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

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

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

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

You think there’s too much hitting?

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

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

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

But why?

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

Tennis may have a rule problem?

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

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

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

Which means?

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

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

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

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If there were only one serve, for example? …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MAN

“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

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

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

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

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

“Second serves at 220, 224, 226 kph”

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

“Before, he could miss a series of returns”

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

“To me he’s not a Canadian at all”

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

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

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

Translated from the French by MAN

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

Interview with Stefanos Tsitsipas

Original article: http://tennisportalen.se/stefanos-tsitsipas-i-intervju-med-tennisportalen/

Stefanos Tsitsipas is currently ranked as the world’s 17th best junior and perhaps the greatest talent Greece as a tennis nation has produced.  Tennisportal Editor Alex Theodoridis got hold of Stefanos through Twitter.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has played tennis since he was 6 years old, and he usually trains in Glyfada Tennis Club in Athens when he is not traveling and competing around the world. Although he is now trying to break into the senior level, Stefanos has a genuine interest in tennis.  In his spare time he voluntarily runs the Facebook groups TenniscoreITN and TenniscoreITT with 17000 and 2500 followers respectively.

You are the greatest talent Greece has produced in years, maybe in history – do you feel any pressure?

– Tennis is my passion. I am proud to represent Greece. My goal is to always do my best on the court, always be better. Pressure is just a word.

Where do you train in Greece in the summer? Are there any indoor courts nearby or do you simply practice in the evenings?

– I play a lot of tournaments in the summer in different countries so the warm climate of Greece does not interfere with my tennis.

Who do you train with at home?

– I work mostly with Theodoros Angelinos (866) and Paris Gemouchidis (formerly 582). Sometimes I practice with Alexandros Jakupovic (434).

How popular is tennis today in Greece and how well do you think it does against the more major sports in the country, such as basketball and football?

– Tennis is not as popular in Greece today but I still think that the popularity is increasing slowly. Tennis is however very expensive today.

Describe your strengths as a tennis player.

– The forehand is my biggest weapon, but I feel very stable in my ground strokes. Also my serve, when I feel it well.

You play with a one-handed backhand, something that we see less and less in today’s tennis compared to 20-30 years ago. Was it something that your coaches from a young age recommended or was it simply something that you wanted to teach yourself?

– It was my decision. I never liked the double-handed backhand and for me the one-handed backhand is the most natural stroke in tennis. Classic!

Which players do you currently look up to?

– I like Wawrinka, Del Potro and Federer. Each one for their own characteristics.

Why, do you think, have Greece not produced an established ATP Player earlier, when tennis today is a global sport with players from all over the world? Could it be economic or traditional aspect that comes into play?

– Well, partly it is the economic part and also the organization of Greek tennis. Our nation is not as structured and disciplined as the other countries in tennis. I can only take Constantinos Economidis and Theodoros Angelinos as living examples. They were two very talented players who were hungry, disciplined and determined. They really wanted to do something with their tennis. That’s what it comes down to, how much you are willing to sacrifice. It is tough, and you must be able to manage to travel all year round and be without friends and family.

The players had no support from the Greek Tennis Federation?

– I’ve spoken to them and they have hardly received any help, just a couple of plane tickets.

Do you get any financial support from the Greek Tennis Federation?

– No, but I’m already sponsored.

(The problems Tsitsipas are talking about are unfortunately something normal for many of the players on the Futures and Challenger Tours. Without financial support, it is almost impossible to take the steps into the ATP level, and some players thus have much greater ability to go all the way. While there is no guarantee at all of success whether you have financial support or not, the probability is of course much higher if you don’t.  That Economidis and Angelinos completely lacked financial support from the Greek Tennis Federation is of course shocking, but is at the same time says something about the country’s dismal status as a tennis nation.)

You finished third in the U18 European Championship in Switzerland a few weeks ago, was it the highlight of your career?

