the chair. The matches, especially at Roland Garros, are a mix of huge amounts of adrenaline, positive desire and also that fear, that dread. You want to reassure, be good. I’m not at Niko’s level; it’s a different pressure. I’m continuously building myself. I’m not up there with him, there where he’s expected to be.

What he’s achieved impresses you?
K.M.: Yes [a bit shyly]. He doesn’t know it because we’re pals, but I admire what he does enormously. I have a lot of respect. What amazes me the most is the mental endurance.

Something like handball’s Federer?
K.M.: Totally.
N.K.: Hey, we’re not doing the interview so you can send me flowers like that [laughs].

Nikola, what’s your view of tennis and Kristina?
N.K.: I used to imagine one day being at Roland Garros or Wimbledon behind Luka [he started off playing tennis and was classified — 4/6] who played from the age of ten to eighteen. We accompanied him with my parents at tournaments and I shook like a leaf. I don’t know tennis very well. I played it, I like it a lot, but I found out it’s one of the toughest sports mentally. I saw Luka and the other players go nuts when they missed a ball. You are all alone on the court and it’s complicated: on the one hand, if you’re good, there’s no one to pull you down like in team sports, but, on the other hand, there’s no one to help you. You’re on your own. “Kiki” doesn’t really have the spirit of a tennis player. You can sense her freshness. When she’s playing Fed Cup, she’s playing for a team and she’s happy. You sense it maybe less with the guys. There isn’t necessarily that state of mind. I really identify with her. With mum, who’s a big tennis fan, and Luka, we watch Kiki’s matches and when she wins, it almost like we win. We’re super proud of her.

Are you conscious of also being examples of successful immigration?
N.K.: It’s true. Like, why did you or I not choose to play for Serbia? I know lots of athletes from our countries who are born in France and feel more Serbian than French. With us, it’s the opposite. I had dad who felt happy that France accepted us and naturalised us. He was always telling us that it was up to us to adapt to France. He was very aware of having this French nationality, and that France accepted us. Me, I’m proud of my origins. I’m a big fan of Djoković and Čilić. Sometimes I’ll support Croatia or Serbia more than others. What makes me dream is France. Why? I don’t know. It’s quite bizarre. Besides, the Croats or the Serbs never approached me, just reproached me [laughs].
K.M.: I also have dual nationality, but I don’t have my [Serbian] passport because I didn’t renew it [laughs]. The Serbs called me but it was never a question for me of representing Serbia, even if I’m proud of my origins. I was born here and I never lived in ex-Yugoslavia. Dad was naturalised French very quickly. In my head, I’m French and in my heart, I’m Serbian.

Translated by MAN

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“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

Interview with WTA Rising Star, Magda Linette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for the upcoming weeks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you try to sing in Chinese?

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

~

Translation: https://twitter.com/jesna3

“Everyone wants to kick your butt.” Sam Sumyk on Eugenie Bouchard interviewed by @sophiedorgan in l’Équipe

Sam Sumyk is the French coach of the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. With his characteristic straight shooting, he talks about the current difficulties of the Wimbledon 2014 finalist.

After having stopped working with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open at the end of January, Sam Sumyk wanted to stay put at his home in Los Angeles and satisfy his passion for surfing. In February he finally caught the Eugenie Bouchard wave and decided to throw himself into the water with the twenty-one year-old Canadian who had become one of the big women stars of last season. The results have as yet not been there this year for the number six player in the world, but the Breton isn’t the type to panic in the storm. After his player’s loss in Rome, he sat down to talk about his new adventure.

You’ve been working with Eugenie Bouchard since February. What gave you the desire to work with her?

She wanted to work with me. She’d been looking for a while and the girl said, “That’s him, the guy from the far end of Bretagne I have a good feeling for.” I know some big coaching names have tried. Sometimes you just have to act and think later. It’s a very personal decision. I didn’t think about her very much. I told myself: “I’ll learn a lot through her. I’ll keep my novice’s spirit.”

You have no regrets?

