“Andre will give 100%” Novak Đoković interviewed by @franckramella of l’Équipe on Agassi hiring and life

Interview with Novak Đoković by @franckramella in l’Équipe https://abonnes.lequipe.fr/Tennis/Article/Novak-djokovic-andre-agassi-va-se-donner-a-100/805350 (paywall). This version is taken from the print edition, May 29, 2017, pp. 2-4, Rolan Garros supplement.
Thanks to you, we’ll have Dédé back on a court …

Dédé – who’s that?

 
In France, it’s the nickname for André …

[Laughs} Déde, Dédé. It’s funny, it’s like the Serbian deda, which means grandfather. Nothing to do with Andre, who definitely has the spirit of a young guy!

 
For an old fan of Sampras, your idol, isn’t choosing the Agassi option difficult?

[Laughs] My biggest idol was Pete, but I watched Agassi a lot too. In terms of style, he had a game much more similar to mine than Sampras. I talked with Pete a lot too. I don’t see a problem! My life circumstances guided me towards Andre, and the way it’s working up to now reinforces my opinion.  I’m thankful. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn.

 
If I were a young player who didn’t know your new coach, how would you introduce Andre Agassi?

I’d tell him he’s a person with a strong character, very honest and sincere, filled with compassion. He’s passionate about what he does, and when he takes something on, he does it 100%. So you can always have confidence in him.

 
Do you remember the first time you met him?

Not exactly. Wait, yes … It was just before we played against each other at an exhibition before Wimbledon, at Boodles, during his final year before he retired [in 2006].  I was lucky enough to be chosen to face him for the occasion. We chatted a bit before the match. We even had a good laugh. I’d done my warm-ups and my stretching. You know, where I lift my leg up on the shoulder of my kinesiologist, and he looked at me laughing because he could hardly bend over and touch his knees. We both broke out laughing. We recalled that Thursday during our first practice here. He told me that, at the time, when he was returning in the car with Darren Cahill, his coach then, he told him: ‘The new generation’s coming. I think my career will end soon when I see guys stretching like that!’

 
You kept in contact?

Andre’s always been good with me since the first time I met him.  We saw each other most of the time at Grand Slams. I even had the privilege of getting the Australian Open trophy from him in 2013. We obviously always chatted when we saw each other. But we didn’t go further than that. We respected each other for sure, but we really didn’t know each other. Until one time about a month ago. I asked him for his telephone number because I wanted to thank him. I wanted to do that because he always spoke nicely about me in the media. Whether I was number 1 and playing well, or there was some turbulence result-wise like in these last months, he was always positive when talking about me. I appreciated that, and I wanted to thank him personally. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about proposing any sort of professional relationship. It was just a person-to-person conversation when you want to thank someone. And, instead of a pleasant five minute exchange of words, it turned into a long thirty minute conversation .. We opened up to one another about tennis, about life. I connected with him very quickly. I saw that we had many similarities in our way of thinking. He’s gone through a lot of trials. Few have had to face those sorts of things. I liked the open and honest way he talked about his life in his book.

 
But can both your trajectories be compared? You haven’t, apparently, fallen as low as he …

We’ve both had difficulties on our paths, which are unique. We’ve both faced adversity. Different adversities, but adversities to overcome the challenges and become what we hoped. I’ll tell you where I see the resemblance. For the vast majority of his career, he played thinking that winning on court was the only thing that satisfied him and made him happy. But it wasn’t. He described that well when he told himself he didn’t like tennis, that he often got the feeling he was being forced to play, that he felt empty when playing for something other than his own aspirations. Maybe I don’t have exactly that sort of feeling but [he emphasises the but] I can use it as a reference. I, too, during these years, based my joy on winning a tennis match. All my life, my environment, the people around me, sacrificed their energy on me so I could maximise my potential and become the best player in the world. And it happened, and I’m proud of it. But I also realised that I was basing myself too much on tennis and the successes in it as a source of joy and inner peace. But, in the end, it isn’t true, at least to my way of thinking. It’s not the right state of mind.

