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: 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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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