I can’t regret, because I’m the one who decided to stop with Azarenka and agreed to start with Eugenie. I could have said no, it was in my hands. What I want to do is coach and, every morning, not have the feeling I’m going to work. I’m exactly where I want to be. No one forced me.

But the results are lagging …

You have several choices when going through a storm. You can get depressed, you can attach a weight to your leg and jump of a bridge. Or, if you have character, and I think my player has lots of character, you try and bounce back. I know she’s going in that direction. Everything changed for her after her Wimbledon final.

Everything went very quickly for her.

Too quickly even. She went from “we don’t know who she is” to a Slam final. That’s heavy. All the parameters change. When you have good results and climb in the rankings, you enter the circle of the most hated players on the tour. By that I mean everyone wants to kick your butt. You have to be ready for that. Normally you prepare for it. She’s learning by doing. That’s very different, but I think she has everything it takes to pull through.

What are her qualities?

She has a lot of character, but she’s a bit more tortured at the moment. Very ambitious and perfectionist people are necessarily tortured. Her style of play is a quality. It’s clean hitting. It’s not the most powerful, but she has an enormous work capacity. Her ambition too, obviously, even if it’s weighing her down at the moment. It’s up to me to guide her and us, the team, to make an athlete out of her. She thirsts for knowledge.

But she’s having a crisis of confidence, no?

Yes, that’s obviously a part of it. Confidence, it’s the nerve of war. There’s the confidence that comes with results. There’s also self-confidence, that’s different. If we talk about results, obviously we’re lacking them a bit, but she’s on the right path. With the right attitude.

What’s the right attitude?

Even if it doesn’t assuage all worries, the better prepared you are, the better you’ll approach the tournaments. You have to take care of the things that depend on you. The rest, get rid of them right away. It’s good to create a new dynamic, to break certain habits etc. There’s a team around her that believes in her.

She has a semi to defend at Roland Garros …

It’s still a privilege to defend a semi-final. She’ll do it or she won’t. We don’t care. It won’t make her a worse player in 2015 than in 2014.  A number doesn’t determine if you’re a good player or not. That’s people’s opinions and we couldn’t care less.

But abstracting from all that is complicated, especially for a player so much in the media’s eye like that…

It’s part of the parameters you have to manage. Honestly, if the media didn’t ask her about it at every interview, I think she’d think a bit about it, but no more.

We expect too much from her?

Don’t worry, she expects a lot from herself! And we prefer to think in terms of progress and quality of play. When you’re among the very best you necessarily have points to defend every week. It’s no worse than someone who has to earn a salary every week to feed the family! I think it’s better (smiles).

For her peace of mind, her decision not to shake the hand of her opponent in Fed Cup was perhaps not a very good idea …

It’s not one of the best things she’s done, but it’s her business. She has her opinions and the right to have them. I don’t endorse it, I don’t say it’s good, but there are worse things on the planet …

It can unsettle her.Unless she wants to be the “bad girl” of the tour?

It doesn’t excuse her, but she has the naïvety to think that’s it’s not very serious. One shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not helpful. We haven’t spoken about it. Me, what I’ve noticed is that she was very nice with everyone. She says thank you, hello etc. And, at least, it has the merit of being honest. People sit on honesty in 2015. My job is to make her one of the best players in the world. The rest I leave to others.

Translated by MAN

“Sharapova will play in the final,” says Zhukov. Myskina avoids the question.

Translation of Russian article by Dmitry Yegorov, 19 April 2015

http://www.sovsport.ru/gazeta/article-item/798062

There was a full house in Sochi. Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova gave Lisicki and Kerber a roasting. Anastasia Myskina outsmarted Barbara Rittner, with the Russian team beating the Germans to reach the final of the Fed Cup. Accomplished, of course, without Maria Sharapova, who celebrated her birthday today in the States.

“SHARAPOVA WILL PLAY IN THE FINAL”

“The season’s very long. I don’t know. Anything could happen…” This was the most boring answer given at the post-victory press conference.