 
Why?

Because you can’t always win. And when you lose, it shouldn’t be the end of the world. You shouldn’t be so disappointed. Of course, some will say that being affected by a loss means that you’re concerned. Of course you don’t make light of it! If you don’t care about winning or losing, why then become a professional athlete? Of course it always preoccupies me. I always want to be number one in the world, win titles and Slams. I’ve always wanted that. But I want to balance that, in the sense of emotional stability. I don’t need to base my entire life on the fact that I won or lost a tennis match.

 
That doesn’t seem like you. In a certain way, you’ve been built on rage. Changing your mentality, that shouldn’t be easy …

It isn’t easy. I’ve grown up with this mentality and way of thinking all my life. I was a warrior on court. I invested so much in it that nothing else existed. By that I’m not saying that I’m not invested any more! I am! Really. When I play tennis, I play tennis. But what I’m trying to do now is that, when I go back home, I’m not a tennis player any more. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a friend. I’m a son. And if I’m doing business, I’m doing business. I don’t think about … you see what I’m trying to say. I want to have this approach of being able to do my best in whatever I do.

 
Some might say that before thinking about happiness, a champion of your calibre should think more about taking advantage of the last years on court to optimise the chances of winning rather than trying to be accomplished everywhere …

I want to answer by sharing an intelligent thought I read reading Osho [*]. He was asked if he believed in positive thinking. He answered that he didn’t, because he didn’t believe in negative thoughts. He believes only in the consciousness and emotion of being in the moment. I’ve worked a lot on being better able to control my emotions. I’ve always been very expressive on court, both in a positive and negative way. I’ve worked on reducing this ‘expressiveness’, because I don’t feel good about it and it’s not a good message. Obviously you can’t control everything−sometimes you have to let yourself go because it would be meaningless to tell yourself: ‘OK, I’m going to be positive” when you’re burning up inside. But …

 
How can Agassi help you with those reflections?

I have the feeling that with Andre we have in common this consciousness of wanting to achieve an optimal balance, to be able to be serene and satisfied because you’re who you want to become. With Andre, it didn’t take long to get on the same wavelength. Thursday was our first day together and it felt like we’d known each other for years. We talked a lot, on the court and outside. About everything! What’s impressive about him is that he really tries to share his experience, his feeling, his honest opinions about me. On the other hand, he’s very respectful and sensitive in terms of timing. He knows when he needs to say something.

 
Has he already said something to you that’s had an effect?

These last weeks, we spoke on the phone before and after each match at Madrid and Rome. It was a way of feeling out how both of us saw the game.  It served to have Andre better understand me: how I prepared, how I managed my recuperation. We talked a lot about the game itself, but that was more in general terms, and to see where my state of mind was. How do I unblock my full potential as a tennis player in all senses of the term? How, every time I go on court, to have this state of mind that frees me from all doubt or emotions that can block?

 

Despite all your experience and your accumulated certainties, you still need to be unblocked …

Everyone needs it every day. People think that once they’ve reached certain summits, there’s no need for mental work, that they’re mature players, that that’s the end of the problems. But that’s completely false! Sure, there’s relief when you accomplish good things. But with me, in my way of being and the way I grew up, I felt this responsibility of continuing again and again. To do more. I had this feeling of needing to work even more to create my history. I was very curious, and I still am, to find out where I could go.

 
Knowing your almost total investment in all aspects of the game, there was a moment where you must have told yourself that it was impossible to do more, no?

Exactly. Last year I started to feel that something had to change. My body was changing, too. I didn’t think those days would arrive where you feel a bit different [smiles]. Even if I feel fit, young, and I take care of my body, it’s true that I’m thirty. In terms of approaching training, of ‘energy management’, of programming, I need to have a different approach. I want to play for a long time. You have to prioritise. And I felt i needed to explore new things.
[*] Rajneesh Chandra Mohan Jain is termed an Indian iconoclastic guru, according to Wikipedia. He’s the creator of what he’s called ‘dynamic meditation’. He’s also one of the major influences of the New Age current.

