An Italian view of Pennetta’s US Open win

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

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

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

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

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

REAPING THE REWARDS

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

THOUGHTS ABOUT RETIREMENT

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

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

~

Translation: GJM

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“I’ll continue as long as I can” – Amélie Mauresmo on Fed Cup and a bit about Murray – interviewed by l’Équipe’s @sophiedorgan

From the Équipe print edition April 16 2015 page 13. Interview by Sophie Dorgan

Amélie Mauresmo, pregnant, won’t revise her commitments with the French team. As for her coaching role with Andy Murray, she hopes to be with him until Wimbledon, then take stock with the Brit.

In a friendly atmosphere, the French Fed Cup team gets set to take on the current title holders, the Czech Republic, in the semi-finals Saturday and Sunday in Ostrava. Caroline Garcia, who arrived on Monday a day after her team mates, is recovering and her partners are acclimatising themselves to a surface considered “neutral” by Alizé Cornet, not too fast, not too slow. As for the captain, Amélie Mauresmo, who’s had the job since 2012, she prefers only to talk tennis. She only talks about her pregnancy, which she made public a week ago, in passing before coming back to her priority for the week: the Fed Cup.

You announced your pregnancy last Thursday, with the birth expected in August. How will that change your calendar?

It won’t change any of my Fed Cup commitments. As for Andy, we’ve talked about continuing as long as possible, which means including Wimbledon [June 29-July 12]. After we’ll talk quietly about the follow-up to our collaboration [begun last summer].

You’ll be making a professional choice?

“Of course.”

You say it changes nothing for the Fed Cup, but if you win this weekend [the final is set for November 14-15. The other final this weekend is Russia-Germany], you won’t be able to follow your players. Will you function differently?

I won’t be at the US Open [August 31-September13], but that won’t change things much. Since I started working with Andy, I’m not at all of their matches. There’ll be times when I can talk to the girls. I’m not at all worried about that. I’ve known them for a few years now. If someone needs to be with the French or their opponents, Gabi [Urpi, coach of the French team] will take care of it.”

I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it

We know that you were pregnant during the last meeting with Italy [3-2, February 8, last round]. It must have been wrenching emotionally?

I totally cracked at the end [smiles]. It was very tough. It would have been in any case having just arrived from Australia [after the final lost by Murray to Djokovic] together with the fatigue from the trip and the intensity of accompanying a player of that level to the final of a Grand Slam. I had the duty and responsibility of steering this French team into becoming the best it could be. It wasn’t easy, but it’s probably one of the best weeks we’ve ever experienced.”

To what do you attribute this French team’s success? Mature players, a solid staff and a bit of luck?

When you talk about achievement in sport, success is inevitable at certain times. But you have to induce them at a certain point, make some choices that are a bit daring, be strict about certain things. I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it. We have a young team, the girls are maturing, improving and realising so many things individually. I always tell them: “The stronger you are individually, the stronger the French team is. And the group gives you things as individuals.”

You’ve evolved too in your role.

Of course, I learn during every round and outside about how to position myself in relation to their individual structures. Now there’s a symbiosis.

How will you tackle this meeting with the Czech Republic?

It’s a heck of a challenge. What happened during our last round has expanded our horizons, even if we’re far from being favourites. The goal is to play our cards right and be opportunistic this weekend.

There’s a lot of talk about the return of Petra Kvitová, who was absent from the American swing [fatigue]. What are your thoughts?

We don’t know. That’s why we’re not focussing on Kvitová [ranked 4 in the world]. We haven’t seen her compete recently, first of all, and we’re not sure she’ll be on court. So, perhaps more so than in other rounds, we’re concentrating more on ourselves. The girls have all arrived in different states, and our priority is getting into the best shape possible Saturday and Sunday.

You’ve taken on a left-handed hitting partner, Jonathan Dasnières of Veigy, to prepare for possible lefties Kvitová and Šafářová (13th)

I like everything to be covered. It might be the little detail that makes the difference. If the girls who have hit with “Jon” hit a winner on break point off a lefty serve, there you go … It may not happen, but we’re giving ourselves every chance.

Translation by MAN

“I can be very tough on myself”: Interview with umpire Louise Engzell

“I can be very tough on myself”

From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Tennis.se.

After the Swedish tennis miracle, a new blue and yellow has taken over the tennis world. In an interview, umpire Louise Engzell talks about the work behind the scenes on the international professional tennis tours. “We take a lot of crap sometimes,” she says.

