“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

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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

“A rather unique style.” Michael Chang on Kei Nishikori, interviewed by @FranckRamella of l’Équipe

Translation of the print version of this article (paywall) by @franckramella in the print version of l’Équipe, 18 November 2016, page 29.

 

With his game, I bring the small things. I started with the serve

How would you define your role with Kei?

It’s of course a combination of everything. On the physical side, I don’t involve myself in his training sessions,  but he trains with my old trainer. And we’re starting to see the effects. The improvements are pretty obvious this year, I think. With his game, I bring the small things. I started with the serve. When we started in 2013, Kai was making more double faults than aces. about 150 doubles and 140 aces. It was obviously something he needed to work on. In 2014, he got down to 140 doubles, but something like 290 aces. The idea is to make a more complete player. I think he’s become a good volleyer too.

 

he’s a real fashion victim. I’d say he has a rather unique style. Check out his shoes …

Nishikori gives the impression of being a very shy player who goes almost unnoticed.

That’s because you don’t see everything. We often see him in his tennis kit. But when he dresses in his city clothes, he’s a real fashion victim. I’d say he has a rather unique style. Check out his shoes …

 

He’s not someone who wants to go out clubbing. That’s not his nature. He wants to do things that are good for his tennis.


Dante Bottini [his second coach who’s been with him since the beginning] told us once that he’s quite guarded and he was occasionally difficult to decode.

That’s possibly one of my advantages with him.  My Asian culture [he’s American but born of Chinese parents] means that I can sense certain things. An Asian will often be reserved. You need to feel the tone, understand when he’s ready to give more of himself. Kei isn’t one who often speaks up compared to other players. But it’s OK, he gives his opinions. We’ve been together for almost three years. We understand each other better. We don’t see each other especially often at tournaments, but when he comes to train in California, he sometimes spends a few days at the house. He’s reserved but I see him being talkative with his Japanese friends. He’s not someone who wants to go out clubbing. That’s not his nature. He wants to do things that are good for his tennis. He works a lot.


So he’s a coach’s dream, then?

I’d still like him to be more demonstrative on court, to be more excited when he hits a big shot. But OK, everyone has their own personality. It would be wrong to try and change it.


One doesn’t get the impression that he might one day serve underhanded to confuse an opponent …

Maybe because he has more power than me [laughs]. It’s true that you also need to be aware of what’s happening on the court, to try different things. We’re working on that with Kei.


Do you feel the pressure from Japan with the huge excitement there about Nishikori?

Honestly, no. God has made each one of us unique. Wondering about what others think of us is a useless distraction.


You’re very religious. Do you share that faith with Nishikori?

No, he’s not a Christian. He doesn’t understand much about that. I tell him about the concepts of sharing and the prayers we have for him.


And how does he resist the pressure from his country?

Pretty well. He learned a lot after his US Open final in 2014. He was already known, but he got even bigger. He has lucky in not spending a lot of time in Japan by living in the United States. If not, it would be a totally different story. I just tell him that knowing how to manage the pressure is one of the marks of the greats.

 

 
Translated by Mark Alan Nixon

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

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

 

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

Interview with Guga: “Brazil is more individualistic than I’ve ever seen”

Translation of this piece in the Brazilian Lance.

In his personal life, Gustavo Kuerten has every reason to smile easily. Less than a month ago, the three time Roland Garros champion went back to surfing and playing beach tennis. Being able to play sports is something he seeks.

In addition to celebrating 15 years of winning the Masters Cup in Lisbon, on December 4th, a title that led Brazil for the first time to the top of world singles ranking, the former tennis player celebrates another important victory.

Pain, the cruel consequence of being one of the most successful  Brazilian athletes, has decreased considerably in recent months. And it’s allowed Gustavo Kuerten to remain closer to the physical form that led him to be the best in the world for 43 weeks.

At 39 years old, Guga focuses on tennis promotion projects and laments the waste of talent in Brazil, as well as the current political scene in the country. But calls for optimism.

During a busy schedule, he talked to the LANCE! reporter during the inauguration of a Lacoste store, the brand of which he is ambassador, in Rio de Janeiro. During the conversation, he spoke of his recent projects, recalled his career and kept the characteristic critical spirit of his life after tennis.

