Interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman

“Why this book?”: an interview with Chris Bowers about The Sporting Statesman: Novak Djokovic and the Rise of Serbia.  Originally published by Nicole Lucas in Letter&Geest, a Saturday supplement of Dutch daily Trouw (8 Nov. 2014, page 31).

“I had previously written a book about Roger Federer and my publisher also wanted a biography of Novak Djokovic.  At first I said ‘no.’  Djokovic told me he didn’t have time to work with me and therefore I didn’t really feel like doing it.  But my publisher insisted.  Then I said: ‘I want to write a book that is a mix of Djokovic’s history and that of Serbia.’  After all, this is a top athlete who carries the flag of a country that is still young as a sovereign state but has to deal with a heavy inheritance because of the wars of the nineties and rulings of the ICTY, which has marked Serbia as the biggest culprit.  A country that, according to me, is still little understood by the western world.

It brought together my interests. Of course, I am, in the first place, a sports journalist: I’ve been reporting about the international tennis world for more than 20 years.  But I’m also interested in the broader context.  I do not see sport as an isolated phenomenon.  And the disintegration of Yugoslavia made a huge impression on me, much more than the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

Every country has something of which it is not proud.  Let’s not pretend that Serbia has done nothing.  But let’s also not pretend that the Serbs were the only villains.  But Djokovic had to grow up with that stamp—and had to find his way in difficult circumstances.  That is of course quite different from what Federer had to deal with.

While I have not spoken extensively with Djokovic, I did talk with many people from his surroundings.  Perhaps the most important conversation I had was with Jelena Gencic, his first coach—a very special woman.  For me, that was also one of the most inspiring encounters of my journalistic career.  We started talking about music and there was an instant bond.  She didn’t only teach Novak how to play tennis but also to look outside that small world—to Beethoven, to Pushkin, to Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor of the alternating current motor.  How do they enrich your life?  Gencic died on June 1, 2013, during Roland Garros.  I had only met her twice, but her death made me really sad.

I found it much more difficult to write about Srdjan, Novak’s father.  Quite a few people have had problems with him.  Unlike his son, he has not exactly endeared people to him.  Yet, I think it’s important to explain the difficulties he had to go through.  You can say now that it was not always ethical what he did: he insisted, for instance, that journalists wrote only nice stories about Novak, no critical pieces.  But at the beginning of this century, maybe there was not always so much room to be ethical in Serbia.

Novak needed time to break away from his father and to develop himself.  He is not easy to fathom, but inside he is a good man.  What he does is very subtle.  He laughs, jokes, makes contact.  People look at him and say, ‘Nice boy.  Where does he come from?  Serbia?  Then they can’t be all bad there.’

In that sense, he and Federer are quite similar.  Both are not only great athletes, but also international idols that transcend the boundaries of their sport and their country. ”

~

Translation by Nicole Lucas.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Advertisements

Interview with Andrea Petković before Fed Cup

From an article by Michael Eder published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Three first-round losses  the year didn’t start well for you. What did you bring with you from Australia; what did you learn?

A lot.  Australia’s the start of the season—you come out of the off-season and I knew I had done everything perfectly: my nutrition was perfect, went to bed on time, put my whole life behind tennis, behind the training.  That approach I brought with me to Australia and continued there.  In the end, I was in the tunnel for seven weeks and in hindsight I believe that was just too much— you’re empty, you can’t focus anymore.  I have to learn to be more relaxed.

Is it a mistaken impression or have you taken the losses in stride?

In Melbourne, yes.  The singles in Brisbane as well, but then we lost first round in doubles and then—my brain is a weird thing—it started three days later that I questioned my singles match.  Then the doubts started: was it really a good match?  Should I have done something differently during preparation?

Switching off your brain, that doesn’t work?

Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not.  Then I start reflecting on everything and can’t get myself out of it.

The pressure from inside is more difficult to control than the pressure from the outside?

Yes, with outside pressure I don’t have any problems.  During Fed Cup last year, for example, we had unbelievable pressure because we knew we’d flown to Australia for this and could throw three weeks of our clay season in Europe into the trash.  It was obvious: we have to win this, we have to make the final; only then is it a big thing at home—otherwise nobody will care and we wasted three weeks for nothing.  But we were able to handle this pressure; we could use it for better attention, for the necessary focus.  On the other hand, when the internal pressure becomes too strong, when I say: “I want, I want, I want,” then I usually fail.

On the one side a free thinker, on the other side a workaholic — how does that fit?

