TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – 1st of February 2015. Paes/Hingis d. Nestor/Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3. An interview with Leander Paes and Martina Hingis
Q. What is it like to guide another young partner through the mine fields?
MARTINA HINGIS: That’s a good one. I love it.
LEANDER PAES: That’s a brilliant first question. It’s a treat to play with Martina. Like she said a little earlier today, I finally managed to learn some things from her returns and returned half decently today. It’s intriguing. In every match we’ve played, we’ve had to overcome some obstacle, a bad start, one day our serve wasn’t working, one day our returns weren’t working. Today we started great. But we played two champions. They kept oncoming at us. We broke them, they broke back. We broke them again, they broke back. Today was just a matter of patience, our understanding of the game of tennis, our understanding of each other came through. It’s just a treat to win your 16th, my 15th (laughter).
MARTINA HINGIS: You have plenty of time to catch up.
LEANDER PAES: It’s a lot of fun, mate.
Q. You made your first appearance here in 1994, Leander. Do you have any idea when your last will be? Can you see yourself coming back for a good few years yet?
LEANDER PAES: Actually, yes, I can. Actually I was really happy when I was in the gym just now. After all our matches we go and do our training and stuff. The best thing that happened today was my coach came back in and he said, Lee, your speed’s back. If you can impress your coach on any given day, you’re doing pretty well. Normally they’re your biggest critics, they’re the toughest ones that you struggle to impress. My dad said as soon as we won, I called him, he goes, Okay, now you have to focus on the next one. I said, Dad, it hasn’t even been five minutes (laughter). But I love the game of tennis. To play with this champion who I keep learning from every day is a lot of fun. I look forward to being back soon.
Q. Martina, did you get a chance to look at the walk of champions walking out?
MARTINA HINGIS: Yeah, that’s the coolest thing about it, when you walk there. Lee, a couple times now we got to play on center court, I love that photo. It’s a very heavy photo when I won here. It’s full of excitement, the joy you have out there when you go and play. Lee is just a really great partner to have. Been there, done that, he knows what he’s doing. I don’t have to tell him anything. Just like today, he was really keeping me out there, stay focused, especially at the end, compared to the other matches, today there was a lot of tension. It’s finals, playing the defending champions. They both are, you know, great competitors, like he said. You think like you have them, then they bounce back. She serves great for a girl. She doesn’t have any letdowns, only a little bit at the end where we could really jump on that and take advantage. But the rest of the match, it was always like every point counts. It was a huge difference today. It was not as physical maybe, but it was more of a mental match today.
LEANDER PAES: Isn’t this your 15th Australian Open final today? Does any have that stat? No one has done their homework (laughter). I thought today was your 15th Australian Open final. That’s unbelievable.
MARTINA HINGIS: Only my second mixed. But I haven’t lost a finals yet. Feels good.
Q. Martina, what stage did you decide to make a commitment again to playing tennis, just in doubles? Did something in your life happen that you missed it too much? What was it and when?
MARTINA HINGIS: I was never really completely out of the picture, away from tennis. It was always part of my life one way or another. I was playing some exhibitions, then I was coaching a little bit. Now being back, I mean, the coaching probably got me more into it because I was playing with the girls, hitting, being face-to-face to the best players in the world like Anastasia, Sabine, obviously one of the biggest hitters. So that felt like, you know, maybe I can play with them, only halfcourt. I don’t have to run that much. Obviously when we’re practicing, it’s halfcourt only. I was playing with them. I felt like I could still hold my own. Lee has been on me for three years. We played TeamTennis for a couple years. Let’s play the US Open. We were holding the trophy, I told him, I was so scared. Maybe I should have done it earlier, played a couple tournaments together already. But I was just really scared to — I wasn’t ready to take the tension, be on court. But he kept going on me.
Q. Martina, what does it mean to you to be tasting success here so many years after your first visit to this tournament?
MARTINA HINGIS: Yeah, no, in the ceremony my voice became really little. After 20 years being back on that court, like I said in my speech, who would have thought. It’s not even like the cherry on top, it’s more than that to be there and to be able to hold another trophy with Leander. It’s more than I could ever dream of, yeah.
Q. Martina, are you hoping to play the Olympics next year?
MARTINA HINGIS: Right now we’re very far away. We’re really enjoying the moment to be here, to have the title. I mean, it’s out there, definitely. It’s something that would be probably — I mean, I haven’t played Olympics since ’96, so…
Q. You’ve played with approaching 100 different partners. Obviously Martina is the very best. But for the grass-roots player, the regular player out there, what is the key for a doubles player to adjust to a new partner?
