“I felt at the end of my tether.” Stan Wawrinka, interviewed by @LequipeTestelin in l’Équipe, on the physical and mental fatigue that led to his body breaking down

Translation of the interview with Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe, print edition Wednesday 10 January 2018, pages 18-19 and online https://abonnes.lequipe.fr/Tennis/Article/Stan-wawrinka-je-me-suis-senti-a-bout/865299 by Régis Testelin.

MONTE CARLO – After five months of suffering, doubt and sweat, who knows if he’ll be able to put on a good performance at the Australian Open? The Swiss hasn’t played since his first round loss against Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon. In August, he underwent two knee operations, one arthroscopic, another to fix a cartilage hole. Five months later, he’s in Melbourne, where he’s supposed to take part in a “Tie Break Tens” exhibition with Nadal and Djokovic [he withdrew with a shoulder problem – Mark] which might give some indication of his level and perhaps reassure himself. We spent a morning with him in the middle of December at the Monte Carlo Country Club to talk about the injury, overwork and the depression what occasionally hits even the most solid players on the tour.

After three exceptional seasons, your knee gave out. Do you think you pushed too hard?

When you’re always trying to reach as high as you can, you push the machine to the limits. Still, I was careful: I never played four or five tournaments in a row, I always gave myself recuperation periods. But I’ve always known that this sport, at this level, wasn’t good for the body. You know there’ll be problems later on.

Pushing to the limit until breaking, that’s extracting the best from oneself while getting consumed. How is that experienced?

In all sports, when you reach this level, you consume yourself. It’s not by chance that I’m injured at thirty-two, that Novak is at thirty, if Roger and Rafa were. These injuries are results of wear and tear and of numbers. But when you have the chance of getting to the top, it’s a nice wear and tear. Besides, winning is addictive – you always want more. To get more, you need to do more, to do more you push yourself even more, and at some point, it gives out. When you’re on top, everything’s tougher. What I did the last few years was an opportunity, but it was demanding. I get the impression I’m on my way to the cemetery, but I telling all this with a smile [he laughs]. I’m trying to make people understand what we go through.

Do you have the impression of having pushed your body to the burnout point?

These last couple of years, I’ve pushed too far, too long, and the motor often overheated. But it’s not just physical, it’s mental too. People watch us play tennis, but we have a life outside of that which means … I felt at the end of my rope these last years; I had mental gaps. Burnout is too strong a word, because people who burnout live at the extremes. But it happens that I experience feeling at a breaking point, of telling myself “I can’t keep this up”.

It’s the interaction between what’s happening around you and the on-court demands?

It’s of a piece. If you have a full life that wears on you, you’ll get tired on the job. That applies to all trades, but even more in ours. You don’t win Grand Slams without pushing to your personal limits.

Does that mean that you’d like to change some things to better manage?

It’s difficult to change things when I see what doing those things led to: three Grand Slams and a final. That means I did those things well. If I’d rested more, I’d never have gone as far. This injury will make cleaning out all but my closest entourage easier. I won’t be spending energy on people who aren’t closest any longer and I’ll be fresher.

How did you experience this period of inactivity?

Everything weighed on me: walking with crutches, being off the Tour, doubt, not being able to do anything. When you stop for a longer period, it’s very bad for your body. It will take some time, for example, to recover full flexion on my serve. But it’s not just that – rehabilitating my shoulder will also take time. The whole body needs to be reconditioned to being under pressure and tension.

What was the hardest to recover in the last few weeks?

Knee flexion. I can’t get down very low. Reflexive movements are difficult. But, I’m playing well, my shots are good, my tennis is there.

How much were you in doubt?

Inside, I was always sure that I’d find the solution to get to a certain level. Which level, I don’t yet know. But this re-education was tougher than I thought. I wasn’t expecting it. All those phases where you had to reach the limit without going over to protect the knee.

You’ve said that without the help of Pierre Paganini, your fitness coach, you would have quit.

To come back from so far, I need someone who knows my limits. He was a lifesaver because I had moments of depression where I felt alone. What I missed the most was competing, the adrenaline, the excitement, all those things you can only experience first-hand. Stress, even when you feel bad, is basically a good thing. I was in a down period.

Would you say the toughest part to get to a Slam semi-final is behind you or ahead of you?

