Nicolas Mahut on being selected for the French Davis Cup team for the first time: “I never give up”

From Franck Ramella’s article in l’Équipe March 4 2015, print edition page 13.

“I never give up.” Nicolas Mahut in l’Équipe to @franckramella

– Just before you got here I was talking with some friends about the team over-35 matches held by the TCP [Tennis Club of Paris] … Just saying that these meetings, they’re my education, my path. At Beaucouzé, my little home town [near Angers], I went along with my mother and father who played over-35 on a county level.  I got the chance to play with all the French teams – in the Winter Cup, Copa del Sol, Galéa or Borotra, all those child or junior competitions. So obviously my Holy Grail is playing the Davis Cup and winning. I’ve always trained with that as my number one objective. I grew up with the 1991 win. I was nine, I was at home, I remember it exactly, I didn’t see the whole doubles because I had a tournament. When I heard that I was selected against Germany, I told myself, “There you go – I didn’t do it all for nothing.” Seriously, I didn’t see it coming at all. I could have been selected before. When I was up to 40 in 2008 Guy [Forget] called me to tell me that I wasn’t far off. I’ve distance myself a lot since last year, but always with the idea of being the best I could possibly be. And if I’m there, it’s because I didn’t give up.

“That’s my trademark. I go all out. In 2009 I was pretty well broken everywhere with my shoulder and elbow [right side], before the Federation held a hand out to my by putting me into one of their groups. I missed five months in 2013 because of my left knee. But every time I fell, I built myself back up going all out so I wouldn’t have any regrets. Because I have a real passion for this sport, because I want to be able to look at myself in a mirror later on. Yes I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t had enough self confidence. I expected too much from those around me for a very long time. I expected them to have answers when it’s the player who has the answers. Climbing back up is learning. Three times I’ve been way down and got back up into the top 100. I think I really have mental resources. The match against John [Isner] us a perfect example. I literally felt what I could do better in terms of concentration. I can still use it in moments of extreme stress in certain matches.

“I’m full of desire, I’m fresh today. I’m lucky to have an exceptional woman at home who pushes me to the limit of what I can do. She tells me, ‘It can last another three or four years, after that you can do something else.’ OK, maybe I shouldn’t tell her that Nestor and Mirnyi are still playing at 43 and 37 … But I’m not putting up any barriers because I haven’t reached the objectives I’ve set for myself. One goal is to go the the Rio Olympics next year. Also to win a Slam doubles. The fact that I played with Mika (Llodra, notably in 2013) gave me a lot, not just his advice about doubles but also because he kept repeating non-stop that if we played together, it was to win a big title. And just by hearing it repeated you tell yourself, ‘Yeah, he’s right, that’s where we belong.’ It makes a huge difference starting out. I have more confidence today, I know myself better. I feel perfectly prepared physically. I owe a huge debt to Xavier Moreau and to Jean-Michel Levêque who have fixed my knee up. If I’d trained like this earlier, I would have had better results. Right now Thierry [Ascione, his coach] tells me he hasn’t seen me play this well in two years …”


Translated by Mark Nixon

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“Gaël will be ready to work even harder.” Jan De Witt, Monfils’ coach, interviewed in today’s l’Équipe

“Gaël will be ready to work even harder.” Jan De Witt, Monfils’ coach, interviewed by @djub22 Julien Reboullet in today’s print l’Équipe.

Why didn’t you want Gaël Monfils to play in the Davis Cup first round?

− Together with Gaël and his physical trainer we’re trying to optimise the time we have available to reach the objectives we’ve set. Part of the time should be devoted to playing high level matches and improving his game of course. But another part should be set aside for working and resting. Look at the best players in the world: Gaël’s the one who had the shortest off-season because of the Davis Cup final and the IPTL. We need to find a balance where his body breathes a bit then gets stronger. He did exactly that superbly before the Davis Cup final where he put everything together and was totally involved.

This balance meant rest now?

− Gaël has played a lot of matches in a short amount of time. So I insisted and ended up convincing him that that it was time to recuperate to build up his body, to find his best form and make sure that no big injury puts the brakes on things again. We’re in complete agreement about that. In turn, Gaël convinced me that after the Marseille final the time wasn’t right for him because he felt the need to be with his team.

Is your relationship with the staff of the French team tense now after this?

– Arnaud [Clément, captain] and “Lio” [Lionel Roux, coach] are doing their job which is  putting the best team possible together for Frankfurt. We’re communicating very well with each other even if we don’t always share the same opinions. Of course we agreed that the team was stronger with Gäel but they couldn’t convince me it was the best choice possible for my player in the current situation. I love the Davis Cup and I want my two players to win it, but as a responsible coach have to look at the season as a whole. In the end, it was really Gaël who showed me how much he wanted to play and he convinced me that he would be ready to work a lot more during our next work session before Roland Garros. Because the big objective − or dream − is to win the French Open.

