Gilles Simon: The violent reactions to the Djoković Adria Tour problems are political

From a discussion with Gilles Simon, originally published by Stephen Griffaud on Tennis Break News.

Far from being forgotten, it’s with a certain interest that we continue to appreciate Simon’s frank opinions. He lived up to this Wednesday evening as the guest of the broadcast “Smash Club” on Twitch with his friend Gaêl Monfils. Besides being very critical of Noah Rubin, he also underlined the lack of coherence and clarity around the US Open organisation. The Frenchman is also astonished by the size of the polemics about the Adria Tour, even in France. He insisted on recalling the role the Serb had, in the background, during the [ATP] Tour suspension.

The first controversy is about the re-start of the Tour while the pandemic continues to rage in a lot of the countries across the world, and especially in the United States.

“The role of the USTA is to want to organise the US Open. As a player, if we’re only talking prize money, we’re pretty free. We can decide where to go, judge if it’s worth the risk to travel to the US… And then there’s the question of points. And there, it’s a big swamp. No one knows the rules. They organise the US Open, but we don’t know if the points count for 2 or 6 months. So that means that you’re obviously not really ‘free’ at all. It’s not equal for all. As long as we don’t have an answer, I can’t take a position. For me, we shouldn’t give points.”

“That way, everyone is free to decide what they want to do. But the organisers have their butts between two chairs. They say nothing about this, so don’t worry, and they’ll continue to say nothing. They want to give points because they’re contractually obligated by TV rights. But, on the other hand, they’re told, ‘Wait, you can’t organise this event knowing that everyone is sure not to attend.’ South Americans, for example. If they leave, they can’t return home for three months. As soon as it’s obligatory, frankly, I don’t think points should be awarded. But ‘no points’ doesn’t mean no tournaments. The most important thing about having rules is that you have them from the start, or you don’t have them at all. You know there are tournaments, but for those who can’t come, it’s treacherous.”


Gilles Simon reflected more specifically on the players’ drastic initial conditions at tournaments and the repercussions should something happen.

“The health regulations are those of the given country. And you’re told: ‘Don’t worry, in two months, it will all work out.’ But, at bottom, the truth is, we know nothing, and that’s not welcome. The first rules that were received, and were later relaxed, were to stay for a fortnight in a confined, secret space with a hotel-tournament-hotel round-trip with tests every day. But, when you get there, if the test says you’re positive, you can’t go back home and need to stay at the hotel for 14 days? That’s where, as a player, you want answers. If there’s a positive case, what happens then? Does everyone have their points removed? If we’ve reached the 3rd round, it would mean a general wave of forfeits… There’s no contingency plan for this because they told themselves, ‘We’ll organise this thing, we’ll put in money—and after, screw everyone else.’ Everyone has their own interests. On the one hand, the Americans tell themselves, ‘Yes, but it’s fine here; but, on the other hand, we don’t want to go to Europe.’ The others say, ‘It’s the opposite for us.’ It’s tough.”


Asked about the polemical debates around the health disaster of the Adria Tour, Gilles Simon doesn’t say much about Novak Djokovic’s responsibility.

“He’s someone who’s very intelligent, who then fell into something pretty big. He has no one to blame but himself.”


But the Frenchman spent time especially to explain the context of the debates.

“Commenting on the repercussions of all that is complicated because it’s all just politics. There are those who want not to attach any importance to the event, like the US Open and Roland Garros. They’ll load up on Djokovic by saying that it’s entirely his fault, and that they would organise it better—because they don’t want that event to blow back on their tournaments. There are a bunch of people who are happy to weaken Djokovic because he takes up space, and, now, he’s a sitting duck and he can’t escape. If it were any other player, it wouldn’t have made the front page of l’Équipe on two consecutive days when tennis hasn’t been around for I don’t know how long. It’s not anodyne; it’s not an accident.”


The French player didn’t hesitate to nail Noah Rubin, who had a lot of comments about the event and even criticised the Adria Tour organisation before the positive tests were revealed.

“The first violent wave of criticisms of Djokovic were very revealing. Since when does Noah Rubin get a whole page to destroy Djokovic? You’d think that they’ve really dug deep through a lot of guys to get to Noah Rubin. He’s not the first guy you’d ask yourself, ‘On this, we’ve really got to get Noah Rubin’s opinion’ [laughs]. We have the Federation influence in France, and the Americans have it over there, too. So, when you have a teleguided missile going from Noah Rubin towards Novak Djokovic, you have the right to ask if that’s where it comes from.”


Gilles Simon then defends Novak Djokovic about the infamous Zoom conference organised at the beginning of June, which gathered 400 people, without the presence of the world #1.

“Noah Rubin reproached him for not being present for the Zoom meeting. But Djokovic spent 1500 hours on the phone defending his cause without them knowing it. He’s reproached for not being at the final meeting when he’d already discussed all the topics beforehand. Novak has done a lot more for Noah Rubin than a lot of other guys, but [Rubin] decided that he didn’t like him because he wasn’t at the meetings that were a resumé of all the meetings [Djokovic] had banged through the previous three months. The problem with players is that you can give the platform to anyone. You can always find guys who disagree and don’t have a coherent vision because they haven’t been on the Tour for so long. Novak will earn zero € cents at the end of the year; the prize money for Grand Slam qualies doesn’t change anything for him, but he gets shit on for doing it. Because Novak tries to do so many things, it irritates a lot of people. And, right now, it irritates the USTA who wants to play the tournament and is trying to reassure the world; but if the world #1 says, ‘I won’t play under those conditions,’ obviously they’re not happy. It’s quite astonishing to see American players ganging up on Novak Djokovic because he doesn’t want to play at their home. There’s a whole group saying, ‘You have to play!’”


Finally, asked about the controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic’s father, Gilles Simon used the occasion to comment on Djokovic’s relative popularity compared to Roger Federer, disappointed that the world #1 spends so much effort to be liked.

“You just have to accept that Roger isn’t just Roger in tennis but everywhere in the world. He’s the most loved athlete. You can’t fight against that. Even if Djokovic won 22, 25, 36 Grand Slams, people would prefer Roger anyway. When Novak forgets that he’s less beloved and tells himself, like at Wimbledon last year, ‘OK, you’re all against me. OK, I’m going to wreck it for you, ruin it for you,’ well, then he’s unbeatable; you can see it in his eyes. When he wants to look cool, he doesn’t play as well because he doesn’t have the same determination.  For me, I adore those moments where he forgets himself and he puts on his, ‘OK, people like you more than me. And you know what? I’m going to bury you anyway.’”


Translated from the French by Mark Nixon.

Happenstance sent former WTA Top 50 player Anastasia Yakimova into a coaching career in Denmark, writes @Pervinkel

Translation of this piece by Per Colstrup Vinkel for Tennis Avisen.

Anastasia Yakimova still knows how to swing a tennis racquet. This year she won the Leschly Cup with a win over Karina Ildor. The Belorussian’s day job is coaching for Fruens Bøge Tennis Club in Odense, Denmark.

26 and a forced into retirement

For most people, it’s a horror scenario, but for Anastasia Yakimova, the narrative has more to it than an unfortunate career retirement. It’s been six years since her body told her to stop, and the Belorussian player, who had a whole life built in and round tennis, was forced seek other opportunities. It became quickly clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: tennis was, and will always be, a part of the Belorussian’s life.
“Not being 100% and playing at the top of international tennis isn’t sustainable. I’d played on the WTA Tour for 11 years, and my body could feel it. I wanted to take a small break from tennis to discover what coaching abilities I had. It was a great experience from the beginning, and it motivated me so much that I never thought about resuming my playing career. I’ve never regretted my choice,” relates Anastasia Yakimova. Her highest WTA ranking was 49 in singles, and her best Slam result was was in 2007, when she made the third round of the Australian Open. Yakimova managed to end the year in the WTA Top 100 for three seasons.

