Novak Djokovic: “I felt without motivation.” Équipe interview with Vincent Cognet and @QuentinMoynet — His questions, his doubts, his bouts with the blues: the Serb answers with a lot of sincerity about the last, sensitive year.

Translation of this Équipe online piece.

Rome was a very important week for you. How much relief did you feel about rediscovering that level of game?

-More than relief, it was the result of very hard work and my confidence in the ongoing process. It’s difficult sometimes in recent times to have a broad perspective. There were days, especially in the last twelve months, where I felt unmotivated because of the injury and the challenges that awaited me. But that’s life! There are days where you just have to grit your teeth and gather all your strength to keep on your path, and others where everything is perfect. It was especially important for me to establish day-to-day goals, to reach my long term goals.. I mean what I had to do with my body and my spirit, improve my game, my conditioning and my mental state to reach the level I wanted. My trajectory has always been rising since I turned pro. I’d never missed a single Grand Slam [before the 2017 US Open]. The last six months of 2017 were very strange for me. Not playing, watching matches on the TV, restarting my training and feeling pain again, it was really a challenge for me. I had to accept it. Those are situations that make you stronger. It was good getting rewarded in Rome after all that I’d been through. It was certainly the best tournament I’ve played in the last year in terms of quality of play. Since the last grass season, in fact.

What are the biggest areas you need to improve? Physically, you seem to be far from how you were a few years ago …

I don’t think it’s the physical. The mental is the most important. I still love the sport. I’m still playing because I still feel the desire. If I didn’t, believe me, I wouldn’t be playing. Being loyal to my character and to my values, never letting anyone influence me and my decisions have always been important to me. I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my career that have made me proud. I could stop my career tomorrow and be satisfied with my record, but I’m not motivated only by winning. I don’t play just to win titles and be world number one. Obviously I would like that! But if I play, it’s because tennis is a great platform to have an influence, especially on children. That’s my objective. All great athletes have the chance to make an impact because of their popularity and successes. I can talk to the media every day. It’s a privilege, even if there are days when I don’t feel like talking to them [smiles]. It’s how I can get my message out: by going on court, by doing what I love, by working, by devotion and fight.

Were you in despair after Indian Wells and Miami, where you were just a shadow of yourself? And how did you overcome that dark period?

I didn’t despair, but I didn’t feel good mentally after Miami, that’s true. Losing in the first round at Miami and Indian Wells, that’s never happened to me before [five wins in Indian Wells and 6 in Miami]. I’ve always loved playing there. So it was a big shock for me, to be honest, not because I of the losses, but because of the way I played. But, after two or three days, I realised that I wasn’t sufficiently prepared. I wasn’t ready physically, at playing level and mentally. I’d had an operation four or five weeks before. I came back too quickly. The doctors did a good job, but no one advised me to come back at Indian Wells. They all told me to wait until Miami or the clay season. I insisted because I wanted to play. I skipped the last six months of 2017 because of my elbow. I took six months to recuperate. I wasn’t operated on because no one told me I should. I started to play again and the pain came back. It was so frustrating! So, I got an operation. I asked myself: “What’s happening? Should I cut out now?” And I was impatient. I know it. I wouldn’t say it was my fault. I thought at the time that it was the right decision. I don’t regret it because I know there was a reason for me playing there, to learn a lesson: be more patient and to deal differently next time. It was serious with my elbow. That sort of operation doesn’t only affect the elbow, but the whole body, my game, my confidence. Everything! When you start to overthink during a match, it’s not good. Everything should be automatic. You don’t have time to reflect at this level. You need to be reactive and play. I started to overthink. “Why am I serving like that? Is it the right racquet? My technique? Am I ready physically? Do I need to change my team?” A million things were happening and I wasn’t mentally lucid enough to face them. It’s different now. I’m starting Roland Garros in in a different mental frame, more positive. I’m more comfortable with my game. I know I can still improve it, it’s not at the level I want, but we get there softly.

Between your title here in 2016 and today, did you have periods when you lost your motivation?

Of course. Quite a few times. I’m like everyone. A lot of champions in a lot of sports ask themselves if they should keep going. And if yes, how? For how long? The balance between family life and professional life? But that’s life! You change as a person, you evolve. Today, I can’t concentrate only on myself and my career. I have two kids and they’re the most important part of my life. Without the slightest doubt. It’s taken me some time to find the right balance: how do you do it? It’s become clearer in the last two months. Before, I had highs and lows. It’s the burden of every athlete on the planet. At bottom, I try to remember to be aware. I play this sport I love and I play it at the highest possible level. There are people on this earth who live in conditions where they have no chance to live their dreams. They weren’t born in the right place, But they’re talented. I know, I come from a country that’s known two wars twenty years ago. All that humbles me. I wouldn’t exchange my life for anyone else’s. I’m just trying to grow.

