Kei Nishikori Cautious About Madrid Return - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Interviews

Kei Nishikori Cautious About Madrid Return

Published

on

Kei Nishikori (zimbio.com)

Madrid: Kei Nishikori has expressed reservations about playing in this week’s Madrid Open as he continues his return from a wrist injury.

The former US Open finalist has endured a troublesome start to the clay this season after a wrist injury sidelined him from the Barcelona Open. Nishikori recently returned back to his base camp in Miami to undergo rehabilitation on his right wrist. Despite the efforts invested by his team, the issue continues to hinder his comeback plans.

“It’s getting better. I would say I’m not hundred percent yet. But, yeah, I’m happy to be back here. I have two more days. We’ll see how I recover.” A weary Nishikori told the media in Madrid.
“I don’t want to risk it too much this week. I will see how it goes first couple rounds.”

Nishikori hasn’t played a match on the tour since his quarterfinal loss to Fabio Fognini at the Miami Open in March. Whilst his participation in the Madrid Masters appears a bit dubious, the Japanese player hopes to shine once again at the Caja Magica.

“Hopefully I do well here.” He said. “I always play good in this tournament. (There’s a) little bit altitude, too. Little bit easier to hit and penetrate with my groundstrokes.”

A former runner-up in Madrid, Nishikori has enjoyed numerous success at the event. Settling for second best against Rafael Nadal in 2014, Nishikori reached the semi-final stage in 2015 and 2016.  Out of the 19 matches he has played in Madrid, the 27-year-old has won 14 of them.

“I love this tournament. This is one of the beautiful city, too. I love Spain. I always love to come here.” He stated.
“Everything is beautiful, the courts, locker room, food. Everything is good. So I love being here.”

Seeded sixth this year, Nishikori is scheduled to play either Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Diego Schwartzman in the second round. The world No.8 has a total of 1200 points to defend during the clay period, the seventh highest on the men’s tour.

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Marian Vajda, Djokovic’s longtime coach: “Sinner is the strongest, but Novak isn’t done winning yet”

Marian Vajda gives an exclusive to Ubitennis about the current state of tennis and his role at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy.

Published

on

By

Novak Djokovic and Marian Vajda - Rolex Paris Masters 2018 (photo @Sport Vision, Chryslène Caillaud)

“After 15 years with Djokovic I lost my motivation, now I’m less involved when I watch him” Vajda tells us at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy: “I don’t miss the life I had before, I’ve found serenity with my non-profit organization. His split-up with Ivanisevic? I read about it in the papers, I didn’t expect it.”

by Margherita Sciaulino

Marian Vajda and Novak Djokovic, together, won 85 titles in 15 years, including 20 Grand Slams and 37 Masters 1000, and with the Slovak coach by his side, Djokovic was on the throne as world No. 1 for 361 weeks. When Goran Ivanisevic joined the team in June 2019, Vajda had taken a step back, saying he wanted to spend more time close to his family, then eventually quit the Serbian’s team for good in February 2022. He was starting to lack the energy required by such a demanding job and, still today, he does not regret his decision.

Vajda is currently at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy where he is following some of the talented young players mentored by his non-profit organization: “HRAJME TENIS SLOVENSKO”.

He is keen to point out that it is not an academy but an organization whose mission consists in financing and supporting children aged 10 to 15 who are interested in the world of tennis. It’s not just about talented kids, it’s also about less talented players. The second, but not least goal of the organization is to train new teachers to become all-round coaches. This project had kicked off when Vajda was still at Djokovic’s side, but today represents his life.

Through this mission, Marian Vajda has found peace: he continues doing what he most loves, without stress and close to his family. Just as the Monte-Carlo Masters is about to get under way, just a few kilometres away from our table, we had a talk about what is happening among today’s top players.

Ubitennis: There’s quite a difference between coaching the world No. 1 and young guys. Do you miss being the coach of a top player?