It doesn’t at all.  That’s my biggest problem: I have a torn soul that I can’t combine. The literature I read, the art I’m interested in—all that is very liberal.  I love the abstract and modern arts; I like artists who break rules.  But then I also have this disciplined animal inside of me that has to press everything into a mold, that doesn’t look to the left or to the right.  Not being able to combine these two sides—that’s the central theme of my life that disunites me.

But you’ve pulled back on the intensity of your training.

Yes.  When it comes to physical training, I have indeed learned.  I’ve reduced it significantly, but I always find a new field to act out my discipline: nutrition, for example.  I didn’t take it to the extreme regularly; but four, five days before a tournament, I did.  In hindsight, those were indications before Australia that I was trying to do it too perfectly again.

The triathlete and Hawaii [Ironman] winner Sebastian Kienle recommends to only subordinate 95% of your life to the reign of the sport, and the training, and to reserve the rest for a relaxed attitude.  Only this way can you be successful in the long-term and not destroy yourself.

In triathlon, your performance is even more measurable than in tennis; and if someone like Sebastian says that and wins Hawaii with this attitude, then you can see how much even pure physical power depends on the mind.  That an Ironman winner says it helps him to be more relaxed and more successful if he shoves a chocolate bar into himself and weighs maybe 500 grams more than necessary, I think that’s very interesting.

If you completely subordinate yourself to the sport — what’s left for real life?

For me sometimes there’s the additional feeling that I lost two years because of my injuries and that I don’t have that much time left for my tennis career—that I have to do everything 100% now and I can do all the other stuff afterwards.  But that’s exactly how it doesn’t work.  I won’t be able to switch my mind on the last day of my career.  Subordinating everything for a goal now and then enjoying everything afterwards, that won’t work.  It’s a very important lesson for me that I now try to enjoy everything, every training, that I try to enjoy the little things, that I take some time off, go to the theater, to the museum—and then not think “Oh god, I won’t have eight hours of sleep but only seven and a half.”

Airports, hotels, tournaments, matches — is world-class tennis a bit of its own world?

That’s true for many fields, sports, acting, art—you have to pull yourself out of this world from time to time.  The same hotels, the same courts, the same people, the same journalists.  Week in, week out, everybody thinks of himself as important, and they do all have important jobs in their fields; but looking at the big picture, we’re all not nearly as important as we think we are.

This weekend the German Fed Cup team will again play Australia in Stuttgart. What’s the attraction of this team competition?

It’s fascinating to see, as an individual athlete, what a team can do, what kind of energy you put out in a community.  And it’s a lot of fun to play for Germany as a national team.

The German [WTA players], with the exception of Angelique Kerber, sometimes play well, sometimes badly, sometimes more successful, sometimes less so— that’s true for Julia Görges, Sabine Lisicki, and for you as well.  What’s behind this lack of consistency?

Often it’s injuries after which you have to work to win again, to regain confidence.  When I was in the Top 10 and free of injuries, I won three or four matches at every tournament.  Then it goes automatically.  You can’t always explain confidence—sometimes it’s just there.  I believe that behind long-term success stands the absolute confidence that nothing will go wrong.  It’s naive, actually, but you need a certain naiveté in sports.  You have to believe, like a little child, that everything is going to be alright.

Where do you see the biggest potential in your development as an athlete?

Very clearly: coaching.  In Australia, my father coached me; we’re looking for a new coach for me now.  It’s important to me that I find someone who fits me perfectly, on a personal level as well.  I want to respect someone professionally, but I also want to be challenged intellectually.  I’m not willing anymore to take just anyone; I have the luxury that my father, who is incredibly knowledgeable, has my back.  I understand that he doesn’t want to travel to all tournaments because he doesn’t want the whole family just orbiting around me and he doesn’t want to give up his job as a club coach as well—and I think it’s good this way.

What does a coach have to be able to do?

Tactics, technical training, know the other players—those are the basics.  The most important capability of a coach are personal skills: to grasp the player.  He has to recognize phases in which the player works against herself and he has to take charge in these kind of phases.  He has to be able to give you a good feeling when you’re losing it.

You’re studying politics and philosophy by correspondence. In this regard, why do we never hear anything of significance from tennis players when it comes to politics? Why don’t tennis players publicly come out against Pegida [an anti-immigrant movement in Germany that made headlines for a few weeks in late 2014]? Sport wants to be cosmopolitan, tolerant, international?

