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

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Yevgeny Kafelnikov talks Russian tennis, compares ATP eras, & more

From an interview with Kafelnikov, a multiple-Slam champion, conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo before the men’s semifinals at Roland Garros.

On Russian tennis, more successful of late on the WTA side:
“It’s much easier to produce top female players than top male players for many reasons.  Young guys don’t have that spark and don’t believe they can reach the top—but I hope that we’ll see a change with Andrey Rublev.  He was the best junior last year, is still only 17 years old, and is getting better all the time.  He’s growing and becoming more mature—hopefully, he’ll be the one we’ve long sought.  He has a champion’s attitude, which is very important, plays aggressively, is good from the baseline, and has nice technique.  I told him and his team that he needs to work on his physical strength, because he plays a great set but then runs out of energy.  He’ll be a very good player if he gets stronger.”

On the possibility of coaching:
“If I see potential and the project appeals, then I might agree.  Coaching is a lot of work, which is clear from former colleagues like Becker, Ivanišević… I see them often, but don’t ask about the details—I don’t think that’s relevant.  However, I observe how they’re handling it and it seems to me they’re happy and doing a good job.  The players they’re training listen to them and respect them; if I find something like that, maybe I’ll become a coach, too.”

On the ATP, then & now:
“I have no regrets at all about retiring early [in 2003, a few months before turning 30].  Honestly, I can’t explain how players are still capable of playing in their later years—Federer is soon 34 and still playing at a high level.  I think the reason for this is that today’s average level of play is much lower than in our time.  Actually, I talked to Boris about it only a few days ago, and he agreed.  So, the best can keep enjoying it and winning Grand Slam titles, since no one else can come close.  In our time, there were 15-20 guys who could potentially win a Grand Slam trophy, but it’s not so right now.”

“The whole approach is different.  In our era, there were many more styles of play than exist now: there were serve-volley players, a lot of ‘chip & charge.’  Now, for the most part, everyone plays from the baseline and tries to strike the ball as hard as he can.  This isn’t the direction tennis should go—I think we need different modes of play.  But nothing’s likely to change if we don’t do something about the courts.  It seems to me that every tournament is played on the same [speed] surface—even Wimbledon is now similar to concrete.  If that doesn’t change, the situation will remain as it is.”

On Nadal’s future:
After the Spaniard’s victory over Djoković in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Kafelnikov made a bold forecast: that it was the last trophy for Nadal in Paris.  He maintains that position.  “So far, my prognosis is accurate.  I love Rafa—he’s a great guy, an excellent tennis player, and has achieved much success.  However, last year I felt (for the first time) that he’s becoming physically weaker.  In previous years, he played much closer to the baseline, and now it’s different, especially in the match with Novak—Djoković was inside the court and dictating the pace while Rafa stood four meters back.  The trend continues: Rafa is already 29 and can’t beat opponents by outrunning them, particularly in best-of-five matches.  Along with that, it doesn’t feel like there’s the same intimidation factor in the air—players aren’t afraid of Rafa any more.  So, I stand by my prediction.  While I’d like it to happen, I’d be shocked if Rafa wins another Grand Slam trophy.”

On his career & retirement:
“It feels good when I look back on it.  I was lucky that I caught different eras, playing with Becker and Edberg, then with Agassi and Sampras, and even Federer after that.  In fact, I competed with three generations of top players, so I’m very satisfied with my career and what I achieved.”

Having dabbled in professional poker in the first years after leaving tennis, Kafelnikov has since found another pastime.  “Poker is my past, but I try to play golf as much as possible, to see how good I can become.  It’s my daily life—I play golf every day for four to six hours.”

 

~ Translated from Serbian by Ana Mitrić.

We are not robots: interview with Jerzy Janowicz

Original source:  http://www.sport.pl/tenis/1,64987,17841694,Tenis__Janowicz__Nie_jestesmy_robotami_zaprogramowanymi.html

“We are not robots, programmed to win.”

There’s a saying ‘What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.’ Is that’s how you look at injuries? After another foot problem or – as it happened a year and a half ago and recently – with your spine, do you come back on a court mentally stronger?