When she heard the question – “Will Maria play in the final?” – Anastasia Myskina got even more flustered than after the substitutions made in the German team for the doubles. Interestingly, the gentle, happy buzz that was coming from our five girls just stopped as they listened for the reply.

Intending to somehow stifle any disappointment caused by her reply, Myskina added: “Actually, Maria was sending text messages, saying that she was following the match and supporting us.”

“Following the match and supporting us” is obviously the right message for the hierarchy, but not at all what ordinary people wanted to hear. Those who are not Sharapova fans mentioned and continue to mention that Sharapova’s decision not to play was known a long time ago (if not always the case), but they kept that information from the packed stands.

In any case, all the tickets were sold, and those who bought them weren’t simply coming to watch tennis, but to give huge support.

Some VIPs attended the match on Sunday – Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko and President of the Olympic Committee Aleksandr Zhukov.

If you discount the words about tennis being unpredictable, but still being a great sport (the officials only saw Kuznetsova’s defeat and left along with IOC President Thomas Bach for the “SportAccord” conference where, for instance, they were finding out about orienteering), the only subject of conversation was also Sharapova.

“Of course, it’s a shame that Maria didn’t come. The fans were expecting her, but when you have a slight injury, what can you do?” Mutko began in a calm tone. But suddenly he gave a little bit more information. “You know yourselves, with the whole tour and ranking system, players aren’t in control of their own destiny, and need to make sacrifices.”

And we understood that Sharapova possibly could, but would hardly want to get any injuries.

In view of this, the next question was logical, this time addressed to Zhukov.
“The team has reached the final, but will Sharapova be going to the Olympics and will she play in the final of the Fed Cup?”

“First of all, the best players must feature in the squad. Secondly, Maria helped us a lot in Poland. Thirdly, we do actually have an agreement that Sharapova will definitely play in the final.”

Something which required proof.

The questions ended there on this important topic, even though not the most sport-related.

6-0 IN THE BATTLE OF THE CAPTAINS

Myskina was also asked other questions.

“Were you surprised that the German captain Barbara Rittner preferred Sabine Lisicki to Angelique Kerber in the doubles? The latter is a lefty and is currently in good form.”

“What are you talking about?” said Myskina provocatively. “You mean the doubles? Just today?”

In this instance, she wasn’t being rude answering a question with a question. It was just a sign of the sheer delight of someone who had just outwitted an expert in a game of bluff. Rittner has been in charge of the Germans for almost 10 years, compared with Myskina’s one year in the job. But, in the battle of the captains, the Russian won 6-0.

On paper, the German team was stronger than the Russians. In fact, the odds being offered by bookmakers were the same as if the men’s national football teams from both countries were playing each other in Sochi.

Rittner was in control. She confidently put players 3 and 4 in her team in the first matches – Lisicki and Görges. Just a slight hint as to how fresh Petkovic and Kerber would be on the second day.

Myskina didn’t respond to the bluff, although any loss on the first day would basically have meant the end of the tie. Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova were announced for all four singles matches.

The experienced Kuznetsova easily beat Görges. Pavlyuchenkova was actually match point down against Lisicki at 5-6 in the second set, but turned it around to win the third.

-Rittner, as expected, put out the fresh Kerber and Petkovic on the second day. The Russians won a total of four games between them, with Pavlyuchenkova going down 1-6, 0-6, and Kuznetsova 1-6, 2-6. This brought the score overall to 2-2, which is the best we could have hoped for.

Even before the doubles match Myskina was quite happy about all the mind games from Ritter. Pavlyuchenkova got the shout over the number one player Kuznetsova, and was paired with Vesnina for the doubles, even though she had lost badly 20 minutes before. The Kerber/Petkovic option made sense, but Kerber isn’t as good at doubles, and Petkovic wasn’t prepared to play two matches in one day. The Lisicki/Görges option was fresh, but too risky. In the end up, Rittner chose the simplest option, with an appearance by the established pair Petkovic and Lisicki, who went down 2-6, 3-6.

