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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Who is Brazilian WTA tennis player Beatriz Haddad Maia, or simply Bia Haddad? Read on.

Beatriz Haddad Maia, or simply Bia Haddad, a tennis player who was compared to Russian Maria Sharapova in the beginning of her career because of her beauty, turned 19  obsessed with exercise: not just physical, but also mathematical.

“Taking care of my body is my nerd side. I wake up before the other girls, at 6 a.m, put a towel on the floor of my bedroom and start to stretch, to release, I do all the exercises for abdomen, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, wrist. There are people who think I´m crazy. But I love it,” says Bia.

The other nerd side she is applying is in her academic career. The Brazilian tennis player has been attending on-line university since the beginning of the year studying business administration.

“If I didn’t play, I would be studying civil engineering or medicine.  I love mathematics, physics. But with our careers it’s impossible,” she says.

“I need to exercise my mind off court. If it stays only on tennis, when you lose, you want to kill yourself,” she finishes.

With all the energy spent on the court or studying between matches, Bia goes to sleep around 9h30 p.m. “I get very sleepy, I shut off.”

On July 16 in Toronto  she found another reason to stay awake: The 2015 Pan American Games, a competition she will play for the first time in her career. “I dream about playing the Olympics and the Pan Am Games. I grow up a lot playing for Brazil. I’ll meet a lot of new people, open my mind, learn and have fun”.

At 13 years old, Bia already captured attention on the Brazilian circuit playing against older girls. But it’s been in the last months that her career got back on track and she started grabbing attention outside of Brazil.

It’s not just the recently acquired driver license  at a driving school that gets Bia excited.

This year, she won her first WTA title on doubles playing with Paula Gonçalves (who alongside Gabriela Cé are the Brazilian women’s tennis team at the Pan Am Games), in Bogotá, Colombia. Bia also made quarter-finals of the Rio Open and reached her career high singles WTA ranking of 148.

A revolution after some suffering which she sums up this way: “Two years ago, I was unlucky, I fell on court and hurt my right shoulder. After that, I had three herniated discs, my right leg was paralysed, I had back surgery, I was feeling so bad, I didn’t know if I was going back to play. In those six months, I became somebody else,” she recalls.

“We learn through love or pain,”says Bia.

The pain never returned after October 12 2012, the day she had the back surgery.

The love comes from family. Her mother, Laís Haddad is a tennis teacher, her father, Ayrton Maia Filho, was a basketball player.

From the Maia family, she inherited the height. Today, at 1,85m, only Sharapova in the top 10 of  the WTA is taller than her .

“Being tall is beneficial. A lot of tennis players wanted to be tall and left-handed like myself,” she says.

“But Sharapova is not a player who I copy. Petra Kvitova, Serena Williams and Simona Halep are the players I look at to improve. From Sharapova, only the mental side. But I prefer just being myself, Bia”.

Bia Haddad has some of the best tennis professionals of Brazil on her team. In Balneario Camboriu, located in the Santa Catarina State, where she lives, she is coached by Larri Passos, former mentor of Gustavo Kuerten, who also travels with her.

Bia’s technical coach is Marcus Vinicius Barbosa, known as Bocão, a pupil of Passos. She has Gustavo Magliocca as her physiologist (who also works with Olympic swimming gold medalist César Cielo ), her psychologist is Carla di Perro (also Thomaz Bellucci’s), as well as a physiotherapist, a personal trainer, an orthopedist and an osteopath.

Translated by Sara Tavares.

Carina Witthöft, who won yesterday, on her season so far

Original Source: Tennismagazin, http://www.tennismagazin.de/news/witthoeft-angriffslustig-ich-will-mehr-als-platz-56/

“I want more than No.56”

Miss Witthöft, at the beginning of the year you were gunning for a place among the Top 100. Now you’ve climbed to No.56. Does your success surprise you?

I didn’t really expect it. But I’ve been practicing really well in the last few and have progressively improved my game.  I’ve really made a leap forward in training, I’m willing to try new exercises and have been consistently working on my fitness, and it shows on the court.

That’s it?

It’s crucial that you can apply what you’ve learned in practice to matches and not fall back to old patterns. And confidence is key. I built my confidence by winning a few ITF titles and therefore joined the WTA tour with a positive attitude.

What’s your ranking goal for the end of this season?

