Pauline Parmentier: The Confessions of an Almost Retired. She almost hung up her racquet in March before finding new wind in her sails and playing with a smile. Interviewed in l’Équipe by @sophiedorgan

My translation of this online piece by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe.

Just before arriving at at the National Training Centre in a small car, Pauline Parmentier took the trouble to tex and excuse for being a bit late. When she gets out of her car, she greets everyone with her big smile, then takes the time to talk about her personality and her career.

The good friend

It’s a role I like a lot. I do it naturally. It brings a lot of good feeling with it. It has a good side and a bad side. People tell me from time to that I should be a bit nastier, think more about myself. When the Fed Cup was over, Yan [Yannick Noah, the captain] to be more forward. Thinking of yourself is fine, but it seems bizarre. You need to find a middle ground so you’re not the good friend on the court. But it’s brought me bigger emotions than someone who lives things in their corner.

It’s a bit crazy with highs and lows. Like me: I’m en emotional roller coaster. I can be really emotionally affected and then suddenly burst out laughing, then be vexed all at once. These emotional Alps mean I experience things totally. At Mouilleron [two losses to the Belgians in the Fed Cup quarters], the pressure destroyed me completely, and I told myself I’d never get back up again. And at Aix [two losses but two excellent matches in the semis against Stephens and Keys), I was on the very edge of crying on court because of the crazy atmosphere.

Her level of play

During Fed Cup week, Yan, who puts so much effort and energy into it, told me that is was a monster performance. So, it wasn’t too bad then [laughs]. I need to hear it from someone. When I played against Wozniacki [win by retirement 4-6 6-3 in Istanbul], even if she had the thing with her abdomen, I felt I was stronger than her at bottom at one point. I thought, “It’s weird. Calm down. You’ll burn four matches in a row and you won’t understand it” [laughs].

Retirement

Before Aix, I wasn’t looking too far ahead in my career. There was a little light … but not on every floor [laughs]. When you take it on the chin 6-2, 6-2 against a girl of 16 [Amanda Anisimova] at Indian Wells [first round], I told myself it was a sign. I had the feeling she was showing me the door. I was afraid of reaching the point where I hated tennis. I wasn’t having any fun on the court. In Tunis I chucked my match away [against nr. 329, the Italian Anastasia Grymalska 7-5, 6-0], something I hadn’t done in years. That wasn’t me. I couldn’t retire like that. I wasn’t going to do it with a shitty attitude at a $25 K. I told myself that if I didn’t restart on clay, it was the end. I think it’s the end soon because I don’t want to play until 35. I have other wants in my life. But I want to end well.

What followed

It’s a bit vague once again [laughs], but I know I’ll pick my programme. There are things I don’t want to do. I know that. You can quickly be weighed down by the rankings, the points. You always chase something in this sport, but I’m not setting any goals. Is it my last Roland? No, but it’s possible [laughs]. I’m not telling myself anything, frankly, I just want to take advantage and surf the wave, keep training, groove on it. I keep saying it, but it’s really what the French team staff insisted on for the last 10 days of the meet. The week befor Aix, I dined with Kiki [Kristine Mladenovic], who was one of the only ones who knew I might retire soon. At my last match [against Keys], she followed me [she changed next to her] and told me: “You’re grooving, you’re grooving.” [Trans. note: the French word is ‘kiffer’, which derives from ‘kif’, which means hashish. ‘You’re stoning’ sounds a bit weird, so I settled on ‘grooving’]

The French team

After Tunis, I was in the dumps, but I was looking forward to spending the time with the French team, even if I was agonising a bit because I was affected by the last Fed Cup. I never got to express myself on the court. It was a bad experience. I was burned out, I wasn’t really playing. I got plenty of messages from people who were telling me they felt sorry for me, and that they pitied me. That was nice, but pity, that’s horrible! That’s just the worst reaction to get on the court. No question of experiencing that, not at that point.

The ‘LOL’ to Caroline Garcia[*]

It was at road stop. There were a lot of things that weren’t managed well at that moment, and we [with Alizé Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic], we started on this thing and it was very, very clumsy. If we could do it over again, we wouldn’t. It was dumb. There we were playing for the French team, and everything was about Caro [Garcia], who ended up being treated as the victim. We didn’t find that fair at all.

(*) April 10, 2017, Parmentier, Cornet and Mladenovic reacted to Garcia’s withdrawal from the Fed Cup team by Tweeting out a ‘LOL’.

