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

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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

Umpiring: Aurélie Tourte, a woman in the chair

Translation of this online article

Aurélie Tourte
Aurélie Tourte,  standing on the left, the most highly ranked French umpire when she got her Silver Badge in 2014, travels around the world at the beck and call of tournaments.

It wasn’t love at first sight between umpiring and Aurélie Tourte.

“Me, I liked playing tournaments or team matches for my club in Plaisir (the Yvelines),” she explains. “I discovered umpiring via the ITF Futures organised by TC Plaisir and during team matches. Without being completely seduced.”

Around 20 at the time, Aurélie was taken in hand by two umpires who give her the chance of umpiring in Deauville during the ATP Rennes Challenger. It was the turning point.

“I was able to see professional umpires at work, and it started to interest me. Gradually, encouraged by Maryvonne Ayale, President of the CRA (Regional Umpiring Commission) and the Yvelines League, I got taken with it and started passing my certificates.”

In 2014, Aurélie umpired for 26 weeks (Roland Garros, US Open, Monte Carlo,  ATP 250s, the WTA tour, ATP Challengers), which led to her being granted the Silver Badge in December of last year.

“I was proud about getting it, but it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, as I’d umpired quite a few matches and got good evaluations.”

In 2015, her programme up to June was just as busy: Feucherolles, a Fed Cup in Sweden,  then Marseille, Acapulco, Monterrey, a break in March, the Saint Breuc Challenger, Monte Carlo, Marrakech, Aix-en-Provence, Strasbourg (WTA) then Roland-Garros. The objective was straightforward: getting to know the Top Ten players of the WTA and ATP. “I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. So I need to learn to talk to them, to get ‘run in’.”

Temping as a nurse

Despite careful planning, expenses (travel, hotels, food sometimes covered) paid, Aurélie still hasn’t made the choice between professions. A nurse by training, she takes advantage of the shortages in French hospitals to work as a temp when umpiring gives her the time. Of course, in daily life, the travel isn’t easy to manage.

“Sure, my apartment is more of a furniture warehouse,” smiles the 31-year-old woman who still lives in Plaisir. “And as a woman it’s difficult fitting it into family life.  But now that I’m the highest ranked French woman, I’d like to see where it leads, as there have been only two French Gold Badge umpires in history (Anne Lasserre and Sandra de Jenken).”

Among the necessary qualities required she cites, randomly,  excellent sight, good communication with the players and the public, but also being able to make quick decisions. And especially a strong character. What’s not obvious: “Promoting women’s umpiring is complicate in France as it is elsewhere. You need to find your place in a man’s world. But you learn about yourself, you discover countries, people, ways of life. If you have a passion for it, you must grab on to it.”

This passion has allowed Aurélie to experience some big moments such as the 2012 Olympics, where she was a line umpire for the five finals, and being in the chair for the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros in in 2013.

 

Translated by Mark Nixon

Interview with WTA Rising Star, Magda Linette

Original article: http://www.przegladsportowy.pl/tenis,magda-linette-nominowana-w-turnieju-wta-rising-stars,artykul,604497,1,289.html

Andrzej Soboń: You have been nominated for the WTA Rising Stars event that will be played alongside the WTA Finals in Singapore – is it a big honour in your opinion? How do you like your chances in the voting?

Magda Linette: I knew what nominations were about and I was really glad when I got an email from WTA. I remember a situation from a year ago when I was training with a player who took part in it. It’s an opportunity to see the WTA Finals from the inside. This competition is only a small part of it but it would be a great adventure! I know that Bojana Jovanovski or Caroline Garcia are ahead of me when it comes to success and they’re more popular than me. I’m happy about having been nominated. I’m secretly counting on the possibility that I’ve been able to gain at least a little of fans’ support and that’s enough for the second place which will give me the entry.

If you take a look back at your match against Agnieszka Radwańska at the US Open, would you change something in your game?