Vajda:Yes, the difference is really huge. I had already started working with this non-profit organization while I was still working with Novak four years ago. So it’s not a novelty of the last year, I had been thinking about it for a long time. The 15 years together with Djokovic were very intense, I spent a lot of energy, when I parted ways with him I tried to continue for a year with Alex Molcan (top 50) but I realized that something was missing. I was less motivated, I wanted to be closer to my family and I preferred to help young boys enter the world of tennis in Slovakia, in Bratislava. With this organization I found my serenity. So today I can say that I don’t miss it. But I always enjoy following Novak, I stay up to date with all the news about him and I continue watching him. But obviously I’m not as involved as I was before.”

Ubitennis: Which was the hardest aspect of being Djokovic’s coach?

Vajda:We were always on the move, from one continent to another. I always had to say goodbye to my family without knowing how long I would be away and the pressure in tournaments was very strong, even for me. You know, in tennis, the coach is constantly under scrutiny. The pressure of this sport is exhausting even for the coach. In football when a team loses, it’s never the fault of a single individual, you don’t go and look at how the coach worked every time to prepare for that game. Whereas when a tennis player loses, the coach is immediately questioned.”

Ubitennis: How did you manage to find the right stimuli to start something so different?

Vajda:It happened in a very natural way. Seeing these guys get more and more committed and passionate made me so happy… the stimulus was simply that.”

Ubitennis: In your opinion, who is the strongest player today?

Vajda:I would say Jannik Sinner. In the last year he has played some really impressive tennis and he’s continuing to improve, keeping the level high. I think he’s the clear favorite to become No. 1 in the world. I also find Alcaraz is very strong, but Sinner at the moment is definitely the most likely to get to the top.”

Ubitennis: At first, everyone thought that Djokovic would find new motivation from players like Sinner and Alcaraz to keep winning, but in the last period the general impression has changed. Do you think Djokovic is taking a step back?

Vajda:I think Novak is trying to adapt and find the right balance. He can’t imagine playing all the tournaments like he used to. The ATP calendar is too intense, he has to make choices. The greatest motivation for him is the Slams and the Olympics. So he has to find the time to prepare, to train well, but he can’t put the same focus on the other tournaments as well. The real question, I think, is whether this new method will still succeed in making him win. Because if you play fewer tournaments, you may arrive less trained than those who have played more than you. But Novak knows how to do it, he’s very smart and none of the new top players have his experience, simply because of his age. Also last year he missed several tournaments such as Indian Wells and Miami but then he won Roland Garros, made the final at Wimbledon and won the US Open. So I don’t think he’s done winning and this year he’s going to prove it once again.”

Ubitennis: And what do you think about his split with Ivanisevic? Did you expect it?

Vajda:Well, no, I didn’t expect that. I read about it in the newspapers like everyone else, so my opinion is based only on what I have read in the last few days. I was quite surprised because in the last few years Novak has always been comfortable with him, he was totally part of the team. Maybe the pressure that coaches have to endure, which I mentioned before, has become too tiring for Ivanisevic as well. But I’m not sure about it.”

Ubitennis: At the level of the young guys you coach today, what do you think is the greatest difficulty for a tennis player in general?Vajda:It’s very important for a tennis player to be mentally relaxed, otherwise he can’t play his best tennis. But you have to find the right balance between being calm and working hard. Every day the training program is very intense, but it must be respected and carried out seriously. Finding a balance between working well, without getting stressed, is difficultin tennis, but fundamental.”

Continue Reading

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Q&A With Simona Halep’s New Coach Carlos Martinez

After working with the likes of Daria Kasatkina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, Martinez reveals details to Ubitennis about his new role.

Published

on

SIMONA HALEP OF ROMANIA - PHOTO: MATEO VILLALBA / MMO

Earlier this week at the Miami Open Simona Halep marked her return to professional tennis with a well-fought battle against Paula Badosa which she lost in three sets.

The encounter was the first time Halep has played on the Tour since successfully appealing against her doping ban. She was initially issued with a four-year suspension after testing positive for Roxadustat and having irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). Then the sentence was slashed to nine months following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which concluded on the balance of probabilities that Halep had unintentionally consumed a contaminated substance and dismissed her ABP charge. 