Why did you chose to recall Marian Vajda to your side? Why at this precise moment? How is he different from other coaches?

[He thinks] I can answer those questions with three words: Simplicity. Clarity. Loyalty. Marian knows who I am, both as a person and as a player. Ten years of working together … When I realised I needed someone to who could help me simplify things, to be very clear about my priorities, Marian was the best possible choice. We share the same dreams. He’s much more than a coach. He’s a friend. He’s shared with me the most extreme experiences on a daily basis. He masters situations. He believes in me. He trusts in me and it’s reciprocal. He’s a man who has values, one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.

That’s far beyond just training sessions.

— Absolutely.

Has he changed the content of your training sessions?

There are always technical details to fix whatever shot we work on. One day, your backhand is impeccable, the next not at all. That’s what practice is for: to maintain a certain level and to feel good on the court. With Marian, we started by going back to basics, to understand well the fundamentals of my game, concentrating on my strong points to bring them back up to the surface. I’ve done it before. We just have to be patient. It takes time to build the body, be confident, be competitive. Marian knows that. I find myself very at ease with him.

Getting back to your elbow problems – in Miami especially, everyone was shocked because they didn’t recognise your backhand any more, your forehand …

Me neither, I didn’t recognise them! [Laughs]

Do you feel better now every day?

Actually, it depends on the day. But on the whole, it’s much better today than it was in Miami, for example. I grew up on clay. I love this surface. I’ve had my best results on hard courts, but Roland Garros is a special place for me. And not only because of my title in 2016. I’ve always had good results here. I can’t even remember when I’ve lost before the second week! [In 2009 when he lost in the 3rd round to Philip Kohlschreiber). The crowd is behind me here. I hope all that all that energy will help me get to the level I want.

What would be a good Roland Garros for you?

I try not to have special expectations. those expectations have been a burden for me for the last five or six months. I know the level I can play at. That’s why the matches in Indian Wells, Miami or Barcelona made things difficult. I didn’t understand it. I started to think about it every single day, to try and improve to reach 100% of what I could do. But, in that regard, I don’t come to a tournament just to participate. I come to win. I hope that my game will fall into place and improve in every round. I hope to put myself in a position to lift the trophy.

 

Translated by MAN

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

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

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

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

From the beginning, what made you happiest about tennis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Did you learn watching others?

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

<Even the black and white ones of old players?

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

Who were your idols when you were a kid?

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

Were you for Sampras or for Agassi?

Neither of them. I liked the rivalry.

Does the history of the game interest you?

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

Can you watch a match just as a spectator?

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

Do you glance at others’ practices?

[Amused] No. Never.

Because you find it boring …

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

Do you watch tennis sometimes late into the night?

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

It’s never bothered you the next day?

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

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

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

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

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

Are you interested in statistics or records?

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

Are you a stats nut?

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

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

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

Beating records helps motivation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you change in the way the tour operates?

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

And in the rules of tennis?*

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

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

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

Do you sometimes play tennis on the Play Station?

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

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

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

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

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

*Added 21:15

Translated by MAN

 

Roger Federer reflects in an interview in l’Équipe with @romlef on his 2017 season, the amazing Nadal and his amazing AO win

Translation of the interview by Romain Lefebvre in l’Équipe December 29, 2017, print edition pages 4-6

L’Équipe has awarded you with the title Champion of Champions in a tie with Rafael Nadal. Does that seem fair to you?

– Yes. Some will say no, some will say yes. I think you can look at our seasons however way you want. Both have done something extraordinary. He finished the year at number 1. He’s even the oldest player ever to have done that, which I didn’t know. It’s something no one has done before, so, from that angle, he deserves it. He made a comeback just like me. Me, I’m five years older, which makes things even more complicated. And I beat him every time. You can mix that all up whichever way you want, but I’m totally OK with it.


Do you have the feeling that breaking back at 3-2 in the fifth set of your Australian Open win against Rafa was a determining factor for the rest of your season?

– It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true. It was that moment that I proved definitely that I’m playing fabulously. I’m playing really, really well. You feel that all the backhands are aggressive, I’m calm, serene. It’s a big moment for the rest of the season, yes … Basically, you’re right!


