“Milos doesn’t need to apologise for his game” – Interview with Ivan Ljubičić on Milos Raonic

From l’Équipe print edition Monday March 23 2015 page 17 by Frédéric Bernes

Ivan Ljubičić defends his protégé Milos Raonic’s style of play and discusses the stages of improvement of the world number 6, who was beaten in the Indian Wells semi-final by Roger Federer.

He’s the only one who’s name isn’t Federer, Djoković or Nadal to have won  Indian Wells since 2004.  In 2010, the Croat Ivan Ljubičić won the biggest title of his career here. Presently coaching Canadian Milos Raonic, alongside Riccardo Piatti, the big bald one and world number 3 hasn’t lost his frankness.

Milos Raonic beat Federer for the first time last year in Bercy, and he’s just beaten Nadal for the first time. Do you feel he’s getting closer to them?

They’re baby steps but he’s getting there.  He improves in almost every tournament. We’ve made a lot of changes in his game and even his technique in the last year. Beating Rafa here in Indian Wells, a tournament where that’s very difficult to do, is an important step. He’s showing them that he’s there – but the guys (the “Big 4”) don’t gift you anything. It didn’t work like that fifteen or twenty years ago. Sampras and Agassi had occasional dips.

Now he has to show that he can beat them in a Grand Slam …

Yes and that’s what’s most difficult. The ideal would be for Milos to beat those guys again. Look: he’s never beaten Novak. Right?! When he had to play him at the Australian Open [in the quarter-finals], it was complicated mentally. You haven’t done it until you need to do it in five sets, in Australia on top of everything, where Novak is so strong … I’m not saying that because he’s beaten Rafa, beating him at Roland Garros will be easy [laughs]. But Milos won’t be in the same frame of mind.

What’s the most radical change in young Milos’ game?

Five steps. He’s moved up five steps on the court. Before he was far back and hit with enormous spin. Which is an easy tactic. You can use it, but you can’t play with it. He didn’t move well. He was the opposite of what I’d imagined for him. Too me, when you’re two metres tall (1.96 more precisely), you shouldn’t play like that. His previous coach (the Spaniard Galo Blanco) didn’t agree with me. But OK. He brought him from 300th to 15th in the world: hats off!

Since the start of the season, when he’s sitting down, Milos does this odd tapping routine, like he’s playing piano on his knees …

He’s working on his mental preparation with someone. It’s not a psychologist. Milos isn’t lying on a couch talking about his childhood [laughs]. He’s found that this “ritual” works, He stayed impeturbable against Nadal. But you really should talk to him about it [we tried but Raonic was vague on the subject]. The goal is to know yourself as much as possible. Milos has changed his eating habits, his technique … he’s an open and super determined person.

Exactly, isn’t it complicated sometimes to work with such a disciplined boy?

Telling him, ‘Listen, tomorrow it’s rest.’ We have problems with that. It might sound amusing, but I’m serious. He’s two metres tall, weighs a hundred kilos, he needs to be careful. Milos has a tendency to underestimate how much rest he needs. He has the idea it’s a waste of time. He doesn’t switch off, even though he’s got better at it.

Of course you’ve heard those who think that Milos’ game is very boring to watch. What’s your response?

When I watch Kei Nishikori, I tell myself he could be even more spectacular. No? Each has their weapon. Milos works on and uses his serve as much as Kei works on and uses his backhand. Milos doesn’t need to apologise for having such a huge serve. And what’s more, he doesn’t only have that. Everyone knows that. We know those types who are two metres tall who have serves as good as Milos’ and who aren’t at his level. If the critics came to see what a Milos practice was like, maybe they’d change their minds. The are some who prefer Djoković or (Andy) Murray to Federer or Raonic. I’ll tell you right off: to me, that (Djokovic and Murray), that’s boring.

Translated by Mark Nixon

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Doubles bust up – Goodbye, Cichi: Errani and Vinci split up

From the Gazzetta dello Sport, Friday March 20, 2015 page 28. Article by Vince Martucci

Fatigue, quarrels or individual choices?
The number one doubles pair of the last 3 years is no more.

