TENNIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN – 31st of January 2015. S.Williams d. M.Sharapova 6-3, 7-6. An interview with Serena Williams
Q. How does it feel?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It feels really good. It feels really good to be sitting here as the champion. I definitely didn’t think I would be here in the beginning of the week or the beginning of the two weeks, but it feels pretty excellent.
Q. With how sick you have been this past week, everything you had to go through, is this perhaps one of the toughest wins you’ve managed to pull off?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, definitely I was not feeling great. Every time I didn’t feel great I started to feel better, and then the next day I got worse. There was a lot of ups and downs. So I just thought — you know, I was somehow still in the tournament and now I somehow have won. So I don’t know. It’s really exciting.
Q. How tough was the match, especially in the second set?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, the match definitely got tough in the second set. Maria started playing a lot better. She started being a little more aggressive. I think I got a little more passive. Was just trying to get the ball back in play. But I also started serving better in the second set because I knew if I wasn’t having my groundstrokes where I wanted them to be, I knew I could serve it out. So, yeah, it definitely got really interesting. I had a lot of moments. I had some easy shots that I missed in the second set on her serve, and then she came up with a big serve when she was down a breakpoint, which was great. But I definitely can look back and say, Oh, I could have done a few things better just for the future.
Q. Have you ever thrown up in the middle of a match before?
SERENA WILLIAMS: No. No, actually, I’ve never done that before. I guess there’s a first time for anything. I think in a way that just helped me — I felt better after that. My chest was really stuck at that point.
Q. Did you take anything for it?
SERENA WILLIAMS: The doctor gave me a little cough syrup and sent me on my way. It was like a small, small, small amount just to suppress. I was coughing so much. It was just forcing things out of me. So I was just trying to pull myself together.
Q. Do you think you would have needed to take a break if the rain hadn’t come anyway?
SERENA WILLIAMS: You know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. You know, maybe I would have just — the same thing would have happened but maybe just on the court. Yeah, I don’t think so.
Q. What did you make of the whole rain delay? Would you have preferred the roof being closed from the start of the match if there was any chance of rain?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, when we first went out to warm up there was a little rain. So I was like, Is it raining or is it just me? So I told the umpire. She’s like, Okay. But then I guess it stopped for a second and everything was fine. Then it started raining again. Whatever the case was, it was okay with me.
Q. After the let at the match point, how confident were you to hit the same spot again?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I wasn’t confident at all. I thought after the let, Man, I am not meant to win this tournament. I had a couple of match points. I mean, she played great on those match points. She totally went for broke. I was like, C’mon. First of all, why I hear the let. Then I was like, Okay, do I go T? Do I go wide? What am I going to do? Then I just tossed and served as hard as I could.
Q. Number 19 tonight.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yes.
Q. Steffi Graf has 22. Do those numbers mean anything to you? Do you want to get past 22?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I would love to get to 22. I mean, 19 was very difficult to get to. Took me 33 years to get here, so… I would love to get there. But I have to get to 20 first, and then I have to get to 21. There’s so many wonderful young players coming up, so it will be a very big task. My next goal was just to get to 19. That was my goal. So I didn’t think it would happen this fast, to be honest, but it feels really good.
Q. What happened with the hindrance call?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I got too excited and I hit a great serve and Maria hit an even better return. I didn’t expect her to get it back. I said, C’mon, a little too soon. I guess there’s a rule that you can’t do it. So I’m fine with it. I moved on very fast to the next point; just tried to stay as focused as I could.
Q. Has that ever happened to you before?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Do you follow tennis (smiling)?
Q. The fist pump that came after that hindrance point is going viral, the sarcastic, C’mon.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I’m like, C’mon. It just goes to show you I have more fun on the court. I would have never done that three years ago, four years ago. I would have stayed so in the zone, so focused. I’m like, Okay, I’m going to have a little fun with this. I’m really enjoying myself. That’s what I want to do. Every match I want to go out and just enjoy myself. Whether I win or lose, I just want to have fun. So I just kind of made a little sarcasm after that. And I didn’t want to get another hindrance call, so I was really careful not to do that anymore.
Q. Maybe you did the longest winner’s speech you have ever done. Any specific reason for that? I was wondering if you prepared the speech before the match?
SERENA WILLIAMS: No, I actually — a month or two ago I thought if I won the Australian Open, there was so much I wanted to do and wanted to say, because it would be special, it would be 19, it would be something amazing. And I had a lot to say. I wanted to thank people. I wanted to thank the crowd, because this crowd here in Australia is really good to me. Like I say, I don’t get that everywhere. I really feel my heart really is here. Also there was other things I wanted to say and motivate people that may not have come from a lot. You can still make it and you can still do it if you just persevere and you believe in yourself. I think that was another good message to get across. Also, like I said, I did an ad for motorneuron disease, MND, and it’s so important to raise awareness for that because anyone can get it. It’s affecting our friends, people on the tour, people that I personally know. I just wanted to address that as well.
Q. Would you like your glass of champagne?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I’m okay for now.
Q. How soon do your eyes refocus and turn to Paris?
SERENA WILLIAMS: When I think about Paris, I don’t think about 20. I just think about winning there. It’s the one slam I don’t have more than two titles on. I only have two there. Sorry. That and Wimbledon I’ve been struggling. Yeah, so I think, okay, now that I got this under my belt. I’m a little more comfortable with my ranking now. Now I can really move. Like I did so bad last year at Roland Garros, and Wimbledon as well. So those are the two I really have my eye on, because I would like to do better at those. And I know I can do better. I’m not going into it not as number 20, but I want to win Roland Garros.
Q. Are you going to schedule differently this year to put more focus on the majors?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I definitely am not going to play as much this year, and I’m just going to go for everything when I do play. But I’m not playing as much. Try to be more focused in every tournament I get into.
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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