When we saw you at the inauguration of his academy, in October 2016 – you were both injured – you’ve almost never been apart since …

– Exactly. It’s interesting because it had never been that way before then. We understand each other. In the past, when he’s been injured or operated on, honestly, because I’d never been operated on, it was difficult for me to put myself in his skin. In 2016, when he was doing better, and it was my turn to be injured, for the first time I felt the way he did when he was injured. It got me even closer to Rafa, this understanding of what he went through in the past. On the one hand, it’s nice being at home, of being detached from everything, but, at the same time, it’s an injury. It’s not fun. It’s an operation; it reveals a weakness. I know there are a lot worse things in life with health problems. But for an athlete, an injury is difficult – it may mean the end. We both went through it at the same time, at the same moment. I think I understand Rafa more know than before. Before, for me, it was, ‘yeah, right, OK. I see what he wants to say, but not really … it’s clearer today.


If someone told you in 2010, when Nadal was number 1 in the world, that seven years later he wouldn’t beat you once in four meetings during a season …

– I would have said no way! At that time I had two kids, and I had even more desire. Now I have four. With four kids, I’m not going to beat Rafa four times! [laughs]. It’s neither reasonable nor realistic. But fine, the idea was to play for a long time. The question was: would we still be meeting each other? What will our rankings be? When you’re, I don’t know, fifteenth and twenty-third, I imagine we won’t be meeting each other four times during the year. To meet that often, you have to play at the highest level.


Can you give three reasons why you won every time in 2017?

– There’s the Basel win first of all in 2015 [in the final 6-3, 5-7, 6-3] at home, which really did me good. It comforted me in the idea that if I play well indoors, or on a fast surface, it would always be tough for him. After, I think that our long break acted as a reset for our rivalry. In our head-to-heads, our 2004 matches have no relation to today. We’re now two guys who’ve had operations, among the oldest. It’s another era. I approach the matches telling myself, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.’ My new racquet has given me more options than in the past. Before, my game was more based on a sliced backhand and my forehand. Now, I can do more things with my backhand, and I proved that to myself in Australia against him. That was it. And, tactically, I was clearer in my head about how to play him as opposed to before. The racquet, the surface, the momentum [the dynamic] of finally ending the wins against me, it’s all a package. Plus the fact that I possibly could have won some matches against him I ended up losing. I’m think of Dubai, here, once in the final [in 2006, loss 2-6, 6-4, 6-4], which I shouldn’t have lost, Rome, which I lose in five sets [6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6] in the same year which I possibly should have won, at Roland where I for once had a chance [2011, loss 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1] … All those matches created a sort of spiral which favoured him.


If you’d met him on clay this year, would you have maintained your invincibility?

– It might have been interesting, with the year I had and my style of play, if I could have done well, even won, but no … for me, Rafa will always be the favourite against anyone on clay. So, Advantage Rafa! I say. [laughs]


You played doubles with him for the first time at the Laver Cup. What did playing beside him do?

– It was magnificent. Honestly. Because doubles are even better than practice. In doubles, you have ten seconds to make a choice, and you talk to each other. OK, what will you take? Forehand and I cover that after? No? Go, we’ll change quickly! OK, agreed? Bang bang, boom, bing. And you do that fifty times during a match! Watching his intensity, his calmness, it made me think about myself. We’re similar, we’re always trying to find solutions. He’s a winner. He knows when it’s important, when it doesn’t matter if you miss a shot when you’ve made the right choice. If the idea was right, you accept it. You know when the opponent played well. All that fascinated me. It was really good.


What does he have that you’d like to have?

– I’ve always loved his forehand and his intensity, his ability to concentrate.


You’d like him to have been Swiss?

– Uhmmm … why not? Absolutely. I won’t say no! But with Stan [Wawrinka] we’re doing pretty well, eh! I can’t complain, Stan’s incredible.


Which one of you is a better doubles player?

– Oh … interesting. We play completely differently. In Prague, I asked him, ‘How do you want me to play? More like me or more like you?’ Because I don’t know very well the doubles where you stay at the baseline after serving like he does. I was at the net and the balls we’re whistling by me [he mimes balls whistling by] voom, voom, especially against Jack Sock, who plays like Rafa. Me, I know doubles where both players are at the net, where you try and make a wall and you concentrate on the first volley. But that’s not the way we played. It was ultra interesting. It was modern doubles if you like. He plays that better, and I think I play classic doubles better. I know that’s not the answer you wanted, but sharing that thought is interesting. Let’s say it’s a draw!