Two pieces of circumstantial evidence are not proof, but three, four, yes. So the divorce of the Cichi, the number one doubles pairing in the world made up of Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, the most successful ever of all our Italian women, isn’t a bolt from the blue. It was in the air in September in New York and exploded here in Miami, like a letter from two lovers delivered to a mutual acquaintance (the WTA, the organisation which organises tournaments apart from the Slams and the Fed Cup.)

Is it possible that the pair, winners of 22 tournaments, 5 of which are Slams – with last year’s Wimbledon title win achieving the so-called “career Slam” – have quarrelled?  Yes, it’s possible. Even though Errani’s brother and manager David denies it:  “In South America they discussed the possibility of no longer playing doubles together to better plan their singles careers. They didn’t play together in Indian Wells because Roberta needed to recover from a shoulder injury. And in Miami they made the decision, as always in friendship and calm. In any case, in April in Brindisi they’ll be at the captain’s disposition for the Fed Cup meeting against the US.” Let’s infer that the Cichi wanted to leave as number one, rather than pass on the torch on court in a tournament – a possibility that seemed imminent. Perhaps Barazzutti OK’d the split, and will reunite the Pennetta-Vinci pair for the next Fed Cup, on paper the stronger team.

Quarrels

Would be a pity. Because the two small/big fighters who have reached their full potential – one reaching number 5 in the world [Sara in May 2013] and the other number 11 [Roberta June 10 2013] – have been tight since February 2009 when they were launched as a team during the Fed Cup in Orleans. Vinci, older by 5 years and the more technical of the two, is called the “women’s Ferrer”, and refined the volley. Errani taught her friend sacrifice and dedication. Both learned tactics and discipline form their current coaches Pablo Lozano and Francesco Cinà. The great successes of the one became the goals of the other, even if Roberta wasn’t happy about losing to Sara in the quarter-finals of the US Open 2012, and vice-versa, the Roman wasn’t happy about losing to the native of Taranto in the Palermo final 2013. Did they really quarrel in September after Roberta’s win over Sara in Cincinnati? “Nonsense” and “bullshit” insists Vinci: “Maybe someone wants our beautiful friendship to end … Maybe they’re envious.” Errani echoes: “It’s one thing to say we have words on court, that’s normal, it’s different to invent locker room arguments.”

Overdose

Something disturbed the idyll. Certainly, after having done double duty in singles and doubles in so many tournaments last year, the drop in performance for both of them was inevitable. Although it was offset by the doubles triumph at Wimbledon, the only Slam they were missing – and the most difficult surface for Sara (but the most coveted by Roberta, the Italian with the best serve and volley.) Certainly, as in the warmest friendships and love affairs, an overdose of togetherness played a part. Certainly the disappointment in Genoa against France – the first in blue for Vinci – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In Australia the two inseparables took different paths, in Genoa they moved apart, and in Indian Wells they lost sight of each other: when had they ever trained separately? When they didn’t appear in the doubles draw, it caused enough of a stir that Serena Williams tweeted about it. They’d closed the last of three stages. They had lived in a symbiosis with coaches and family, totally differently from the many other more or less improvised pairings in tennis. And now the divorce via a letter: ” …We invested lots of energy, both mental and physical, to achieve our goals, which we are very proud of.  Therefore we now feel the need to rest and catch our breath. It has been an honour and a privilege for us to represent our Country…”

And thank you, Cichi.

~

Translation by MAN

“It’s more the French who are teasing me” – Amélie Mauresmo interviewed by @fLaberne in lÉquipe

From the print edition of lÉquipe March 16 2015. Interview by Frédéric Bernes

Amélie Mauresmo isn’t talking much with Andy Murray about the upcoming Davis Cup meeting between the UK and France. She won’t be there, but she has a rock-solid alibi.