Denmark by happenstance

In Spain she got the chance to become co-owner of a tennis school, which, among other things, arranged an yearly international youth tennis tournament. Head tennis coach Frank Petersen from Sønderborg was a steady participant with a group of Danish juniors. Relations were established and Yakimova was invited to Denmark as a guest coach at a summer school for elite players.

“My first visit to Denmark was around five years ago, and I came every summer since.  When the opportunity for a coaching job in Danmark came around, I grabbed it. It was Frank who encouraged me to do it. It suited me perfectly, as it came at a time when I was looking for new challenges,” relates Anstasia Yakimova.
Besides being a part of the first team in Fruens Bøge Tennis Club and playing a series of international club tennis tournaments, the Belorussian is also functions as coach for the clubs top players. It’s a unique opportunity for a provencial club to attract a coach with so much international experience as Anastasia Yakimova.

A world of difference

One thing is how we see ourselves. That would never be a 100% accurate. We think as Danes that we do pretty well, not the least in giving our children the best opportunities, and making sure that all became part of society.
For Anasasia Yakimova, the Danish experience has been interesting in this area. It’s taught her some things  about how to approach life, things that weren’t part of her growing up in Belarus.
“When I started as a small child in Belarus, there was no opportunity to play tennis ‘for fun’. It was all about becoming professional and earning money. That’s a contrast to the experience in Denmark. Children have a lot of opportunities, which means they can prioritise tennis at exactly the level they wish. That’s the big difference between my former and present countries. There are a lot more here in Denmark who play tennis because they enjoy it. It’s a lovely experience for me to see that you can enjoy tennis without striving after results. I work daily, though, with the serious players, those with ambitions. They’ll always be the ones closest to my heart,” Yakimova explains.

Even though there are big differences between Belarus and Denmark, there are also many similarities. According to Anastasia Yakimova, it’s that tennis gives a good start in life for most youths. It can help them move on in life even without racquet and balls.

“Playing sports keeps you going, you’re active. Competing and solving problems on your own gives young people important tools, tools they can use later on in life. Because when you’re out there on the court, there’s only you who can find the solutions. No one can do things for you. It’s helped me a lot, also off the tennis court,” relates the Belorussian.
She admits that it’s still misses the WTA and tennis at the highest level, the travelling around the world, and the experience in first class. On the other hand, Anastasia Yakimova stresses that she really sees tennis as life education, an education at the same level as what a university can offer. It’s an education that has led her to Denmark.
Can the local tennis players in Odense be inspired by Yakimova’s story? It’s to be hoped.

Rafael Nadal: “Very proud of my longevity.” Interviewed by Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe, who asks questions from all directions.

Translated from the print edition of l’Équipe, May 27, 2018, pages 30-31

Relaxed during his Roman week, the Spaniard plays the question game, which come from all angles, some anecdotal, some serious, about him, his life as a champion and his attitude towards tennis.

Rome ten days ago. Rafael Nadal leaves victorious his match against Fabio Fognini. After the presser and food, he plays a game of Parchis (a Spanish board game), then decides to do the interview in the garden annexed to the players’ room. In a comfortable mood, Nadal will nevertheless answer with priceless seriousness.

From the beginning, what made you happiest about tennis?

The competition. In tennis, it’s very intense because it’s every day. and it’s face-to-face. I always loved competition whether it’s sports or games.

So it’s nothing to do with the racquet or the balls?

[Smiles] Seriously, I don’t remember that well.

Many players mention the importance of feeling with a racquet in hand. How do you experience it?

I’m like any other player. I found a simple solution: you need to be positive and play with the right attitude, even when the feeling isn’t there. What’s important is to forget the frustration and accept the situation.

As a kid, did you play pretending to be someone else?

[Firmly] No. I loved training, I loved spending hours and hours at the club. When I was a kid, I could spend entire days at the club playing tennis or something else.

<Did you learn watching others?

Of course. In life, it’s easier to copy than invent. I observe others and try and understand what they do well. It’s not possible to give a specific example because it’s not about copying someone. It’s more seizing the idea the player has in his head and adapting it to your own style. It’s more about positioning, ways of moving and placement in relation to the ball. I’ve watched hundreds or thousands of videos of other players on You Tube to try and seize ideas.

<Even the black and white ones of old players?

Yes, but not for that. If I want to see something specific, I choose present day players.

Who were your idols when you were a kid?

[Thinks] Tough to say. I grew up with Sampras and Agassi. Later, I was close to Carlos Moya [his coach].

Were you for Sampras or for Agassi?

Neither of them. I liked the rivalry.

Does the history of the game interest you?

Of course. It’s very important. It’s the old players who created the values of this game.

Can you watch a match just as a spectator?

Yes. But we know each other so well as players that we understand very quickly what’s happening on the court. Even if we’re not doing a real analysis, it’s impossible to watch a match as an ordinary spectator.

Do you glance at others’ practices?

[Amused] No. Never.

Because you find it boring …

No. When I’ve finished my time I need to do my recovery, my treatments etc. I’m not saying I don’t glance at the court next to me, but never more than five minutes.

Do you watch tennis sometimes late into the night?

Normally, no. Unless there’s a very special reason. Sometimes I’ll watch golf and that can finish sometimes past midnight.

It’s never bothered you the next day?

No! I can sleep five or six hours if I have nothing special on the next day. It’s not the same as going out and drinking a few. If you only sleep five hours after that, it’s not enough. But if I’m watching the TV, relaxing on my sofa, no problem. If I’m there, it’s because I appreciate what I’m doing. So it’s OK.

Do you agree with the commentators when you watch tennis on TV?

[Exhales] Not always. I know it’s a difficult job. I know they have to commentate quite a few matches during a day. It doesn’t shock me if they wander a bit during the match. Honestly, there are some matches that aren’t fascinating. [Amused] But it’s true I don’t always agree with what’s said about the match! What annoys me the most is when spectators show a lack of respect for the players. But that’s it.

Do you understand the existing debate about tennis’ format and the needs of TV?

It’s very complicated. The ideal solution will never exist. But I think it’s important to respect the history of this sport. And to know it very well. It’s tradition that helps our sport to become even bigger. Besides that, I realise that there must be innovation. What could be done is try the innovations at small tournaments. But don’t touch the big tournaments. There can’t be changes that are too drastic. Move forward in small steps. We can’t get rid of five set matches at Slams. They’re what create the dramas and the most exciting matches. Even if they’re not perfect for the TV, they’re terrific for the spectators. All the emotions, all the passion, come from those matches. If we touch them, tennis will lose a lot. The most important matches in tennis history have been played in five sets.

Are you interested in statistics or records?

Yes, but not crazily. Sure, I know that our generation have broken a lot of records, and that makes me happy.

Are you a stats nut?

Not really. I like checking some things, but … Carlos [Moya], on the other hand, loves them and it’s interesting talking with him after my matches. They can help some things, like court positioning etc. But I’m not going to lose my day reading numbers.

Do you know any stats about you that are less well known to the general public?

Absolutely not. When I beat a record, it’s often you, the journalists, who tell me. The best example is my fifty straight sets won on clay. I only found out about it during it.

Beating records helps motivation?

[Hesitates] It depends. But my real motivation is going out on court every day and playing in the biggest stadiums in the world in front of thousands of spectators. Playing in a stadium filled to bursting with passionate spectators, that’s really a very special feeling.

When we think deeply about it, twelve years between your first major and the last, isn’t that a bigger thing than the sixteen titles?

I’m very proud of my longevity. [A bit mockingly]. Especially because they didn’t stop telling me during my career that I wouldn’t last long as a player because of my playing style. I ended up believing it! I’m very happy to still be competitive at 32. Because it says a lot. It means showing that you can keep the same mentality and the same passion for a very long time.