LEANDER PAES: The first thing is to know yourself really well. If you know yourself really well and you’re honest with yourself about your strengths and more importantly your weaknesses, then you choose a partner whose strengths are your weaknesses. So my return of serve on a good day is average.
MARTINA HINGIS: It was pretty good today.
LEANDER PAES: But to pick a partner who has got such quick thought from the baseline, even when she’s playing mixed doubles, when the guys are popping serves at her. Daniel Nestor is one of the best mixed doubles servers in the game. He is lefty. He has this wicked slice serve on the ad court, which is Martina’s side. He can hit his spot down the T. To see how quick Martina reacts to it in her thought process, then commits to a shot, that’s something I learned. Now, when I’m at the net, when I have less time, I’ve got sharp eyes, I pick up things quick. When I have less time, I’m lightning fast. When I have too much time, my Indian genetics, I think too much. Martina, you pick a shot and stick to it. Any up-and-coming youngster in any walk of life, it’s not about yourself. You got to learn yourself quick, then you play for the team. The sum of two individuals have got to be greater than two. So the sum of all the individuals has got to be greater than that many people that are there.
Q. Why do Indians think too much?
LEANDER PAES: Oh, boy, I could be all day here (laughter).
Q. Are there already plans to play further Grand Slams together?
LEANDER PAES: If she let me. I don’t know if she will. MARTINA HINGIS: Of course. We already talked about this. It’s not only the fact that we won, but just feel really comfortable with one another to go out there. Right now it does feel a little bit invincible, especially on the hard courts because we just really fulfill each other. I think it’s like what I don’t do as well, you do well, and the opposite. That’s how to choose a partner. I think it’s also the key. I feel like if I execute my things very well, he’s going to take over and do the rest of it. Like if I hit a great return, I know he’s all over the top of the net and he’s going to finish the job. So it makes me feel like, Okay, I do execute well, I’m done, my job’s good.
LEANDER PAES: But you know what’s actually special about you is that I’ve had so many partners, and as we’ve gone on winning Grand Slams and winning big things, the lesson to keep learning and improving diminishes a little bit. It gets a bit stale. I don’t know exactly how many Grand Slams you’ve won, but you’ve won a lot. To actually come off a match where you’ve won another Grand Slam here, to go out and say, Let’s go to the gym and do the hard yards, let’s do our biking, our abs and our back.
MARTINA HINGIS: Only because I have a partner. I don’t want to suffer by myself.
LEANDER PAES: But that’s really actually one thing that stands out. For a champion who has done it all, to still take that extra half hour after a Grand Slam win and enjoy the hard yards, to enjoy yesterday where we had booked a practice for one hour, ended up practicing two hours. We had fun.
MARTINA HINGIS: It was fun, yeah. It’s already two hours we’ve been out here.
LEANDER PAES: I think tennis, we’re so blessed as human beings or as athletes to have such a great sport, to have such a great profession. We put on shorts, we put on T-shirts, we have legends of the game going out onto a court in front of a packed stadium sometimes. People are paying top dollar in a hard economy. We go out and earn a living. We’re really blessed, you know. We’re really, really blessed. Thanks to you guys we get out there to reach our millions of fans around the world. Life has been very kind to us. We try and give back.
EXCLUSIVE: Yoshihito Nishioka’s Coach On Injury Setback, US Open Showdown With Wawrinka
The road to Yoshihito Nishioka’s first round match at this year’s US Open has been a frustrating one.
In June the 27-year-old looked to be on the verge of reaching his best tennis at the French Open where he made the fourth round for the first time in his career. Nishioka’s run in Paris was not a one-off with the Japanese player also making the last 16 of the Australian Open in January. However, since the French Open, he has only been able to register one win on the Tour.
In recent months he has struggled with a stress fracture on his femur that cut short his grass-court campaign and resulted in him missing four weeks of crucial training. After losing his opening match at Wimbledon, he played four tournaments across North America with his sole triumph being against Gregoire Barrere in Cincinnati.
Guiding Nishioka on the Tour is his coach Christian Zahalka who has previously worked with the likes of Marina Erakovic, Nadia Petrova, Kimiko Date and Misaki Doi. The two began working together last year.
“Yoshi injured himself at Roland Garros that pretty much cost us the whole grass court season and we could not practice for a month,” Zahalka told Ubitennis on the first day of the US Open.
“So honestly we are playing a bit catch up to regain form the last few events. But we are getting close.”