Question: Who is Guga nowadays? What is his routine and what are his goals?

Tennis is still the foundation of my challenges, but in a different way. Today, my contribution is greater than 15 years ago, when I was the best in the world. We have several initiation projects, academies, tournaments and full contact with the development of the sport. That moves me, because there is much waste of talent in Brazil. The idea is to round up the athletes across the country. The number of potential players who can play with a racquet should be even less than 5%. It’s difficult to have professional and amateur tennis players. That’s what moves me most on a daily basis. I like to get involved with sports and education. I was raised this way and managed a successful career in this universe.

And in your personal life?

In parallel to the projects and partnerships, I spend time with my kids and family. Life is much more controlled now than during my time as an athlete (laughs). Before, we surfed the wave that made by the intensity of the circuit. Today, I can program the series at sea and surf in accordance with the tide, and with a cadence that I plan myself. So I think that my contribution is even higher in order to generate a return with more quality and depth, being at the right time at the right place and thus promote tennis in an interesting way. It is what has been happening in the last ten years with me.

What you do not miss at all from an athlete’s life?

Ah, hotels … packing my suitcase and going to the airport! That was the worst part (laughs). Each week, I had to do it twice. Usually, it was Sunday night, after a final. I came on the same day and on Monday, had to undo everything in another hotel room. I used to wake up confused, thinking the door was on one side, but it was on the other, because I had already changed my room and hadn’t remembered. I went to the wrong floor because I’d been on that floor the week before (laughs). This part of the athlete’s life and for a South American tennis player in particular is very hard. You go out for two or three months, not a week or two. It’s difficult…

How is your body, especially the hip, and what hurts most: the pains of a former athlete today, or the pains from the time you were an athlete?

Thank God I got back to surf three weeks ago. For the first time after a long time, I also came back to play beach tennis. I can hit some balls, but the dialogue with the court is still complicated. It is somewhat frustrating because my physical capacity is limited. But, regarding pain, things are much improved. Hopefully, gradually, my ability to exercise will expand because it is what I like to do. I love to play with my kids, run after them. I went from two, three steps to 15. It was a victory! This year, I made a brutal effort. I spent two or three hours doing exercises and physiotherapy to achieve such a condition.

Do you still have physical therapy?

Yes, constantly. It’s a consequence of my career. Recently, I spoke with Andre Agassi (former American tennis player) by message and he even asked me about the hip. It’s the price we pay for having invested so much and so profoundly to reach the limits of tennis. Sometimes, playing matches is the easiest part. Practice is very hard. In 1997, when people saw me for the first time, there were already thousands of hours on the court making absurd demands on the body. It’s also part of understanding this process. The advantage I have today is having the time for things to happen more tranquilly. If I improve ten meters every year in my performance, it will be good. I will soon be back on the court (laughs).

Do you watch Roger Federer nowadays? What goes on in your mind when you remember the time you played against him?

Federer is an example in all aspects. He has an extraordinary tennis ability. If I have to choose among the top ten in history, he’ll be there. Among the top five, three, two, he will be there too. It must be. It is difficult to define who is the best of all time, because it is unfair to compare. But he’s the guy that will always be considered one of the greatest. He’s a spectacular person, with a special charisma for tennis, a unique kindness, decency and model of conduct. And a guy who was my contemporary! When I see him today, I get the feeling that the circuit is not so far from my path.

You already said you used to stick to a greater challenge to overcome the minor one that was in front of you in the courts and have even given this tip to Thomaz Bellucci.

This applies to life, on a daily basis?

A parameter that I find common between my professional life and now is to have a positive outlook on every aspect. In tennis, it helped me a lot. We already live through so many complicated situations that if I try to see the bad scenario, an avalanche of pessimism comes over me. It works to always look at things very positively. Even my injury. Looking enthusiastically, with hope, facilitates and reduces the negative impact of situations. There are few cases where we really suffer. Sometimes we mourn for bullshit. The difficult thing is to practice it in everyday life, but it’s what I’ve been trying to do (laughs).

The political unrest country currently faces makes you reflect?