Can we imagine you playing doubles at a Slam?

– No. I don’t think that’s possible. We need our rest. We’re both tired after the singles. [laughs].


What’s your best win over Rafa?

– Australia this year. [2017] Yes.


The cruellest loss?

– Wimbledon 2008 or Rome 2006, where I have two match points, playing five hours on clay. It would have been nice beating him in that final, in that magnificent Rome stadium. But Wimbledon, there were so many records on the line: a sixth win for me, the first for him, in the dark like that at the end [night fell at the moment of match point, at 9.16 PM]. It was extraordinary …


Let’s get back to this year. Did you play your best tennis in the States at Indian Wells and Miami?

– I played well, but I had trouble in a couple of consecutive matches in Miami. Against Bautista, against Berdych, Kyrgios. Finally, I had a lot of luck against Berdych. Everyone’s forgotten, but I had match point against me on his serve. On his second, he hits 190 to my forehand. It’s times like those that can change the course of a season. Against Kyrgios, too. It was very, very hot. I played well that day, but in Miami, during the day, I suffered a lot because of the wind. You don’t play your best under those conditions. Or the feeling isn’t always the best. It’s not like Australia, where there’s never a breath of wind. After six matches on Rod Laver, you know every inch of the surface. You can’t play any better in the fifth set. While in Miami, during the day, you have the sun in your eyes from an angle, it’s windy, and you can’t go for the lines! It’s still an excellent tournament, and I really surprised myself in the final against Rafa. Because I told myself, ‘OK, I beat him in Australia and in Indian Wells,’ but, honestly, I was tired. At the warm-up with Seve [Lüthi, one of his coaches], I told him: “Listen, I’m going to try my best.” And he answered: ‘If we’d told you at the beginning of the season you’d make a final in Miami, you would have taken it, even without Australia or Indian Wells. Just this final!’ It gave me a good feeling, good energy, and I ended up having a very good match. My head was clear one more time, after the break back at the Australian Open, I guess. I saw that certain things were working and I kept it up. It was pretty great, right.


During all that, you make the decision of not playing on clay …

– Yes. Late on, actually. Because I was on clay. I told myself: I’ll see how I feel, where I’m at. Honestly, it was a coin-flip situation. I remember exactly where we were and how we decided. My entourage told me: ‘If you do it, Roger, think it over carefully. Because it will be a month where you’ll work like crazy. It won’t be easy, and what will it get you? Because if you don’t win Roland … And my physio was worried about my knee that had bugged me the year before. My conditioning coach, Pierre [Paganini] told me: ‘Listen, there’s so much work to do before playing on clay, and, in the end, what’s the goal? Just playing? It’s your decision.’ The coaches told me: if the priority is Wimbledon, you have to really think about it. Twenty-four hours later, I told myself: bah, you know what? OK, it’s tough, but it’s wise. It was the first time in my life I said no to a Slam while feeling healthy. Because the year before I pulled out of Roland with a bad back and knee, and I couldn’t play the US Open because of the knee. There was a solid reason each time. But this was a first and it was weird, yeah …


In hindsight, wasn’t it the best decision you made this year?

– No, no. It doesn’t give me any pleasure withdrawing from a tournament. I’m still a competitor. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad decision, but it wasn’t a good one either, if it had turned out I could play on clay anyway, and still play on grass after, like I’ve done my whole career, in fact. Even in hindsight, I see what you mean, but I won’t accept it. It was an important and difficult decision to make because I was healthy.


And then there was Wimbledon glory. What do you remember?

– Oh it was quick. All of a sudden [snaps his fingers], I won my eighth … especially looking at Australia, where I didn’t know. Everything was fragile on my side. I had five-setters, Nishikori, Stan, Rafa, I fought a problem with my adductors for five matches … While at Wimbledon, I arrive, three sets, then three sets, and all of a sudden, I’m in the quarters, the semis, the final and it’s over. It’s a great satisfaction because I’d played so well and worked so hard since the previous year when I lost to Raonic. The idea was, if I made it back this year, that’s where I wanted to be at the top of my game. And finding yourself at Wimbledon in that situation, you, your team, your fans, Switzerland, it’s a very nice moment in the career of a player. Especially when you achieved what was your main goal the previous year. With my knee problem, I’d told myself that everything that came before Wimbledon was less important. I constructed the situation well.