A SMART VICTORY

“You played great, especially with the interceptions,” Elena Vesnina was told at the press conference. After expressing her thanks, she was happy to continue.
“I’ve actually been following Petkovic and Lisicki playing doubles together. Katya Makarova and I just played against them in Indian Wells. I noticed two errors they made on that occasion, which I told Anastasia about today,” Elena said, letting the cat out of the bag. “That’s why the interceptions you mentioned worked. But overall, I need to say ‘thanks’ to Anastasia. She’s tired and has played in two very tough matches.”

“At last, I’ve remembered,” shouted Pavlyuchenkova from the other end of the table, who won the Universiad doubles with Vesnina two years previously.
The whole hall burst into laughter. And on this note, this victorious day came to an end.

Translated by Gerry.

A long process for Eugenie by @JessicaLapinski

Translation of this piece from Le Journal de Montréal website by Jessica Lapinski

The short trip back home for Eugenie Bouchard didn’t have the desired result. On the contrary. In search of wins, “Genie” left Montréal with two losses instead. What’s more, two losses mired in controversy.

It was more than disappointing; it was sad. Those two matches, against courageous but beatable Romanians, were supposed to help cure her ailing confidence. Instead, it was a troubled, occasionally irritated Bouchard who showed up for the press conference after her second loss.

Only a little more than two months ago she was in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Yes, that wasn’t as good as her semi-final of the year before, but it was a result worthy of her world ranking of seven.

What happened in these last weeks for the future champion to transform into a player satisfied with simply keeping the ball in play? Into a player unable to beat an opponent ranked lower than 60th.?

What happened that caused Bouchard’s aggressive game, which allowed her to beat some of the best, to seemingly reverse itself?

No explanations

Sunday, even Eugenie herself couldn’t find reasons for her setbacks. “I really have no explanation. I don’t feel like myself on the court,” she declared, lamenting her uncharacteristic lack of aggression.

But as recently as Wednesday, Bouchard affirmed that she felt at ease on the courts despite a start to the season that, all in all, was disappointing. Since Melbourne, she’s won two small matches and has now lost five in a row, all against players ranked lower than 60.

“There are signs, except I don’t think there’s only one solution,” says Sylvain Bruneau, her Fed Cup captain.

“We haven’t talked about it together, but yes, I was hoping this weekend would allow her to regain a bit of confidence. Sometimes it only takes one or two wins to do that.”

Among the signs is the well-known second-year jinx. In her press conference, Bouchard herself talked about this “sophomore slump”, this “evil” that sometimes affects athletes in all sports after a phenomenal first year.

Bruneau agrees: “After her first season, she now needs to learn how to manage the expectations,” he explains.

Then there was the coaching change. Last week Bouchard alluded to a period of adaptation, especially for a girl who had been advised by the same man, Nick Saviano, for eight years.

Several have asked questions about the relationship between Bouchard and Sam Sumyk. Both have a strong temperament, and the Québecker doesn’t seem to be assimilating what the Frenchman is trying to teach her, both tactically and technically.

“It’s a big change and I need to adjust,” she insisted on Wednesday. “I’ve had the same coach since I was 12. Sumyk is more direct. I like the ideas he has about my game. We can improve all aspects of it.”

“In tennis, when you don’t have the feel, when you don’t have your usual reference points, you tend to revert to what you did well with in the past, but that doesn’t always work,” adds Bruneau. He also talks about a period of adaptation.

Patience, patience …

What Bruneau especially advocates is patience. For her fans as much as for Genie.

Bouchard also mentioned the process she’s going through right now. A process during which she’ll lose, that’s certain, but which should eventually bring her back on the right track.

It might be long, and, judging from last weekend, it won’t be free from tears and broken racquets. But at 21, Eugenie Bouchard still has time to renew acquaintance with success.

It will be one match at a time, one win at a time.