I’d say behind. Coming to play for two weeks in Monte Carlo in December with the guys, being able to hit with Dimitrov and realising that, despite everything, the level is there, that helped me. From the first training session, I felt that the tennis wasn’t going to be a problem. But when you lose confidence, persuading yourself that you’ll come back is tough.

Knowing that a player like Rafael Nadal came back from long injury periods, does that help?

No. I mean, it’s possible, but everyone’s different. Obviously, it’s tougher coming back from a knee operation than a wrist injury, for example, because with a wrist injury, you can keep working on everything else physical. But, tennis-wise, it’s tougher coming back from a wrist injury, so … Everyone manages their own injury; you can’t compare.

Magnus Norman, who’s been your coach since 2013, suddenly left you in October.

I didn’t see that coming. It was a shock and a disappointment. I’ll always acknowledge what we experienced together, but the timing was difficult. When you start again from zero, you need people around you who know you so you can recover your lost confidence. He has his reasons [spend more time with his family] and I accept them. We’ll delve more into the reasons for the break at a good meal. It will be easier then. Thanks to him, I won three Slams, and they’ll never be erased.

You say you want to play another three or four years. Will one of your goals be detaching more from results and taking advantage of that?

– Yes, but that will be impossible. The more the years pass, the more difficult it is to look back and tell yourself, “OK, I lost but it doesn’t matter.” There’s less time left, and you can’t miss your chances.

Translated by MAN

*Edited to fix an incorrect date.


“To prove to myself that I’m alive.” Marion Bartoli interviewed by @sophiedorgan about her illness, being gaslit in a toxic relationship, and the profound reasons for her comeback

My translation of the interview with Marion Bartoli by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe, print edition, Tuesday, January 9, 2017, pages 2-3.

After spending Christmas and New Year with her family, Marion Bartoli returned to the National Training Centre (NTC) to prepare for her return, forecast first for March 7 at Madison Square Garden for an exhibition against the Williams sisters, then officially at Miami on March 21. Tired from a fitness session and preoccupied by a meeting with French Federation officials, she agreed to return at the end og last week to talk about what motivated her comeback.

You announced your comeback three weeks ago. Have you received many messages?

I received messages from Serena and Monica Seles. They were very positive messages. When Serena tells me I’m really a proof of courage, that pleases me very much. The same with Monica Seles, who was my absolute idol when I was small. When she tells me: “You’re a Wimbledon champion, something I never was”, that’s something exceptional. Monica advised me to really take my time. She reckons she came back too soon, with a bit of excess weight, and she paid for it with quite a few small injuries. She told me to be very careful and come back at my in form weight. Advice I’m going to follow.

Any messages from French women players?

No, none [smiles], but I’m expecting some.

And Yannick Noah?

Yes, he sent me a very nice message. He told me he was following my comeback, that he’d heard that I was training very hard, and that he was a captain who’d give me my chance if I deserved it. I think he’ll wait for my results, which makes perfect sense.

What’s your daily routine right now?

When I’m at the NTC, I arrive at 9.00, and I leave at 21.00. I do around 3½ to 4 hours of tennis every day, 2-2½ hours of fitness, then the recovery and the kinesiologists. Between sessions, I take a little siesta just behind [she points to the French club’s sofa at the NTC].

Does that rather monastic life suit you?

I love it. I think all high-level athletes love it. To achieve the top results, you have to live like that. It’s impossible otherwise.

You still have the need to prove things to yourself?

I need to prove to myself that I’m alive.

But your organism still suffered.

That’s why it took me a year-and-a-half to get to the correct energy level.

Were there after effects?

Not any more, but I had them for a very long time. I couldn’t eat what I wanted.

Are you obsessive about your weight?

No, especially after what happened to me [smiles]. That lets me put things even more into perspective. Before, I complained a lot after a hard day of training. Today, I don’t experience it in the same way at all, because it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through. I’m happy just getting up in the morning, being in good health, having energy and getting through the day. Going radically to works and losing 10 kg in a month, that’s not possible. On the other hand, I stick to my dietary regimen.

No danger any longer of being skeletal, like at Wimbledon?

No. I’d lost a lot of weight before my virus because of my ex, who made my life hell. He was really a total arsehole. I learned a lot there too. Because of my personality, I accepted the unacceptable. I was telling myself, “no, it’s not serious, no, it’s not serious”, and it completely destroyed me. I don’t want to live like that any more. It’s true, I’d lost a lot of weight, I was weak, and with a weakened immune system, I caught a virus in India that finished me. I was already extremely thin, or even skinny, but I didn’t see it.