Nishioka faces a tricky first round encounter at Flushing Meadows where he will play Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament in 2016. Their only previous meeting saw the Swiss veteran prevail in three sets but that was six years ago in Indian Wells.
“Wawrinka is a highly motivated player at the moment,” said Zahalka. “It will be a difficult first round match with a big fight needed from Yoshi.”
Nishioka is currently ranked five places higher than his upcoming opponent at 44th in the ATP Pepperstone rankings. However, he is yet to shine at the US Open where he will be making his ninth main draw appearance this year. He has lost in the first round six times and the second round twice. The only players he has beaten at the event were Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2015 and Feliciano Lopez in 2019.
Despite the disappointing results, Zahalka is staying upbeat about Nishioka’s chances in New York.
“This is my first US Open with Japanese Rock so I cannot comment on what happened in the past here,” he said.
“But I see no reason why he cannot have success at the US Open.”
Nishioka’s clash with Wawrinka is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. He is one of four Japanese players in the men’s main draw this year.
EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals
Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.
Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.
Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’
The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off.
It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-
‘This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’
One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans.
ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.
Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing.
One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals.
“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis. “All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”
The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.
It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month.
Conchita Martinez: How Acaraz Can Improve, Muguruza’s Future And Advice For Andreeva
Almost 30 years have passed since Conchita Martinez won the biggest title of her career at Wimbledon.
In 1994 she battled to a three-set win over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova to become the first-ever Spanish woman to claim the title. The triumph occurred in just her third main draw appearance at the Grand Slam. Since then only one other player from Martinez’s country has managed to emulate her in the women’s tournament. That was Garbine Muguruza in 2017 who has been mentored by the former champion in recent years.
Martinez is in action again this year at The All England Club where she is taking part in the women’s invitational doubles tournament. On Tuesday morning Ubitennis caught up with the former world No.2 during an hour-long media session that featured a series of former champions.
In her home country, the talking point of the sport concerns the rapid rise of Carlos Alcaraz who at 20 has already won one Grand Slam trophy, four Masters 1000 events, and has spent almost 30 weeks as world No.1.
“I think he is already doing an amazing job but, of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
As to what these improvements are, the 51-year-old believes Alcaraz needs to explore coming to the net more often, especially when playing on the grass. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, in his first four matches played this year, the top seed has come to the net on 83 occasions and won the point 56 times. This equates to a winning percentage of 67.5%.
“I would like to see him, especially on the grass, go to the net a little bit more sometimes,” she said.
“He does this on other surfaces and is very brave. When he’s down a break point and then does a serve and volley to win the point, this is great for his confidence.’
“He needs to work on everything. His slice and going to the net. From the back, he is doing amazing and is very aggressive. He can hold the point when he wants to, so he needs to work on that to become an even better player.”
The current status of Mugurza
Martinez speaks about Alcaraz from the perspective of both a player and a coach. After winning 33 WTA titles before retiring, she went into the world of coaching. Her work with Muguruza was recognised in 2021 when she was named WTA Coach of the Year. She has also had stints mentoring former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova and was captain of her country’s Billie Jean King Cup team.
Martinez’s work with Muguruza has been put on ice for the foreseeable future after the tennis star opted to take an extended break from the sport. She confirmed that Muguruza will not be playing again this year on the Tour and a return date is still to be decided.
“She is taking her time and will not be playing again this year. We will see when she is going to start practising for next year,” Martinez explained.
“Every week we chat and see how she’s doing. She’s enjoying her time off right now.”
Even when Muguruza does come back to action there is no guarantee that this successful partnership will resume.
“We have to see. We stopped as she was going to take a longer time off than expected so we parted ways but you never say no to what may happen in the future,” she commented.
Muguruza’s decision to step away from tennis followed a series of disappointing results. In a social media post earlier this year, the two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to spend more time with her friends and family which has been ‘healthy’ for her.
Advice for Andreeva
It is not the first time a player has had to step away from the limelight due to the demands of playing tennis. Trying to deal with Tour life is far from easy, especially for younger players.
One of those rising stars is 16-year-old Mirra Adreeva who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier on her debut. She almost booked a place in the quarter-finals after leading Madrid Keys by a set and 4-1 but lost. If she had won, Andreeva would have been the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since 1997.
So what advice would Martinez, who also reached the fourth round of a major at the age of 16, give to a rising star such as Andreeva?
“You have to have a very good group of people around you that are going to keep you humble and fit,” she said.
“I think she does that. She’s winning matches, going far in Grand Slams, and beating great players.’
“You have to see next year how she will cope with defending points. The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it.”
Martinez won more than 700 matches during her time on the Tour.
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