In general I don’t set myself ranking goals. It’s my aim to win as many matches as possible at every tournament.  If that keeps happening, then my ranking will keep improving.

So it’s all good so far this season?

Yes and no. On one hand at the start of the year I would’ve been very happy with No.56 at this time, but on the other hand I could’ve done even better. It’s a positive milestone, but I want more!

You’re playing quite a few smaller tournaments beside the big WTA events. Why?

That’s correct. I skipped the tournament in Madrid for example. Madrid has a very strong field – even in qualifying, where I would’ve had to compete. At the ITF tournament in Cagnes-sur-Mer I had a bigger chance to play more matches and gain more points.

That worked out well. You won the tournament, the biggest title of your career.

I’m really happy and pleased with that title. It was a great week and I’m taking a lot from it. I’m satisified, especially with the final [she beat Tatjana Maria who she had lost to just weeks earlier]. It was particularly important that I came back when I was trailing in the first set and managed to win that set. But I’m already focussing on the next challenges.

Are matches more important to you than individual training?

I think both should go hand in hand. The right blend enables an [improved] performance.

Do you play these smaller tournaments to improve your confidence by having a better match record against supposedly weaker oppositon?

I don’t really pay much attention to my record. But you gain a lot of momentum when you do well in a tournament.

But you can’t earn the big bucks at these tournaments. Cagnes-sur-Mer had a total prize money of only $100,000.

True, but I’m not playing tennis for the money. Of course tennis shouldn’t be a loss-making enterprise, but playing matches is very important for me at the moment.

What were your highlights so far this season?

The Australian Open for sure [she made the third round, beating Top 20 player Suarez Navarro]. But there were other nice moments as well, making the quarters in Malaysia or winning my first round match in Stuttgart.

You made some waves with a, let’s say dialogue between you and your father. [https://www.facebook.com/Sandplatzgoetter/videos/10153268733551639/] You complained about the crowd noises. What happened there?

(laughs) Maybe my temper got the better of me there. I hope nobody resents me for that. Tennis is an emotional sport with lots of ups and downs, and that was a down. When you’re playing in front of a home crowd you put yourself under a lot of pressure, but I enjoyed the matches and I gave it my best.

~

Translated by Katja

Kerber on her time with Steffi Graf: “She got rid of my doubts.”

Original source:  Welt am Sonntag, page 28, by Lutz Woeckener

Nutella or apple sauce? When it comes to toppings Angelique Kerber isn’t quite sure yet. Like in past years she will decide on short notice. Before her first round match against Timea Babos from Hungary on Monday Kerber will vist a small crêpes stand at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

The 27 year old isn’t immune to the rituals that are so common in the world of tennis. But aside from a warm crêpe this visit to the French capital might differ from the usual for Kerber. After the changes in recent months a lot seems possible on the red clay of Roland Garros that she used to dislike so much. Some experts even picked her as a dark horse for the title. Nutella or apple sauce – that’s a question Kerber has to answer for the next step of her career.

For years the lefty was considered very reliable on tour – both in a good way and in a bad way. Kerber rarely suffered surprising losses, was the rock in the sea of almost tradional inconsistency that is German women’s tennis. But she also regularly missed out on the big wins against the very best. The Bremen-born Kerber stood among the 10 players for 32 straight months since the 21st of May 2012. But she also only won one tournament in this time. Just 2014 she lost all 4 finals she took part in. A tennis life between the 3rd round and the semifinals, more apple sauce than Nutella. “Maybe I should have changed something earlier,” she says today, looking back, but it took quite a few painful losses to see the need for new stimuli.

The year started in classic Kerber fashion. Quarterfinals in Brisbane, semifinals in Sydney. The shock came at the Australian Open: A loss in the first round, for the first time in four years. The downward spiral started spinning: Early loss in Antwerp, Round of 16 in Dubai, first round loss in Doha. Nothing worked. She felt lethargic, dropped out of the Top 10, doubted and quareled with herself. “Antwerp was the breaking point,” Kerber says. “I couldn’t find a way out and started asking myself: Why am I even doing this? I didn’t feel any joy or motivation. I had to change something.”

The 27 year old retreated to Puszczykowo to her Polish-born family and started thinking about the future. All the years on the tennis courts of this world, all the deprivations, missed family events, being single. Was all that still worth it?