– It was a good experience, certainly, but I can not say it was the highlight of my career right away. A good tournament simply.

What does a typical day look like for you as a tennis player?

– I wake up, eat breakfast and then go and practice tennis. After that I go to the gym, lunch, rest, once again tennis, swimming, rest and sleep. I forgot dinner as well.

It sounds like a very hectic schedule?

– It is, absolutely. On Sundays I go to the movies though!

Have you dropped out of school or are you studying at a distance?

– I do all my courses through the Internet.

What have you to say about Mikael Ymer who is the same age as you, and additionally won the U18 European Championships?

– Mikael is a very good player with a great attitude. He really gives everything on the court and he’s always tough to face.

How does your schedule look for the rest of the year?

– I leave tomorrow for a 15,000 dollar tournament in Italy and then several Futures tournaments and Challenger-qualies are waiting for me.

We at Tennisportalen wish Stefanos the best of luck in his future tennis career and we want to thank him for taking the time to speak with us!

~

Translation of his original interview by Alex Theodoridis from tennisportalen.se  – https://twitter.com/tennisguru100

Kristina Mladenović: “Sport is in our blood.”

This is an English version of an interview published on Serbia’s B92.

Mladenović was born in France in 1993, about a year after her parents moved from the former Yugoslavia for her father’s job.  Dragan Mladenović was a professional handball player who was part of the Yugoslav Olympic team that won a gold medal in Los Angeles (1984).  “Kiki,” a top junior in 2009, made her first WTA singles final this year, losing to Sam Stosur on the Strasbourg clay.  Points from her wins at the US Open this week will put her at a new career-high ranking.
AM: What question, if any, are you tired of answering?
KM: There are obviously routine questions about matches, but it’s normal to respond to those.  I think it’s annoying to have the French press always asking, “Are you ok handling the media pressure & expectations?” because it’s been a few years now since I first arrived on the tour.  That’s part of the job and it’s actually a good sign if I have to deal with it.
AM: Both your parents were professional athletes and you & your brother have chosen to follow in their footsteps.  What do sports mean to the members of your family, since everyone is involved in sports but each person is doing something different?
KM: It’s a big thing–sport is in our blood.  To us, it’s normal and natural.  But to have such a family–my father was a professional handball goalkeeper, my mom played volleyball at the international level, my brother is a promising young football player, trying to become professional as well, and me on the tour–it’s amazing. It’s not like our parents pushed us into their way of life.  I’m actually impressed with all of us–it’s something really special. We make fun of it quite often, actually: like when friends come over, there’s always some game on tv and they ask, “Can’t you put a movie on or something?!”
AM: Are you competitive amongst yourselves?
KM: Definitely.  In our free time, I might go watch my brother or play with him or we’d go for a run all together.  We’re a really sporty & healthy family.  This is our style of life.
AM: Your parents clearly understand the pressures & traveling & other aspects of your professional life, but you’re the only one in the family playing an individual sport.  Does that mean there are some things they don’t really grasp?
KM: Yeah.  I’m quite lucky that because they’ve been professional athletes on such a high level, they understand a lot.  They can’t really help me tactically or technically, even though they’ve been by my side for many years and are also improving and learning a lot about tennis.  But they know me best and are such nice and cool parents–and they understand that though tennis is my job, it’s not my whole life.  It’s amazing to have such a good relationship with them.
AM: How did it come about that you chose tennis?  Did you also try team sports like volleyball when you were young?
KM: Yeah, actually I was playing both volleyball and tennis. My parents just introduced me to tennis as a change of pace.  There was a club close to home, so I thought it was a good idea.  As parents, they just wanted my brother and me to be healthy–you know, for kids it’s great to be sporty and not always inside playing video games or whatever.  Actually, I was really talented in volleyball–even better than at tennis.  But I was just a little bored with it; at a young age, like 8-9, it wasn’t that interesting for me because I was already much taller than the other kids & playing better.  So, I chose tennis & went my own way both because I was talented and because it was also more of a challenge.  I fell in love with the sport and had success at an early age, playing my first Slam at 14 and a half.  But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy–everyone has their own story, a tough path to achieve what they want.