Translated by MAN

Tears of Anger – Fed Cup fallout in Germany

Translation of this piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung by Philipp Schneider

Andrea Petkovic has cried quite a few times on the big stages of the world of sports during her career as a tennis pro, she never held back her sad emotions during press conferences and there were very different reasons for her to cry. Sometimes because she had once again injured herself. And sometimes because she lost. This Sunday Andrea Petkovic cried again, immediately after the last point of the decisive doubles rubber against Russia. But these were different tears, tears of anger, that streamed out of her on the tennis court in Sochi.

She almost pulled it off, the most remarkable comeback in the German Fed Cup history. But after her 2-6 3-6 loss with Sabine Lisicki against Elena Vesnina and Anastasiya Pavlyuchenkova, even the interim equalizer to 2-2, almost a miracle in itself, was moot. So Andrea Petkovic cried. The score was 3-2 for Russia. And Petkovic knew: They were once again not going to win the Fed Cup.

On Saturday night the German tennis women were already almost eliminated, 0-2 down after singles losses by Julia Görges and Sabine Lisicki. It seemed far-fetched to think that Barbara Rittner’s team could reach the final to win the “damn thing”, as Rittner had called the Fed Cup after last year’s final loss to the Czech Republic. And it looked like Rittner outfoxed herself with her decision to rest Petkovic and Angelique Kerber on the first day.

Rittner had made the plan with Görges and Lisicki because she believed that Petkovic and Kerber were not rested enough to already play on Saturday. It almost worked.

Kerber had flown around the world three times recently, before she arrived at the black sea on Wednesday after winning the WTA tournament in Charleston. Whoever booked the adventurous journey with stops in Washington – Frankfurt – Poznan – Munich – Istanbul – Sochi either was forced to improvise at the last minute – or has a crude sense of humour. Two days Kerber spent on the road, and somewhere along the way her luggage got lost. Would she have been ready on Saturday? It’s moot to speculate.

On Sunday anyway, Kerber played as well rested as a groundhog after months of hibernation in a well-cushioned nest. With a 6-1 6-0 she just rolled over Pavlyuchenkova – it took just 52 minutes until she used her second match point. Maybe Kerber should have played doubles, where Pavlyunchekova, who had just had been humiliated by her, was playing for Russia.

Petkovic loves heroic stories

The chance for the equalizing point had been made possible by Petkovic, who won a surprisingly relaxed 6-2 6-1 match over Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian is one of the most experienced and uncomfortable opponents on tour. In 2004 she won the US Open, 2009 the French Open. Kuznetsova, 31, born in Leningrad, looks with her massive head band always like she is going to battle. She was one of the reasons why Russia had chosen clay in the first place. Twice she and Petkovic had played on this surface, twice the Russian had won.

But this was Fed Cup.

And Petkovic, that much she knew beforehand, would save the team and even German tennis with a win once again. Petkovic loves heroic stories like this, even those about herself. Since her Fed Cup performance against Australia in February, where she contributed two points to the 4-1 victory over Australia, she has also raised her level of play on tour. Her game benefits from the fact that she has been coached in the last few weeks by Rittner’s assistant Dirk Dier, who for Petkovic seems to be a Fed Cup chef: After winning a tournament in Antwerp she also reached the semifinal in Miami and did the same in Charleston, where she lost to her team-mate and eventual champion Angelique Kerber.

Petkovic played focused against Kuznetsova, smart, with angles, brave. She was quickly up 3-0 in the first set, she made barely any errors, especially her two-handed backhand put the Russian under pressure. A frustrated Kuznetsova threw her racket to the ground, and after the first set she disappeared to the toilet for a quarter of an hour. Shortly before Petkovic used her second match point it looked like Kuznetsova was about to eat her own fists out of desperation.

“She soaked in the atmosphere and then realized that it’s cool to play here,” Coach Dier said. And Petkovic happily shared the tricks she tried to overcome the jet-lag: “Vitamin pills and aspirin, but I’m still so tired. Tomorrow I’m lying down in the bath tub for five days”. Nobody was going to argue with that, especially since Petkovic, as opposed to Kerber, had come back out on court. And lost the decisive doubles match.

Translated by Katja