Umpiring Grand Slam finals on the tennis world’s greatest scene was far from a childhood dream.  As a youth, Louise Engzell had her eyes opened to umpiring when, much against her will, she umpired matches at her home club of Sollentuna.

“We were forced to take a course when we were quite small, and that’s the way it went. I didn’t think much of it at all at the beginning. Later on we took another course and it began to be fun. We could take part in the Kalle Anka (the present SEB Next Generation Cup) in Båstad, start to travel a little and then take part in the Swedish Open and the Stockholm Open,” says the 34-year-old whose career starting point came after taking an Elite-level umpiring course.

No one needs to force her into the umpiring chair today. She said yes to going home to Sweden for the Davis Cup tie in Jönköping to work during her holidays.

“The best part of being an umpire is the challenge. You never know what awaits you when you go to work,” says Engzell, who has lived in Paris for the last few years.

What is the worst part?

“We take a lot of crap sometimes. But you learn and grow all the time. We talk a lot with our colleagues and bosses, we go through and analyse what you did or didn’t do and always try and better ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t even a mistake and there’s still an uproar.”

Scolded by Berdych

One good example was at last year’s US Open when she was yelled at by Tomas Berdych. The Czech exploded after a correct umpiring decision but said he was sorry on Twitter the day after. Only she knows what went through her head, as she won’t talk about particular situations or individual players. On the TV screen, she looks like a calm umpire in the chair—something which Engzell sees as one of her strengths.

“I can keep my cool without getting too stressed. I can read different personalities quite well and see how to tackle the different players and their personalities.”

Are you good at taking criticism?

“It’s something I can improve on. I can be very tough on myself, which can also be good. I get angry and it takes a while to get myself together. Especially if you’re not 100% sure if you could have explained things in a better way and had the match better under control. In those situations you can sit and ponder and think,” she says.

“Swedish umpires have become a thing on the tours”

Together with, among others, her fellow Swede Mohamed Lahyani and Lars Graff as well as a group of tournament officials of a high international level, Louise Engzell is part of Swedish umpiring elite.

“I don’t know why we have so many umpires. It’s actually become a thing on the tours—especially now, when we don’t have so many players at the top levels, but a lot of top umpires.”

The 34-year-old has umpired Grand Slam finals at the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Olympic final in London in 2012, but still thinks she has a ways to go to reach the status of fellow Swedes Lahyani and ex-umpire Graff.

“I’m on my way there. I haven’t been at the job that long yet. It takes many, many years to get the same respect. It’s very much about trust, that they can trust you. You can win a lot with trust. It means you can handle a match better.”

After the finals in Paris and New York, Engzell has two matches on her dream list.

“I’d like to do one final in all the different Grand Slam tournaments. So Wimbledon and the Australian Open are there.”

Louise Engzell on …

Hawkeye:

“It’s just positive. The advantage with Hawkeye is that it’s a final judgement. Whether the player agrees or not, there no one to complain to or yell at. They accept it and play goes on. It’s fantastic and makes things so much easier.”

Psychology in the umpiring chair:

“Different players react in different ways. Some players you need to be harder with right from the start, others you can use a softer approach with. Some players want you to tell them if they’re taking too long between points while others just want the warning directly. It’s about getting to know the players.”

Relations with the players:

“We have no relations with the players. Those are the rules. There can’t be any semblance of a reason to doubt your fairness because you’ve had dinner with a player. There cannot be any question. And you don’t, if at all possible, umpire a player from your own country. You try and avoid all problems that could possibly arise.”

Her best matches:

“The US Open final in 2012 between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. I think it was one of the longest women’s matches ever.”

“The Olympic final in London is a special memory. The atmosphere was fantastic even if the match was rather short. Serena won 6-0, 6-1 against Sharapova.”

“One of my best matches was the 2012 Davis Cup match between Romania and Finland. It was the deciding match and it took almost five hours. It was extremely close and tense, a really good atmosphere and ambiance. It doesn’t need to be top players playing each other, it can even be at a lower level. The atmosphere is one you can only get at a DC match.”

Her favourite tournament:

“I hadn’t been in Båstad for a very long time, so I was there this (last) year. It was really cool coming back to Sweden. I like the atmosphere, the mood; everyone’s equal and eat together no matter what their job is. Besides that, I like the Grand Slam tournaments a lot. Each one is different from the other.”

Translated from the Swedish by Mark Nixon.

Many thanks to Victoria Chiesa for the tip.

Aleksandra Krunić on her US Open breakthrough and more

Krunić: “Everything clicked in New York”

From a pre-season interview with Saša Ozmo on Serbia’s B92.