You kept hearing you were overweight …

When I retired, I was the happiest person in the world. Then I met my old boyfriend in 2014, and every day he told me I was fat. Every day. When he saw a thin girl on the street, he told me, “you see how she’s thin and pretty”. That wasn’t helpful.

You wanted to get thinner for him and it turned out badly?

Once you’re caught in the trap, it’s tough to escape. After, I stabilised at a weight that was weak, but I stabilised. But at ‘Wim’, that was the lowest of the low. I couldn’t swallow anything any more.

After more than a year, there’s no medical risk in training so much?

Today, I really don’t think I’m putting myself in any danger. If I thought I were, I’d stop. I’ve done every medical test, and everything’s OK. If I increase training a bit and I see that it’s starting to endanger my health, I’ll stop my comeback and I’ll say, “sorry, I pictured it, we thought it was possibly, but medically I have a contraindication, and I’m stopping.” It wouldn’t be a personal defeat. It would just be that, at thirty-three, with everything I’ve been through, my body can’t take any more.

Why start with such a big tournament like Miami? Nishikori and Agassi, for example, decided to go through Challengers.

It’s not the same comeback situation. They hadn’t gone through being close to death. Honestly, I’m not going to put up with playing Challengers. I played the $50K’s when I was sixteen. I’m not going to do it at thirty-three. If I’m coming back, it’s to try and play big matches on the big courts and experience those feelings. It’s not a question of ranking. I’m not going to have a twenty-five match schedule.

Do you foresee skipping clay?

If I start in Miami, I won’t skip. I’ll play a lighter schedule, with Madrid, Rome and Roland. If I don’t start in Miami, I’ll skip clay and I’ll do Nottingham, Birmingham and Wimbledon.

Will you play practice matches to gauge yourself?

The period of practice matches in February will be very important. I need to them to reassure myself and see if I have the level. If I take it on the chin 6-1 against girls who are between 15th and 30th, it won’t be possible.

If you play ranked at 100, you won’t come back?

No way. I’m not coming back to be ranked 100. I spent my entire career in the top 20, and at my best in the top 10. If I’m playing top 100 in February and getting my butt kicked by top 30 players, I’ll really need to question myself. If, with no pressure, during practice sets, with my coach behind me, I don’t have the level, I won’t have the match level. I might give myself a longer training time up to grass, and if I then don’t have the level … I’m coming back to have fun, play big matches and enjoy myself.

There won’t be any shame?

Oh yes, I’ll take it very badly [laughs].

Playing ranked 30 isn’t obvious

– If I have the level in practice, but I can’t carry it through to matches, that’s one thing. But if I don’t have the level in practice, that’s something else. Without any pretension, with my career, it seems logical. I’m not coming back at thirty-three to be ranked 80-100. That’s of no interest. At fifteen, a girl can start the year at 80 and end the year at 20, but not at thirty-three. That’s not going to happen.

And you reckon you have the level?

Yes. I’m hitting well. Is that enough for today’s level? I don’t know. It will be important to gauge it.

Is the timetable you set holding up?

I obviously need to lose some weight, between five and seven kilos. I’ve been playing with a seven kilo weight vest. When I lose it, it’ll be easier. Doctors Montalvan and Barbiche are helping me with my nutrition. After what happened to me, it’s even more difficult to manage. They’ve worked out a nutritional plan that suits me and that I can maintain every day. Right now, the whole plan is working out. My weight loss will be the measure of my comeback. I won’t go back on court if I’m not at the right playing weight.

When we remember you at Wimbledon, we can’t help wondering if you’re putting yourself in any danger by coming back.

If I get there, it would mean that I have an inner strength.

But you’ve already shown that!

I’m not so sure [smiles]. I have to prove to myself at least a second time. Not to others, but at least to myself. I let myself be destroyed by someone and I didn’t think that was possible. I let myself be swallowed up. I’m so happy when I’m on a tennis court that I’m reliving happy times every day. They make up for the “unhappy times”, in quotes.

Do you have a psychologist to help you?

No, because it’s so complicated, it wouldn’t be of any use. I don’t feel like it, it would take too much time.

