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

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.

Exactly.

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 my 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.’

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

Interview with Novak Đoković by @franckramella in l’Équipe https://abonnes.lequipe.fr/Tennis/Article/Novak-djokovic-andre-agassi-va-se-donner-a-100/805350 (paywall). This version is taken from the print edition, May 29, 2017, pp. 2-4, Rolan Garros supplement.
Thanks to you, we’ll have Dédé back on a court …

Dédé – who’s that?

 
In France, it’s the nickname for André …

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

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

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

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

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

 
Do you remember the first time you met him?

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

 
You kept in contact?

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

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

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

 
Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MAN

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 https://jyllands-posten.dk/protected/premium/sport/ECE9261914/det-var-en-pige-der-blev-traenet-efter-et-eller-andet-maal-helt-fra-starten/

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

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga : Having a child reverses your priorities. Interview by @david_loriot of l’Équipe

Translation of the interview by David Loriot @david_loriot in the November 1 edition of l’Équipe on pages 14-15. A shortened version is online (subscribers only) at the Équipe web site .

 

A finalist Sunday in Vienna against Andy Murray, the Frenchman arrived in Paris beaming. His body feels good, his game is consitent, and a happy event is awaiting him as he’ll become a father next spring.

In the Pullman Hotel in Bercy, a few steps from the hall where he will begin his Paris Masters 1000, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is wearing a frank and warm smile. Yet, 2016 hasn’t really smiled at him up to now: not one title in his basket, one Masters since 2010, a knee that bothered him all of the spring and summer, or almost, retirements at Roland Garros and at the US Open, a withdrawal from the Davis Cup semi-final … in short, a bland season where the thirty-one-year old Le Mans native bounced between doubts and frustration.

But now! A warm wind has seems finally to be blowing his way. At Shanghai, and especially in Vienna, the 13th ranked player in the world has just put back-to-back tournaments together without the least physical worry! It’s bold to expect him to tumble in Paris after an Austrian final against the monster of the moment, Andy Murray. Andy, the big chief, who even flew his worthy opponent to Paris in a private plane Sunday evening! A good thing rarely comes alone, and it’s not just tennis that is going well for JWT. His partner, Noura, is pregnant, and Tsonga is convinced that his coming fatherhood, forecast for the spring, will make him stronger in 2017.


What feelings does this fragile 2016 leave you with, going between recurrent knee worries, doubts and frustrations?

— It was an eventful and difficult season. I went through quite a few different states of mind to sum up. On the emotional level, this year was a bit one to forget because nothing turned out well. I chose in February to travel to South America where I’d never been. It was on clay, and I told myself that it could be a good idea. But it took a lot of energy and it drained me a bit mentally, partly because I didn’t win many matches (one in two tournaments) and my knee started hurting there. Everything after was dictated by that. I had to retire at Roland Garros, I retired at the US Open, I didn’t play the Davis Cup semi-final when the mood on the team was fabulous and I’d never experienced a Davis Cup like that before! All that was very frustrating for me.


How do you manage a season with a knee that’s permanently painful?

— It’s complicated. I was going to tournaments telling myself, “I’ll do what I can with what I have”. The doctors were telling me: “We don’t think that it will get better because your knee is structurally damaged. You need to manage it.” It wasn’t easy.


But it will be like that until the end of your career?

— Actually, yes and no. Last week in Vienna and a bit before, in Shanghai, there was an improvement. In Vienna I put together five matches without the least bit of pain. The last time that happened to me was in Toronto in 2014 (his second Masters 1000 title), and that year was the only time that happened! Before that, I don’t even know how far back I need to go.


You just been through a blessed week!

— In terms of feelings, of game level, it was the best week of the year. Physically, it’s a super positive week. It gives me a bit of hope and mentally it’s bloody good. I told myself, “it’s not over yet”. The more you hurt, the more you feel your objectives are moving farther away. But when you have two, three weeks like the last one, I tell myself I’ll see my objectives again.


What is your objective for this Paris Masters 1000?

— I hope for the best (smiles)! But we’ll start by concentrating on the first match and the first guy I meet (Albert Ramos, winner yesterday evening over Stéphane Robert).


The London World Tour Final, which you could qualify for by winning Paris, is it in a corner of your mind?