AM: I wonder if there’s also a cultural aspect to it, too, with the long tradition of tennis in France, whereas in the former Yugoslavia there was more of an emphasis on team sports?
KM: Yeah, actually, I have this inside me: even though I chose tennis & I’m a professional player, I’m really a collective-minded person.  So, I really love all the Fed Cup stuff and Olympics–I get so pumped.  It’s different when I’m playing alone–I handle myself differently.  I definitely feel like I’m coming from a team-sport family and culture–and I can’t deny my Serbian roots.
AM: I was going to ask you about the cultural connection.  Obviously, you were born in France, speak the language, & play for the country; but do you go back to Serbia often to visit?  Do you still have family there?
KM: Unfortunately, my two grandmothers died recently, so I have no more grandparents left.  That makes it more difficult to get back there, even though I have uncles and cousins.  It’s especially complicated with the tennis schedule and all the travel–I’m not often at home either.  But I always say in my heart I’m French and in my head I’m Serbian–and let people guess what that means.
AM: Though you’re a singles player now near your career-high ranking, your biggest titles are in doubles. How did your partnership with Daniel Nestor come about & what effect does all your doubles success have on your singles career?
KM: It started easily: he asked me one year before Roland Garros, and I was really impressed that someone like him, a doubles legend who’s won absolutely everything, wanted to play with me.  So, I said “Of course!”  And right away we made the French Open final, then won Wimbledon and the Australian Open.  It’s amazing–really unbelievable–for me to already have all these experiences and titles at age 22.  What can I say?  At the beginning of my career, I played doubles as a way to practice for my singles, since that’s my priority.  But to have Grand Slam titles on your record is such a big privilege and I really respect that and try to remind myself every day that it’s something I can talk about with my children in the future.  I’m enjoying doubles, I’m proud of it, and I’m happy it’s helping my singles–to reach the same level in singles, if possible, is the goal.
AM: In Washington, you won the doubles title playing with Belinda Bencic for the first time. Now you’re back with your steady partner, Timea Babos?
KM: Yeah. She’s exactly my age–four days older than me–and we have such a great relationship.  I know Timea really well and we decided at last year’s Wimbledon to play together.  It’s definitely great to have a fixed partner: there’s all this routine stuff which makes it easier to practice every day. And when it’s your best friend on the tour, it makes it even better.
AM: Last December, you were one of the breakout stars of the IPTL. What were the best things about that experience?  Do you think it had an impact on this season?
KM: Yeah, of course. It’s related to what I said before about collective sports, team spirit.  It was a lot of fun and completely different from what we are used to on the tour.  It reminded me a bit of Fed Cup, but it’s not your country people.
AM: You were on the mostly Balkan team with Novak, Zimonjić, Čilić, Ivanišević...
KM: Yes, exactly. It was definitely an amazing experience to be part of such an unbelievable group, filled with Grand Slam champions in all disciplines. There were just a few exceptions–showmen like Monfils.  I was really impressed & I’m proud to have been called to participate again in such an event.  I think it’s great for tennis to have a different kind of competition & also for the crowd to follow it on tv.  The rules are fun–not that it will become like this on the tour any time soon, but to have it during the off-season is great for the fans.  For myself, I really enjoyed it: stadiums were packed, the atmosphere was amazing, and I had very tough matches–interesting to play at such a high level [during a break].
AM: Caroline Wozniacki was the other woman on your team, but since she wasn’t there as much, you had to step up. Some of those match-ups could have been quarter-finals at a major tournament. KM: Definitely. My teammates were making fun of me, saying “You are the MVP!” Obviously, there was a lot of expectation and pressure, as you had to try to bring as many games as possible to your team.  I think I responded pretty well.  I loved it and felt good playing, so I can’t wait to have some more fun again this year.
AM: You’ve been on tennis fans’ radars for a while and won your first major doubles title in 2013. Now that you’re in the top 40 for singles, do you feel like it’s taken longer or about what you expected to get here?