Is it win-win? In other words, is there some kind of deal with Gaël like: “You let me play the Davis cup and after I’ll follow to the letter everything you tell me”?

− No, that’s not how it works. Gaël listens now − more often than not − to the advice he gets. And there are many things in our working together that suit me, lots of aspects that are improving. Anyone who saw the Marseille final noticed that there were areas of improvement. And you know, I can can be convincing without being menacing. In any case, the player should follow my advice, or what would be the point of working with me?

Have you considered possibly stopping working with him because he’s sometimes difficult to understand?

− No. Gaël doesn’t have the same background as I, neither as a person nor tennis-wise. But he’s a super guy and we understand each other better and better. And remember, when we started working together it was you guys who said that our association was fire and ice. I imagine the ice was me, the cold-blooded German. And if that’s the case how can you ask me now if I want to stop because understanding Gaël isn’t easy? If you think I’m as rational as all that, then I would have realised that that part of the job wouldn’t be at all easy. I guarantee you I’m fully aware of it.

Translated by Mark Nixon

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Jan de Witt talks Gilles Simon at the 2014 US Open

Original source: L’Équipe 2 September 2014 quoted by Vincent Cognet

Interview 

It’s 13h30. In half an hour, Gilles will leave for his practice session that he’s been sharing almost exclusively with Gael Monfils since the beginning of the American tour – a session that’s neither technical nor tactical, only focused on the quality and intensity of strokes. While he’s waiting, his German coach, Jan De Witt, sits himself down in the players’ garden with a cappuccino to talk about the fourth round against Marin Cilic and many other things.

Q : Were you surprised by Gilles Simon’s success against David Ferrer?

Absolutely not, because his level of play has been excellent since Rome. But he was affected by a lot of injuries and he had trouble translating it. I knew that he was in great physical condition. Against Ferrer, it’s nothing but a matter of managing emotions.

Q : Yet their head to head was not in his favor…

It’s not that important. If Gilles is in good physical condition and feels relaxed, he has the level to challenge those guys. You only have to remember his match against Nadal in Rome. It could have been the same scenario against Djokovic at Wimbledon but he got tense too early in the match.

Q : Why?

Stress can arise at any moment, before or during a match. The whole issue for players is to control it. Against Ferrer, he didn’t get tense for one second. We saw the result. And yet, the intensity of the match was extraordinary. I saw David after the match an he told me that he was physically dead despite feeling in good form. It says a lot about Gilles.

Q : Does this physical condition come from the training in Halle, last winter?

There is a connection. But it’s not the only reason. Since the beginning of the season, we organized three training periods. In the US, Gilles trained very hard physically for about ten days. Really demanding work. But if you get tense, it’s all for nothing. Stress is terrible because it makes you battle against two opponents : the player in front of you and yourself. It’s crazy how much energy it consumes.

Q : For him, how does being fit manifest itself?

By his speed: How fast he moves on the court, and the speed of his strokes. If he unleashes his forehand down the line, it goes really really fast. The problem is to do that for three and a half or four hours. The key is to maintain this level of intensity.

Q : Is it the best Gilles Simon you’ve seen since the beginning of your partnership?

Hard to say. He has already played some big matches. But it’s true that his consistency is very good at the moment. It’s linked to the fact that he doesn’t have any injury. His shoulder is fine, his knee as well.

Q : What would you say is Gilles Simon’s playing style?

It’s not monolithic. His style is to adapt. He plays a different type of tennis depending on his opponents. You’ll see, against Cilic, he won’t play the same tennis he played against Ferrer. Against Delbonis, it was yet another type. You have to play slowly (as to not give Delbonis the speed he likes) and high. Maybe that’s why he didn’t serve well : his game plan asked for so much discipline that it consumed a lot of his energy.

Q : How do you foresee his fourth round against Cilic?

It will be a very easy match to prepare tactically because of Cilic’s way of playing, which suits Gilles perfectly. He’s not scared of big servers because he returns very well and he’s better than them in the rallies. Marin can’t hurt Gilles. Impossible. And I don’t think he will. Goran is surely preparing his player to develop a new approach. I won’t talk about tactics for hours with Gilles, I’ll talk of state of mind. I’ll tell him that Cilic is a very good player, that he’ll surely have some surprises prepared, that he’s capable of high level shots. Gilles will have to accept to be led, at least for a certain period of time, even if he plays a great match. It will be up to him to stay calm and think about his options. Because it’s his biggest strength : he’s smarter than the majority of players (smile). But if you’re stressed, you’re not smart anymore.

Q : But it’s unlikely that Simon will start to feel stressed now…

False. A player can very well be calm the first three matches and lose his self control during the fourth.

Q : But where does it come from?

From the expectations that he puts on himself . We’re always talking about the fans, the media etc. who put pressure on the player. I don’t believe that. Even better, I don’t care. Our only objective is the performance. In elite sport, the only real danger is to put pressure on yourself.