What gives Roger Federer the most satisfaction: the complicated fight at the Australian Open …

– [interrupts] That. Regardless, that.


… or the train that arrives on time at Wimbledon for a final without a lot of emotion against an injured Cilic?

– I didn’t realise that at the time, luckily. I still had the satisfaction of winning against him as if he weren’t injured. It’s only after the final that I heard how much he was hurt. Because I didn’t see him cry during the match. And I imagine it was better for me not seeing that. Regarding my 2017 season, it’s Australia above all for sure. With that incredible match, with everything that happened up to it, the comeback. The emotions were huge. While with Wimbledon, I looked at the record I’d achieved, my eighth. That’s it.


Can you guarantee your numerous French fans that you’ll play agin one day in Paris?

– No, I can’t. Because Bercy is always after Basel and Roland Garros on clay, I don’t know what will happen next year. I’d like to say yes, absolutely, I’ll come back and one day in Paris, and I think that will happen next year. It may be twice, it may be never. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. The longer I stay on the tour, the bigger the chance I’ll return to Paris. Obviously, it’s tough for me to imagine never playing Roland or Bercy again, but the future is unknown.

 

Translated by MAN

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

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

 

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

How would you define your role with Kei?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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


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

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


So he’s a coach’s dream, then?

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


And how does he resist the pressure from his country?

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

 

 
Translated by Mark Alan Nixon

In the Players’ Lounge in Toronto, by @QuentinMoynet of l’Équipe

Translation of the article Salon de recréation by Quentin Moynet in l’Équipe of July 30, 2016, page 25.

The Players’ Lounge – Toronto

The players’ lounge is a separate part of tennis players’ lives, where they’re pampered. We spent a few minutes in the one in Toronto.

‘When will Mr. Anderson’s hairdresser arrive?’ Seated behind a desk, the volunteer notes down the South African’s appointment. The notebook is full. The hairdressing service is one of the most used by the players, along with massage. All these requests are made in the Players’ Lounge, an essential part of every tournament on the professional tours. Some spend several hours a day there, others content themselves with passing through on the way to the dressing room. In Toronto, organisation members are there from  7 AM to Midnight to answer all the requests of the players, their staffs and families.

At the entrance, to giant security men only allow through those with the right letters on their accreditation. “M” for the media isn’t one of them. “You must be accompanied by an ATP member to enter and to leave,” we’re told.

Escorted by an “A” letter, we find a small Ali Baba’s cave. Several newspapers, both foreign and domestic, lie on a table. Julien Benneteau glances at them, but doesn’t appear to see anything he wants. Beside it, there’s a corner with sweets, and cupcakes decorated with Canadian flag frosting. ‘Those are dangerous,’ says a coach, smiling. ‘A bit won’t hurt,’ says the barmaid, who serves tea, energy drinks, but also alcohol.

Life in the players’ lounge is permanently accompanied by the clicking of a ping-pong ball. The table is much more popular than the pool table a few metres farther along. “Most don’t know how to play pool. They’d bury the cue tip into the felt,” murmors the ATP official who is escorting us. It’s different with a racquet. The young Canadians Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Benjamin Sigouin play matches and exchange bursts of laughter. “They never stop, they’re tireless,” whispers our escort. “You can see they’re still kids. Félix is only fifteen!” Then Nick Kyrgios arrives. The Australian grabs a racquet and imitates players. ‘Here I’m Roddick!’ From a seat in front of him, the Czech Radek Stepanek says to him, ‘why don’t you put as much intensity into it on the court? You’d have better results!’ Kyrgios stops, smiles, then continues.

Further away, some players are sitting comfortably on the large sofas at the end of the room, watching the matches on the television. In a few minutes or a few hours, the break will end and it will be their turn on the court. Perhaps with a new haircut.
Translated by MAN

Stan Wawrinka in l’Équipe on playing Novak Djokovic, friendship and his career

Translation of this piece by Julien Reboullet @djub22 in l’Équipe.