On her US Open experience:
“That memory is unreal to me, especially from a distance of three months, since I had poor preparation—two tournaments on clay where I wasn’t successful.  There was no indication that I’d play well at the US Open.  I didn’t have a coach either, so I was thinking about that, too… I wanted to be home in Belgrade, and my whole team is from Serbia, making it complicated to have a foreign coach.  In the end, I decided to have Bane Jevremović with me: I’ve known him a long time and trained with him when I worked with Biljana Veselinović.  I really couldn’t go to the US with a stranger.  Then, in New York, everything ‘clicked’…  For a year and a half I was ranked around 150 and I kept thinking, ‘What do I need to make a jump?’  I was training hard, I have no injuries—it really wasn’t clear to me.  But it’s no good wondering.  It just comes.”

On why things “clicked” in New York:
“The only thing I can think of is that I was a little more tolerant with myself at the US Open.  Normally, I’m a perfectionist and if something’s not ideal, I act like I don’t need it.  There will be maybe five matches of the year that go as well as that…  Then, I dropped the ball in New York—everyone makes mistakes, including me.  To outsiders, it must sometimes seem arrogant, the expressions I make, like ‘I can’t believe I missed that.’”

On her loss to Azarenka at the US Open:
“Experience was the key in that match.  Even if I’d won, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it—a Grand Slam quarterfinal would turn my life upside down.  You need to be mature enough for that kind of thing….  I was up a set and 3-2 in the second and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could make a Grand Slam quarterfinal!’  Who made me think that?  That might have ruined the match for me.  You simply can’t completely escape those thoughts, especially in front of 20,000 people at Arthur Ashe Stadium and with Azarenka across the net.”

On her post-breakthrough perspective:
“My expectations for myself have grown—I’m always battling with that; but after the US Open, even more so.  As far as pressure from others is concerned, [it’s changed] somewhat… There are many people here who love to get involved.  I remember in 2011, when Novak lost one match and there were immediately comments like, ‘What happened to him?’ or ‘How?’ …  Or when Ana once lost to Stosur—I looked at our own and Australian newspapers and with us it was ‘Sam smashed Ana’ but with them it was merely that Sam won.  That fascinated me.”

On being consistent throughout the whole season:
“That’s the hardest part and it’s the difference between those at the top and the rest of us.  I need to be persistent in practice—that depends solely on me, which isn’t always the case in matches.  I played the best tennis of my career at the US Open, but I’m aware that won’t happen every week.  That’s why my main goal is to raise my base level of play—and not fall below that line.  It’s also important that I enjoy what I do.  Whatever is happening, I need to stay positive—that attitude will help me improve.”

On her goals for 2015:
“I want to make the Top 50 before the end of the year, but the most important thing is to stay injury-free.  I’d also like to be in the main draw of every Grand Slam tournament, which would be a sign of progress.  Plus, I want to get out of this group in Fed Cup—where we are now is a catastrophe, after being in a final.  Game-wise, I would single out needing to improve my first-serve percentage; but the main thing is to be hard-working in practice and stick to the basics. ‘Keep it simple,’ as they say.”

On what constitutes a good coach:
“Above all, I think a coach needs to be a good psychologist, particularly when working with women.  Every day is different—when someone’s in a bad mood, the coach needs to find a ‘hook,’ to think of something interesting in practice that is useful at the same time.  The easiest thing is to say, ‘I don’t care how you’re feeling; this is what we’re doing.’  So, the coach has to understand the player—of course, there has to be good communication, since no one’s a mind reader.  Also, a coach needs to adapt to the player he or she is coaching; many coaches have their own ideas about how tennis should be played and don’t take the tennis characteristics of the person they’re working with into account.  The game should build on the player’s character—you can’t make a naturally aggressive player a retriever or the other way around.

“A coach is someone you’re with 24 hours a day, more or less, so you have to be close with that person.  I don’t think a distant player-coach relationship works.  Of course, coaches are there because it’s their job, and you’re paying them—nobody’s going to work with you for free.  But if you find the right balance and your team functions well, with everyone getting along, that’s the real deal.”

On WTA stars she likes:
“I saw Kvitova crying in the gym after our match in New York—and I like her so much, I just wanted to hug her.  She’s completely normal and grounded, and she doesn’t have the need to be completely dressed up in ‘Louis Vuitton’ or drive a plane or whatever…  She’s just doing her job and I have tremendous respect for her.  Besides her, Radwanska is totally relaxed, and, of course, Jelena Janković—she’s always the same, regardless of whether she’s ranked first or the last in the world.”