It’s true that we almost never answer political questions.  I believe the more professional a sport is organized, the less the players are saying.  We’re always indoctrinated: don’t say anything about political topics, don’t say anything about doping, all you can achieve with that is to put yourself offside.

Isn’t it cowardly to not use the big influence. . . you have as a top athlete in this direction?

Yes, it’s cowardly—and it’s also something else: it’s convenient.  There’s always pro and contra and that’s why for every political statement you’ll get trouble and reactions which you then have to engage.  And, for me, I don’t play well when I have trouble with someone.

You’re 27 now.  What’s still driving you in sports?  The craving for the big win?  To have a Grand Slam trophy in your living room?

Before I go to sleep, I see myself holding up slam trophies.  I don’t think there’s a Top 100 player who doesn’t have this goal or dream.

And what’s going to come after the career?

I don’t know yet.  I just know two things I’m afraid of.  The fear of myself, that I won’t be able to handle the insignificance once tennis is gone.  And the fear that one day I’ll have a job without challenges—and that I won’t care.

~

Translated from German by Katja.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Interview with Elias Ymer

Ymer: “When things go well, everyone wants to be your friend…”

2014 interview by Linnus Sunnervik, published in the Swedish Expressen.

He’s been singled out as the one who’ll beat the path for the future of Swedish tennis.  Elias Ymer, 17, would have happily walked in Robin Söderling’s footsteps for a while longer.  In an exclusive interview with SPORT-Expressen, the promising tennis player talks about controlling his temper, sacrifices, and the expectations for him.

“I can’t think that I’ll be successful just so Swedish tennis can be good again,” he says.

Elias Ymer methodically chews his lunch of pasta after a practice session in the Salk Hall.  On the TV in the dining room hears his name in SVT Sport’s Year in Review.  Elias shakes his head in amazement.

“What? Was I really in that?” he wonders.

It all happened on a Sunday afternoon in October.  In a few hours, Elias Ymer became a Davis Cup hero and the future tennis hope of the nation.

“Obviously, I noticed the attention.  At the press conference, the journalists talked a lot with me.  And I got a lot of text messages,” he adds.

Getting used to the media.

His coach Peter Carlsson is reclining next to Elias Ymer at the table.

“He’s starting to get used to doing interviews.  But he’s not exactly someone who craves the attention,” he says.

Elias Ymer has made an exception for SPORT-Expressen.  We follow the 17-year-old on a sweaty gym session and tennis practice in the prestigious Salk Hall in Alvik, Stockholm.

Here, Elias Ymer is drilled by Peter Carlsson, who turned a 16-year-old Robin Söderling into a world-class player.

He’s been advising the 17-year-old since December.  The junior is to grow into a senior player during 2014.  The journey begins with three weeks of match play in Israel in January.

“I am so looking forward to getting out there and playing.  When you’re on the road you just want to go home.  But now I’m nearly bored here at home,” says Ymer.

Six months have gone by since Ymer’s first lessons on the big tennis stage: a meeting with Grigor Dimitrov at the Swedish Open.  At 4-4 in the deciding set against the 29th best player, Ymer got angry over a line call—and lost 6-4.

“All are so calm at the senior level.  Even when they’re down, they just think of the next ball.  You never see anyone scream or lose it.  I’ve learned that you can’t flip out mentally,” he says.

Can you just decide to stop getting angry?

“You have to do it. If you let it happen, it’ll eat you up.  And then you throw matches away.  When I think, it gets easier.

Ten three-setters in a row

He calls the match against Dimitrov a turning point.  Three months later, he made his Davis Cup debut as Sweden’s youngest player since 1981.  In the fifth and deciding match he kept the country in the second division.

“That win was also a spark. I started playing even better,” he says.

In what way?

“I got more self-confidence.  I lost so many close matches in the deciding sets in 2013.  After the Davis Cup, I played ten three-setters in a row and won eight of them.  Finally, I started winning when it was close.  It was a shame in a way that the season ended.”

Elias Ymer pulls on the zipper of his training jacket, touches his mobile regularly. And like any other teenager interested in sports, he lights up when the talk turns to the Champions League draw or the Junior World Hockey Championships. When the subject turns to the future of Swedish tennis, the tone changes.

“I’ve always said I want to be in the top 100 first.  There aren’t many who get there.  Then we’ll take it from there,” he says.

“It’s possible for me too”

He’s followed Robin Söderling’s way to the top of tennis.  But as the Tibro native hasn’t played since the summer of 2011 because of mono, there’s no one for Ymer to aim for.