Would you have been able to share your life with a woman who knew nothing about tennis?

My partner loves tennis. She loved it before we met. But I could very well have lived with a woman who knew nothing about tennis [laughs]. I haven’t tried, but there wouldn’t be a problem. My partner and I talk very little about tennis.

Do you sometimes talk tennis with people who know nothing about it?

[Amused] I can. If they don’t pretend to know, no problem. If the opposite’s the case, I let them talk!

What would you change in the way the tour operates?

I favour a two year ranking and not fifty-two weeks. It’s the best way to protect players in case of injury. I’ve thought that for years, but it’s even more important at the end of a career.

And in the rules of tennis?*

I don’t know how, but attention needs to be paid to the serve and to power in general. The players are bigger and bigger and it’s getting faster and faster. If we don’t find a solution to the serve, then tennis will reach a point where it’s summed up by that shot. In ten years, tennis could be in danger.

Are you for or against cutting out one of the serves?

Why not? We can’t say it’s stupid. We can only try it out. I’m in favour of innovations. Why not try it at small tournaments? I don’t know … But we could at least consider it.

Do you sometimes play tennis on the Play Station?

Never. Even when I was a kid. I play football on the Play Station. Tennis, I play that all day.

In your opinion, what players have contributed the most to the game?

I can’t answer that question. To answer it, I’d have to have lived in the different eras. It’s an interesting question, but you’d have to ask someone who knows the 1960’s or 1970’s. I know who Rod Laver, Björn Borg or John McEnroe are. But I can’t judge their importance because I wasn’t there.

When you watch old videos on You Tube, who is your favourite player?

Tough to say. I like Ilie Nastase. But I like the tennis of that era because power is less important. There’s more magic. Talent counts for more, tactics too. There was more point construction. That’s what I miss in the tennis of today. Clay is the last surface where you can still construct points. You can still try things. On hard, it’s become almost impossible. It’s too fast.

*Added 21:15

Translated by MAN


Alizé Cornet: “I held my head high and back straight.” Interviewed by @sophiedorgan, Cornet talks about her nightmarish wait for her hearing, and the support she got from players in the locker room

My translation of this Équipe interview of Alizé Cornet by Sophie Dorgan.

Cleared on 15. May, the woman from Nice talks about her six nightmare months of waiting after her hearing for three no-shows. Before her fourteenth Roland, she’s savouring her second career.

Installed Friday in the players’ café with her partner and coach Michael Kusaj, Alizé Cornet is on time for the interview, and reflects, between a big smile and a few tears, on her five months of “nightmares” between the announcement of her three no shows and her being cleared, And talks in passing about her hearing.

The looks from others

“When it came out in the press (24. January), that was by far the most difficult week. I didn’t take it being exposed to the world very well. While it was between my team and me, I managed it more or less. When everyone knew, it was like I was stripped naked. In St. Petersburg [beginning of February] I had to face the looks of my colleagues. I was more afraid of what my fellow players thought of me than the public. There’s not a lot of talk about players with two no-shows, but there are tonnes. A lot of players are panicking. It’s a taboo subject. Every tongue loosened with me. Players talked about their own experiences. I found out some crazy things. All who are part of the anti-doping programme know about the constraints involved. They were kind and understanding. I was agreeably surprised and hugely reassured. I passed the test in St Petersburg.”

Playing to forget

“In my mind, I had no other option than to play. I had nothing to reproach myself with. I wasn’t going to stay at home being gloomy. If I didn’t play tennis, I would have thought about it 24 hours a day. The only place I didn’t think about it was on the court. It was my outlet. The court saved me. I had a weight on my shoulders but I kept acting as if it were nothing. I trained the same way with the same intensity. I didn’t look for excuses. My body held up, my spirit held up, for better or worse. Nothing much changed on the court. It was more off the court my routine changed. It was the only way to stay out of a depression. That’s when I realised I was strong mentally and especially that those around me are good. It saved my life [starts to cry]. You see the love around you that helps you overcome all that. It was a traumatising experience, but enriching at the same time. I held my head high and my back straight. I proved things to myself and it gives me a lot of confidence in what I can endure.”

The hearing

“I prepared myself mentally, but I didn’t prepare what I was going to say. I’m a spontaneous person and I’ve always been best when it’s instinctive. I’ve often more confidence in my head than my tennis [smiles]. On the other hand, I was mentally prepared to hear false accusations, potential provocations for the other party’s lawyer, questions from the jury etc. I was questioned for one hour and 15 minutes in English. That’s a long time. I put a sort of armour on to arrive serene and confident, telling myself: ‘Believe in yourself — you only need to explain the truth.’ The only thing that had me doubting a bit was if my English level would hold up under the stress. In fact, I found the words right away. I was hyper calm, in the zone, like in a match where I had nothing to lose. If I were as concentrated on a tennis court, I could do some damage [laughs]. I was confident in myself and in my lawyers who had done good work. The judges recognised that I was straight and honest. It was the match of my career.”

The wait

“The two weeks of waiting after the hearing were tough to get through. You expect an answer almost every day, and it comes at the last minute of the last day. I knew it would be Monday or Tuesday [14 or 15 May]. I was on edge every minute expecting a call. Alexis [Gramblat, her lawyer] was supposed to call us. Those two days felt like an eternity. They were longer than the previous six months. I’m managed emotionally super well for six months, but I almost had a nervous breakdown those final hours. When I read the text message “We won …” from Alexis, it didn’t sink in right away. We all cried with joy and especially relief. It was a very heavy moment. It was the victory that started the rest of my life. Even though I’d gone as far as a hearing and they’d made me very afraid, it was the biggest lesson of my life about that thing. Mica and I built this thing with 12 alarms for Adams [the IT anti’doping system]. We check it 10 times a day. It’s a trauma and it’s become an obsession. When I had two no-shows, it was there already, I was on the alert, but it was badly set up. In the end, I was cleared and I told myself there was justice.”

A new youth

” I know that everything that happens from today is something I might not have experienced. Every day spent here I consider a bonus. Win or lose, that’s secondary in the end. Going on court, being able to play, making myself happy, playing matches, I’d taken it all as a given, and today I’ve regained ten years. I don’t know how I’ll play, but mentally I won’t be the same player. I’m an adolescent again. I rejoice in all I see. I’m rediscovering Roland with new eyes. I bounced around impatiently waiting to take the plane here. Normally it’s a pleasure, but also stressful. This year I’m too content. Yesterday [Wednesday] I was on Catrier. I sat down on the the bench, I looked around and I stoned. When you’ve been a pro for so many years, they’re things that seem normal but really aren’t. There are millions of kids who dream of that. I’ll try and keep it precious.”

No going backwards

“At draw time, I was a lot less stressed than normal, when usually you can’t talk to me for an hour. I saw I was playing Errani and I thought, ‘Damn! I’m going to be doing nothing but run, we’ll be playing four hours.” We had fun. [laughs] I didn’t even look at the rest of the draw. I’m taking whatever comes with a minimum of concern. And there’s always my perfectionism that catches up to me. You need to make the difference between putting things into perspective and ‘I couldn’t care less’. ‘Couldn’t care less’ isn’t my cup of tea. There’s a chance I’ll be a bit nervous [laughs], otherwise it wouldn’t be me. But it won’t be in the same way. Lately I’ve been anxious, heavy-hearted, uneasy. Now, if I’m nervous, it will be a bit healthier. I might moan as usual, but it won’t be as much of an emotional overload. It would be bizarre if that changed. But perspective will help me be a bit more calm and lucid.

Translate by MAN

Her most wide-ranging interview yet: Former tennis nr.1 Caroline Wozniacki interviewed by former badminton #1, now TV sports host Camilla Martin

Transcription of a TV interview on Danish TV3 Sport 1 on June 22, 2017.

