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

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.

An Italian view of Pennetta’s US Open win

Original article: http://www.corriere.it/sport/15_settembre_13/pennetta-l-addio-con-titolo-dell-us-open-mia-vita-perfetta-6d756444-59e8-11e5-b420-c9ba68e5c126.shtml#

In Italian from Corriere della Sera by Gaia Piccardi, 13 September 2015

Flavia is quitting tennis (and had been thinking of it for some time) so that she can devote herself to what she’s always had to put on hold: having a family, making a home and enjoying the other small things in life.

“By winning the US Open, my life is perfect.” It has comes as no surprise or great shock. The 33-year-old winner, ranked number 26 in the world (but who will rise to number 8 from Monday), has grasped every opportunity that life had promised her 20 years ago, when she left her home in Brindisi at the age of 14, culminating in her becoming the queen of New York on a rainy Saturday, when things went a little bit crazy.

Pennetta, who else? There is basically a sense of justice about her success here in Flushing Meadows, which has shaken the tennis world to the core. This is the veteran who is about to bring to an end the cycle of tournaments, travelling and globetrotting routines, and who has now been presented with the loveliest present imaginable, handed to her by the best opponent she could have had, Roberta Vinci.

REAPING THE REWARDS

A scenario, which had seemed until yesterday totally radical, almost perverse (in the US, which was expecting a Grand Slam victory for Serena Williams just like Americans expect pancakes for breakfast, the prospect of a Pennetta-Vinci final didn’t offer any great appeal…), now, the day after, has created a deep sense of reward. A beautiful, happy and rich life for the work and sacrifices that have been made, but one which is anything but normal, just like the life of any top-level professional athlete. Flavia had been thinking for more than two seasons about wanting something else. Such as a house where she could arrange flowers that don’t die because of her being away for long periods of time. A less haphazard routine involving baggage, metal detectors, hours spent on flights, checking in and checking out. A fridge filled with fresh food rather than long-life products which don’t perish. A husband. A family. Children. She has the blueprint to follow in front of her very eyes with her mother Conchita and father Oronzo in Brindisi, who are one of the best-known couples in the city.

THOUGHTS ABOUT RETIREMENT

At the end of 2014, when Pennetta was ready to take the big leap into real adult life, her coach Salvador Navarro had managed to convince her to wait for another season. He told her to enjoy the pleasure for the last time. Just as well he did. On Saturday, in New York she received the prize she deserved. A 7-6 6-2 victory over Roberta Vinci, the first and last grand slam evolving around a friendship going back almost 20 years, sealed by the close embrace at the net and by the exchanges between the players on the court, who had a bit of reputation in their young days, while awaiting the grand award ceremony. “I still enjoy training. It’s the competing side of things that I find hard. I’m going to finish the season and then stop. It’s fantastic for me to be able to make this announcement after winning the US Open.”

Can you imagine any better moment to announce this to the world after confiding in only her close entourage about this? This came as a shock to others, but not to Flavia and those who know her. The relationship with Fabio Fognini, who returned to New York to surprise her by appearing in her box to support her, is ready for the next big step. Flavia has a strong head, heart and legs, along with the courage to succeed after tennis, even in tackling the more difficult challenge facing her – a life without tennis. But with the chance to live life even more to the full.

~

Translation: GJM

“France, the country that welcomed me so well”: Interview with Novak Djoković

An interview by Carole Bouchard published in Le Parisien magazine.

A declaration of love.  While he doesn’t launch his clay campaign until April 11 in Monte-Carlo, Novak Djoković agreed to be interviewed a few weeks ago about the privileged relationship he’s had with France since his youth. The world number one, who didn’t want to risk answering our questions in French, but does so willingly for short periods on TV, has the goal of winning Roland Garros on June 7—the only Grand Slam tournament missing from his record.

What are your first memories of France?

Before even setting foot in your country, I had a positive image of France.  There’s a long tradition of friendship between our countriesmany French live in Serbia and many Serbs speak French.  Me, too, although I’m still working on improving it.  When I came for the first time, at 11 years old, to play the Tarbes International, I loved your country as well as the people.  And then I played my first Roland Garros at 16 as a junior.

What impressed you then?

As a Serb, after the war in Yugoslavia, it wasn’t easy to travel.  When we gave our nationality, people recoiled and looked at us oddly.  They thought we were terrorists who were going to play some dirty trick.  It was very complicated for my family and me, especially for my father, who travelled with me to junior tournaments.  We had to work twice as hard to impress people.  But France was one of the few countries where we felt welcomed and where there really was some human warmth, some friendship.