On WTA players’ relationships:
“Each of us maintains distance and has certain defense mechanisms, so it’s hard to get close.  I think the male players respect each other much more—they always extend a hand.  It’s not the same with us—half the players don’t even say ‘hello.’  We’ve got some issues, that’s for sure.  Billie Jean King talks about how the players used to help each other, cheer for each other, and nowadays that’s impossible.  God forbid that you ask someone, ‘Where do you practice?’ or ‘What are your plans?’—they’d immediately wonder, ‘Why is she asking me that?’  Of course, it depends on the person: a lot has to do with what you were taught at home, then some with the team of people around you.  I just don’t see how it would help my career to wish someone else ill.”

On athletes’ rituals and routines:
“I don’t know if they’re rituals or insecurity—something is probably being covered up with that [behavior].  They’re routines which make you feel comfortable.  On the tour, we’re constantly traveling, there’s always a lot going on, and it’s normal to have a need for something that’s yours alone, even if it’s just a small ritual.  Even when we return home, it no longer has that feeling—I don’t know where my home is, though it’s probably here in Belgrade when I sleep in my own bed.  The airport is my house— I’ve already gotten used to it.

“I like to have at least an hour and a half between the end of warm-up and the match.  Before the first point, I read a prayer and that’s it.  I’m not one of those people who only pray to God when they need something, but I’m not too pious either—I believe in destiny: that a path is charted for each person.”

On sports media:
“I don’t follow the media, but my mom reads everything—both articles and comments.  Honestly, it doesn’t interest me.  Sometimes, people tag me on Facebook; so then I see stuff…  And my family got in touch during the US Open to say that I was being written and talked about, but I didn’t look at anything.  Just once, I was annoyed during Fed Cup when we played against Canada, and someone wrote: ‘Who taught this Jovanovski to play tennis?  She has no idea—and Krunić belongs in a zoo.’  It was clear to me then: there are always fools and those who are dissatisfied with their own lives, and they vent their frustration [online].  If you have time to comment all day…  We’re an emotional people.  They elevate us [athletes] to heaven, and then we fall at the first opportunity.  Yes, we love our athletes—they love us whether they spit on us or not, but I think that it’s all a reflection of dissatisfaction with their own lives.  It’d be stupid to let that affect me; but I’m sorry for my mom, who gets torn up over such things.”

On social networks:
“Everybody says, ‘Get on Instagram!’—and I don’t even get Twitter yet.  At one point, I erased all of the applications—there’s always something ringing and I can’t take it anymore.  Then, it’s a problem if I reply to one person and not to another…  On the other hand, I’ve recently signed a contract with Octagon—I needed an agency.  But if I leave it up to them to take care of my accounts, then it looks like I can’t put three meaningful sentences together by myself and that’s just silly.  People want to be in the loop, to know what you’re up to, and I guess it’s only going to be more pronounced if I keep progressing, even if I don’t like that kind of self-promotion: ‘Here I am in Amsterdam’ or ‘Here I am having lunch with my grandma.’  But that’s how it is today—everybody is always on the phone.  ‘What’s the wi-fi code’ is the first question everybody asks when they enter a players’ lounge.  I don’t like it—it’s sad how much you miss while you’re staring at your phone.”

On her off-court interests:
“I live with my grandmother—it’d be stupid to have my own apartment when I’m never there.  I stopped eating meat before the US Open, and my grandmother doesn’t get it.  Now I eat tofu, soy—I’m teaching her.  I love animals and I watched a documentary about the meat industry— the meat they produce isn’t what it should be; who knows what they put into it…. I like historical documentaries (about communism, World War II), but I also watch ‘Car Rescue,’ some mysteries, and You Tube is constantly on.  Because I’ve been to Amsterdam, I want to see the documentary ‘Red Light District.’  I’m interested in those girls’ stories—they’re almost all forced to do what they do.  My friend told me that many of them were promised jobs in fashion, dance, or something similar, and then they end up like that.  Seeing it disgusted me: not because they’re half-naked but because they’re kept in a glass case.  It’s terrible.

“Right now, I’m reading a book about the Romanov dynasty, but it’s very difficult and requires serious concentration—I can’t be tired when reading.  Honestly, I prefer to watch than read; but I still plan to read the whole school reading list.  In Russia [where Krunić grew up], they require War and Peace, Dead Souls too early; it has absolutely no purpose then—you read it and don’t know what it means.  I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame recently, and I inhaled Dreiser’s famous trilogy: The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic.”

~

Translated by Saša Ozmo with an assist from Ana Mitrić.  Please let us know what you think in the comments.