WTA Cincinnati - Maria Sharapova: “I admire so much what someone like Venus is doing” - UBITENNIS
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WTA Cincinnati – Maria Sharapova: “I admire so much what someone like Venus is doing”

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TENNIS WTA CINCINNATI – 12th of August 2014. M. Sharapova d. M. Keys 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. An interview with Maria Sharapova

 

Q. Can you just talk about the match a little bit and the difference in the second set when the game or match kind of shifted there a bit?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, you know, against Madison, someone who serves really well, it’s always, you know, one, two moments that are really crucial in the match.

In the first set I returned quite well. I started the match off really good. Broke her a few times.

You know, I think she got a bit more consistent on her groundstrokes in the second set, and there’s, you know, some moments in the beginning of that second set where I felt that I could have, you know, taken the lead and broken her in that third game. I didn’t do that, and I think she stepped it up and was able to break me a couple more times.

Yeah, but ultimately I was happy with the beginning of the third set. That was really crucial.

 

Q. Have you practiced much with her before?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Not really, no.

 

Q. Not really?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: No.

 

Q. What did you see in her game that was different that surprised you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I mean, she swings pretty freely. I think she has a very loose arm. For a 19 year old to be serving in the 120s, that’s really impressive. I’m sure, you know, when she develops the consistency in the serve it’s going to be an important factor.

But to have that strength and power to be able to do that is great. You know, I think to definitely improve her second serve, I felt like I could have attacked that quite a bit.

But overall, I’m quite impresses. She’s done very well this year.

 

Q. Would you consider her one of the more powerful players on the tour already this year?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Absolutely.

 

Q. When you were gathering yourself between points, are you literally talking to yourself?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Thinking or talking, something like that. I’m not sure. Depends.

 

Q. In English or Russian?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: It depends. Whatever is easiest and quickest to say. It usually is    some words are faster to say in Russian or some are faster to say in English.

 

Q. How hard is it playing a player like her first match out this week?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, it’s never easy. I think she’s a great player and someone that’s, you know, using all the experience at the moment and yet doing so well and winning her first big title, having really good wins.

These matches, this type of experience is really priceless in her career at 19 years old. So I think it’s almost a feeling of being free and really going for her shots and having that free state of mind, which is really nice to have.

But, yeah, personally for me, I didn’t have a great week last week. No matter who is across the net, it’s never easy going out in the first round because you want to change that result around. You want to change your attitude and your performance and obviously the result.

I was happy to come out today and get the win, because it wasn’t an easy first round.

 

Q. Game wise, what were you happy with today and what weren’t you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I was happy I won the match. (Laughter.)

Yeah, I mean, in these conditions against a fast paced opponent like Madison, it’s just a few things here and there that are important and key points that, you know, if you have to your advantage that will make things easier for you.

I wasn’t happy with not taking advantage early in that second set. Just a few unforced errors. But, yeah, doesn’t matter. I’m happy to get through.

 

Q. How are you feeling about this year in general? I mean, it’s been a very good year for you. Interested in your thoughts on how this year has been compared to other years.

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I have never been a player to compare year to year, because you always find yourself in a different position facing different opponents, different challenges, different frame of mind.

I’m very happy with what I have been able to achieve this year, because last year it was tough to miss the end of the season, you know, finding yourself in a position where you’re hurt again.

And having gone through that before, it’s just like, Okay, and just finding ways to get back into a healthy state of mind and then a professional state of mind and then a competitive state of mind.

It’s a big process for somebody that goes through an injury. You know, it’s tough to be mentally always, you know, upbeat and positive. So having gone through that and getting a new team around me, there are a lot of changes that happened.

I’m very happy with the way we have worked, and everyone is committed into bringing, you know, me to the top. That was great to see from everyone at the French Open, and hope that I can continue that.