 

Translated by MAN

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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

“To prove to myself that I’m alive.” Marion Bartoli interviewed by @sophiedorgan about her illness, being gaslit in a toxic relationship, and the profound reasons for her comeback

My translation of the interview with Marion Bartoli by Sophie Dorgan in l’Équipe, print edition, Tuesday, January 9, 2017, pages 2-3.

After spending Christmas and New Year with her family, Marion Bartoli returned to the National Training Centre (NTC) to prepare for her return, forecast first for March 7 at Madison Square Garden for an exhibition against the Williams sisters, then officially at Miami on March 21. Tired from a fitness session and preoccupied by a meeting with French Federation officials, she agreed to return at the end og last week to talk about what motivated her comeback.

You announced your comeback three weeks ago. Have you received many messages?

I received messages from Serena and Monica Seles. They were very positive messages. When Serena tells me I’m really a proof of courage, that pleases me very much. The same with Monica Seles, who was my absolute idol when I was small. When she tells me: “You’re a Wimbledon champion, something I never was”, that’s something exceptional. Monica advised me to really take my time. She reckons she came back too soon, with a bit of excess weight, and she paid for it with quite a few small injuries. She told me to be very careful and come back at my in form weight. Advice I’m going to follow.

Any messages from French women players?

No, none [smiles], but I’m expecting some.

And Yannick Noah?

Yes, he sent me a very nice message. He told me he was following my comeback, that he’d heard that I was training very hard, and that he was a captain who’d give me my chance if I deserved it. I think he’ll wait for my results, which makes perfect sense.

What’s your daily routine right now?

When I’m at the NTC, I arrive at 9.00, and I leave at 21.00. I do around 3½ to 4 hours of tennis every day, 2-2½ hours of fitness, then the recovery and the kinesiologists. Between sessions, I take a little siesta just behind [she points to the French club’s sofa at the NTC].

Does that rather monastic life suit you?

I love it. I think all high-level athletes love it. To achieve the top results, you have to live like that. It’s impossible otherwise.

You still have the need to prove things to yourself?

I need to prove to myself that I’m alive.

But your organism still suffered.

That’s why it took me a year-and-a-half to get to the correct energy level.

Were there after effects?

Not any more, but I had them for a very long time. I couldn’t eat what I wanted.

Are you obsessive about your weight?

No, especially after what happened to me [smiles]. That lets me put things even more into perspective. Before, I complained a lot after a hard day of training. Today, I don’t experience it in the same way at all, because it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through. I’m happy just getting up in the morning, being in good health, having energy and getting through the day. Going radically to works and losing 10 kg in a month, that’s not possible. On the other hand, I stick to my dietary regimen.

No danger any longer of being skeletal, like at Wimbledon?

No. I’d lost a lot of weight before my virus because of my ex, who made my life hell. He was really a total arsehole. I learned a lot there too. Because of my personality, I accepted the unacceptable. I was telling myself, “no, it’s not serious, no, it’s not serious”, and it completely destroyed me. I don’t want to live like that any more. It’s true, I’d lost a lot of weight, I was weak, and with a weakened immune system, I caught a virus in India that finished me. I was already extremely thin, or even skinny, but I didn’t see it.

You kept hearing you were overweight …

When I retired, I was the happiest person in the world. Then I met my old boyfriend in 2014, and every day he told me I was fat. Every day. When he saw a thin girl on the street, he told me, “you see how she’s thin and pretty”. That wasn’t helpful.

You wanted to get thinner for him and it turned out badly?

Once you’re caught in the trap, it’s tough to escape. After, I stabilised at a weight that was weak, but I stabilised. But at ‘Wim’, that was the lowest of the low. I couldn’t swallow anything any more.

After more than a year, there’s no medical risk in training so much?

Today, I really don’t think I’m putting myself in any danger. If I thought I were, I’d stop. I’ve done every medical test, and everything’s OK. If I increase training a bit and I see that it’s starting to endanger my health, I’ll stop my comeback and I’ll say, “sorry, I pictured it, we thought it was possibly, but medically I have a contraindication, and I’m stopping.” It wouldn’t be a personal defeat. It would just be that, at thirty-three, with everything I’ve been through, my body can’t take any more.

Why start with such a big tournament like Miami? Nishikori and Agassi, for example, decided to go through Challengers.

It’s not the same comeback situation. They hadn’t gone through being close to death. Honestly, I’m not going to put up with playing Challengers. I played the $50K’s when I was sixteen. I’m not going to do it at thirty-three. If I’m coming back, it’s to try and play big matches on the big courts and experience those feelings. It’s not a question of ranking. I’m not going to have a twenty-five match schedule.