 

Translated by MAN

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

Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN

“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

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe on playing Novak Djokovic, friendship and his career

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet @djub22 in l’Équipe.

CONFIDENT

‘Novak: I can’t wait to play him again’

‘What does it give me, concretely, to be introduced as the “anti-Djoko” solution? Pleasure, obviously. But, having beaten him twice in Slams and pushed him to the limit at other times, it especially gives me confidence. In fact, I completely shook up Novak at Melbourne in 2013 (12-10 loss in the fifth set), our Slam matches have always been very close. USO semi in 2013 lost in five sets, quarter at the AO 2014 win in five, semi in Melbourne in 2015 lost in five, and finally my Roland win (4-.6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4) of course …

‘But as I often say, you still have to play him, and considering our rankings, it can only happen at the end of big tournaments. Most of the time, he’s there and I’m not .. It’s too bad, because I love playing him. Because playing the best is what I love the most. They’re the ones who give you the most problems. Playing Roger (Federer) in the semis of the last US Open ? I loved it. I lost in three, but I loved it. Novak, obviously, I can’t wait to play him again. My regret last year was not winning my QF at Wimbledon (lost to Richard Gasquet) to meet him in the semis, because then I’d have played him in every Slam.’

OPTIMIST

‘Some sand can get into the machinery’

‘I’m not the only one who has the weapons to bother Novak in a Slam. Roger has everything necessary. Was it because of mental problems or playing level recently? Only he knows, because he’s the one who lived through the matches. He he didn’t miss by much, he had so many chances. (loss in five sets, Wimbledon final 2014, then in four, Wimbledon final 2015, US Open 2015 and the semis at the last Australian Open). How long will Novak’s grip last? One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: Roger dominated in the same way for a long period. And during the years he was largely on top of everyone (between 2004 and 2007, especially) we heard people say: “But there’s no one who will beat Federer in the next five years”. Except that didn’t happen. And Nadal, the year he imposed himself (2010), we heard them say: “OK, he’s going to win three slams a year for the next four years.” But the year after, his level dropped.

‘I think some sand can get into the Djokovic machine. When Novak is 100% and everything is working, like right now, no one can take him. What he produces is incredible. And that’s not going to change from one day to another. Just look at what happened after his Roland loss last year, he was huge (only three losses for the rest of the season) …

‘But getting back to the question: if, in 2016, finally, he only wins two slams, will we still say he’s dominating or it’s changed compared to last year? A little grain of sand, two losses in the semis at Slams and that would change his year, which would still be exceptional and he’d still be world number one. I think the change will mostly come from Novak himself. Just like Federer at the time: we didn’t see how he could lose, and the answer came from himself.

ALTRUIST

‘If I can help them, I try’

‘It’s true that I played a role in Mikael Tilstrom’s (Swedish coach) and Gaël Monfils’ association. Gaël he’s a friend, and we talked about it in August of last year. I saw that he was uncertain (about whom to work with), so I tried to add some depth to things. I asked him to name me some coaches he’d like, and he mentioned Tillström, saying he’d asked him two years ago, but Mikael had said no. And Gaël didn’t want to ask again, thinking he still didn’t want to. That’s when I acted a bit as an intermediary. I tried to convince Gaël to try again, and, at the same time, I tested the waters with Magnus (Norman, who works with Tillström at the Swedish Good to Great academy). I went back to Gaël and told him the answer might be different this time. He was trying to find himself, he didn’t know in which direction to go but he wanted to. I hope it works out.