I think that when it comes to injuries you can’t say they make you mentally stronger. It’s very frustrating because when an athlete in is in good shape and an injury happens you have to start from scratch. If it’s a prolonged injury, a return to good form can take many weeks. That’s what happened to me, when I had a serious spine injury a year and a half ago  and when I came back, my foot got injured. I couldn’t prepare for the following season and the effects of it affected my whole 2014 season.

In recent years players and experts have noticed an increasing dominance of hard courts on WTA and ATP tours. Some prefer more surface diversity and say that cement puts more demand on the body and because of that causes more injuries. Others believe that a body gets used to a surface and it’s healthier to change it less frequently. What’s your opinion?

To be honest, I prefer diversity. It’s not a problem for me to play on a clay, hard or grass court. What matters to me is if it’s outdoors or indoors. I would like to see more indoor tournaments. Indoor and hard courts – they’re my favourite tournaments.

Do you put great importance to Madrid and Rome or rather – because you’re coming back from an injury – treat them as preparation before Roland Garros? Or maybe do you want the clay season to finish as quickly as possible and can’t wait for the grass season?

All tournaments are equally important to me. Madrid and Rome are very prestigious, with a lot of points to gain, and that’s necessary if you want to advance in the rankings. Of course I’m excited about the grass season, especially that we’ve got one more grass tournament this year– Stuttgart. So the grass season will be a bit longer.

In general, players prefer to play against high-ranked opponents as late as possible. Your mum told me once that you prefer to fight more demanding opponents straight away. Does it help you with motivation?

First rounds of every tournament are difficult, no matter who you have to face. But it’s true, I prefer to play against better opponents. You play on a bigger court, in front of a bigger crowd and stronger support. And I like this kind of atmosphere. It mobilizes me more. But I treat every opponent in the same way and take every match seriously.

Are you superstitious? Some say there is a ‘Hopman Cup curse’. You and Agnieszka Radwańska started the year with a success in that event but right after that she started to have problems with her form. In February you reached a final in Montpelier but had to withdraw from the match because of an illness. Not everything has been to your liking since then…

I don’t believe in superstitions. My bad form in Montpelier was a coincidence, it was an infection that hit me really hard. It could have happened in any place, at any time. As for Agnieszka, she’s been a top player for many years. Maybe she’s going through a rough patch now but it can happen to anybody. We are human, we’re not robots programmed to win. Agnieszka is a very experienced player and she will deal with her problems. It’s a long time to the end of the season.

She has been saying recently that you can’t look at your opponent’s ranking position only, because it’s usually lower than it should be and doesn’t reflect a player’s skills. Do you share this opinion? How important for you is your ranking position?

To be honest, I don’t make any ranking plans before a season starts. I want to win matches and advance in the rankings but I don’t aim for top 20 this year and top ten next year. It will be great if I’m in the top 20 but I won’t despair if it doesn’t happen. Of course, your position in the rankings is important, it allows you to play in a given tournament. But rankings don’t play matches and they don’t determine that a player from the second hundred can’t win with a top 20 player. Life shows that it happens very often. It’s a rivalry and everybody wants to win when they step on a court.

A couple of months ago you were a guest in Turbokozak and got to show your football skills. Are you a football fan? Do you support any particular team? Or maybe you prefer volleyball –  because of your mum, a volleyball player, or your ties with Skra Bełchatów players?

I’m not a football fan and I don’t support any team but I enjoyed being in Turbokozak. I prefer volleyball and I go to see matches if I can. I friendly with Marcin Wlazły. I had an opportunity to play volleyball in a charity match in Częstochowa and I think I did pretty well. I like watching sports, especially with Polish players.

“I’ll continue as long as I can” – Amélie Mauresmo on Fed Cup and a bit about Murray – interviewed by l’Équipe’s @sophiedorgan

From the Équipe print edition April 16 2015 page 13. Interview by Sophie Dorgan

Amélie Mauresmo, pregnant, won’t revise her commitments with the French team. As for her coaching role with Andy Murray, she hopes to be with him until Wimbledon, then take stock with the Brit.