After a break of a week for the Davis Cup, Amélie Mauresmo has met up again with “her” Andy Murray at Indian Wells, where the Scot imposed himself from the start by defeating Vasek Pospisil [6-1,6-3]. Very relaxed on the California soil, the Frenchwoman says she’s delighted and proud of soon entering the tennis Hall of Fame and is happy about the arrival of Jonas Björkman at her side to coach Murray.

18 July, perhaps on grass at Queen’s, it will be Davis Cup doubles day between Great Britain and France. But you, where will you be?

Not there, that’s certain. I’ll be making an unscheduled trip [smiles].

You’ll be then at Newport in the United States for your induction into the Hall of Fame …

– Of course. It makes me super proud. It’s recognition from my peers. You see that not everyone gets in, it gives you an exclusivity and selectivity that’s not disagreeable. It’s good for the ego [laughs]. It’s a time to look back at what you’ve done. Me, I hadn’t been looking back. Now I notice that I’ve made a mark on the history of my sport.

Without this ceremony, would you have gone to this Davis Cup quarter-final?

Really, no. I have a whole series of things to do between the Fed Cup in April [semi finals in the Czech Republic with France] and Wimbledon. I want to be quiet and rest. And if I went, all my reactions would be scrutinised, so …

Do talk about the Davis Cup with Andy Murray?

-No, we haven’t talked much about it. We’re here and we have to manage his post-Davis Cup. He gave quite a bit in Glasgow [3-1 win over the United States]. It’s more the French who are teasing me [laughs].

When the challenge draws near, will it become taboo to talk about the French players with Andy?

Of course not. He knows as much as I do about the guys. They’re his generation, he’s played them all tonnes of times. I don’t know how I could tell him anything new.

I hope he’ll (Björkmann) will be in Miami.

What do you know about his lieutenant James Ward, the hero of Glasgow last weekend?

He was with us last winter in Miami during the preparation. Andy pulls everyone up. Suddenly James and the kid Kyle Edmund want to show him that he’s not all alone. Right now, Ward is a guy who’s hitting well. He doesn’t have a flashy game. He’s not very consistent yet.

We know that the Swede Jonas Björkman [ world number 4 in 1997] will join you very soon on Andy Murray’s team. How are you taking it?

Very well. When Dani [Valiverdu, now Berdych’s coach] left, it was obvious we needed someone. I would have preferred to have found someone between the seasons, but Andy likes to take his time and think over things. I gave him a few names [Loïc Courteau was among them], Andy offered others and Jonas’ name came up.

Do you know him?

Not well, but I work quite a bit on instinct and I feel he’s a guy who could stick. We’re awaiting his arrival. I hope it will be in Miami, but I don’t know if he’s finished with Dancing With the Stars [Swedish Version].

You’ve already spoken on the telephone?

Of course. We talked about Andy’s game, how things work … Now they have to try things out together. If it works well, we’ll offer to share the tournaments. I think it would be a super addition. I even wanted Jonas to go to Dubai [in February] with Andy.

For the Hall of Fame, you need to choose someone to make an introductory speech. And if you chose Andy Murray?

– Oh yeah, not a bad idea [laughs]

Translated by Mark Nixon

Please use the comments section for comments and suggestions. They’re always welcome.

Marin Čilić likes munching on the Big Apple

An interview by Franck Ramella in the 14 March 2015 print edition of l’Équipe.

It’s not by chance that New York is the favourite city of Marin Čilić.  The US Open isn’t the only thing it has.

The player you like the most?

“Andre Agassi.  He could win on all surfaces with his style of play.  He was able to get back to the top after falling out of the top 100.  He played in two eras, from Sampras to Federer-Nadal.  And what’s more, he won several Grand Slams!”

Your favourite Frenchman?

“Jo [Tsonga].  He seems to be very humble.  He’s the ‘nice guy on Tour'”.

The player you don’t like to play?

“Novak [Djoković].  I’ve never beaten him.  His game is solid everywhere—it’s really difficult for me.  I’m trying to find a solution to beat him.”

What do you not like about yourself?