‘Friends? If I can help them, I try. I don’t think about competition. In Chennai, at the start of the season I talked a lot with Benoit (Paire), and gave him my thoughts on a lot of things.And then Yannick (Fattebert, a friend his own age from Valais, Switzerland who follows him on the tour for a few weeks every year as a hitting partner) who was there told me: “It’s incredibly cool what you’re doing, because he’s an adversary.” Maybe, but Benoit is a friend. OK, he’s a potential adversary, but first of all, so much the better if he progresses and, secondly, how many times will we face each other during our careers? If Gaël improves because of Tillström and beats me, it won’t change my life, it can just change my week [smiles].

NO LIMITS

‘I hope to be at a very high level at 35’

‘I don’t look ahead but my goal is to play for a long time. I hope to be at a very high level at thirty-five. But is this very high level 15th in the world, and that would be good because I’m not Federer? Or is it top 10? I know how fast things can change. So I don’t set goals, but I don’t set any limits either. And that’s why I won the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland in 2015. I never tell myself: “I’d like to win this Slam” or “I’d like to win this Masters 1000”. That’s not me and, in any case, I’m not strong enough to do it. My goal is to be in top form each time I go on court. That’s my way of managing things so sometimes, like last year at Roland, something big happens. I’m not as strong as the best. They’ve been there for ten years, me, I’m new. I feel strong enough to beat everyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

‘With Magnus (Norman, his coach), we haven’t set any time limits. It’s important that we both want to see each other, to train and to look a bit further ahead. I think we’ll both know immediately when that’s no longer the case.’

Translated by MAN

 

“He gives you nothing, not even the time of day.” Emmanuel Planque, Lucas Pouille’s coach, on the improved Milos Raonic by @flaberne of l’Équipe

Translation of the article by Frédéric Bernès on page 19 of the January 26, 2016 edition of l’Équipe.

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.”

“Apart from Djoko, I don’t see anyone who can beat him here.” I told you that just after the match against Lucas (Pouille). I was a bit dazed coming off the court. I re-watched the match several times and the impression remained. OK, I wasn’t thrilled by the way Lucas started off sets … but Milos gave us nothing. That guy doesn’t even give you the time of day. Right now, I find him fit. We’ve been talking about him as a future Slam winner for two years. Like Dimitrov? Yes and no. I’m sure Dimitrov will come back. But he’s less formidable and less well prepared than Raonic. He he has fewer weapons.

“Second serves at 220, 224, 226 kph”

“He’s super confident with his serve. At Brisbane and Melbourn, he was hitting second serves at 220, 224 and even 226 kph. At some point you don’t know how to return them: if you back up, he hits a kicker that bounces really high; if you move up to cut down the trajectory, you get a bullet at 220. The average first serve speed is often mentioned as a way to judge a server, but don’t forget the second serve. He powers it but it doesn’t mean that many more double faults. That’s tied to his current confidence and the fact that he hasn’t played the top two best returners yet, Murray and Djoko, who can bother him. The idea is to make him run so he’ll serve at between 160 and 180. Because if he serves at 130, he’ll be more accurate, more coordinated, more relaxed. But it’s hard to make him run much when he’ll try and shorten the point quickly.”

“Before, he could miss a series of returns”

“He’s improved his base game considerably. Mainly because he doesn’t have any physical problems. Last year, he had a nerve in his foot operated on. Good health means more training intensity. You can tell he’s worked on his returns. He’s much more consistent. Before he could miss second serve returns in bunches. Today, he puts you continuously under pressure without taking any crazy risks. He returns hard up the middle which allows him to take a lot of second shots on his forehand. And then it’s difficult to escape. Facing him, you get tense and you lose 10-15 kph on your serve. I think Milos has assimilated the fact that the best players in the world aren’t the best servers. His goal is to get a ratio of quality of serve/quality of return that’s much better than the others.”