~

Translation by Suze (@halyggaly)

Nadal on playing surface for Rio 2016

For the Spaniard, the country would have a better chance in the Olympic Games if the matches were held on clay.

From an article by Felipe de Oliveira in the Folha de S. Paulo (19 February 2015).

Tennis player Rafael Nadal said Wednesday that the surface chosen for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio would hinder Brazilian athletes.

In an interview with Folha, the Spaniard said that he was surprised by the fact that the country opted for hard courts rather than clay, which in theory would be unfavourable for the local players.

“I’m surprised that Brasil wanted that surface [hard court].  Look at history: Guga [Kuerten] was a great champion in clay especially.

It would be logical for it to be on clay.  [Thomaz] Bellucci could even have final hopes; it would be more favourable for him.”

The choice of surface is made by the Organising Committee for Rio 2016 and by the International Tennis Federation.

According to Nadal, the English chose grass for the 2012 London Games to facilitate the performance of their players.

It was a success: the Brit Andy Murray won the Gold Medal.

“The type of surface can have an influence on performances, like at the London Games.  We were in the middle of the clay hard court(1) season at the time and had to play on another surface.  Using logic would be ideal, but there are always other interests involved,” said Nadal.

The Spaniard, who is competing this week in the Rio tournament, is building a training centre named after him in Manacor, his home town.  According to him, Brazil also needs to invest more in talent scouting and youth preparation.

“I don’t believe there’s a lack of talent in such a large country.  That’s hard to imagine.  I think it’s important to have good schools and training centres for the sport to develop more.  We understand there can be highs and lows.  Brazil has Bellucci today, but I think you should aspire to having more players,” said the world number 3, the title defender in Rio.

A fan of new technology, the Spaniard recently announce that he’s using a new racquet that can send information about shots in real time.  “Everything that helps the sport evolve is valid.”

According to Nadal, 2015 will be a year of analysis and recuperation after injuries and the problems encountered last year—he was away from the tour for more than six months.

“I don’t know what I can accomplish.  I’m happy with being at least able to return to the tour.  I don’t know if I can win again and win more titles.”

~

Translated by Mark Nixon.

(1) Corrected from clay to hard court.  Thank you to all who pointed it out.

Please use the comment section for suggestions about the translation; they’re appreciated.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is starting slowly by hitting children’s tennis balls

Quotes from an article by Sophie Dorgan in the print edition of l’Équipe (18 February 2015, page 12).

Tsonga:

“Hitting is a very big word <smiles>.  It’s just having a racquet in my hands.  But it’s always a good feeling.  The stroke, the movement—that’s also why I love my sport.”

Coach Thierry Ascione:

“We’re going to be very methodical for the first fifteen days: thirty minutes, thirty-five minutes, forty minutes.  He mustn’t have any pain when he starts up. We’re watching for that.  Better to play fifteen minutes less and be sure that everything goes well.”

Tsonga:

“With this medical team, we’ve given ourselves large margins.  I’m more or less aiming at the American swing for my return.  If the gods smile at me and everything goes swimmingly, I’ll play Indian Wells (12-22 March), but that’s still far away.  You’re never safe from a nice surprise, but I hope to be back for Miami (25 March-5 April).”

Ascione:

“All he’s missing is the racquet.”

String change:

To save his wrist, the Frenchman has decided to change his stringing from monofilament polyester to mixed monofilament-gut.

Tsonga:

“The feel is a bit different, but I’ve always bounced back and forth between the two stringings.  I’ve played well with both.  I really liked the feel of monofilament, but it’s a lot more demanding physically and I can’t afford to lose any time with injuries.  The goal is to get back on the court.  I can’t wait to get back into that little bubble.”

~

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

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Monfils in Marseille: “I’m not playing well”

From an article by Fabien Mulot in l’Équipe online.

“I played a solid first set,” was Gaël Monfils’ analysis after his 17 February match against Alexander Zverev.  “Then my level dropped a bit because I’m lacking a bit of confidence and I need to get more matches in.  It’s only by playing that I can keep my rhythm and intensity.  But I’m happy because I kept my concentration.  I still don’t have a match that’s a reference point for me this year.  I’m not playing well.  I’m trying to win not playing well.  Winning will help me to express myself. It comes from inside of me.  I didn’t start the year well physically, mentally, and game-wise.  I’ve had it up to here a bit with everyone’s reactions when I say I’m lacking the spark and that I’ll quit.

“When I say that, it means that I have to work on a few small things and I also need to get some rest because I’m all wound up.  I need to clear my head.  I also need to start physical training too.  I’m fine, but I think I can be even stronger.  I’m looking for confidence and consistency.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to play five or six tournaments in a row without getting injured.  If I manage to play well and be consistent for five weeks, I think I’ll be able to last the two weeks of a Grand Slam.  Everything has a purpose.  I’m working with someone who does a lot of thinking (his new coach Jan de Witt) and it’s part of that.  I’m building to go even higher.”

~

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

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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.