Do you foresee skipping clay?

If I start in Miami, I won’t skip. I’ll play a lighter schedule, with Madrid, Rome and Roland. If I don’t start in Miami, I’ll skip clay and I’ll do Nottingham, Birmingham and Wimbledon.

Will you play practice matches to gauge yourself?

The period of practice matches in February will be very important. I need to them to reassure myself and see if I have the level. If I take it on the chin 6-1 against girls who are between 15th and 30th, it won’t be possible.

If you play ranked at 100, you won’t come back?

No way. I’m not coming back to be ranked 100. I spent my entire career in the top 20, and at my best in the top 10. If I’m playing top 100 in February and getting my butt kicked by top 30 players, I’ll really need to question myself. If, with no pressure, during practice sets, with my coach behind me, I don’t have the level, I won’t have the match level. I might give myself a longer training time up to grass, and if I then don’t have the level … I’m coming back to have fun, play big matches and enjoy myself.

There won’t be any shame?

Oh yes, I’ll take it very badly [laughs].

Playing ranked 30 isn’t obvious

– If I have the level in practice, but I can’t carry it through to matches, that’s one thing. But if I don’t have the level in practice, that’s something else. Without any pretension, with my career, it seems logical. I’m not coming back at thirty-three to be ranked 80-100. That’s of no interest. At fifteen, a girl can start the year at 80 and end the year at 20, but not at thirty-three. That’s not going to happen.

And you reckon you have the level?

Yes. I’m hitting well. Is that enough for today’s level? I don’t know. It will be important to gauge it.

Is the timetable you set holding up?

I obviously need to lose some weight, between five and seven kilos. I’ve been playing with a seven kilo weight vest. When I lose it, it’ll be easier. Doctors Montalvan and Barbiche are helping me with my nutrition. After what happened to me, it’s even more difficult to manage. They’ve worked out a nutritional plan that suits me and that I can maintain every day. Right now, the whole plan is working out. My weight loss will be the measure of my comeback. I won’t go back on court if I’m not at the right playing weight.

When we remember you at Wimbledon, we can’t help wondering if you’re putting yourself in any danger by coming back.

If I get there, it would mean that I have an inner strength.

But you’ve already shown that!

I’m not so sure [smiles]. I have to prove to myself at least a second time. Not to others, but at least to myself. I let myself be destroyed by someone and I didn’t think that was possible. I let myself be swallowed up. I’m so happy when I’m on a tennis court that I’m reliving happy times every day. They make up for the “unhappy times”, in quotes.

Do you have a psychologist to help you?

No, because it’s so complicated, it wouldn’t be of any use. I don’t feel like it, it would take too much time.

Your ex devalued you so much, you feel the need to rebuild your self-image?

There’s that. There’s a double process in this comeback, and that’s why I’m putting so much force and energy into it. It’s both to escape this illness, to prove to myself that even if I was centimetres from death, I can once again be on a tennis court and fight for three hours to win a three-set match. And the second reason, it’s for everything that devalued me. Every single day, in an insidious way, he made me lower than dirt. I want to prove I can get back up again.

It’s a rebuilding process?

I came out of Wimbledon [2013] telling myself: “ I’ve realised my dream, I’ll be happy ever after.” I had a huge daily joie de vivre. He took it all. He extinguished it bit by bit every day. He even took away my love of playing. Every time we played tennis together, he did everything to beat me playing doubles by putting himself with the best possible player and me with the worst. He did it even with singles. So, he took everything. I managed to get out of it, but it took time. Eighteen months, that’s a long time. I was very young in a real love relationship, living with someone everyday. But I didn’t think I could be walked on – I had character.

There’s a sort of revenge?

Certainly.

The comeback is doubly important for you.

Yes, but, whatever the result, it will be won when I’m on the court. I’ll never forget Wimbledon 2016, I’ll never forget it. When the doctor told me I couldn’t play legends because my heart was so weak, I risked having a heart attack on the court, when it’s been three years since your name was on the board, it’s a punch in the face, it’s violent! … But I was grabbing on to that. That was it. When I went to bed, I didn’t know if I’d still be alive the next day.

 

Translated by MAN

Piotr Wozniacki interviewed by @johasger: ‘My son paid a price when we concentrated on Caroline.’ On the tough choices made, and advice to parents: “Don’t coach your kids”

Translation of the article in Extra Bladet December 23, 2017, sports section pages 8-9.