I am increasingly convinced that the only way for Brazil to reach a transformation is through education. People tend to think it’s the poorer classes who need it, but our main political figures shows that from largest fortunes often come the worst examples. Education must rinse the country, with decency and respect. People should understand their responsibilities, not just from the aspect of law. Brazil increasingly tries to compress society with laws and obligations to escape crime, diversion, corruption, but does not promote good conduct or decent ways of living. For those who have the conviction that they need to deviate from the straight and narrow and create shortcuts to advance, there will be no law in the world that can stop them. And there’s no money in the world that can build projects with all this going on. So we need to invest in people and think long-term educational projects to have larger ranges of answers.

And the Olympics? It is a response?

We have a positive moment and an interesting result possibility. I believe that Brazil will break the record for medals at the Olympics. But it’s always little. Our achievements are small compared to the opportunities that are there. We are limited by a too drastic and dramatic national scene. You cannot demand that the Olympics work well if the country is not doing well in education, health, infrastructure, safety. The basic requirements have to be the great transformations. Sport, cultures and arts will suffer the same positive interference, but as long as we stay in this mantra to invent laws, do by force and compel people to follow certain rules, things will not work.

What to do in the current scenario?

You have to guide, teach people how to position themselves, to know their rights, obligations and responsibilities. Thus, look for a more collective benefit. I venture to say that Brazil today is more individualistic than ever before. Previously, the country had no money, but it thought more collectively. Today, I see country in more favourable economic condition, but everyone wants it all to themselves. We are infected by a huge lack of public services and good examples coming from the government. People see the differences around them and it’s reflected in their actions. It is sad to see our country suffering all these difficulties and know all the potential that exists in this nation.

After eight years out of professional tennis, you still attract the interest of brands and media. How do you explain you are still a target?

It is still an opportunity to convey values and concepts with which I work such as sports and education. I seek no shortcut or misconduct that leads me to achieve results without merit. I got where I am with effort and discipline. This is an asset and a fundamental background that I need to share. Brands give me that possibility. Because it’s hard! We paddle, row, row and go nowhere. Getting a hug is good (laughs). It is a great challenge. You cannot make a transformation alone, so it is a privilege to count on big brands and deliver a key message to the country today to cultivate persistence in people. We all tend to get tired from the day-to-day and want to throw in the towel. But we must persist and endure the almost unbearable, with the current situation of our country, but we must move on.

His career

World No. 1

Former tennis player led the ATP rankings three times, between December 2000 and November 2001. There were 43 weeks in total, with 30 weeks the most consecutively.

Awards

In 2010, Guga received the Philippe Chatrier Trophy in recognition of the work done by the Guga Kuerten Institute and his three titles at Roland Garros. He also joined Maria Esther Bueno in the tennis Hall of Fame.

Unprecedented feat

Guga is the only player to have beaten American Pete Sampras (semifinal) and Andre Agassi (final) in the same tournament. It was in the Masters Cup in Lisbon (POR) in 2000.

The Goodbye

Guga made his farewell from the courts as an ordinary tennis pro on May 25, 2008, losing in the Roland Garros debut for Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu by 3 sets to love, 6-3, 6-4 6-2.

Olympic involvement

In 2011, Guga was the godfather of Olympic Tennis Project Rio-2016, under the supervision of his former coach Larri Passos. But a year later, the initiative failed after consumed $ 2 million from the federal government and was marked by allegations of irregularities in the use of funds by the Brazilian Tennis Confederation (CBT).

The Surgeries

February / 2002

Guga underwent an arthroscopic surgery on the right side of his hip made by the American doctor Thomas Byrd in Nashville (USA). The goal was to remove the worn cartilage due to an inflammation.

September / 2004

The Brazilian returned to the operating table under the care of Dr. Mark Philippon in Pittsburgh (USA) to treat a bone problem that blocked the movement of the hip and caused pain.

March / 2006

Guga was again operated, this time in Vail (USA), by the same doctor from the previous surgery. The procedure was only revealed last year in his biography.

March / 2013

The former athlete underwent a procedure for implantation of a hip prosthesis in his hometown Florianopolis, due to severe pain.

Translation by Sara Tavares.