What were your first visits as a tourist?

In juniors, we often travelled by train and passed through Paris, where the train stopped at Lyon Station.  So, we’d do a tour of the neighbourhood.  That’s where I saw the Bercy complex for the first time.  When you’re a player, you spend days on the courts and you don’t do a lot of tourism because it takes time and energy.  I needed four or five years before I went to see the Eiffel Tower!  The same for the Louvre Museum.  Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the worldevery building has a soul, a special architecture and a history.  I myself come from a country filled with history, which cultivates its traditions and cultural heritage, and have much respect for those which do the same.  I enjoy those countries more because I feel this soul, this ancient history.

What are your favourite parts of Paris?

The Bois de Boulogne, Parc Monceau, the nice neighbourhoods around Avenue George V and the Champs Elysées … And then there’s Montmartre, magnificent with its artistic side.  The Louvre is impressive, too.  There are also restaurants I visit regularly, like the world-famous Le Relais de l’Entrecôte!

Have you developed a particular relationship with France?

I feel closer and closer to French culture.  Speaking the language helps, as does living in Monaco.  I meet French people every day.  And I have French sponsors like Peugeot and Nutrition & Health (Gerblé), who chose me because I can identify with French culture.  I like your sense of humour which is quite sarcastic and distinctive.  It makes me laugh.  I’ve also noticed that people in France are very confident, especially in Paris.  I find it interesting to meet people who have that joie de vivre, that desire to succeed and that influence.

You had a son, Stefan, in 2014. They say he was born in Nice…

No, he was born in Monaco.

A trifle, he couldn’t play for France!

[Explodes into laughter.] OK, well, I don’t know how that would work, I haven’t checked it out!  Will he play tennis later?  That’s impossible to predict.  When he learns to walk, there’ll come a moment when he’ll grab a racquet and ball, it’s only natural.  As soon as he learns to talk, people will ask him if he wants to play, be better than his father.  But I don’t want to force him to become a professional tennis player.  Children of champions who don’t succeed in the same sport as their parents are more numerous than those who succeed because there’s so much pressure.  I’ll tell my son what he can expect so he’ll be ready.

You’ve played legendary matches at Roland Garros, like the semi-final you lost to Rafael Nadal in 2013. But the title keeps eluding you…

It’s a tournament I dream of winning.  The matches I lost at Roland Garros against Nadal were really not easy to digest.  But I take that as an apprenticeship: it’s a challenge that allows me to grow and improve.  That will be my state of mind for the 2015 edition [May 19-June 7- ED], which I can’t wait to play.  I think it will go well for me there, even if it’s a ways down the road and, psychologically, I don’t want to think about it yet.  Roland Garros is always at the top of my priorities.

Because the crowd supports you?

Last year, after my loss in the final, I had one of the most touching moments of my career when the whole stadium applauded me for a long time.  I had tears in my eyes because the French crowd isn’t easy to win over.  To enjoy this support when I’m not French is something I’ll never forget and it encourages me.  What’s important is what you feel—and, in Paris, I feel good, appreciated, carried along by a positive energy.  When I feel that good, I play my best tennis.

Translated by MAN

Ana Ivanović in Dubai

“We Serbs are very emotional.”

From an interview with Vojin Veličković in the print edition of Serbian daily Sportski Žurnal (17 February 2015, page 24).  An online preview is available here.

You’ve said a few times that Serbian coaches deserve a lot of credit for your success in the last year and a half.  Why is that?

“I’m a very emotional player—I play with my heart.  Some wins as well as some losses affect me more powerfully than they should, and it’s very helpful to have a team of people around me who understand me and the emotions I’m going through—who know what’s going on.  Maybe foreign coaches can’t quite get that, but it helps you get through a match if you have a compatriot by your side.  It’s a huge difference when a coach from Serbia comes down to the court to give me advice.”

The result of these collaborations is her world ranking, which has been improving for over a year.  When she stopped working with Nigel Sears after Wimbledon 2013, she was number 18 on the WTA list.  Now, after a year with Nemanja Kontić and almost eight months with Dejan Petrović, she is in the sixth position (and was even #5).

“I’ve wanted to get back into the Top 10 for a long time.  Last year, I finally coordinated a few details and succeeded.  I played a lot of matches, did some things differently, and for the first time had a Serbian team around me.  That helped: I was more relaxed and they removed some of the pressure from meIt was truly a good year, at the end of which I felt I was much improved.”