— I’m really not thinking about it at all, because it doesn’t only depend on me. In my head, the objective is to really take advantage of this tournament. With more maturity, I’m noticing that all events are important to me. When I play in a tournament, I want to win. I don’t do it to climb five spots in the rankings.


That’s almost swimming against the current. Generally, it’s when you’re a young lion that you want to win everything. Then, with experience, you make choices, no?

— I had a brief period where only certain tournaments interested me. It’s as if tennis has become even more attractive to my eyes, and suddenly I’m hungry for wins. I’ve created an environment around me now, personnel, technical, that makes me feel better.


You mentioned recently your sinus operation and dental surgery, small things that have echoed visibly and well on your physical health. What role did it play?

— First of all, the sinus operation was necessary for my general health. I had infected sinuses which could affect my joints and especially my tendons. It was important to have the operation under local anaesthetic to reduce the inflammation. In any case, it’s a door that’s been closed, and all the doors I can close on my way is good for my performance. It’s sort of like erasing all the errors so the copy can be as good as possible.


If the body holds up, 2017 can be a good year for Tsonga?

— It will be an interesting year in any case, and I hope I can go into it by having the best prep ever! And the year 2017 will also be different because Noura (his partner) is pregnant and I’m going to be a dad with a little baby! I’m very family oriented; I need that and it could be a motor. But I’ll need to manage my calendar and my season.

That’s great news, and not trivial for the course of a career. Did it make you get perspective and change your priorities?

— Of course. Having a child reverses certain priorities. It’s about turning all that into a positive. I’m almost convinced it will be something very positive and that it will make me want even more to do well.

But you won’t be tempted to give up certain tournaments to stay with your partner and child?

— Absolutely! That’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. What’s also a certainty is that it won’t cause a dip in my desire in the tournaments I do play. Both are vital for me. Having a child is something I’ve always wanted.

Do you think you’ll be a better tennis player being a family father?

— I think so, yes. In any case, since I learned about it, I have the feeling things are going in the right direction. When you start your career, it’s often only tennis that counts. But with maturity you notice that life is filled with nice things, and it’s not only victories that come above everything. For me, well-being is primary. Sure, sometimes well-being comes through a win, but also through news like this.


You were talking about your frustration with the Davis Cup semi-final withdrawal. Gaël Monfils didn’t play that semi-final either after leaving the team at the last minute. What are your thoughts on all that?

— I must admit I really don’t want to talk about it. My opinion is of little value. With that sort of thing, each thinks his own thoughts. Every individual is different, and you can’t fit everyone in the same box. Some fit, others a bit less. The goal is to arrange things so everyone is there one day.


And you’ll be on this team for the first meeting in Japan next February?

— Next year will be very particular for me because of the birth. Obviously I won’t be able to have a year where I won’t be with Noura, leaving her to manage everything alone.


So it’s a meeting you’ll be missing?

— Honestly, I have no idea right now. I need to talk with Yann (Noah).


A body that’s fit, a game that’s improving, a child coming: you’re a happy man right now?

— Yes. All in all, I’ve always been. But today you can say I’m satisfied. Nothing in my life is difficult except, perhaps, the quest for the Grail (a Slam win) But it’s so much pleasure at the same time. I’m a bit of a masochist, taking pleasure in hurting myself!


When you played Andy Murray in the final the day before yesterday, did that let you realize what you’re missing to be a rival to the very best in the world?

— I need matches against them. Playing them more regularly would be value added for me. You play on confidence. The fact that I grabbed onto him in the second set by having a super game level encouraged me for the next time. It allows me to have more certainty when I arrive at those type of matches and to eventually turning the corner.


Where are you in your search for a super advisor to strengthen your technical staff? Gustavo Kuertin was mentioned at one time …

— He was very busy. It was very complicated and it wasn’t really a good fit with what I was looking for. But the search still interests me. But it’s not an easy thing. I need to relate on a very basic, human level above all. I’m a competitor, but I need to nourish myself with solid human relationships and when I don’t have that, I have problems bonding.


Is finding the right person for 2017 a priority?

— I’m not putting any deadline on that. Now, I have the impression I have a good dynamic and I’m not going to break it for something I’m not totally convinced of. The best players in the world have one thing in common, and that’s that they all believe in what they’re doing. And the goal for me is being in that state of mind and believing 100% in what I’m doing.

 

Translated by MAN