In a friendly atmosphere, the French Fed Cup team gets set to take on the current title holders, the Czech Republic, in the semi-finals Saturday and Sunday in Ostrava. Caroline Garcia, who arrived on Monday a day after her team mates, is recovering and her partners are acclimatising themselves to a surface considered “neutral” by Alizé Cornet, not too fast, not too slow. As for the captain, Amélie Mauresmo, who’s had the job since 2012, she prefers only to talk tennis. She only talks about her pregnancy, which she made public a week ago, in passing before coming back to her priority for the week: the Fed Cup.

You announced your pregnancy last Thursday, with the birth expected in August. How will that change your calendar?

It won’t change any of my Fed Cup commitments. As for Andy, we’ve talked about continuing as long as possible, which means including Wimbledon [June 29-July 12]. After we’ll talk quietly about the follow-up to our collaboration [begun last summer].

You’ll be making a professional choice?

“Of course.”

You say it changes nothing for the Fed Cup, but if you win this weekend [the final is set for November 14-15. The other final this weekend is Russia-Germany], you won’t be able to follow your players. Will you function differently?

I won’t be at the US Open [August 31-September13], but that won’t change things much. Since I started working with Andy, I’m not at all of their matches. There’ll be times when I can talk to the girls. I’m not at all worried about that. I’ve known them for a few years now. If someone needs to be with the French or their opponents, Gabi [Urpi, coach of the French team] will take care of it.”

I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it

We know that you were pregnant during the last meeting with Italy [3-2, February 8, last round]. It must have been wrenching emotionally?

I totally cracked at the end [smiles]. It was very tough. It would have been in any case having just arrived from Australia [after the final lost by Murray to Djokovic] together with the fatigue from the trip and the intensity of accompanying a player of that level to the final of a Grand Slam. I had the duty and responsibility of steering this French team into becoming the best it could be. It wasn’t easy, but it’s probably one of the best weeks we’ve ever experienced.”

To what do you attribute this French team’s success? Mature players, a solid staff and a bit of luck?

When you talk about achievement in sport, success is inevitable at certain times. But you have to induce them at a certain point, make some choices that are a bit daring, be strict about certain things. I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it. We have a young team, the girls are maturing, improving and realising so many things individually. I always tell them: “The stronger you are individually, the stronger the French team is. And the group gives you things as individuals.”

You’ve evolved too in your role.

Of course, I learn during every round and outside about how to position myself in relation to their individual structures. Now there’s a symbiosis.

How will you tackle this meeting with the Czech Republic?

It’s a heck of a challenge. What happened during our last round has expanded our horizons, even if we’re far from being favourites. The goal is to play our cards right and be opportunistic this weekend.

There’s a lot of talk about the return of Petra Kvitová, who was absent from the American swing [fatigue]. What are your thoughts?

We don’t know. That’s why we’re not focussing on Kvitová [ranked 4 in the world]. We haven’t seen her compete recently, first of all, and we’re not sure she’ll be on court. So, perhaps more so than in other rounds, we’re concentrating more on ourselves. The girls have all arrived in different states, and our priority is getting into the best shape possible Saturday and Sunday.

You’ve taken on a left-handed hitting partner, Jonathan Dasnières of Veigy, to prepare for possible lefties Kvitová and Šafářová (13th)

I like everything to be covered. It might be the little detail that makes the difference. If the girls who have hit with “Jon” hit a winner on break point off a lefty serve, there you go … It may not happen, but we’re giving ourselves every chance.

Translation by MAN

Wiktorowski talks Radwanska, technique, and surface slow-downs

Original source: http://www.sport.pl/tenis/1,64987,17755508,Trener_Radwanskiej__Najgorsze__co_mozna_zrobic__to.html

Jakub Ciastoń: It seemed that in a small tournament in Katowice, in front of her own audience, Agnieszka would try to rebuild her form and confidence in this season, but the semifinal she lost to Camila Giorgi brought us all to earth. What’s happening to Agnieszka?