“To me he’s not a Canadian at all”

“He’s part of a very strong project. To me, he’s not at all a Canadian. He’s a Yugo (born in Podgorica, Raonic lived in Montenegro until he was eight). He reminds me of Djoko with his ambition and application. Raonic is upright, intelligent, a worker. The guy could easily have been an engineer. Now he’s a tennis player, that’s his job. He’s not emotional, he’s rational. He works on his mechanics. Ljubicic (gone to Federer) helped with his serve and second shot. He leaves and he takes Moya, who’ll help him with his returns and bring him the deep parts of the game. And above all he has Piatti (ex-coach of Ljubicic and Gasquet) who’s a super coach and who’s doing an admirable job with him.”

“It’s lousy, it’s not sexy? I don’t agree”

“Would it hurt tennis if Raonic became number one? I don’t agree with that sort of pessimism. I hear people say Raonic is dull, isn’t sexy, he’s boring … No! It wouldn’t be dull because those chasing him would be interesting. It would be really exciting. Sure, the tennis of tomorrow will be guys 1.95m moving like guys 1.75 and who can return too. Can these criticisms affect Raonic? I sense he’s there to win. The rest …”

Translated from the French by MAN

Umpiring: Aurélie Tourte, a woman in the chair

Translation of this online article

Aurélie Tourte
Aurélie Tourte,  standing on the left, the most highly ranked French umpire when she got her Silver Badge in 2014, travels around the world at the beck and call of tournaments.

It wasn’t love at first sight between umpiring and Aurélie Tourte.

“Me, I liked playing tournaments or team matches for my club in Plaisir (the Yvelines),” she explains. “I discovered umpiring via the ITF Futures organised by TC Plaisir and during team matches. Without being completely seduced.”

Around 20 at the time, Aurélie was taken in hand by two umpires who give her the chance of umpiring in Deauville during the ATP Rennes Challenger. It was the turning point.

“I was able to see professional umpires at work, and it started to interest me. Gradually, encouraged by Maryvonne Ayale, President of the CRA (Regional Umpiring Commission) and the Yvelines League, I got taken with it and started passing my certificates.”

In 2014, Aurélie umpired for 26 weeks (Roland Garros, US Open, Monte Carlo,  ATP 250s, the WTA tour, ATP Challengers), which led to her being granted the Silver Badge in December of last year.

“I was proud about getting it, but it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as I’d umpired quite a few matches and got good evaluations.”

In 2015, her programme up to June was just as busy: Feucherolles, a Fed Cup in Sweden,  then Marseille, Acapulco, Monterrey, a break in March, the Saint Breuc Challenger, Monte Carlo, Marrakech, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg (WTA) then Roland-Garros. The objective was straightforward: getting to know the Top Ten players of the WTA and ATP. “I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. So I need to learn to talk to them, to get ‘run in’.”

Temping as a nurse

Despite careful planning, expenses (travel, hotels, food sometimes covered) paid, Aurélie still hasn’t made the choice between professions. A nurse by training, she takes advantage of the shortages in French hospitals to work as a temp when umpiring gives her the time. Of course, in daily life, the travel isn’t easy to manage.

“Sure, my apartment is more of a furniture warehouse,” smiles the 31-year-old woman who still lives in Plaisir. “And as a woman it’s difficult fitting it into family life.  But now that I’m the highest ranked French woman, I’d like to see where it leads, as there have been only two French Gold Badge umpires in history (Anne Lasserre and Sandra de Jenken).”

Among the necessary qualities required she cites, randomly,  excellent sight, good communication with the players and the public, but also being able to make quick decisions. And especially a strong character. What’s not obvious: “Promoting women’s umpiring is complicate in France as it is elsewhere. You need to find your place in a man’s world. But you learn about yourself, you discover countries, people, ways of life. If you have a passion for it, you must grab on to it.”

This passion has allowed Aurélie to experience some big moments such as the 2012 Olympics, where she was a line umpire for the five finals, and being in the chair for the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros in in 2013.

 

Translated by Mark Nixon