“Robin’s from my area, and he also went to Lidköping’s tennis high school.  If he could, then I can too.  It’s too bad that he isn’t playing.  I’d like to have had someone in the top 100 I could chase.

What do you need to improve to get there?

“My returns.  My serve.  And be able to hold focus for longer periods.  I can play really well for a set, but lose it in the second set.  I need to keep the same level an entire match.”

Sweden has a strong tennis tradition. What do Borg, Edberg and Wilander mean to you?

“I wasn’t born when Borg played.  But you get a lot of respect for being Swedish when you’re out competing.  Someone told me that Borg is like Rafael Nadal, but with two fewer Slams.  I know how big Rafael Nadal is.  So, I get it.”

“Will you do as well as they did?”

How do you relate to the hopes people have in you as the future of Swedish tennis?

“I need to remind myself that I play for myself, too.  I only have one chance at life. If I succeed at tennis, then I’ll have a good life.  And if you become a top 100 in the world, as a player you have something to be proud of.”

He pauses his lunch.

“I can’t think about succeeding just so Swedish tennis gets good again.  But I think if someone manages to get up there at the top… I like to think competitively.  If someone my age sees that I beat a certain player, they might think, “Damn, but I’ve beaten Elias in practice”.  That’s how they did it before?”

Peter Carlsson breaks in.

“We pushed each other forward.”

“Magnus (Norman) always tells me about how he and Thomas (Johansson) worked like that.  ‘I beat Thomas in practice—and he beat that guy.’  When you work like that, you lose respect for the big players.”

More fun than math.

You seem to be very focused.  Do you think about fame and fortune?

“I think you need to understand sport… When you win, you’re king.  And when you screw up, you learn who your real friends are.  If you get a lot of text messages when you’re down, you’ll remember that.  Because when everything’s going well, everyone wants to be your friend.”

Do you sometimes miss having a regular teenage life?

“I don’t think I sacrifice so much for tennis.  Sure, when you’re out doing the worst kind of physical training you might give it an extra thought.  But then I think: would I rather sit and study math instead of train?”

For Elias Ymer it’s simple: tennis comes first.

“I don’t do so much in my free time at home.  I almost get bored.  Now I just want to get out and play,” he says.

~

Translated by Mark.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

Igor Vekić on his daughter Donna’s recent struggles

Comments by Donna Vekić’s father Igor, after she lost in the Thailand Open first round, on the difficult times she’s had of late.  Quoted in “Donna hasn’t tasted the sweetness of the second round for five months” by Anton Filić of Croatian newspaper Večernji List.

“Certainly, that’s not a result we can be satisfied with—Donna herself isn’t satisfied.  But every match is a different story.  After the Fed Cup in Budapest, she’d traveled a long way and didn’t manage to adapt.  And the conditions are difficult in Thailand.”

On her 1-6 1-6 loss to Aleksandra Krunić in Fed Cup:

“Donna missed seven game points.  I can’t say she would have won if she’d taken advantage of one of those chances, but she played a high quality match.  Donna’s simply going through a period every young sportsman or sportswoman goes through.  It’s unrealistic to expect the results to always be improving; down periods are normal.  But she’s surrounded by top experts—above all, her coaches John Evert and Iva Majoli—and they’ll surely know the best way to help her.  It’s unnecessary to put added pressure on Donna by talking about her poor results.”

Donna won’t play until Indian Wells, but will spend time at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida (where Ivanišević and Čilić will also be training) to prepare for that tournament.

~

Translated by Mark with an assist from Ana.

Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

Garbiñe Muguruza and the Spanish language

From “Hispanic Venezuelan or Venezuelan Hispanic?” by Alex Grijelmo, published in El Pais.

Our inferiority complex disappears if we have to share our name of origin with someone else.

Garbiñe Muguruza was born to a Spanish father and Venezuelan mother.  A year ago, she shone at Roland Garros, and with that began a debate about the sporting nationality that she adopted when she began to participate in Fed Cup (the women’s version of Davis Cup), or, later on, in the Olympics.  But this called attention to the fact that, at the time, the Spanish media referred to her as the “Hispanic Venezuelan” tennis player, and rarely “Venezuelan Hispanic” or “Venezuelan Spanish.”  Now, it is still more “Hispanic Venezuelan”—but it’s her decision, not ours.

Good education has led to everyday language placing the speaker at the end of any list, and because of this we say “my sister and I” and not “I and my sister.” When elementary school students make this error of inverting the terms, the teacher often gives them a useful phrase for the situation: “The donkey in front so that it doesn’t frighten.”