Camilla Martin is a former world number one badminton player. She won every badminton Major at least once except the Olympics, where she won silver.  Caroline Wozniacki needs no introduction.


Caroline, here we are in the Japanese Gardens [in Monaco] where you live. What’s it like being Caroline Wozniacki right now?

It’s fine. My life is on track, I’m playing good tennis, I got through the clay season more or less …

What is it with that clay season?!

It’s the part of the season I just need to get through and do as well as I can. I finished well at the French Open, and I’m glad to get back on hard courts and training up to the grass season which I’m looking forward to.

You seem happy and in good balance. What is it that is simply working well right now?

I think it’s a combination of my body feeling really good and keeping in one piece, and I can train properly and get good results. I’m playing at my top level, my private life is good, my family is well and healthy, everything around me is working perfectly.

You’ve got a new boyfriend and he’s also in the sport world. What does having met him mean?

I think it means a lot to have something different in my life, a calmness. He supports me. Whether I’ve had a good day or a bad day, he’s there. He knows what it’s like to be top-level professional athlete, and I think that means quite a lot.

You’re in the spotlight most of the team. How do you happen to meet a guy like that?

I’ve known him for a very long time. We met through mutual friends and we just took it easy. It was under the radar and I think it’s nice that we could keep the most private things to ourselves and I think it’s meant that we’ve grown even closer to each other.

Do you think that this period you’re in now, that looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago, do you think that’s because there are other thoughts, things in your life, a different focus than just tennis?

Yeah, I think for sure it’s important especially when it’s not working on the court, when you’ve been injured, and it’s tough and you can’t stand on a tennis court, and you have to train fitness all the time, and you can’t walk properly and such, it’s nice to have someone else who can tell you to just take it easy, do other things, get your mind off it. It meant that I wanted to get back to training fitness, now I had to pull myself together, it couldn’t be just him who was training and getting into shape, so I think that certainly helped. So there was no pressure when I started up again, I just took it my own pace and it took the time it took. I’d fallen way down in the rankings anyway so I just thought, what the heck …

Can he play tennis?

— He played tennis until he was 12. He’s left-handed and he can play tennis. He was very cocky at the start, ‘I can beat Caroline…’

Typical guy!

— Then I put him in his place and now he doesn’t want to play me any more!

If we look back a year, your tennis life looked a bit different than it does now. I remember talking with you last year up to Wimbledon, and you said ‘it doesn’t really matter to me whether I’m seeded or unseeded, because I’m just not playing very well’. When you look back at that time, what are your thoughts now?

Looking back, I think it was probably good I got injured. It gave me time to hone things, get my playing desire back, and to finally get rid of all the small injuries. It was a period where I didn’t really miss tennis. I could get into top shape, and I thought, OK, I’m in the best shape of my life, and when I got back out on the practice court, I started to feel I was beginning to hit the ball really well, and it was really the best I’d ever hit the ball, and I thought it was just a question of time before I started to play well. When I had practice matches against the other players, I beat them every time, so it was just a question of time and staying with it.

During that time when things were a drag, you didn’t think, ‘it doesn’t matter any more, I may as well just quit,’ but there was something that kept you going.

— I think that as a sports person, when you’ve been number one in the world, you’ve been up there, you don’t think it’s cool to quit when you’re number eighty or whatever I was. It’s a bit of a dumb time to end your career. So I thought, I just have to fight my way back one way or another, whether it takes a month or half a year, I’ll find a way to pull my self together and find my way back. When I’m really tired of it and think, OK, that’s enough, then I’ll say that’s that.

What’s Caroline Wozniacki like during that sort of time when it’s not working?

Actually, when I got injured, it was like, you know what? Now I don’t care whether I was number ten in the world or number 100, it didn’t matter. I had good support from my family, and friends, it meant I had some perspective. In the beginning you’re irritated, you can do better, you see people you beat and think, OK, that should be me, but then I thought, you know what? It’s my chance to really come back and make my mark when I return.

I have to admit I had my doubts when I talked with you a year ago about whether we’d really see you back in the top 10 again. Have you ever personally had doubts?

— No. Like, at different times I thought, it’s a drag going out onto the practice courts and playing matches, it’s not as much fun as it was, and and I thought, OK, is it time to hang up my racquet? Or should I try and fight on, is it just a brief period? But really I thought, as soon as I’m fresh and if I’m playing well, I mean, I never really knew if I’d get back to the top ten or not, but I knew my game was good enough to beat those who were in the top ten. Serena is the only player, if she’s in top form and playing at her top level, I feel OK, she’s tough to beat.

You’ve been close to beating her a few times.

Exactly. I beat her once, but that was quite a few years ago. But she’s the only player I think, OK, meeting her is an uphill slog.

You’ve always been super diligent during your training, I know, and you still are. When we stood on the practice court and talked earlier, you asked me how long I trained when I played, and I told you four hours a day, and you said that was almost too much. When you look back at that time, what have you learned and what have you done differently?

In the past, when I was younger, and actually until a couple of years ago, I trained every day four hours a day, with two hours of fitness on top of that, and when I got home, I was completely knackered. And a couple of times a month, I came to training and I had three training periods left, two on the court and one at the fitness centre, or twice fitness, and I could feel that it was a heavy load, and my body was starting to say stop. I started getting injuries here and there. And I couldn’t understand it. It was something I normally could. Why is my body quitting on me? But then you have to remember you’re getting older. You don’t get younger. And my body had taken some knocks through time. And I think what I learned was that I needed to turn the volume of training down, the amount, but train intensively and put more thought into what I was doing. Now I train maybe two hours of tennis a day, or, on some days two hours of tennis in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. But that’s the most I’ll do in a day. I’ll never train four hours again. Now it’s a question of enjoying it while I’m out there, because you never know how long you’ll be out there, or how long your body holds out, or how long you feel like playing. Right now I feel, OK, if my career ends tomorrow, or something happens, knock on wood it doesn’t, then I’m fine with that, because I’ve really enjoyed playing, and the last months or year have been fun, and I’ve really done what I could. Ending your career thinking, oh, it’s so horrible being out there every day, not thinking it’s fun, I don’t think I deserve that. Now I think, OK, you know what? What’s the worst that can happen? I fall down the rankings again, so I just have to fight my way back up again.

You want to stop still thinking it’s fun.


What are you most furious about of the things you can guaranteed do on the practice court, but have trouble taking with you to matches.

Drop shots

I saw you practising them today.

Yeah. Drop shots are something I’ve practised for years, and thought, NOW they’re working, but every time I’m told, don’t use drop shots during matches, they’re not working. So I tried anyway, and hit the serve lines, and I was getting killed using them, so I just put them aside. But they’re actually starting to work well lately, so … But something I’ve got better at now, maybe because I’ve got older and calmer, and better at seeing the court: volleying. It’s something I’ve done really well in practice for several years, but in matches I’ve been at the net, and thought, what do I do now? Which side do I go to? It’s where I’m happiest winning a point, and the most angry when I lose one. I’ve done everything right and there I am and I have no clue where the ball’s coming from. I’ve got better at it as I’ve got older.

Why do you think that is?

— It’s think in general my game isn’t based on being at the net so many times or at the end of every rally, and it’s, like, OK, here I am at the net, I’m happy, I can finish the point off quickly, and then it’s, Oh no, I’m at the net! And then it happens so fast, and the ball is past you.

What’s it like to be judged and measured after every single match?

My attitude depends on how well I know the person. If it’s someone who’s grown up with me, and has seen me from when I was a junior, or a U-12, to now, or if it’s someone who’s never seen me practice or play matches, and suddenly has an opinion. There’s a big difference. Like, if it’s someone who’s been a part of my training or my team at some point, then I respect what they say, they have the right to an opinion, and sometimes it super good, other times it’s, she needs to do this or that better, then OK. If it’s coming from a place where they’ve followed my practices, they’ve followed my matches, then I’m OK with it. But if it’s people with an attitude, or aren’t in tennis any more, or haven’t had anything to do with tennis, have never seen me play or practice, or met me once when I was twelve, then it’s, like, Come On! [said by both simultaneously] Just go away.