5 days before she left for a 5-week trip to the United States she finally brought herself to make decisions. She split from her coach Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh and wrote two emails. The first one went to Darren Cahill, head coach at the Adidas Tennis Base in Nevade. The second one went to Steffi Graf, her big idol. “I felt like it would go wrong in the US, too, if I didn’t change anything” reasons Kerber. Cahill was asked to make courts available for her in his tennis camp before the tournament in Indian Wells. And she asked Graf to chaperon her training in Las Vegas. “She had often told me that I’m always welcome at hers. That she would help me.” Kerber tells.

The 45 year-old tennis icon came through on her promise. Graf, who lives 10 minutes away with her husband Andre Agassi and their two children, unpacked her racket and didn’t miss a single practice session. For three days she worked with Kerber, observed, analyzed, discussed. “Even if the results weren’t there initially I felt that it gave me so incredibly much,” says Kerber, who lost in the second round of Indian Wells and afterwards returned to Las Vegas to work for five more days with Graf.

When Kerber talks about “Die Steffi” her blue eyes sparkle and one can hear the girl from Kiel talking from inside her. “Steffi herself played with me,” she says with pride. And: “Steffi is still incredibly good, simply superhuman.  Backhand slice, nothing changed, and her footwork is just awesome.”

That Graf influenced Kerber’s game became visible after their time together. After Miami Kerber unexpectedly won on the green clay in Charleston, immediately after that on the red clay of Stuttgart. Both finals were close matches, decided late in the third set. In Stuttgart she beat top players like Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki. An extra helping of Nutella, not the apple sauce of days gone by.

The first two tournament wins on the WTA tour took ten years, the numbers four and five just took 14 days. So what exactly happened there during the eight days in the desert?

Kerber doesn’t like the question. “I learned a lot on the trip, and it simply is something very special when Steffi is standing next to you and telling you things.” Kerber describes, but dodges a precise answer. It seems almost mysterious, as if Kerber and Graf had made a pact in the desert. Nevertheless it becomes clear during our interview that during those days Graf had the biggest impact in Kerber’s head: Validation, Confidence. And the result is that Kerber on court is more patient, but in the crucial stages also more determined, more dominant. “She got rid of my doubts.”

Kerber is convinced that without Graf she wouldn’t have won these two tournaments. A role is certainly also played by her new coach, who actually is an old coach: Torben Beltz. “We’ve known each other for 15 years,” Kerber says and laughs. “When I found myself without a coach at the end of February I was a bit lost and called Torben.”

Off the court the two trust each other. They share private matters, meet for a juice or a wine at the hotel bar, play cards. “Preferrably Skip-Bo,” Kerber says. Or Backgammon. “They are rituals that help me.”

Just like the crêpes at the Eiffel Tower, whether with Nutella or with apple sauce. Unlike at the snack bar the tendency on court is unequivocal. “I have proven in the last few weeks what I can do on clay. Other players by now have a bit more respect for me. But I don’t put the pressure on myself. From the outside, I don’t care who calls me a favorite. I’m going [to Paris] with a good feeling and many good matches on clay and my best preparation for Paris yet.”

So it’s quite possible that she will be in the tournament long enough for a second crêpes, apple sauce for that start, Nutella for the second week.
~

Translated by Katja

Carina Witthöft: Coveting speed


Coveting Speed

Fast ground strokes, a heavy serve: Carina Witthöft is one of the exciting tennis talents. At the tournament in Stuttgart she could meet her role model.Carina Witthöft first had to travel to a Swabian village called Weissach to meet Andre Agassi in the flesh for the first time.

The young German tennis player had only seen the former No.1 – and husband of Steffi Graf – on TV so far. The 20 year old is in the process of learning the ropes of the pro tour. But she is already considered one of the exciting talents in the world of tennis.

Witthöft’s parents own a tennis academy in Hamburg. Her mother Gaby, as her coach, is responsible for her good technical skills. Witthöft is playing exciting tennis with fast ground strokes, often following up her heavy first serve with a forehand winner. “That’s the play I’m practising the most at the moment,” Witthöft says. She is moving well, looks very fit and therefore can win long rallies even from a defensive position.

Witthöft’s life changed with her surprising run to the third round of the Australian Open in January. All of a sudden she is one of the attractions at the most important German women’s tournament in Stuttgart. As a matter of course she was invited to the test track in Weissach on her day off, where she, besides Agassi, also met the Fed Cup player Angelique Kerber.