Your ex devalued you so much, you feel the need to rebuild your self-image?

There’s that. There’s a double process in this comeback, and that’s why I’m putting so much force and energy into it. It’s both to escape this illness, to prove to myself that even if I was centimetres from death, I can once again be on a tennis court and fight for three hours to win a three-set match. And the second reason, it’s for everything that devalued me. Every single day, in an insidious way, he made me lower than dirt. I want to prove I can get back up again.

It’s a rebuilding process?

I came out of Wimbledon [2013] telling myself: “ I’ve realised my dream, I’ll be happy ever after.” I had a huge daily joie de vivre. He took it all. He extinguished it bit by bit every day. He even took away my love of playing. Every time we played tennis together, he did everything to beat me playing doubles by putting himself with the best possible player and me with the worst. He did it even with singles. So, he took everything. I managed to get out of it, but it took time. Eighteen months, that’s a long time. I was very young in a real love relationship, living with someone everyday. But I didn’t think I could be walked on – I had character.

There’s a sort of revenge?


The comeback is doubly important for you.

Yes, but, whatever the result, it will be won when I’m on the court. I’ll never forget Wimbledon 2016, I’ll never forget it. When the doctor told me I couldn’t play legends because my heart was so weak, I risked having a heart attack on the court, when it’s been three years since your name was on the board, it’s a punch in the face, it’s violent! … But I was grabbing on to that. That was it. When I went to bed, I didn’t know if I’d still be alive the next day.


Translated by MAN

Piotr Wozniacki interviewed by @johasger: ‘My son paid a price when we concentrated on Caroline.’ On the tough choices made, and advice to parents: “Don’t coach your kids”

Translation of the article in Extra Bladet December 23, 2017, sports section pages 8-9.

Also read: Interview with Piotr Wozniacki: “I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself and I regret that”

When Caroline Wozniacki was in her mid-teens, Piotr Wozniacki made a decision that not only was the springboard to his and his daughter’s tennis adventure – it also involved a painful choice. He revealed it when he was answering the question: what would he have done if she had chosen to thorw away her racquet and go another way.

“I don’t know. But I think I would have helped Patrik more,” referring to her older brother. “He was a pretty good footballer, but needed some support and help from me. I made the choice then, when Caroline was producing promising results. That meant that I had to be closer to one of my children than the other. It was tough.

“Without a doubt, being so close to her has been a huge gift, but also meant that I would have to be away from my son.

“We all talked about it together, and I’ve very proud of the fact that Patrik accepted it the way he did. He also wanted to help his sister the best way he could.

“Caroline also understood that we needed to do everything possible to keep contact with Patrick as best we could. The two of them are luckily just as close now as they were then.

“It wasn’t just Caroline and I who discussed things. All four of us did. Anna and I motivated the children, showed them the sports world and told them that if they had a dream, they had to believe in it and follow it. Then we’d support them.”

He turns back the clock 20 years to when Caroline chose tennis:

“She was around seven, and we drove around to a lot of tennis clubs to practise and train with those who suited her best. We lived in Herfølge, and drove to Vallensbæk, Birkerød, Værløse Farum …

He didn’t anticipate that the many hours driving and waiting would turn into a full time job:

“I hadn’t foreseen that future. The daily routine was driving Caroline and Patrik to tennis and football, do homework with them – and I don’t know how many times we ate in the car.”

The mayor of Farum, Peter Brixtofte helped them get an apartment in Farum Midpunkt, so the 12-year old Caroline had a shorter trip to the Danish Tennis Association’s (DTA) elite centre, where she could practise on a dispensation.

“But there were problems with being allowed to do physical training and with travelling. They kept saying, ‘we need to wait a bit. She’s too young.’

“So I made the decision that I had to travel with her, because I couldn’t wait for them while they considered their decisions. We travelled to the big junior tournament in Osaka and won. Then won a series of tournaments.

“She was so young, yet she could still compete at that level, so I thought: ‘We need to do something extra.’

“We got a sponsor deal with Nordea, Europæiske, Sony Ericson and many other small firms we drove around to. My business and sport friends help a lot, and so did Farum Tennis Club.

“It was work eight hours a day with practice, travel planning, physical training and doing marketing by driving around and telling people, ‘this little girl will become a top player’.