There are a lot of people who’ve had an opinion about your coaching set-up. You’ve had your father as your coach. During that time, when there have been an amazing number of opinions about it, has it been tough for you to stick with: he’s the one you want, that’s the way it is.

— I think, not really for me personally, but I think it’s been tough for my father, always having to defend himself. I think it’s been a shame. I know how much he puts into it, and how much he’s helped me, he’s been my coach since the beginning, and hasn’t received the credit for it. I think that’s been tough. The people closest know how much he’s given. It’s been tough seeing him sawed in half because I’ve lost a match or not done as well as some expect. It’s more that I feel sorry for him than I question it.

What is the biggest reason you think it’s the best thing for you to have your father as coach?

— For me, well, he’s my father and wants what’s best for me. I’m his daughter, so that’s obvious. But also that he’s been with me every step of the way since I was seven and picked up a racquet for the first time. And maybe we’ve parted ways at times, then come back together and decided this was the way to do things. There’s that belief. We trust each other. We might go the wrong way so we can get on to the right way, but we do it together. It’s given fantastic results. It’s nice to have the family along when you travel alone so much. I’m a person who likes to be alone a lot, but, at the same time, but I also like that there’s family, or people around you can relax with, where you don’t feel you need to talk with them, or they don’t need to talk with you, but just understand you.

Is it also with your dad being able to be the ‘hysterical daughter’ when it suits, and be Caroline the good tennis player when there’s time for that?

For sure. It means a lot. As an athlete yourself you know there are days where you think, it’s tough to be out here and you’re playing terribly in practice or in matches, and you need to unload, other times you think it’s the greatest thing in the world, and you want them to ride along and think it’s just as much fun as you think it is. That’s where it’s good to have someone who knows you so well that they think, OK, it’s going to be a long day, or it’s going to be a good day.

You’re in the spotlight a lot. Do you think it’s hard – I know there were times when I thought it was – with that spotlight to be able to show who you also are, besides being Caroline the elite athlete.

I’ve been in the spotlight for so many years now. I think I was eight when I did my first interview. So it’s been part of my everyday life. I’ve almost grown up with social media, it started to get big what, ten years ago?

Yeah, it’s hard to remember when it started …

Yeah, it’s where you start to think, it’s fun with the Internet, it’s fun with Twitter and Instagram, but you’ve learned really a lot that there some things you want to share and other things you need to keep closer to yourself. At the same time, I had role models I wanted to know more about, so in that way I want to give something to my fans, but at the same time, it’s important you protect yourself.

Do you think about what you’re saying, even in this situation where you and I are sitting together talking?

I think for sure you think about what you share and what you don’t share, because you know you’ll get even more questions about some things if you …

Open up a bit …

Yeah, and sometimes you just don’t feel like going down that road, and the papers start writing things that maybe you really haven’t said, and they start speculating and stuff like that, and you start thinking, I really don’t feel like it …

Let’s get into something I also know well – it wasn’t quite as fancey as Sports Illustrated, but IN magazine I was involved with – there were many who busied themselves with saying you should take care of your tennis first, and stay away from that circus. What would you say to them?

I think that if people had the same chances I had, they would have done exactly the same. I got a huge opportunity, and it was obvious I’d take that chance. It’s not like I train 24/7. I could do something I thought was fun and inspiring on the side. It could only help my tennis.

What did you think when you were asked?

I was totally excited! I thought, it can’t be right they’re asking me! I thought, now I really need to get into top shape, everything has to be in the right place, and there’s Photoshop, and they said ‘no no, we have cameras that follow you everywhere’, and then I thought now I’ll have to walk around and flex all day! But I thought it was a lot of fun. It was one of the most fun photo shoots I’ve ever been on. But to be asked three times in a row … no other athlete has been asked three times. It was big.

Wimbledon is closing in, Caroline. You won as a junior. Fourth round, you’ve been there five times. You like to play much more on grass than clay as you’ve mentioned several times. How much does it bother you that you haven’t gone past that fourth round yet?

Every time I’ve gone out in the fourth round, I’ve thought, that bloody fourth round! It’s irritating. Sometimes I’ve been close, other times I haven’t been close to winning that match. But there have been a lot of different ways I’ve gone out of the tournament. And I thought, damned fourth round. But now it’s , I’ve been there so many times, now at some point I’m going to break that fourth round code. It’s has to happen at some point. And if it doesn’t, then that’s the way it is.

When you look at the Wimbledon field, then there’s no player, like you said, you can’t beat. What are your expectations, then? What do you want to succeed at Wimbledon this year? Besides that fourth round?

Obviously, every time I go into a tournament I want to win it. If I didn’t want to win the tournament, I wouldn’t play it, or train for it. It’s about getting through one round at a time. There are seven rounds, it’s over two weeks, so you have to be focussed and ready for every round, and you can play all sorts of different players. So I just want to go into it injury-free, and hopefully have some good matches in Eastbourne, and then I’ll take it from there. I really don’t want to put any pressure on myself, just enjoy being out there and hopefully play on the main courts.

Besides that fourth round, people ask about that Grand Slam win. Is it something you think about?

— Of course I’d like to win a Grand Slam. It’s the only thing missing on my CV. But as they say, ‘if it’s meant to be, it’s gonna be.’

“Andre will give 100%” Novak Đoković interviewed by @franckramella of l’Équipe on Agassi hiring and life

Interview with Novak Đoković by @franckramella in l’Équipe (paywall). This version is taken from the print edition, May 29, 2017, pp. 2-4, Rolan Garros supplement.
Thanks to you, we’ll have Dédé back on a court …

Dédé – who’s that?

In France, it’s the nickname for André …

[Laughs} Déde, Dédé. It’s funny, it’s like the Serbian deda, which means grandfather. Nothing to do with Andre, who definitely has the spirit of a young guy!

For an old fan of Sampras, your idol, isn’t choosing the Agassi option difficult?

[Laughs] My biggest idol was Pete, but I watched Agassi a lot too. In terms of style, he had a game much more similar to mine than Sampras. I talked with Pete a lot too. I don’t see a problem! My life circumstances guided me towards Andre, and the way it’s working up to now reinforces my opinion.  I’m thankful. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn.

If I were a young player who didn’t know your new coach, how would you introduce Andre Agassi?

I’d tell him he’s a person with a strong character, very honest and sincere, filled with compassion. He’s passionate about what he does, and when he takes something on, he does it 100%. So you can always have confidence in him.

Do you remember the first time you met him?

Not exactly. Wait, yes … It was just before we played against each other at an exhibition before Wimbledon, at Boodles, during his final year before he retired [in 2006].  I was lucky enough to be chosen to face him for the occasion. We chatted a bit before the match. We even had a good laugh. I’d done my warm-ups and my stretching. You know, where I lift my leg up on the shoulder of my kinesiologist, and he looked at me laughing because he could hardly bend over and touch his knees. We both broke out laughing. We recalled that Thursday during our first practice here. He told me that, at the time, when he was returning in the car with Darren Cahill, his coach then, he told him: ‘The new generation’s coming. I think my career will end soon when I see guys stretching like that!’

You kept in contact?