KM: I was also #35 about two years ago, my best ranking, so I’m coming back.  You know, everyone has their own story, their own way, their own process–you never know. For some, it goes easily and they stay at the top; for others, it’s up and down; some arrive to the top 10 and then they’re struggling.  There’s not really one key to success.  The only thing I can request from myself is to work hard every day, to know where I’m going and what I have to improve. Once I do this, I can do more.  I’m happy just trying to do my best–I’m not worried about the time it’s taking; I’m just trying to enjoy every win.  And think that’s the best way to improve.
AM: You experimented short-term with a couple of Serbian coaches, Dušan Vemić and Nemanja Kontić, but that didn’t work out. What’s your coaching arrangement now?
KM: Since February, I don’t have a coach.  And, actually, I think it’s working pretty well so far.  Those two experiences didn’t work out very well–I didn’t feel myself in that kind of structure.  So, I decided to go on my own. Of course, I’ve always had my family support around me.  They’re not annoying, pushing, and trying to advise too much in tennis–they can advise about other stuff. They would never say, “You have to do forehands like this.”  That’s why they’re really cool and bring me a lot of support about the important things in my life.  Right now, I think I’m handling it pretty well–I know what I have to do to improve, so I’m just doing it on my own.  I don’t pretend I can reach my goals alone, and the situation is pretty open–I can always find someone, but it has to be a good fit.
AM: Do you set goals for the season–and is it about ranking or more specific things?
KM: When you’re at this level, you really have to think about stuff like that–it’s what pushes you to be better.  Of course, I have technical goals–I have to improve this and that, my fitness, my forehand, my backhand–but you also try to put yourself ahead in the ranking.  So far, I’m pleased with what I’ve achieved.  For next year, I think it would be nice to be a seed [in the top 32], because I’ve been playing a lot of seeds in the first round!
AM: Getting a former US Open champion is a tough draw.  What does the win over Kuznetsova (6-3, 7-5) tell you about your current form?
KM: Yeah, when the draw came out I saw it would be difficult. I respect Svetlana a lot–she’s a two-time Slam champion and really a tough player with a huge career.  On the court, I had to play great, a very solid match, to beat her and it’s definitely one more very nice win for me. I’m definitely pleased–every first round in a Slam is very difficult to win. This is what’s amazing in women’s tennis today: everybody has improved a lot & I feel like every player can be dangerous.  I’m trying now to focus on each match, even if it’s not such a famous name.  I’m a humble person and respect every opponent–anybody can be tough and play great tennis, especially for one match.
After her 7-5, 6-1 win over Bojana Jovanovski, we followed up with some routine post-match questions.
AM: How did you feel about the match today?
KM: The score definitely made it look easy, but it was actually a really tricky match, as I expected.  I was down 4-2, almost 5-2 in the first set and I somehow fought really hard and turned it around.  I don’t think either of us played our best–it’s never easy when you know each other really well.  We’ve practiced together many times–and we’ve known each other since we started tennis.  A funny story, actually, is that I played Bojana in my very first tournament–in Serbia, when I was in holidays with my parents, around 7 years old.  When you know somebody really well, sometimes you try to change the way you play to surprise her somehow. So, with this kind of match, I’m just really glad to get through.
AM: Are you feeling lucky that instead of facing Sharapova in the third round, you’re getting an unknown 18-year old, Daria Kasatkina?
KM: Well, it’s true that it’s an unknown name and I don’t know much about her either, but it’s tough to say.  Instead of Maria, I could be playing Gavrilova, who’s beaten her in the past.  So, Maria was the higher rank and the best player in this part of the draw.  But this girl has an unbelievable story–she’s supposed to be out of the tournament already and now she’s won two interesting matches against solid players and two completely different styles of game, which means she must be pretty talented and solid mentally as well. She’s stayed composed and got two wins in what may be her first main draw of a major–that’s pretty amazing. So, I’m actually expecting a tough match.
With Maria, you don’t have anything to lose and you know her game perfectly well through watching and playing against her.  You know how to play and she has all the pressure–plus, I have the game.  This way, it looks much easier on paper and I have more experience; on the other hand, you don’t know anything about the opponent and it’s an important match, which can be dangerous.
~Interview conducted by Ana Mitrić and translated by Saša Ozmo.