“Is that one even faster?” a surprised Witthöft asked when she was urged to enter the next sports car. The special amenities that top players often enjoy are still foreign to her. But she is enjoying these off-court responsibilities. More and more people ask something of the young woman who played herself from a ranking below 200 to No.74. She has to answer more questions. “But it’s not really too much,” Witthöft says, “I think you grow into it.”In Stuttgart she so routinely mastered her press conference after her first-round victory over Mona Barthel (7-5 6-3) that it looked like she had never done anything else in her whole life. She appeared reserved, polite, but quite witty and thoughtful. While the more-established pros position themselves in front of the sponsor wall, Witthöft carefree sits down on a bar stool.

“The transition to the WTA tour isn’t that big,” she said before her second match against the Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia. Witthöft isn’t yet a regular customer on the main tour, she also plays the smaller tournaments of the lesser ITF tour. “You have to be able to perform everywhere,” Witthöft says.

The big courts, the big stage with lots of spectators doesn’t seem to impress her much. Even though everything is new and exciting for her she takes a relaxed approach. “If you engage it professionally,” Witthöft says you can play yourself up the rankings quite quickly. “Her game has no limits,” Barbara Rittner says. The national coach often acts as a hitting partner for Witthöft and accompanied her to Melbourne.

In the semifinals of Stuttgart she could meet her role model Maria Sharapova. “In the semifinal,” Carina Witthöft repeats and starts laughing out loud. That’s a little fast even for her even though she should be used to speed after her test drives with Andre Agassi.

Translated by Katja

A long process for Eugenie by @JessicaLapinski

Translation of this piece from Le Journal de Montréal website by Jessica Lapinski

The short trip back home for Eugenie Bouchard didn’t have the desired result. On the contrary. In search of wins, “Genie” left Montréal with two losses instead. What’s more, two losses mired in controversy.

It was more than disappointing; it was sad. Those two matches, against courageous but beatable Romanians, were supposed to help cure her ailing confidence. Instead, it was a troubled, occasionally irritated Bouchard who showed up for the press conference after her second loss.

Only a little more than two months ago she was in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Yes, that wasn’t as good as her semi-final of the year before, but it was a result worthy of her world ranking of seven.

What happened in these last weeks for the future champion to transform into a player satisfied with simply keeping the ball in play? Into a player unable to beat an opponent ranked lower than 60th.?

What happened that caused Bouchard’s aggressive game, which allowed her to beat some of the best, to seemingly reverse itself?

No explanations

Sunday, even Eugenie herself couldn’t find reasons for her setbacks. “I really have no explanation. I don’t feel like myself on the court,” she declared, lamenting her uncharacteristic lack of aggression.

But as recently as Wednesday, Bouchard affirmed that she felt at ease on the courts despite a start to the season that, all in all, was disappointing. Since Melbourne, she’s won two small matches and has now lost five in a row, all against players ranked lower than 60.

“There are signs, except I don’t think there’s only one solution,” says Sylvain Bruneau, her Fed Cup captain.

“We haven’t talked about it together, but yes, I was hoping this weekend would allow her to regain a bit of confidence. Sometimes it only takes one or two wins to do that.”

Among the signs is the well-known second-year jinx. In her press conference, Bouchard herself talked about this “sophomore slump”, this “evil” that sometimes affects athletes in all sports after a phenomenal first year.

Bruneau agrees: “After her first season, she now needs to learn how to manage the expectations,” he explains.

Then there was the coaching change. Last week Bouchard alluded to a period of adaptation, especially for a girl who had been advised by the same man, Nick Saviano, for eight years.

Several have asked questions about the relationship between Bouchard and Sam Sumyk. Both have a strong temperament, and the Québecker doesn’t seem to be assimilating what the Frenchman is trying to teach her, both tactically and technically.

“It’s a big change and I need to adjust,” she insisted on Wednesday. “I’ve had the same coach since I was 12. Sumyk is more direct. I like the ideas he has about my game. We can improve all aspects of it.”

“In tennis, when you don’t have the feel, when you don’t have your usual reference points, you tend to revert to what you did well with in the past, but that doesn’t always work,” adds Bruneau. He also talks about a period of adaptation.

Patience, patience …

What Bruneau especially advocates is patience. For her fans as much as for Genie.

Bouchard also mentioned the process she’s going through right now. A process during which she’ll lose, that’s certain, but which should eventually bring her back on the right track.