Elaborating on what having a Serbian team means to her, Ivanović notes, “Every country has its own mentality and it’s important to have someone next to you who understands and fits in with it.  That kind of support is a huge help.  We Serbs are very emotional and we really love to compete.”

Since last summer, she’s been working with Dejan Petrović, an expert who, over the course of his career, has united the most important functions in Serbian tennis.  He was captain of the Davis Cup team, coach to Novak Djoković and Jelena Janković, and now to Ana Ivanović.

“Working with him means a lot to me—we have great cooperation and I really feel that, as time passes, we understand each other better and he can help me much moreOf course, Zlatko Novković and Dule Mitrović, as part of my team, also help me a lot.”

Since 2008, when she won Roland Garros and was number one, Ana has had many more disappointments than the anticipated celebrations.  She says she’s learned a lesson.

It takes time to get used to failures.  When I started, defeats hit me hard, but I realized that we play every weekI always want to give the maximum, but that’s simply not always possibleLast year, it went much better for me at the smaller than the biggest tournaments, but I really want to fix that—I want to be the best at the most important competitions...”

Which Ana do you like better as a player—present Ana or Ana back in 2008 when you were number 1?

“I like present Ana better.  Through various experiences, you learn a lot about yourself, you become more mature in a lot of ways, and you start to understand what’s really important and what isn’t.  I achieved a lot when I was still very young.  Although I was very lucky to have that kind of opportunity back then, I feel I’m more complete as a person now.  And I still believe I can win the biggest titles, which motivates me.”

What separates the more from the less important in tennis?

“Over the years, I’ve learned that the most important thing is today and this week; next week is something different, and the week after that likewise something else. That is something you have to understandto narrow the focus to whatever is the priority.   Sometimes, I look forward too much, toward the outcome.

Of course, the most important things in life are you and your family; but when it comes to tennis, it is today and this week.”

What are your goals in 2015?

“I’d like to be part of WTA finals again and to end this year in the Top 5.  I sincerely think that I can achieve both things.  I work really hard and I strongly believe that I can go on to do great things in the future.  Winning Grand Slam titles is my goal, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.  I want to be able to give my maximum effort for as long as I can.”

What do you need to improve in order to be Top 5 player again?

“Even though my game is always progressing, there are always details that need working on.  My serve can be a much more forceful weapon and I’ll pay more attention to it this year.”

How is your toe?

“It’s still sore, I’m still in therapy, and I’m taking anti-inflammatory medications.  I hope that it’s going to be 100% fine in one to two weeks.  I only regret that I didn’t go straight to the doctor’s—he later told me that I shouldn’t have played that match [the first round at the Australian Open] at all.”

How do you feel about the Fed Cup tie against Paraguay?

“I’d really love to play.  With all my heart, I congratulate coach Ječmenica and the girls on a great result.  I hope I’ll be able to join them in April.  We have a big chance of getting back into the World Group, where we belong.  I’ll give my best to be there and support the team.

~

Translated by Saša Ozmo with an assist from Ana.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman

“Why this book?”: an interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman: Novak Djokovic and the Rise of Serbia.  Originally published by Nicole Lucas in Letter&Geest, a Saturday supplement of Dutch daily Trouw (8 Nov. 2014, page 31).

“I had previously written a book about Roger Federer and my publisher also wanted a biography of Novak Djokovic.  At first I said ‘no.’  Djokovic told me he didn’t have time to work with me and therefore I didn’t really feel like doing it.  But my publisher insisted.  Then I said: ‘I want to write a book that is a mix of Djokovic’s history and that of Serbia.’  After all, this is a top athlete who carries the flag of a country that is still young as a sovereign state but has to deal with a heavy inheritance because of the wars of the nineties and rulings of the ICTY, which has marked Serbia as the biggest culprit.  A country that, according to me, is still little understood by the western world.

It brought together my interests. Of course, I am, in the first place, a sports journalist: I’ve been reporting about the international tennis world for more than 20 years.  But I’m also interested in the broader context.  I do not see sport as an isolated phenomenon.  And the disintegration of Yugoslavia made a huge impression on me, much more than the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

Every country has something of which it is not proud.  Let’s not pretend that Serbia has done nothing.  But let’s also not pretend that the Serbs were the only villains.  But Djokovic had to grow up with that stamp—and had to find his way in difficult circumstances.  That is of course quite different from what Federer had to deal with.