 

Q. You have had a lot of accomplishments in your career: Been No. 1, won slams. You have never had a two slam year. Is that something that would be important to you at all?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: It would be great to have, definitely. Like I say, I only have one more chance this year to do that, you know, winning the French Open.

But, yeah, it’s not something that I have thought of. But I feel like, you know, a lot of people always ask me, like, You’re at this stage of your career and you’ve won Grand Slams and been No. 1. It’s just like a broken record player almost.

I guess this is a position where it’s almost like, Well, you have everything. You can do whatever you want. I always tend to shake my head, because at this position that’s where you, you know, showcase how strong you are and how much you really love it and to show your legacy through the sport.

So that’s why I admire so much what someone like Venus is doing at her age, to continue and fight for what she believes because she’s so good at the sport.

But, yeah, that’s why I do it, because I still feel like I have a lot left in me.

 

Q. Going forward, would you consider playing Fed Cup again for Russia, or would that depend on where in the world you’re playing at that time?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I am. I’m planning on playing next year.

Editorial

EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players

The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.

 

The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.

“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.

“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”

In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.  

The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.

“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.

“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”

Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.

Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.  

“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.

“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”

The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready. 

Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.

There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”

The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013. 

“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue.  I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis. 

The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.

Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.

More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Mats Wilander Exclusive: Matteo Berrettini Will Win A Grand Slam

UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks to the former world No.1 about Berrettini’s historic win at Wimbledon.

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Matteo Berrettini (ITA) celebrates as he beats Hubert Hurkacz (POL) in the semi-final of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 11 Friday 09/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander has praised Matteo Berrettini for his run to the Wimbledon Final during a one-to-one interview with UbiTennis.

 

25-year-old Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to reach the final of the Grand Slam after beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-4. Throughout the clash he was impressive behind his serve where he fired 22 aces and won 86% of his service points. This year he is unbeaten on the grass and is currently on a 10-match winning streak following his triumph at Queen’s last month.

“Breaking the first game of the fourth set is to me the sign that we all look for in players. Whatever happens in the third (set) should not matter and he came straight back,”Wilander tells UbiTennis.
“That’s my indication that he will be one of the best players in the world. He will win a Grand Slam one hundred percent, for sure, if he stays healthy.”

Wilander’s bold prediction centres around Berrettini’s game on both grass and hardcourt. However, he is less optimistic about his chances on the clay at present until his backhand becomes more powerful.

As to why the former world No.1 has so much confidence in Italy’s top player, he says it is his ability to not expose his weaknesses during matches. Drawing parallels between him and Roger Federer. The player Berrettini comprehensively beat in straight sets earlier in the week.

He knows how to hide his weakness and most great players know how to hide their weaknesses. Roger Federer is the perfect example. His backhand compared to the serve and the forehand. He stays alive with the slice and he comes over (to the net) sometimes when he has to,” he said.
“I think Matteo has figured out that he can stay alive with the slice. But the difference is that he is willing to slice and come in. He’s also double the size of Federer at the net so it is difficult to pass him.”

It wasn’t until the age of eight when Berrettini started to focus more on tennis after being asked by his younger brother to play more. As a professional he has won five ATP titles since 2018 and is the highest ranked ATP player from his country since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978. He is coached by Vincenzo Santopadre, Marco Gulisano and Umberto Rianna.

“I would be so encouraged if I was coaching him. For the coach it must be like oh my god we are looking at a player who has (good use of his) hands and hides his weakness though the rest of his game,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion commented.
“I don’t why it has taken him a bit longer (to break through). I know he started a little bit later but I think he’s a natural at the big moments.”

On Sunday Berrettini faces the ultimate test against Novak Djokovic who will be seeking his third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. He has lost to the Serbian twice before on the Tour, including the French Open earlier this year. The Italian enters the final as the underdog but Wilander thinks he shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I think he has a good chance, I really do because that serve (of his) is different and he has a different forehand. He is not afraid to stay alive,” he concluded.

UbiTennis’ full interview with Wilander can be listened to below

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