Tomasz Wiktorowski: For the last four years we were all happy and sometimes on cloud nine because Agnieszka played really great but now we have to put our feet on the ground, very firmly, because things don’t come easy now. But nobody is giving up. Nevertheless, I’m tired of questions posed in such a way, of having to analyze each match in isolation, each and every week. If you disregard the first couple of games in the first set, the match against Giorgi was definitely not good. The fact that the Italian lost the final proves that she was beatable. She played under greater pressure in the final because she was the favourite, but for us it’s not an excuse. Nothing fundamental has changed for Agnieszka this week so I don’t even pick up the phone because I have nothing new to say. We are working on improvements but we need time, patience, solidity and support.

This is the weakest start of the season in Agnieszka’s career. She lost a similar match against Heather Watson in Indian Wells. She was able to deal with aggressive opponents like Watson and Giorgi in the past, it’s Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova that were problematic.

But times have changed. We can’t analyze Agnieszka’s tennis in isolation from what’s happening. Today, there are several players that play like Williams or Sharapova and tens of those who are a bit weaker. The level is higher, we have young guns like Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys, Pliskova or Elina Svitolina, players like Simona Halep, Lucie Safarova, Ekaterina Makarova or Carla Suarez Navarro have been playing better. Malcontents will always complain that the level of women’s tennis is low but if they stop pointlessly comparing it to the men’s tennis, they will see something else. We notice changes and we have to adapt.

So we have to accept that Agnieszka’s level will inevitably decline?

A change of guard will happen, slowly. Agnieszka is not one of the youngest players at the top. In 2007 a teen Agnieszka beat Martina Hingis. Did the Swiss despair after the match? Did she retire? No, she continued to play and tried to change something. Agnieszka has to adapt too because she will not have a chance to win with newcomers by playing her old, defensive tennis.
If Agnieszka doesn’t modify her style a bit, it will be harder and harder, with time, because physically she works 30-40% more than her opponents during matches, she runs 1-2 km more. Tennis based on running will have to be limited as years pass. That’s why conditioning is so important, Agnieszka pays a lot of attention to it, but at some point she won’t be able to cheat time.

That’s why you talked about a necessary revolution in Agnieszka’s game – moving forward, better serve, return, taking the initiative. Sometimes we can see the effects, but not in matches against Watson or Giorgi.

I watch Agnieszka, I can see that she’s torn between continuing what she’s been doing for 20 years and trying a more aggressive tennis. When she employs new elements, plays aggressively, closer to the lines, takes risk with the return, I can see that she can do it, very effectively. But moments like these are still too scarce. In difficult moments she moves back. We have been working on these things for three, four months though, it’s not enough. You have to regenerate during a tournament, travel in-between, rest, there wasn’t much work on a court. But don’t ask me how much time we need, I don’t know that myself.

Nobody speaks much about Agnieszka’s technique which also forms a kind of a barrier?

It’s much more difficult for Agnieszka to play offensive tennis because she can’t generate lots of power in her shots. She doesn’t use the twist of the shoulder girdle and leg well enough. She learnt to play on super-fast surfaces where the ball accelerated very quickly and it was sufficient just to put the racket on the ball. This sequence of movements is encoded now and very difficult to modify. It’s not helpful against aggressive opponents on slower courts. In the last five years all surfaces have slowed down, even the grass at Wimbledon, which is hard to believe. The British use a different mix now which slows the ball after the bounce, on purpose.

Agnieszka can’t grow any taller but she can develop stronger muscles, and recently she’s lost some weight, too much even.

It is a problem… We talk with Agnieszka about it all the time. That’s all I can say.

Every tennis player goes through a crisis. Woźniacka, Azarenka, Kerber, even Sharapova, they dropped out of the top ten, then came back. Will Agnieszka manage as well?

We can’t judge her whole though that Wimbledon final. There are better and worse moments in everybody’s life, Agnieszka is going through a worse phase now but it’s normal in tennis. I can name 20 players whose careers were rocked by bigger shocks. If we analyze it closely, it’ll turn out that compared to them Agnieszka is dealing with it really well. The worst thing to do is to sit and cry. Agnieszka is not doing that, she’s focused on the future.

Martina Navratilova also believes that this revolution will be successful?

We all believe that.

Are you still working with Martina?

She will be with us at Roland Garros, maybe also before Madrid. We will work together until Wimbledon, then we’ll see, what’s next.

~

Translation by @jesna3