Danish ATP player Kenneth Carlsen on coping with his undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

From Ekstra Bladet http://ekstrabladet.dk/flash/dkkendte/article4317153.ece by Alan Lykke (2008)

Without ever being diagnosed with the disorder, the now retired tennis player is convinced that he at least had the symptoms of OCD for most of his career.

OCD is described medically as a condition with forced thoughts and actions. Definite rituals must be performed exactly if the day isn’t to be ruined.

For Kenneth Carlsen, the goal was to win tennis matches, and out of fear of losing he developed a pattern of behaviour, originally meant as a safety net, but which, over time, became a plague that he only managed to control late in his career.

Most people interested in tennis have seen his serving rituals. First he rolled two balls in one hand, then put one into his pocket with the one hand, then he stuck the other in his pocket, adjusted the strings on his racquet, blew into his hand, and bounced the ball before hitting his serve.

But this regular pattern, which he considered a thinking pause while he considered where to place the serve, was just one of many even worse rituals that ended up plaguing him, he wrote in his book Alene på banen [Alone on the Court] which was published at the end of September 2008.

Hopes to break down taboos

“I’ve included the mania in my book in the hope of breaking down some taboos. There’s a lot of superstition in sports. We need to always perform, we’re always judged. That’s why a lot of athletes – but many others also – have a some fixed things they do in a given situation. Or else they think it will end badly.

“I imagine we all have it to a certain extent, and I open myself up to such a degree in the book that people might get the impression that I should be committed.”

The mania started as a young player, when Kenneth Carlsen rode the bus back and forth from his home on Amager to his club in Frederiksberg. To pass the time he started to say aloud the names of the shops he rode past – but in different ways. Fona became Nafo, Matas to Tamas, Gammel Kongevej to Vejkongen Melgam.

Started as an innocent game

“It started as an innocent game, but as the pressure mounted, the game changed in character. First it became serious, then an absolute necessity, and at the end it became a plague I couldn’t escape from,” writes Carlsen.

He had to sleep exactly eight hours every night, the water bottle had to be placed in a special way, the towel folded according to a definite pattern. If it didn’t feel right, he might turn around and walk back to adjust it, even if he’d just got up to go back onto the court to resume the match.

His sports bag got the same careful treatment. It couldn’t just be picked up from the floor and slung around the shoulder. No, it had to be done carefully and correctly. Four times while Kenneth counted to four each time. If there was a cock up, he had to do it four times four – 16 – times.

Trouble with the bag almost cost him an ATP tournament win.

“The supervisor got me back onto the court where my opponent stood and waited. I half panicked. I didn’t feel I’d done the bag ritual properly. I was beside myself, but I ended up playing fantastic and winning the match.”

Couldn’t you have put yourself outside the rituals when you won without them?

“That’s easier said than done. When you’ve already stressed yourself up totally it can be hard to let go.”

How did you get out of it?

“I did it during my 19 month injury pause in 1999. I got a healthier perspective about my job. I got out of the bell jar, was allowed to live stress-free. I could relax, drink a glass of red wine in the evening and go into town with friends. I didn’t touch a racquet for six months. The I came back and won my biggest ever tournament in Tokyo.”

And that was without the rituals?

“Yes, I didn’t want to return to the bell jar. If the problem returns, and it does from time to time, I nip it in the bud.”