“The situation was such in Denmark that there really weren’t any coaches with tour experience we could travel with. We trained with people in Denmark, but I was beginning to focus internationally. When she turned 16, we moved to Monaco, and I began to get help from people on the WTA Tour.

“Nothing was as I’d imagined it. Everything was new to me. Everyday contained a small risk of doing something wrong, and all the while, Patrik was very alone home in Copenhagen. It wasn’t an easy choice, because we wanted the best for both of our two children.”

Slowly the father and daughter began to realise what they’d undertaken. The learned together and acted together. Caroline began early on to book their trips.

“We both began to realise what kind of job we had to do.

“I wasn’t a tennis coach. For the first five-six years, I was the worst tennis coach in the world, but all the talking with others on the tour has helped me.

“We’ve also been lucky in that the little things have gone our way, but, from the start, Caroline was very disciplined and willing to do a lot of hard physical training.

“She saw that I went 120% in for everything, whether what I did was right or not. I think I was an OK father, too. That’s how we could stay together for so long.”

Once in a while he considered stopping.

“It happened once in a while. I wanted to find a better coach for her. But Caroline made the decision herself that that wasn’t optimal for her. She thinks I’m the best for her.

“We’ve always discussed all our decisions together. We’ve chosen the path together. It was always important that we agreed.”

Only the fewest of those sorts of partnerships have lasted and been successful in the long run on the Tour. And Piotr Wozniacki would definitely not advise other parents to try and imitate him. He has quite the opposite advice:

“Get a real coach, and help from the second row. DON’T be a coach –be a father or mother.

“I’ve spent an amazing amount of energy, and we reached an understanding. I don’t think many others could. I’ve seen thousands of examples of the opposite, because parents didn’t get the right kind of advice.

“As a parent, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening, but don’t be front and centre. The kid needs a father and mother to come home to.”

Translated by MAN

Roger Federer reflects in an interview in l’Équipe with @romlef on his 2017 season, the amazing Nadal and his amazing AO win

Translation of the interview by Romain Lefebvre in l’Équipe December 29, 2017, print edition pages 4-6

L’Équipe has awarded you with the title Champion of Champions in a tie with Rafael Nadal. Does that seem fair to you?

– Yes. Some will say no, some will say yes. I think you can look at our seasons however way you want. Both have done something extraordinary. He finished the year at number 1. He’s even the oldest player ever to have done that, which I didn’t know. It’s something no one has done before, so, from that angle, he deserves it. He made a comeback just like me. Me, I’m five years older, which makes things even more complicated. And I beat him every time. You can mix that all up whichever way you want, but I’m totally OK with it.

Do you have the feeling that breaking back at 3-2 in the fifth set of your Australian Open win against Rafa was a determining factor for the rest of your season?

– It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true. It was that moment that I proved definitely that I’m playing fabulously. I’m playing really, really well. You feel that all the backhands are aggressive, I’m calm, serene. It’s a big moment for the rest of the season, yes … Basically, you’re right!

When we saw you at the inauguration of his academy, in October 2016 – you were both injured – you’ve almost never been apart since …

– Exactly. It’s interesting because it had never been that way before then. We understand each other. In the past, when he’s been injured or operated on, honestly, because I’d never been operated on, it was difficult for me to put myself in his skin. In 2016, when he was doing better, and it was my turn to be injured, for the first time I felt the way he did when he was injured. It got me even closer to Rafa, this understanding of what he went through in the past. On the one hand, it’s nice being at home, of being detached from everything, but, at the same time, it’s an injury. It’s not fun. It’s an operation; it reveals a weakness. I know there are a lot worse things in life with health problems. But for an athlete, an injury is difficult – it may mean the end. We both went through it at the same time, at the same moment. I think I understand Rafa more know than before. Before, for me, it was, ‘yeah, right, OK. I see what he wants to say, but not really … it’s clearer today.

If someone told you in 2010, when Nadal was number 1 in the world, that seven years later he wouldn’t beat you once in four meetings during a season …

– I would have said no way! At that time I had two kids, and I had even more desire. Now I have four. With four kids, I’m not going to beat Rafa four times! [laughs]. It’s neither reasonable nor realistic. But fine, the idea was to play for a long time. The question was: would we still be meeting each other? What will our rankings be? When you’re, I don’t know, fifteenth and twenty-third, I imagine we won’t be meeting each other four times during the year. To meet that often, you have to play at the highest level.