It might be long, and, judging from last weekend, it won’t be free from tears and broken racquets. But at 21, Eugenie Bouchard still has time to renew acquaintance with success.

It will be one match at a time, one win at a time.

Translated by MAN

Tears of Anger – Fed Cup fallout in Germany

Translation of this piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung by Philipp Schneider

Andrea Petkovic has cried quite a few times on the big stages of the world of sports during her career as a tennis pro, she never held back her sad emotions during press conferences and there were very different reasons for her to cry. Sometimes because she had once again injured herself. And sometimes because she lost. This Sunday Andrea Petkovic cried again, immediately after the last point of the decisive doubles rubber against Russia. But these were different tears, tears of anger, that streamed out of her on the tennis court in Sochi.

She almost pulled it off, the most remarkable comeback in the German Fed Cup history. But after her 2-6 3-6 loss with Sabine Lisicki against Elena Vesnina and Anastasiya Pavlyuchenkova, even the interim equalizer to 2-2, almost a miracle in itself, was moot. So Andrea Petkovic cried. The score was 3-2 for Russia. And Petkovic knew: They were once again not going to win the Fed Cup.

On Saturday night the German tennis women were already almost eliminated, 0-2 down after singles losses by Julia Görges and Sabine Lisicki. It seemed far-fetched to think that Barbara Rittner’s team could reach the final to win the “damn thing”, as Rittner had called the Fed Cup after last year’s final loss to the Czech Republic. And it looked like Rittner outfoxed herself with her decision to rest Petkovic and Angelique Kerber on the first day.

Rittner had made the plan with Görges and Lisicki because she believed that Petkovic and Kerber were not rested enough to already play on Saturday. It almost worked.

Kerber had flown around the world three times recently, before she arrived at the black sea on Wednesday after winning the WTA tournament in Charleston. Whoever booked the adventurous journey with stops in Washington – Frankfurt – Poznan – Munich – Istanbul – Sochi either was forced to improvise at the last minute – or has a crude sense of humour. Two days Kerber spent on the road, and somewhere along the way her luggage got lost. Would she have been ready on Saturday? It’s moot to speculate.

On Sunday anyway, Kerber played as well rested as a groundhog after months of hibernation in a well-cushioned nest. With a 6-1 6-0 she just rolled over Pavlyuchenkova – it took just 52 minutes until she used her second match point. Maybe Kerber should have played doubles, where Pavlyunchekova, who had just had been humiliated by her, was playing for Russia.

Petkovic loves heroic stories

The chance for the equalizing point had been made possible by Petkovic, who won a surprisingly relaxed 6-2 6-1 match over Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian is one of the most experienced and uncomfortable opponents on tour. In 2004 she won the US Open, 2009 the French Open. Kuznetsova, 31, born in Leningrad, looks with her massive head band always like she is going to battle. She was one of the reasons why Russia had chosen clay in the first place. Twice she and Petkovic had played on this surface, twice the Russian had won.

But this was Fed Cup.

And Petkovic, that much she knew beforehand, would save the team and even German tennis with a win once again. Petkovic loves heroic stories like this, even those about herself. Since her Fed Cup performance against Australia in February, where she contributed two points to the 4-1 victory over Australia, she has also raised her level of play on tour. Her game benefits from the fact that she has been coached in the last few weeks by Rittner’s assistant Dirk Dier, who for Petkovic seems to be a Fed Cup chef: After winning a tournament in Antwerp she also reached the semifinal in Miami and did the same in Charleston, where she lost to her team-mate and eventual champion Angelique Kerber.

Petkovic played focused against Kuznetsova, smart, with angles, brave. She was quickly up 3-0 in the first set, she made barely any errors, especially her two-handed backhand put the Russian under pressure. A frustrated Kuznetsova threw her racket to the ground, and after the first set she disappeared to the toilet for a quarter of an hour. Shortly before Petkovic used her second match point it looked like Kuznetsova was about to eat her own fists out of desperation.

“She soaked in the atmosphere and then realized that it’s cool to play here,” Coach Dier said. And Petkovic happily shared the tricks she tried to overcome the jet-lag: “Vitamin pills and aspirin, but I’m still so tired. Tomorrow I’m lying down in the bath tub for five days”. Nobody was going to argue with that, especially since Petkovic, as opposed to Kerber, had come back out on court. And lost the decisive doubles match.

Translated by Katja