Andre’s always been good with me since the first time I met him.  We saw each other most of the time at Grand Slams. I even had the privilege of getting the Australian Open trophy from him in 2013. We obviously always chatted when we saw each other. But we didn’t go further than that. We respected each other for sure, but we really didn’t know each other. Until one time about a month ago. I asked him for his telephone number because I wanted to thank him. I wanted to do that because he always spoke nicely about me in the media. Whether I was number 1 and playing well, or there was some turbulence result-wise like in these last months, he was always positive when talking about me. I appreciated that, and I wanted to thank him personally. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about proposing any sort of professional relationship. It was just a person-to-person conversation when you want to thank someone. And, instead of a pleasant five minute exchange of words, it turned into a long thirty minute conversation .. We opened up to one another about tennis, about life. I connected with him very quickly. I saw that we had many similarities in our way of thinking. He’s gone through a lot of trials. Few have had to face those sorts of things. I liked the open and honest way he talked about his life in his book.

But can both your trajectories be compared? You haven’t, apparently, fallen as low as he …

We’ve both had difficulties on our paths, which are unique. We’ve both faced adversity. Different adversities, but adversities to overcome the challenges and become what we hoped. I’ll tell you where I see the resemblance. For the vast majority of his career, he played thinking that winning on court was the only thing that satisfied him and made him happy. But it wasn’t. He described that well when he told himself he didn’t like tennis, that he often got the feeling he was being forced to play, that he felt empty when playing for something other than his own aspirations. Maybe I don’t have exactly that sort of feeling but [he emphasises the but] I can use it as a reference. I, too, during these years, based my joy on winning a tennis match. All my life, my environment, the people around me, sacrificed their energy on me so I could maximise my potential and become the best player in the world. And it happened, and I’m proud of it. But I also realised that I was basing myself too much on tennis and the successes in it as a source of joy and inner peace. But, in the end, it isn’t true, at least to my way of thinking. It’s not the right state of mind.


Because you can’t always win. And when you lose, it shouldn’t be the end of the world. You shouldn’t be so disappointed. Of course, some will say that being affected by a loss means that you’re concerned. Of course you don’t make light of it! If you don’t care about winning or losing, why then become a professional athlete? Of course it always preoccupies me. I always want to be number one in the world, win titles and Slams. I’ve always wanted that. But I want to balance that, in the sense of emotional stability. I don’t need to base my entire life on the fact that I won or lost a tennis match.

That doesn’t seem like you. In a certain way, you’ve been built on rage. Changing your mentality, that shouldn’t be easy …

It isn’t easy. I’ve grown up with this mentality and way of thinking all my life. I was a warrior on court. I invested so much in it that nothing else existed. By that I’m not saying that I’m not invested any more! I am! Really. When I play tennis, I play tennis. But what I’m trying to do now is that, when I go back home, I’m not a tennis player any more. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a friend. I’m a son. And if I’m doing business, I’m doing business. I don’t think about … you see what I’m trying to say. I want to have this approach of being able to do my best in whatever I do.

Some might say that before thinking about happiness, a champion of your calibre should think more about taking advantage of the last years on court to optimise the chances of winning rather than trying to be accomplished everywhere …

I want to answer by sharing an intelligent thought I read reading Osho [*]. He was asked if he believed in positive thinking. He answered that he didn’t, because he didn’t believe in negative thoughts. He believes only in the consciousness and emotion of being in the moment. I’ve worked a lot on being better able to control my emotions. I’ve always been very expressive on court, both in a positive and negative way. I’ve worked on reducing this ‘expressiveness’, because I don’t feel good about it and it’s not a good message. Obviously you can’t control everything−sometimes you have to let yourself go because it would be meaningless to tell yourself: ‘OK, I’m going to be positive” when you’re burning up inside. But …

How can Agassi help you with those reflections?

I have the feeling that with Andre we have in common this consciousness of wanting to achieve an optimal balance, to be able to be serene and satisfied because you’re who you want to become. With Andre, it didn’t take long to get on the same wavelength. Thursday was our first day together and it felt like we’d known each other for years. We talked a lot, on the court and outside. About everything! What’s impressive about him is that he really tries to share his experience, his feeling, his honest opinions about me. On the other hand, he’s very respectful and sensitive in terms of timing. He knows when he needs to say something.

Has he already said something to you that’s had an effect?

These last weeks, we spoke on the phone before and after each match at Madrid and Rome. It was a way of feeling out how both of us saw the game.  It served to have Andre better understand me: how I prepared, how I managed my recuperation. We talked a lot about the game itself, but that was more in general terms, and to see where my state of mind was. How do I unblock my full potential as a tennis player in all senses of the term? How, every time I go on court, to have this state of mind that frees me from all doubt or emotions that can block?


Despite all your experience and your accumulated certainties, you still need to be unblocked …

Everyone needs it every day. People think that once they’ve reached certain summits, there’s no need for mental work, that they’re mature players, that that’s the end of the problems. But that’s completely false! Sure, there’s relief when you accomplish good things. But with me, in my way of being and the way I grew up, I felt this responsibility of continuing again and again. To do more. I had this feeling of needing to work even more to create my history. I was very curious, and I still am, to find out where I could go.

Knowing your almost total investment in all aspects of the game, there was a moment where you must have told yourself that it was impossible to do more, no?

Exactly. Last year I started to feel that something had to change. My body was changing, too. I didn’t think those days would arrive where you feel a bit different [smiles]. Even if I feel fit, young, and I take care of my body, it’s true that I’m thirty. In terms of approaching training, of ‘energy management’, of programming, I need to have a different approach. I want to play for a long time. You have to prioritise. And I felt i needed to explore new things.
[*] Rajneesh Chandra Mohan Jain is termed an Indian iconoclastic guru, according to Wikipedia. He’s the creator of what he’s called ‘dynamic meditation’. He’s also one of the major influences of the New Age current.


Translated by MAN

Introducing: Laslo Djere

From an interview with the Serbian #5 conducted by Sport Klub’s Saša Ozmo after Laslo Djere made the Budapest semifinals. The 21 year-old Djere hails from from Senta, in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.  He’s currently at a career-high ranking of #153 & will move inside the top 150 after following up his performance in Hungary with several more wins at the ATP’s stop in Istanbul.

On his recent run:
“It all came together in Budapest, so I really played very well.  Additionally, I think I’m more used to the conditions than others—there was a strong wind throughout the tournament. In Prostejov [Challenger in 2015], I also got three good players [Klizan, Lajović, & Souza] back-to-back.  Last season was a bit weaker, without such big wins, but I knew that I have the quality and now I’ve gotten five tough matches in a row.”

On being a work-in-progress:
“I think I’ve made the most progress in terms of movement, and I worked a lot on my serve with coach Dejan Petrović, which is now paying off. Of course, there’s always more room for improvement, especially trying to play more aggressively than I did before—the aim is to dictate play with my forehand, which I did effectively in Budapest.

“The first two weeks of preparations for the new season, I was at home and in Kikinda [Vojvodina], where my conditioning coach Vladimir Zorić is from.  We did two fitness training sessions a day and one tennis session.  The third and fourth weeks of preparation we trained in Novi Sad—we started relatively early in the morning and worked hard, twice a day on tennis and once on fitness. I can tell you I ran a lot over that month, but the focus was on endurance so that I could welcome the season as prepared as possible.”

On his short-term ambitions & plans:
“If I can continue in this rhythm I played in Budapest, I believe I can get into the top 100 in the next six months. That’s up to me: the only path is a continuation of such form. In order to achieve that goal, strong matches like the ones from last week are essential, so I can mature through these matches for the ATP level. One thing is for sure—I’ll keep working hard.”

So far, Djere has played one main draw at a major: 2016 Roland Garros.  Even though he’s at the ATP 250 tournament in Istanbul this week, he won’t yet play the top tier regularly.

“Clay is my favorite surface—I grew up on it and feel best on it.  I’ll play another Challenger before Roland Garros, then qualies in Paris; but, after that, we don’t yet have a specific plan—what’s certain is that I’ll go back to Challengers, since I still have to prove myself at that level.”