Can you give three reasons why you won every time in 2017?

– There’s the Basel win first of all in 2015 [in the final 6-3, 5-7, 6-3] at home, which really did me good. It comforted me in the idea that if I play well indoors, or on a fast surface, it would always be tough for him. After, I think that our long break acted as a reset for our rivalry. In our head-to-heads, our 2004 matches have no relation to today. We’re now two guys who’ve had operations, among the oldest. It’s another era. I approach the matches telling myself, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.’ My new racquet has given me more options than in the past. Before, my game was more based on a sliced backhand and my forehand. Now, I can do more things with my backhand, and I proved that to myself in Australia against him. That was it. And, tactically, I was clearer in my head about how to play him as opposed to before. The racquet, the surface, the momentum [the dynamic] of finally ending the wins against me, it’s all a package. Plus the fact that I possibly could have won some matches against him I ended up losing. I’m think of Dubai, here, once in the final [in 2006, loss 2-6, 6-4, 6-4], which I shouldn’t have lost, Rome, which I lose in five sets [6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6] in the same year which I possibly should have won, at Roland where I for once had a chance [2011, loss 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1] … All those matches created a sort of spiral which favoured him.

If you’d met him on clay this year, would you have maintained your invincibility?

– It might have been interesting, with the year I had and my style of play, if I could have done well, even won, but no … for me, Rafa will always be the favourite against anyone on clay. So, Advantage Rafa! I say. [laughs]

You played doubles with him for the first time at the Laver Cup. What did playing beside him do?

– It was magnificent. Honestly. Because doubles are even better than practice. In doubles, you have ten seconds to make a choice, and you talk to each other. OK, what will you take? Forehand and I cover that after? No? Go, we’ll change quickly! OK, agreed? Bang bang, boom, bing. And you do that fifty times during a match! Watching his intensity, his calmness, it made me think about myself. We’re similar, we’re always trying to find solutions. He’s a winner. He knows when it’s important, when it doesn’t matter if you miss a shot when you’ve made the right choice. If the idea was right, you accept it. You know when the opponent played well. All that fascinated me. It was really good.

What does he have that you’d like to have?

– I’ve always loved his forehand and his intensity, his ability to concentrate.

You’d like him to have been Swiss?

– Uhmmm … why not? Absolutely. I won’t say no! But with Stan [Wawrinka] we’re doing pretty well, eh! I can’t complain, Stan’s incredible.

Which one of you is a better doubles player?

– Oh … interesting. We play completely differently. In Prague, I asked him, ‘How do you want me to play? More like me or more like you?’ Because I don’t know very well the doubles where you stay at the baseline after serving like he does. I was at the net and the balls we’re whistling by me [he mimes balls whistling by] voom, voom, especially against Jack Sock, who plays like Rafa. Me, I know doubles where both players are at the net, where you try and make a wall and you concentrate on the first volley. But that’s not the way we played. It was ultra interesting. It was modern doubles if you like. He plays that better, and I think I play classic doubles better. I know that’s not the answer you wanted, but sharing that thought is interesting. Let’s say it’s a draw!

Can we imagine you playing doubles at a Slam?

– No. I don’t think that’s possible. We need our rest. We’re both tired after the singles. [laughs].

What’s your best win over Rafa?

– Australia this year. [2017] Yes.

The cruellest loss?

– Wimbledon 2008 or Rome 2006, where I have two match points, playing five hours on clay. It would have been nice beating him in that final, in that magnificent Rome stadium. But Wimbledon, there were so many records on the line: a sixth win for me, the first for him, in the dark like that at the end [night fell at the moment of match point, at 9.16 PM]. It was extraordinary …

Let’s get back to this year. Did you play your best tennis in the States at Indian Wells and Miami?