While I have not spoken extensively with Djokovic, I did talk with many people from his surroundings.  Perhaps the most important conversation I had was with Jelena Gencic, his first coach—a very special woman.  For me, that was also one of the most inspiring encounters of my journalistic career.  We started talking about music and there was an instant bond.  She didn’t only teach Novak how to play tennis but also to look outside that small world—to Beethoven, to Pushkin, to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor of the alternating current motor.  How do they enrich your life?  Gencic died on June 1, 2013, during Roland Garros.  I had only met her twice, but her death made me really sad.

I found it much more difficult to write about Srdjan, Novak’s father.  Quite a few people have had problems with him.  Unlike his son, he has not exactly endeared people to him.  Yet, I think it’s important to explain the difficulties he had to go through.  You can say now that it was not always ethical what he did: he insisted, for instance, that journalists wrote only nice stories about Novak, no critical pieces.  But at the beginning of this century, maybe there was not always so much room to be ethical in Serbia.

Novak needed time to break away from his father and to develop himself.  He is not easy to fathom, but inside he is a good man.  What he does is very subtle.  He laughs, jokes, makes contact.  People look at him and say, ‘Nice boy.  Where does he come from?  Serbia?  Then they can’t be all bad there.’

In that sense, he and Federer are quite similar.  Both are not only great athletes, but also international idols that transcend the boundaries of their sport and their country. ”

~

Translation by Nicole Lucas.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Garbiñe Muguruza and the Spanish language

From “Hispanic Venezuelan or Venezuelan Hispanic?” by Alex Grijelmo, published in El Pais.

Our inferiority complex disappears if we have to share our name of origin with someone else.

Garbiñe Muguruza was born to a Spanish father and Venezuelan mother.  A year ago, she shone at Roland Garros, and with that began a debate about the sporting nationality that she adopted when she began to participate in Fed Cup (the women’s version of Davis Cup), or, later on, in the Olympics.  But this called attention to the fact that, at the time, the Spanish media referred to her as the “Hispanic Venezuelan” tennis player, and rarely “Venezuelan Hispanic” or “Venezuelan Spanish.”  Now, it is still more “Hispanic Venezuelan”—but it’s her decision, not ours.

Good education has led to everyday language placing the speaker at the end of any list, and because of this we say “my sister and I” and not “I and my sister.” When elementary school students make this error of inverting the terms, the teacher often gives them a useful phrase for the situation: “The donkey in front so that it doesn’t frighten.”

We still carry a certain inferiority complex in many areas (that’s why there are so many Anglicisms), but such prejudice is smashed to smithereens if we should share our name of origin with someone: here we put the first name of origin first, so that we don’t get frightened.  The dictionary itself does it when it defines the term “Hispanic” and details two examples of its association with other terms: “Hispanófilo, Hispanic American.”  In the second example, we understand “Hispanic” relates more to language than nationality; but in the first, the option “filohispano” would have fit.  In fact, the term “filo” appears in the dictionary in two places, where one can put in its place (in front or behind): “Filosoviético, anglófilo.”  However, “Hispanic” only appears in front.

We follow this path when describing a meeting between political leaders of Spain and of any other country (“Hispanic French summit” and not “French Hispanic summit”), or when we achieve something with others (“Hispanic Argentine movie,” as it happened in the sensational Relatos salvajes, and not “Argentine Spanish” or “Argentine Hispanic”).

Sometimes the genius of the language forces us, with the slowness and force of a gigantic panda, to order the compositional elements of a word as it desires.  For example, we can express the idea of “the end of a life” through the Spanish element of “kill” or with the Latin “cease” (which comes from caedere, “to kill”).  In the Spanish form, the verb will always go before, while the classic heritage makes us put the Latin element behind, so that there are synonyms and not: “matarratas”, but “raticida”; “matamoscas”, but “insecticida”; “matahombres”, but “homicida.”  And the same altercation between “matacucarachas” and “regicida”, “matahambre” and “genocida”, “matagigantes” and “parricida”, “matasanos” and “herbicida”…

But together with the strictness that stems from the history of the language, the genius of  language does allow certain flexibility with “Hispanic” and “Spanish.” Because of this, we should have sometimes have the courtesy, above all in official language, to invert the terms.  In this way, we would say “Festival of Argentine-Spanish Psychology.”  Because, by the way, in certain cases it’s worth recognizing that the other takes precedence.

~

Translated by Jared Pine.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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