Mentoring the former world No.1 now is Carlos Martinez who has spoken to Ubitennis about their new collaboration. The Spaniard is a former player himself who was ranked inside the top 200 in doubles and the top 500 in singles. As a coach, he has trained top players such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Daria Kasatkina, Clara Tauson, Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez. 

So how did the two join forces and does Martinez believe Halep has what it takes to return to the pinnacle of women’s tennis after an 18-month absence? 

UBITENNIS: How did you and Simona come about working together?

MARTINEZ: She (Halep) texted me and asked me about my situation. If I would be interested in working with her. Of course, I said yes that I would be open to working with her. 

Then Darren Cahill, who is one of the past coaches of Simona, contacted me and asked me if I would like to work with her. Of course, I said yes. This was my first contact with Simona. 

UBITENNIS: Simona played her first match against Badosa earlier this week. For somebody who hasn’t played on the Tour for over a year, what impressed you most about her performance? 

MARTINEZ: I watched her full match and I was impressed because she had no time to prepare. The level that she was showing was very good and she had this same champion gem, as I describe it. She was competing very well but didn’t have a lot of gasoline (at the end of the match) because she couldn’t work (on her game) the last couple of weeks. That’s why she was very tired at the end and Badosa was playing well. It was a good beginning for her because she could be on the court, happy and enjoying the process. 

UBITENNIS: Did you see any specific areas in her game that she needs to improve on? 

MARTINEZ: It is too soon to talk about what I want to work with her on. Simona has good experience and we need to get to know each other well. Talk about how we are going to build her career again which is her second opportunity. 

Then we will see what kind of things (to work on). Of course, I have an idea but I need to talk with her and agree on everything. I am a person who likes to listen and talk with the players. During the process, I will see what I have to do and it’s going to be very nice. 

UBITENNIS: After her first round loss in Miami, Simona told reporters that it was too early to set out any plans or goals for the future. As a coach, is it more of a challenge to train somebody in this situation? 

MARTINEZ: I agree with Simona that the most important thing right now is to be healthy and to recover her shape. Work well on her tennis and fitness area. Then after a few weeks, we will see what the main goals are going to be. At the beginning of her comeback, the most important thing is to be on the court, prepare well and to recover her level. Once she recovers her level I am one hundred percent sure that she is going to get the goals that she wants. 

UBITENNIS: 18 months is a lot of time to be out of the sport. Do you think Simona can return to the top of the women’s Tour if she avoids any injury problems?

MARTINEZ: I am sure when Simona gets back into her best shape she will compete with the best players on the best courts. She will be one of the players who will have chances to win big events. 

Now she needs time and we have to be patient. But with this kind of player when they are that good, you have to be ready for any result. The ambition Simona has is going to be very important for her to get the goals that she wants. 

UBITENNIS: You have worked with Kasatkina, Kuznetsova, Tauson etc. Is there anything about Simona that makes her different? 

MARTINEZ: All of those players have good things and these things make them different. Simona is also similar but at the same time different. 

Kuznetsova is a Grand Slam champion, and Simona is a double Grand Slam champion. Both of them are very good players. It is a pleasure for me to work with Simona because in my opinion she can return to the top level and this is what we are going to fight for together. 

UBNITENNIS: Simona’s return has gained mass media interest. Similar to when Maria Sharapova returned after her doping suspension. Is there a concern that this could have a negative impact on her and do you have a plan in place to deal with this? 

MARTINEZ: Simona is a very smart girl. She knows she is innocent and it shows (Martinez makes references to the CAS verdict). This is going to be a good motivation for her and this is why she has been fighting to prove her innocence all this time. 

I always thought she was innocent and in my opinion, this will be a good motivation for her. She’s going to try to do her best again and she knows how difficult it is to be back at the top level but she going to fight for this. Hopefully, soon she will be fighting for the big titles. 