– I played well, but I had trouble in a couple of consecutive matches in Miami. Against Bautista, against Berdych, Kyrgios. Finally, I had a lot of luck against Berdych. Everyone’s forgotten, but I had match point against me on his serve. On his second, he hits 190 to my forehand. It’s times like those that can change the course of a season. Against Kyrgios, too. It was very, very hot. I played well that day, but in Miami, during the day, I suffered a lot because of the wind. You don’t play your best under those conditions. Or the feeling isn’t always the best. It’s not like Australia, where there’s never a breath of wind. After six matches on Rod Laver, you know every inch of the surface. You can’t play any better in the fifth set. While in Miami, during the day, you have the sun in your eyes from an angle, it’s windy, and you can’t go for the lines! It’s still an excellent tournament, and I really surprised myself in the final against Rafa. Because I told myself, ‘OK, I beat him in Australia and in Indian Wells,’ but, honestly, I was tired. At the warm-up with Seve [Lüthi, one of his coaches], I told him: “Listen, I’m going to try my best.” And he answered: ‘If we’d told you at the beginning of the season you’d make a final in Miami, you would have taken it, even without Australia or Indian Wells. Just this final!’ It gave me a good feeling, good energy, and I ended up having a very good match. My head was clear one more time, after the break back at the Australian Open, I guess. I saw that certain things were working and I kept it up. It was pretty great, right.

During all that, you make the decision of not playing on clay …

– Yes. Late on, actually. Because I was on clay. I told myself: I’ll see how I feel, where I’m at. Honestly, it was a coin-flip situation. I remember exactly where we were and how we decided. My entourage told me: ‘If you do it, Roger, think it over carefully. Because it will be a month where you’ll work like crazy. It won’t be easy, and what will it get you? Because if you don’t win Roland … And my physio was worried about my knee that had bugged me the year before. My conditioning coach, Pierre [Paganini] told me: ‘Listen, there’s so much work to do before playing on clay, and, in the end, what’s the goal? Just playing? It’s your decision.’ The coaches told me: if the priority is Wimbledon, you have to really think about it. Twenty-four hours later, I told myself: bah, you know what? OK, it’s tough, but it’s wise. It was the first time in my life I said no to a Slam while feeling healthy. Because the year before I pulled out of Roland with a bad back and knee, and I couldn’t play the US Open because of the knee. There was a solid reason each time. But this was a first and it was weird, yeah …

In hindsight, wasn’t it the best decision you made this year?

– No, no. It doesn’t give me any pleasure withdrawing from a tournament. I’m still a competitor. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad decision, but it wasn’t a good one either, if it had turned out I could play on clay anyway, and still play on grass after, like I’ve done my whole career, in fact. Even in hindsight, I see what you mean, but I won’t accept it. It was an important and difficult decision to make because I was healthy.

And then there was Wimbledon glory. What do you remember?

– Oh it was quick. All of a sudden [snaps his fingers], I won my eighth … especially looking at Australia, where I didn’t know. Everything was fragile on my side. I had five-setters, Nishikori, Stan, Rafa, I fought a problem with my adductors for five matches … While at Wimbledon, I arrive, three sets, then three sets, and all of a sudden, I’m in the quarters, the semis, the final and it’s over. It’s a great satisfaction because I’d played so well and worked so hard since the previous year when I lost to Raonic. The idea was, if I made it back this year, that’s where I wanted to be at the top of my game. And finding yourself at Wimbledon in that situation, you, your team, your fans, Switzerland, it’s a very nice moment in the career of a player. Especially when you achieved what was your main goal the previous year. With my knee problem, I’d told myself that everything that came before Wimbledon was less important. I constructed the situation well.

What gives Roger Federer the most satisfaction: the complicated fight at the Australian Open …

– [interrupts] That. Regardless, that.

… or the train that arrives on time at Wimbledon for a final without a lot of emotion against an injured Cilic?

– I didn’t realise that at the time, luckily. I still had the satisfaction of winning against him as if he weren’t injured. It’s only after the final that I heard how much he was hurt. Because I didn’t see him cry during the match. And I imagine it was better for me not seeing that. Regarding my 2017 season, it’s Australia above all for sure. With that incredible match, with everything that happened up to it, the comeback. The emotions were huge. While with Wimbledon, I looked at the record I’d achieved, my eighth. That’s it.

Can you guarantee your numerous French fans that you’ll play agin one day in Paris?

– No, I can’t. Because Bercy is always after Basel and Roland Garros on clay, I don’t know what will happen next year. I’d like to say yes, absolutely, I’ll come back and one day in Paris, and I think that will happen next year. It may be twice, it may be never. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. The longer I stay on the tour, the bigger the chance I’ll return to Paris. Obviously, it’s tough for me to imagine never playing Roland or Bercy again, but the future is unknown.


Translated by MAN

“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.


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?
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