On the transition from juniors to seniors:
“It’s hard for the best juniors because they’ve gotten used to the best conditions, they were treated in the best possible way, and received a lot of attention. At the beginning, I didn’t get a lot of ‘special invitations’ for tournaments, nor did some of my colleagues who were also good juniors; so, you have to re-start from scratch and it’s hard—especially at Futures [events], where conditions are very bad. Also, there are a lot of older players who know how to play.  All together, it makes the transition difficult.”

On the mental aspects of tennis:
“I’ve been working for four years with Antal Mart, a psychologist from Senta who is also a former table-tennis player; so she’s a sports psychologist in the true sense of the word. I see her in between tournaments and it’s helped me a lot in my career.  It’s hard to single out one thing, since we’re working on a bunch of small things; but when those little things line up, then I play at my highest level.

“When it comes to crucial moments in matches, I focus only on the present and on the next point, and try not to have any thoughts that could distract me. That’s my way.”

On idols & role models:
“I wasn’t inclined toward any one player in particular, but as a kid I watched Roddick and Hewitt the most. Later, and still, I looked up to our players: Viktor, Janko, Nole, & Ziki.  They traveled the same path, more or less, that I’m on now.”

Translation by Ana Mitrić.



Heads in France, but hearts in Serbia with two different sports and teammate fathers: Kristina Mladenović & Nikola Karabatić

WTA tennis player Kristina Mladenović and handball player Nikola Karabatić not only share close trajectories—their values of team play are inherited. Translation of the article “Le sport et dans notre sang” by Sophie Dorgan from the February 10, 2017 print edition of l’Équipe.

When he saw Kristina Mladenović arrive in the Équipe offices, Nikola Karabatić immediately went out onto the street to greet the player’s parents. With the handball player and the tennis player, it’s above all a story of family—with fathers who were international handball goalkeepers in ex-Yugoslavia, club teammates, then immigrants in France—and sports. So when they met this day in December, a few weeks before the new title of world handball champion, they spoke… of family and sport.

Do you remember when you first met?
Nikola Karabatić: I was in Montpellier and Dragan [Mladenović, Kristina’s father] was playing in Dunkirk. I must have been 18-years-old and Kiki nine. Our fathers had played together in Niš, in Serbia. They were the club’s goalkeeping pair. Papa left for Strasbourg, Dragan stayed.
Kristina Mladenović: Branko [Nikola’s father, who died in 2011] was the number one goalie. Papa told me he was a super person who helped him, who taught him a lot of things, and that it suited him when Branko left the country, because he took his place.

There was a cult of winning in your families?
N.K.: It wasn’t father who inculcated us with that. I don’t know how it arose.  Luka [his younger brother, international handballer] and I, when we were small, both hated to lose or get bad marks in school. We had a spirit of competition. Paradoxically, it doesn’t come from our parents, who were quite content with us just playing sports and doing OK at school. It wasn’t serious for them if we didn’t win. We lived sport. Our father was tough because he saw we wanted to succeed and that it was our ambition. He accompanied us, but it came from us. It wasn’t badly meant.
K.M.: My parents didn’t push us in our sports. Luka [her younger brother] plays football and me tennis. It really just natural for us. Sport is in our blood.

Nikola, you said that you learned the taste of effort and sacrifice.
N.K.: Not necessarily on the court, but outside. Together with my mother, he decided to come to France. There wasn’t as yet war in the Balkans, but he wanted to try something different, and in ex-Yugoslavia, they allowed athletes to leave after they’d reached 29-years-old. My father came to France, and we stayed in Serbia at the beginning, because my mother needed to finish her medical studies. Once she got her degree, she joined my father in Strasbourg. Then we got the chance to come down to Montpellier. They ‘sacrificed’ a bit their life in Serbia where my father was an international and had real status, and there my mother was a doctor. They put everything aside to live in France. My mother was a caregiver in a retirement home, a very hard job. It was backbreaking work. Along with Luka, we saw how our parents did everything they could for the both of us so we could live in the best place and get the best education possible. It really affected us.
K.M.: It’s unbelievable how many similarities there are. When my father left in 1991, there wasn’t yet war, my mother stayed in Serbia, where she played volleyball and studied engineering. She had to make a choice with regard to papa: would she follow him or not? If she followed him, it meant that her studies were dead, and the volleyball, so … She decided to follow her love. Papa had signed for two years in Dunkirk, and it basically was to progress as a player; he wasn’t to stay. The aim was to come back to the country. I remember a German club made him an offer, and I explained to him in a drawing that I really liked my school and my friends. So papa decided to stay in France because of us, because we were in school. And after, they reviewed their family project because I started to do well in tennis. There, they stayed because of me.

When you have parents who ‘sacrifice’ themselves, you have even more the duty of succeeding?
N.K.: They don’t put pressure on us, but unconsciously, yes, it’s an example. My parents were my idols. The best thing was to make them proud, make them happy I’m playing well, that I have good marks in school. That’s the sum of it.
K.M.: This is where the story is nice. We didn’t get pressure from our parents, it wasn’t a weight on our shoulders. We wanted to make them proud, succeed and do well, but that pulled us up. It wasn’t a negative pressure.

You both seem to withstand the pressure. To different degrees, you like the big events?
Dad always told me: “You see the big players at the big matches.” It’s true that I almost played my best matches at a very young age at the important ones. I don’t know why I played best at those times [laughs], but it was weird.
K.M.: Me, I struggle finding the same level for the smaller tournaments. Maybe it’s because they both were goal keepers, but dad also told me, “in the big matches and at the important moments,  it doesn’t matter if I don’t stop all the shots. The important thing is stopping the penalty shot you need to.”

When you’ve heard that all your lives, it’s less frightening?
N.K.: I feel pressure before matches [Mladenović nods]. Once it starts, it’s gone.
K.M.: I don’t arrive relaxed at Roland Garros or the Fed Cup. [Laughs] But I love it, we love it.

What is that sensation before a big match like?
N.K.; It’s the fear of not being good. You have to be at your best, both for my teammates and for my team. I always have that fear. I’ve always played on teams that were expected to win. Like, on the national team, we’re always favourites. You need to question yourself for every match and we start again almost from zero. You’re fine being World Champion the year before, but the year after, if you lose, it can be a catastrophe [smiles].  You’re always under pressure. You have to be able to manage that.
K.M.: It’s a sort of big ball in your chest. I’m in an individual sport, but it might be more logical for me to be in a team sport. On the French team, we share, we’re in the dressing rooms, there’s a captain in the chair. The matches, especially at Roland Garros, are a mix of huge amounts of adrenaline, positive desire and also that fear, that dread. You want to reassure, be good. I’m not at Niko’s level; it’s a different pressure. I’m continuously building myself. I’m not up there with him, there where he’s expected to be.

What he’s achieved impresses you?
K.M.: Yes [a bit shyly]. He doesn’t know it because we’re pals, but I admire what he does enormously. I have a lot of respect. What amazes me the most is the mental endurance.

Something like handball’s Federer?
K.M.: Totally.
N.K.: Hey, we’re not doing the interview so you can send me flowers like that [laughs].

Nikola, what’s your view of tennis and Kristina?
N.K.: I used to imagine one day being at Roland Garros or Wimbledon behind Luka [he started off playing tennis and was classified — 4/6] who played from the age of ten to eighteen. We accompanied him with my parents at tournaments and I shook like a leaf. I don’t know tennis very well. I played it, I like it a lot, but I found out it’s one of the toughest sports mentally. I saw Luka and the other players go nuts when they missed a ball. You are all alone on the court and it’s complicated: on the one hand, if you’re good, there’s no one to pull you down like in team sports, but, on the other hand, there’s no one to help you. You’re on your own. “Kiki” doesn’t really have the spirit of a tennis player. You can sense her freshness. When she’s playing Fed Cup, she’s playing for a team and she’s happy. You sense it maybe less with the guys. There isn’t necessarily that state of mind. I really identify with her. With mum, who’s a big tennis fan, and Luka, we watch Kiki’s matches and when she wins, it almost like we win. We’re super proud of her.