CONFIDENT

‘Novak: I can’t wait to play him again’

‘What does it give me, concretely, to be introduced as the “anti-Djoko” solution? Pleasure, obviously. But, having beaten him twice in Slams and pushed him to the limit at other times, it especially gives me confidence. In fact, I completely shook up Novak at Melbourne in 2013 (12-10 loss in the fifth set), our Slam matches have always been very close. USO semi in 2013 lost in five sets, quarter at the AO 2014 win in five, semi in Melbourne in 2015 lost in five, and finally my Roland win (4-.6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4) of course …

‘But as I often say, you still have to play him, and considering our rankings, it can only happen at the end of big tournaments. Most of the time, he’s there and I’m not .. It’s too bad, because I love playing him. Because playing the best is what I love the most. They’re the ones who give you the most problems. Playing Roger (Federer) in the semis of the last US Open ? I loved it. I lost in three, but I loved it. Novak, obviously, I can’t wait to play him again. My regret last year was not winning my QF at Wimbledon (lost to Richard Gasquet) to meet him in the semis, because then I’d have played him in every Slam.’

OPTIMIST

‘Some sand can get into the machinery’

‘I’m not the only one who has the weapons to bother Novak in a Slam. Roger has everything necessary. Was it because of mental problems or playing level recently? Only he knows, because he’s the one who lived through the matches. He he didn’t miss by much, he had so many chances. (loss in five sets, Wimbledon final 2014, then in four, Wimbledon final 2015, US Open 2015 and the semis at the last Australian Open). How long will Novak’s grip last? One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: Roger dominated in the same way for a long period. And during the years he was largely on top of everyone (between 2004 and 2007, especially) we heard people say: “But there’s no one who will beat Federer in the next five years”. Except that didn’t happen. And Nadal, the year he imposed himself (2010), we heard them say: “OK, he’s going to win three slams a year for the next four years.” But the year after, his level dropped.

‘I think some sand can get into the Djokovic machine. When Novak is 100% and everything is working, like right now, no one can take him. What he produces is incredible. And that’s not going to change from one day to another. Just look at what happened after his Roland loss last year, he was huge (only three losses for the rest of the season) …

‘But getting back to the question: if, in 2016, finally, he only wins two slams, will we still say he’s dominating or it’s changed compared to last year? A little grain of sand, two losses in the semis at Slams and that would change his year, which would still be exceptional and he’d still be world number one. I think the change will mostly come from Novak himself. Just like Federer at the time: we didn’t see how he could lose, and the answer came from himself.

ALTRUIST

‘If I can help them, I try’

‘It’s true that I played a role in Mikael Tilstrom’s (Swedish coach) and Gaël Monfils’ association. Gaël he’s a friend, and we talked about it in August of last year. I saw that he was uncertain (about whom to work with), so I tried to add some depth to things. I asked him to name me some coaches he’d like, and he mentioned Tillström, saying he’d asked him two years ago, but Mikael had said no. And Gaël didn’t want to ask again, thinking he still didn’t want to. That’s when I acted a bit as an intermediary. I tried to convince Gaël to try again, and, at the same time, I tested the waters with Magnus (Norman, who works with Tillström at the Swedish Good to Great academy). I went back to Gaël and told him the answer might be different this time. He was trying to find himself, he didn’t know in which direction to go but he wanted to. I hope it works out.

‘Friends? If I can help them, I try. I don’t think about competition. In Chennai, at the start of the season I talked a lot with Benoit (Paire), and gave him my thoughts on a lot of things.And then Yannick (Fattebert, a friend his own age from Valais, Switzerland who follows him on the tour for a few weeks every year as a hitting partner) who was there told me: “It’s incredibly cool what you’re doing, because he’s an adversary.” Maybe, but Benoit is a friend. OK, he’s a potential adversary, but first of all, so much the better if he progresses and, secondly, how many times will we face each other during our careers? If Gaël improves because of Tillström and beats me, it won’t change my life, it can just change my week [smiles].

NO LIMITS

‘I hope to be at a very high level at 35’

‘I don’t look ahead but my goal is to play for a long time. I hope to be at a very high level at thirty-five. But is this very high level 15th in the world, and that would be good because I’m not Federer? Or is it top 10? I know how fast things can change. So I don’t set goals, but I don’t set any limits either. And that’s why I won the Australian Open in 2014 and Roland in 2015. I never tell myself: “I’d like to win this Slam” or “I’d like to win this Masters 1000”. That’s not me and, in any case, I’m not strong enough to do it. My goal is to be in top form each time I go on court. That’s my way of managing things so sometimes, like last year at Roland, something big happens. I’m not as strong as the best. They’ve been there for ten years, me, I’m new. I feel strong enough to beat everyone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.

‘With Magnus (Norman, his coach), we haven’t set any time limits. It’s important that we both want to see each other, to train and to look a bit further ahead. I think we’ll both know immediately when that’s no longer the case.’

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