I’d play more calmly at the beginning. Now, thanks to experience, I’d know what to expect. I’d be more relaxed coming out on the court, more regular. I wouldn’t give away so many free points, especially at the beginning. Tactics would be similar, it wasn’t bad. I had too many unforced errors. Maybe I could have played more offensively but I got pushed back and gave her chances to play deep and high balls. I could have gone to the net in a couple of key points, play aggressively. Yes, I’d work on that.

Your first match in the second round in a major tournament made you more nervous than usual?

I don’t think so… I was just nervous before a match against Agnieszka. We had a bigger court in round two, I also knew that more people would be watching it. The fact that it was the second round didn’t hinder me, on the contrary, it helped me – I could be calmer because of the money. I earned more, so I knew it would be easier to work during the second part of the season. I gained more points so I won’t have to worry about defending my points from the previews season.

You had your leg wrapped at the US Open. Was it a serious injury?

I had a pulled muscle but that bandage hindered me in the first match so I didn’t put it back on. It’s all right now, fingers crossed. I hope I won’t see more plasters or bandages because I’ve had enough of them lately!

You said you’re focusing on your serve. How’s the training going?

We started working on it not that long ago. I had had some shoulder problems, I had to get stronger. My frame is not too imposing, we had to work hard to straighten it up, to make me stronger so that I could train properly. Before we managed that, when I’d served an hour or more, I had my arm bandaged for a week or two after. The workload was too big. We are beginning to work harder on my serve just now and there’s still a lot to do. We want to make it more effective and sustain it over a lot of matches. Of course, that’s not the only thing we’re working on but we want to visibly improve this element.

You are a bit on the sidelines of the Polish team, you haven’t been a part of the Polish Fed Cup team for some time. What’s your relationship with Agnieszka and her team?

I think that this recent Fed Cup team was really Radwańskas’ team which is still functioning. I just didn’t feel I belonged there. I practise in Croatia, I have Croatian coaches that aren’t on good terms with Polish coaches. But my relationship with both sisters is quite good. We’re not friends but we chat nicely, we joke. And not being in the centre of it all helps. Gives me more peace.

You have a new Fed Cup captain. Do you think he will be more inclined to make you a part of the team than Tomasz Wiktorowski?

To be honest, I hope so. The Olympic Games in Rio are not far and I’d love to play there. But there are rules, you have to participate in Fed Cup in order to qualify to the Olympics. Even if I’m eligible because of my WTA ranking position, I won’t meet the requirements and I won’t qualify. Playing at the Olympics is my dream. It’s amazing, it’s only held once in four years. It would be incredible to be a part of not only the show, but also history. I know I have to earn my place in the team. Before the Fed Cup matches, Ula Radwańska had better results than me. I have always tried to play as well as I can. I couldn’t have had more say on the selection process than that.

What are your plans for the upcoming weeks?

I’ll be in Asia til the end of the year. I did quite well last year, in Ningbo for example. I’ll be playing WTA tournaments now, we will see how I will perform in first five events. If I get enough points to qualify for the main Australian Open draw, I will probably play only those five or six. If my results are not good enough to realize this goal, then I’ll enter some minor WTA and ITF tournaments.

Do you like the Asian atmosphere more than European or the one in the USA?

I like Asia, it seems to me that my game matches well against players here. I like places that are a bit on the outside, there’s less pressure. I’m not used to being surrounded by many people. It’s probably a key factor, it’s difficult for me to hold my concentration in places like courts at the US Open. But when it comes to climate, Asia is more difficult. I like competition, it gives me more energy. I like bigger challenges. Sometimes we laugh with my coach that the more difficult the conditions, the better it is for me!

Does the Asian climate and culture appeal to you? Do you like the lifestyle there?

People in Asia are very nice and helpful. Even if they don’t speak English, which happens a lot in China, they smile a lot and you get it when they say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”  They are very nice, they don’t get angry when you want something from them. They do it in a really nice way and I can’t even get irritated. I’ve been preparing for the season here and I’ll probably do the same before the next one. I spend a lot of time here. I got to like Chinese food but you have to know where to go. When you are with people who live here and who know where to go and what to order, then it’s a nice change for us, Europeans. Asian dishes are incomparable to what we can get in Europe or in the USA. It’s also not very expensive here, even in best hotels. And the standard is very good.