Are you conscious of also being examples of successful immigration?
N.K.: It’s true. Like, why did you or I not choose to play for Serbia? I know lots of athletes from our countries who are born in France and feel more Serbian than French. With us, it’s the opposite. I had dad who felt happy that France accepted us and naturalised us. He was always telling us that it was up to us to adapt to France. He was very aware of having this French nationality, and that France accepted us. Me, I’m proud of my origins. I’m a big fan of Djoković and Čilić. Sometimes I’ll support Croatia or Serbia more than others. What makes me dream is France. Why? I don’t know. It’s quite bizarre. Besides, the Croats or the Serbs never approached me, just reproached me [laughs].
K.M.: I also have dual nationality, but I don’t have my [Serbian] passport because I didn’t renew it [laughs]. The Serbs called me but it was never a question for me of representing Serbia, even if I’m proud of my origins. I was born here and I never lived in ex-Yugoslavia. Dad was naturalised French very quickly. In my head, I’m French and in my heart, I’m Serbian.

Translated by MAN

Caroline Wozniacki: “She was a girl who was trained to achieve one goal or another from the start”

From small, thin girl on the Køge Tennis Club courts to world’s best. A weekly schedule, extra training and a family that gambled everything. By Mikkel  Hemmer-Hansen, Jyllands-Posten

The glass trophy gets a big kiss.

She’s done it before.

Caroline Wozniacki reached 25 tournament wins on the WTA tour when she won the Hong Kong Open in October 2016.

Another achievement for the 26-year-old Dane, who has achieved much in her career: two US Open finals, over 150 million Danish Crowns in prize money, and been number one in the world. That was in 2011, when she won the Danish Sports Name of the Year award.

She’s a success story. But very few know how hard she worked as a child on the courts of the Køge Tennis Club, and how much Caroline and her family have done and sacrificed to go all the way.

Like all other tennis kids at the Køge Tennis Club, Wozniacki began by playing with a big foam-rubber ball because it was easier to hit and not as hard to get over the net.

“Ball play takes up most of the time at that age level. They play with foam-rubber balls and often on the half court. It’s about keeping focus on the play aspect so the children stay motivated. But she quickly went past that level and started playing on the full court,” relates lawyer Helene Treschow, who was children’s coach at the Køge Tennis Club while she studied law and coached Caroline Wozniacki for a short time.

Caroline Wozniacki started playing more and more with regular balls on the full court, both with big brother Patrik and her father Piotr, who began coming more and more often to the club along with her mother Anna. It was a family project.

Sometimes Caroline would hit against a wall that’s still standing today at the club, though it’s now overgrown with weeds. But she often trained with her father.

“When Piotr trained with her, it was more concrete: a basket of balls to the forehand, and a basket of balls to the backhand,” says Helene Treschow.

Caroline improved a lot and began to beat older players. She trained with several teams, both those with older players, and with the boys.

Practising with the club champion

At one point, Piotr turned to the clubs best male player, club champion Peter Buser.

“Piotr himself wasn’t very good at tennis, so he got hold of people who could play with her. Piotr asked me if I would hit with her. I was a kid of twenty, and I could hit the ball a bit harder. She was bloody good already as an 8-year-old. She hit the ball well, she hit it cleanly and hard,” relates Peter Buser.

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

He describers the whole family as friendly, nice and very ambitious.

“There was a plan. There aren’t many girls of 8 who are set up to play against boys of 20. She was given harder match-ups to get her used to return shots that came with greater pace. There was nothing accidental about it,” says Peter Buser.

The amount of tennis was increased.

“Piotr was always on the court, whether it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. He took her to other countries to play tournaments so she could see what was necessary. They were thinking big already then. A lot of time and money was spent,” says Peter Buser.

Later on, a new coach arrived. It was Jan Hansen, who at that time was part-time coach at Køge Tennis Club.

She always had talent for her two-handed backhand, while the rest of the shots needed more work

“She improved a lot. Apart from the normal training with the club’s coaches, I spent a lot of extra hours with her. She always had talent for her two-handed backhand, while the rest of the shots needed more work,” says Jan Hansen.

During that time, Piotr became more and more interested in coaching.

“He absorbed everything from the coaches she had, and his interest began to grow. He absorbed what he could use, and what he saw that was a good fit for Caroline. We talked a lot about what was best for her,” says Jan Hansen.

Sunday was an off-day

She began to beat senior players already as a 9-year-old.

“The first time she played a senior team match, there wasn’t a T-shirt in her size. On her, it was a tennis dress”

“The first time she played a senior team match, there wasn’t a T-shirt in her size. On her, it was a tennis dress, and she played against players who were almost twice as tall as her,” says Helene Treschow.

The amount of tennis was again increased, and the weekly schedule was systematised.

“Her whole week was planned. She was off every Sunday, and she could play with her friends. She practised tennis and did her homework on the other days. When she was 11, she often trained in the morning before she went to school, and then again in the afternoon after school,” relates Jan Hansen.

Piotr Wozniacki had been a professional football (soccer) player and her mother had a career as a top volleyball player (ed note: volleyball is huge in Poland). That had an influence on the effort and the seriousness.

“They had an idea about what was needed. They both knew that something extraordinary was required to go all the way. Maybe that’s why it was so planned from the beginning. Some may wonder at that approach. They came from Eastern Europe, where it was more structured and tougher, some might think. But it’s what was necessary to get to this level,” says Jan Hansen.

The family went all the way to make Caroline better.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen a lot of good players, but no one who has trained and sacrificed so much for it. It was a girl who who was trained for one goal or another from the start,” says Peter Buser.

Always with a smile

Caroline Wozniacki herself described the period and years at the Køge Tennis Club like this:

“I often think back to when I was 10-11, and my dad and I drove out to the Køge Tennis Club at 10 in the evening because the courts were busy until then. I’d trained at 6 AM there, and we went out there late in the evening to train some more,” said Caroline Wozniacki to Jyllands-Posten in 2015.

All agree that it was tough on Caroline. But was it too much?

“I never saw a girl who looked sad. She always had a smile on her lips. There’s a lot of talk about how Piotr was a hard man, and he was, but she always seemed happy. I never experience her being forced to play against her will. And they still have a good relationship. He’s still her coach,” says Peter Buser.

Jan Hansen is of the same opinion.

“She loved tennis and she was always happy and positive. She quickly got ambitions because she realised she was good. There were times it was tough for her, no doubt about it. Who wouldn’t feel it was tough while training six days a week? Sometimes her father encouraged her to train. But the vast majority of the time she just trained and loved it,” says Jan Hansen.

At the age of 11, Caroline Wozniacki became senior club champion at the Køge Tennis Club, and a few months later, she shifted to Farum.

“There were better training facilities at the Elite Centre in Farum, and more good players. The family invested so much in her that they moved with her. They lived in Herfølge, but it was too long a drive to training, so they got an apartment in Farum,” says Jan Hansen.

It picked up speed from there, and she became Danish champion at 14, and declared in an interview after that her goal “was to become number one, the world’s best.”

Non of those three coaches have experienced anything similar either before or after.

“What happened then was completely unique. I’ve been a top 10 player in Denmark and seen a lot of talents, and I’ve coached a lot of talented players, but I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anyone spend so much time on it. What they did during those years was completely unique,” says Helen Treschow.

Do you think another player from Denmark will come along with the same level as Wozniacki?

“I hope so, but I don’t think so. That’s why we need to appreciate her. She’ll be gone in one or two years, and there’ll be a huge hole in Danish tennis,” says Jan Hansen.


Translated by MAN


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

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


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

How would you define your role with Kei?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

So he’s a coach’s dream, then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how does he resist the pressure from his country?

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


Translated by Mark Alan Nixon