“I like thinking about the people around me a lot—I’ve always been responsible for those around me, I don’t know why.  Which might be a good thing.  But it’s not always a good thing not to think of oneself.”

The type of person you don’t like?

“Arrogant people.  Those who don’t think of others.”

The Grand Slam you like the most?

“Because I saw Goran [Ivanišević] win it, Wimbledon is special for me.  I remember it well; I was at a summer camp.  But if you’re asking me which Grand Slam I want to win, I’d answer any one of them.  They’re all special.  Roland Garros, which I won in juniors in 2005, was the start for me.  I was always solid in juniors without any really great results.  That title launched my career in Challengers with wild cards and interest from agents.”

The place you like the best?

“New York, the city that never sleeps.  I really like this concept.  Last year, for example, we went out several times, especially for Broadway shows during the tournament.  Another day, I went jogging in Central Park.  There’s everything over there.  In the past, I’ve been everywhere with my girlfriend, from the Brooklyn Bridge to museums.”

Your favourite shot?

“The serve, with the possibility it gives of having the control in your hand to finish the point with one shot.  When I was young, the backhand was my most solid shot.  Natural.  What don’t I like?  My transition game forward…”

~

Translated by Mark Nixon.  Comments on the translation are very welcome. Please use the comments section.

Swedish interview with Jonas Björkman on his Murray trial: “It will be a tough challenge”

From http://www.tennis.se/Nyheter/Nyheter/MurrayanlitarBjorkmanHankanblivarldsetta/ by Johanna Jonsson

Jonas Björkman might soon be back on the ATP tour – as a coach for the world nr. 4 Andy Murray. “I’m super excited to be asked,” said the Swede to tennis.se.

Andy Murray might strengthen his coaching staff with Swedish competency. 42-year-old Jonas Björkman is a hot topic for the job as assistant coach beside Amélie Mauresmo.

The parties will test the collaboration for a week.

” I met with him constantly when I was in Australia and afterwards I talked with his agent who wondered if Andy could give me a call. We’ve spoken several times since, both he and I and Amélie and I. It’s been going on for the last two to three weeks. It’s really good. I’m super excited to be asked such a great question,” says Björkman.

If the test week goes well, Björkman will work with Murray for 20 weeks a year. Head coach Mauresmo has 25 weeks in her contract.

“The way it looks now, Amélie and I will be together at certain times. We’ll share a bit during those periods. It feels really good after talking with them and it’s been interesting hearing how they’ve worked together the last eight-nine months,” says Björkman.

“Want to add more positive energy”

Björkman had a top ranking of four in singles and eight in doubles. His list of merits includes 54 doubles titles, of which nine are Grand Slams. He has six singles titles and two Grand Slam semi-finals. He retired in 2008.

As his coach, Björkman hopes to add his own strengths and help his new pupil to become more aggressive.

“He has a tendency to be very defensive, but the match against Berdych at the Australian Open was the best I’ve seen him play in a long while. The aggressiveness was wonderful to see and I think he needs to work on that. We talked after that about being more aggressive with his returns and work more on his volleying, how he moves forward and positions himself.

“It will be a tough challenge for me. Then I want to add more positive energy. Sometimes he has certain periods where he gets down on himself a bit too much,” says the Swede.

“Can threaten Novak for the number one ranking”

Murray’s best ranking is number two in the world, but Björkman sees number one potential in the Brit.

“The steps are big from three to two to one, even if it’s only one ranking spot. Age-wise he’s at his absolute peak now and onwards. I think he has every chance to win several Grand Slams and could threaten Novak (Djokovic) for the number one spot. Those are his goals and hopefully I can be there with him on the journey,” says the 42-year-old.

But before the parties can test the collaboration, Jonas Björkman has one more duty to fulfil – as a participant in the Swedish entertainment programme “Let’s Dance”.

“I hope I have some dancing weeks left. Then we’ll try and find a suitable week,” says Björkman.

Andy Murray stopped his years-long collaboration with assistant coach Dani Vallverdu before the start of this season.

“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.