Do you try to find some time to get to know these places during your preparation?

We are really trying! I’ve been hoping to see Tokyo but it’s raining all the time. One of my coaches really likes sightseeing so if I’m not too tired after practice, we try to go somewhere. We managed to see a lot in Hong Kong. We’ll be in Beijing soon, so I hope to go a bit farther and see the Great Wall because I didn’t do it last year and I regret it a lot. I also like karaoke here despite the fact that I can’t sing at all.

Do you try to sing in Chinese?

No, they’re English songs! You can really have a great time here but you have to be willing to learn about the culture and the people.

~

Translation: https://twitter.com/jesna3

An Italian view of Pennetta’s US Open win

Original article: http://www.corriere.it/sport/15_settembre_13/pennetta-l-addio-con-titolo-dell-us-open-mia-vita-perfetta-6d756444-59e8-11e5-b420-c9ba68e5c126.shtml#

In Italian from Corriere della Sera by Gaia Piccardi, 13 September 2015

Flavia is quitting tennis (and had been thinking of it for some time) so that she can devote herself to what she’s always had to put on hold: having a family, making a home and enjoying the other small things in life.

“By winning the US Open, my life is perfect.” It has comes as no surprise or great shock. The 33-year-old winner, ranked number 26 in the world (but who will rise to number 8 from Monday), has grasped every opportunity that life had promised her 20 years ago, when she left her home in Brindisi at the age of 14, culminating in her becoming the queen of New York on a rainy Saturday, when things went a little bit crazy.

Pennetta, who else? There is basically a sense of justice about her success here in Flushing Meadows, which has shaken the tennis world to the core. This is the veteran who is about to bring to an end the cycle of tournaments, travelling and globetrotting routines, and who has now been presented with the loveliest present imaginable, handed to her by the best opponent she could have had, Roberta Vinci.

REAPING THE REWARDS

A scenario, which had seemed until yesterday totally radical, almost perverse (in the US, which was expecting a Grand Slam victory for Serena Williams just like Americans expect pancakes for breakfast, the prospect of a Pennetta-Vinci final didn’t offer any great appeal…), now, the day after, has created a deep sense of reward. A beautiful, happy and rich life for the work and sacrifices that have been made, but one which is anything but normal, just like the life of any top-level professional athlete. Flavia had been thinking for more than two seasons about wanting something else. Such as a house where she could arrange flowers that don’t die because of her being away for long periods of time. A less haphazard routine involving baggage, metal detectors, hours spent on flights, checking in and checking out. A fridge filled with fresh food rather than long-life products which don’t perish. A husband. A family. Children. She has the blueprint to follow in front of her very eyes with her mother Conchita and father Oronzo in Brindisi, who are one of the best-known couples in the city.

THOUGHTS ABOUT RETIREMENT

At the end of 2014, when Pennetta was ready to take the big leap into real adult life, her coach Salvador Navarro had managed to convince her to wait for another season. He told her to enjoy the pleasure for the last time. Just as well he did. On Saturday, in New York she received the prize she deserved. A 7-6 6-2 victory over Roberta Vinci, the first and last grand slam evolving around a friendship going back almost 20 years, sealed by the close embrace at the net and by the exchanges between the players on the court, who had a bit of reputation in their young days, while awaiting the grand award ceremony. “I still enjoy training. It’s the competing side of things that I find hard. I’m going to finish the season and then stop. It’s fantastic for me to be able to make this announcement after winning the US Open.”

Can you imagine any better moment to announce this to the world after confiding in only her close entourage about this? This came as a shock to others, but not to Flavia and those who know her. The relationship with Fabio Fognini, who returned to New York to surprise her by appearing in her box to support her, is ready for the next big step. Flavia has a strong head, heart and legs, along with the courage to succeed after tennis, even in tackling the more difficult challenge facing her – a life without tennis. But with the chance to live life even more to the full.

~

Translation: GJM

Kristina Mladenović: “Sport is in our blood.”

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

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