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

When Caroline Wozniacki was in her mid-teens, Piotr Wozniacki made a decision that not only was the springboard to his and his daughter’s tennis adventure – it also involved a painful choice. He revealed it when he was answering the question: what would he have done if she had chosen to thorw away her racquet and go another way.

“I don’t know. But I think I would have helped Patrik more,” referring to her older brother. “He was a pretty good footballer, but needed some support and help from me. I made the choice then, when Caroline was producing promising results. That meant that I had to be closer to one of my children than the other. It was tough.

“Without a doubt, being so close to her has been a huge gift, but also meant that I would have to be away from my son.

“We all talked about it together, and I’ve very proud of the fact that Patrik accepted it the way he did. He also wanted to help his sister the best way he could.

“Caroline also understood that we needed to do everything possible to keep contact with Patrick as best we could. The two of them are luckily just as close now as they were then.

“It wasn’t just Caroline and I who discussed things. All four of us did. Anna and I motivated the children, showed them the sports world and told them that if they had a dream, they had to believe in it and follow it. Then we’d support them.”

He turns back the clock 20 years to when Caroline chose tennis:

“She was around seven, and we drove around to a lot of tennis clubs to practise and train with those who suited her best. We lived in Herfølge, and drove to Vallensbæk, Birkerød, Værløse Farum …

He didn’t anticipate that the many hours driving and waiting would turn into a full time job:

“I hadn’t foreseen that future. The daily routine was driving Caroline and Patrik to tennis and football, do homework with them – and I don’t know how many times we ate in the car.”

The mayor of Farum, Peter Brixtofte helped them get an apartment in Farum Midpunkt, so the 12-year old Caroline had a shorter trip to the Danish Tennis Association’s (DTA) elite centre, where she could practise on a dispensation.

“But there were problems with being allowed to do physical training and with travelling. They kept saying, ‘we need to wait a bit. She’s too young.’

“So I made the decision that I had to travel with her, because I couldn’t wait for them while they considered their decisions. We travelled to the big junior tournament in Osaka and won. Then won a series of tournaments.

“She was so young, yet she could still compete at that level, so I thought: ‘We need to do something extra.’

“We got a sponsor deal with Nordea, Europæiske, Sony Ericson and many other small firms we drove around to. My business and sport friends help a lot, and so did Farum Tennis Club.

“It was work eight hours a day with practice, travel planning, physical training and doing marketing by driving around and telling people, ‘this little girl will become a top player’.

“The situation was such in Denmark that there really weren’t any coaches with tour experience we could travel with. We trained with people in Denmark, but I was beginning to focus internationally. When she turned 16, we moved to Monaco, and I began to get help from people on the WTA Tour.

“Nothing was as I’d imagined it. Everything was new to me. Everyday contained a small risk of doing something wrong, and all the while, Patrik was very alone home in Copenhagen. It wasn’t an easy choice, because we wanted the best for both of our two children.”

Slowly the father and daughter began to realise what they’d undertaken. The learned together and acted together. Caroline began early on to book their trips.

“We both began to realise what kind of job we had to do.

“I wasn’t a tennis coach. For the first five-six years, I was the worst tennis coach in the world, but all the talking with others on the tour has helped me.

“We’ve also been lucky in that the little things have gone our way, but, from the start, Caroline was very disciplined and willing to do a lot of hard physical training.

“She saw that I went 120% in for everything, whether what I did was right or not. I think I was an OK father, too. That’s how we could stay together for so long.”

Once in a while he considered stopping.

“It happened once in a while. I wanted to find a better coach for her. But Caroline made the decision herself that that wasn’t optimal for her. She thinks I’m the best for her.

“We’ve always discussed all our decisions together. We’ve chosen the path together. It was always important that we agreed.”

Only the fewest of those sorts of partnerships have lasted and been successful in the long run on the Tour. And Piotr Wozniacki would definitely not advise other parents to try and imitate him. He has quite the opposite advice:

“Get a real coach, and help from the second row. DON’T be a coach –be a father or mother.

“I’ve spent an amazing amount of energy, and we reached an understanding. I don’t think many others could. I’ve seen thousands of examples of the opposite, because parents didn’t get the right kind of advice.

“As a parent, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening, but don’t be front and centre. The kid needs a father and mother to come home to.”

Translated by MAN

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

 

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

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

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

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

But you understand the players’ position …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s important?

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

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

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

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by MAN