Maria Sharapova: “It was important to change some things around and just to come out with a little bit of a different perspective and play a bit better” - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sharapova: “It was important to change some things around and just to come out with a little bit of a different perspective and play a bit better”

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TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – 27th of January 2015. M.Sharapova d. E.Bouchard 6-3, 6-2. An interview with Maria Sharapova

 

Q. Impressive from you today. How did you feel out there playing?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, I felt pretty good from the start. I thought I had a really good start. I kept my focus throughout the whole match. I didn’t feel that I had too many letdowns, which is important. When I did have a few slips I was able to come out with great first serves or really powerful returns. But overall really happy with the way the match went.

Q. A little bit similar from Nadal. Mentally a scare in the second round, but the last two matches went easily. Do you feel the same sort of thing, after that early scare it relaxes you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’m not sure if it has anything to do with Nadal. We’ve been kind of playing before or after each other on the schedule, so I don’t know if that’s something to do with it. But, of course, when you’re down and out like I was in the second match, it’s like, you know, I don’t want to face that phone call with my father too many times during a tournament. It’s like, I better get my stuff together. So, yeah, it was important to change some things around and just to come out with a little bit of a different perspective and, yeah, play a bit better. I’m happy I was able to do that.

Q. What did he say to you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: In a nice version, it was like, This is unacceptable (smiling). He’s like, It is much easier just having a normal home life. You should try it. I don’t know why you’re suffering out there for nothing. Make it easier for yourself.

Q. He feels like you’re suffering for nothing?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, he told me that I was working much harder than I had to. If I was maybe a little bit smarter, did a few things maybe a little bit differently, maybe it could have been easier.

Q. Do you ever want to tell him, You’re not a tennis player; you don’t understand?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. I actually think he’s absolutely right. Deep down inside, you know, sometimes it’s encouraging to hear that because no one will tell you that. I like to hear that. I like coming off the court and hearing how it is. It’s what I appreciate from my team. And Sven especially, he’s critical, but in a great way. In my career, I’ve gone through a few different coaches. I like real people and honesty. I appreciate that very much. I don’t need to go around the corners and people telling me, You’re great; you’ll improve in the next one. If you played a terrible match, you played a terrible match. Go out there and change whatever it takes to turn things around, because you’re not going to win the tournament that way.

Q. Would you have chosen an easy life?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: No. I love my life. I’ve very fortunately made it, in my eyes, easy.

Q. You have Makarova next. You mention on court it’s always tough playing another Russian. Why is that tricky for you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, besides playing another Russian, I’m also facing an opponent that wasn’t necessarily a favorite coming into that stage. That’s always a tricky situation because she’s going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that’s dangerous. You know, I haven’t faced a lefty in this tournament yet. She’s been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I’ve seen. But, yeah, I’ll be looking out for that, work on a few things tomorrow, and be ready for that match.

Q. How well do you know her? Have you ever hit together, trained together, hung out together?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Not too much. We’ve practiced a little bit I think during Fed Cup, but that was a few years ago. We played already a few times. There’s no secrets in each other’s games, that’s for sure.

Q. There’s an all Russian semi in this bracket; could be an All-American semi on the other side. What your feelings and passions for both countries?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Obviously they’re both big parts of my life. I spent my childhood in Russia; I live in the United States where I am very comfortable and very happy. I know both cultures extremely well. At the end of the day, I’m very happy to be representing Russia. It’s more of a feeling than anything else. I have a lot of family back home, you know, that I see and speak to quite often during the year. Despite not living there, I have a very strong connection to the country, but yet I’m very happy when I’m able to go to the United States and spend my time in Florida, be around my friends. Yeah, it’s great to have a little bit of both, I guess.

Q. Simona said she woke up and felt stressed before her match. Eugenie was tensed. You never look nervous or stressed when you enter the court. Is it because you’re hiding it better than others or because you’re never feeling this stressful mentality?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that. I mean, if I wake up and I didn’t have a good night or I’m thinking about something, I try to snap out of it as fast as I can. If I keep telling myself that I’m stressed, that I’m tense, it’s usually not a good sign. I try to think of other things, what I’m going to do, focus, maybe speak to my team a little bit more. Yeah.

Q. You had some kind words for Genie on court. What do you think she needs to do to take the next step in her career?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t think she needs any advice from me. I think she’s been doing an incredible job so far. As I said on court, two years ago I believe she was qualifier here; two years later she’s No. 7 and getting really far in majors and pushing, breaking through to maybe win one. I don’t think I’m the one to be giving her any advice.

Q. Venus is on the other side of the draw, but she’s been a rival and colleague of yours for a long time. What are your thoughts on her surge at her age and the role she’s played in the game?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I admire her and her love for the game and her strength, to be able to, despite injuries, despite setbacks, maybe having losses, which she wouldn’t exactly be comfortable with or expect of herself, to just keep pushing through at her age and everything she’s been through, that’s very inspiring, not just for me, but for many. Q. Are you inside yourself really proud considering you came back from that serious injury that so few others have? MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yes, but I also think that I’m not the only one. I think that’s part of an athlete’s career. If you go through a career where you’re absolutely healthy for the most part of it, I think you’ve been pretty lucky. Unfortunately I had to go through a serious injury at 21 years old, probably a peak of a tennis player’s career. I think that was one of the toughest things. It wasn’t at a later stage or early stage. It was somewhere smack in the middle after I had just won my third major.

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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Interviews

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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