We still carry a certain inferiority complex in many areas (that’s why there are so many Anglicisms), but such prejudice is smashed to smithereens if we should share our name of origin with someone: here we put the first name of origin first, so that we don’t get frightened.  The dictionary itself does it when it defines the term “Hispanic” and details two examples of its association with other terms: “Hispanófilo, Hispanic American.”  In the second example, we understand “Hispanic” relates more to language than nationality; but in the first, the option “filohispano” would have fit.  In fact, the term “filo” appears in the dictionary in two places, where one can put in its place (in front or behind): “Filosoviético, anglófilo.”  However, “Hispanic” only appears in front.

We follow this path when describing a meeting between political leaders of Spain and of any other country (“Hispanic French summit” and not “French Hispanic summit”), or when we achieve something with others (“Hispanic Argentine movie,” as it happened in the sensational Relatos salvajes, and not “Argentine Spanish” or “Argentine Hispanic”).

Sometimes the genius of the language forces us, with the slowness and force of a gigantic panda, to order the compositional elements of a word as it desires.  For example, we can express the idea of “the end of a life” through the Spanish element of “kill” or with the Latin “cease” (which comes from caedere, “to kill”).  In the Spanish form, the verb will always go before, while the classic heritage makes us put the Latin element behind, so that there are synonyms and not: “matarratas”, but “raticida”; “matamoscas”, but “insecticida”; “matahombres”, but “homicida.”  And the same altercation between “matacucarachas” and “regicida”, “matahambre” and “genocida”, “matagigantes” and “parricida”, “matasanos” and “herbicida”…

But together with the strictness that stems from the history of the language, the genius of  language does allow certain flexibility with “Hispanic” and “Spanish.” Because of this, we should have sometimes have the courtesy, above all in official language, to invert the terms.  In this way, we would say “Festival of Argentine-Spanish Psychology.”  Because, by the way, in certain cases it’s worth recognizing that the other takes precedence.

~

Translated by Jared Pine.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Kim Clijsters’ thoughts on the Antwerp Diamond Games

Quoted by Paul de Kuyser in the Gazet Van Antwerpen (16 Feb. 2015 print edition, page 19).

“‘Oh shit, what now?’ That’s what shot through my mind when we heard that Carla was withdrawing.

“It was the beginning of a chaotic ten minutes. Some quick decisions had to be made. Before I knew it, I was playing. What was I doing!  But I think the audience appreciated it.

“These are things your neighbours can’t help you to fix. If something doesn’t work in a team sport, you put a substitute on the field. That’s not possible in tennis. It’s obviously far from pleasant to be confronted with such a situation, but ultimately I still look back on a good week. With Andrea Petkovic we also had a top player and a great personality on the honour roll.

“You know what affected me most during the last week? When Dominika Cibulkova couldn’t play Friday night in her quarter-final against Andrea Petkovic. Whatever her reason, it was serious. Proof: she had to withdraw from her next tournament. Dominika found that she couldn’t play and withdrew out of respect for her opponent, the public and the organisation.

“Anyway, I’m very satisfied with the sporting performance. Sure, you’d like to see your top two seeds play in the final. On the other hand, if Bouchard plays at anything less than her best and Barthel plays her best, then she’ll win. That’s how it is in sports and that’s good. Wouldn’t it be really boring if the favourite always won? That’s why I’m not at all disappointed in anyone. The feedback from the top players was also quite good. Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer, for example, had already lost in the first round, but asked immediately if they could do something for us.

“Finally, I found this Diamond Games a unique experience for me—very instructive. Of course, there are things that can be improved and polished here and there, but overall I thought it can be considered a successful event. From Wednesday on, there were quite a few people in the Sportpaleis, the light show and the music introducing the players was better. We can continue to build on this formula for next year, so the re-introduced Diamond Games acquire a permanent place on Belgian tennis lovers’ agenda.”

~

Translated by Mark.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.

Luca Vanni in Sao Paulo

Interview by Riccardo Crivelli in the 15 February 2015 print edition of  La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I’m in a dream,” said Luca Vanni after his win over Joao-Olavo Souza in São Paulo, Brazil.

“These are emotions I’ll never forget, especially when it wasn’t easy playing with the entire crowd against me.

“I’ve always been told that without bad luck I could have been top 50, but right now I’m extremely happy being in the top 100 and maybe go higher. That was the goal for this year.”

~

Translated by Mark.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

If you would like to contribute a translation, please head to About Us to see how to do so.