UBITENNIS: Finally, How has the women’s Tour changed over the past 18 months during Halep’s absence? 

MARTINEZ: The Tour keeps improving because there are young players who are in better condition. They are bigger and stronger. But it is not just about power. It is not just about running super fast. 

The knowledge of tennis is very important and Simona is one of the smartest players on the Tour. She has the ability to beat these kinds of game styles with her knowledge. She is a fighter which is a big difference between the young and older players. She has more experience, is mentally stronger and this is going to be good for her. Oh course the Tour has changed but Simona will adapt. She showed against Badosa, who can hit strong shots, that she could manage her game well. I think it’s going to be fine. 

Continue Reading

Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Bullying, No Welfare Checks And Little Empathy – A Coach’s Experience With Tennis’ Anti-Doping Body

In an eye-opening interview with Ubitennis, the coach of former top 100 player Kamil Majchrzak speaks out about the International Tennis Integrity Agency who are accused of deliberately making an example out of the tennis star for their own purposes.

Published

on

Poland's Kamil Majchrzak (photo via X)

Tennis’ anti-doping body has been under scrutiny in recent days following the reinstatement of Simona Halep.

The former world No.1 had been banned from the sport for four years after testing positive for the banned substance Roxadustat, as well as having abnormalities in her Athletes Biological Passport (ABP). The penalty was handed to her following a hearing with an independent panel. The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) at one stage pushed for her to be banned for six years. However, an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) substantially reduced her ban to nine months after concluding she likely consumed a contaminated substance and dismissed the ABP violation charge. The significance of such a reduction has risen questions about the integrity of ITIA’s “independent tribunal.”

Halep, who has earned more than $40M in prize money during her career, had the luxury of being able to afford to take the ITIA to court. But what happens to those who can’t afford to do so?

In 2022 Kamil Majchrzak was steadily rising up the ATP rankings, peaking at a career-high of 75th and ending the season in the top 80. For the first time, he had played in the main draw of all four Grand Slams and reached the quarter-finals or better at three Tour-level events within the same year. Then his hard work disappeared. 

Majchrzak was provisionally suspended after testing positive for three banned substances (SARM S-22, LGD-4033 and PPARδ agonists). Eventually, he proved his positive samples were due to contaminated isotonic drinks but he was still suspended for 13 months under the liability rule which states players have ultimate responsibility to ensure they are taking legal substances. Due to cramping during the US Open swing, Majchrzak had consulted with a reputable dietitian in Poland. The dietitian works with numerous Olympic and professional athletes and had recommended the same isotonic drinks which had been used and tested without any problems.

What was not publicly reported at the time was the ordeal that the Pole and his team experienced, until now.

“In many of the cases of athletes, they only test positive once. A lot of athletes can explain that either by passing the blame to someone in the team or through contamination. There’s been some wild and wonderful stories. I’m not for one second, implying that they are not truthful or accurate, but some of them are quite fanciful,” Majchrzak’s coach, Marcel du Coudray, told Ubitennis during a lengthy phone call.  
“In our case, the burden of proof was huge, because Kamil had four positive tests in the space of 5 weeks. It meant that we had to have a very accurate explanation. And the scientific evidence had to be extremely accurate. So our burden of proof was incredibly high.”

Du Coudray is no stranger to the world of tennis with his previous pupils including Nikolay Davydenko, John Peers and Henri Kontinen. However, dealing with the ITIA was a completely new ordeal.

“The ITIA tried to imply that because he failed four tests, he was more guilty even though we could prove the contamination,” he explained.
“They said to us ‘We want to make an example out of Kamil’ and they didn’t care.’
“We felt comfortable with our case and told the ITIA that we were prepared to take the ITIA to CAS.The scientific evidence required to explain the findings of 4 positive tests (with 3 different contaminants) in 5 weeks is much higher than just a one off test. In addition, the amounts detected were microscopic, at least 1000 times less than required to begin to have any effect. Given this overwhelming proof, we were astounded by ITIA’s attitude towards the case”

When Majchrzak and his team discussed the possibility of taking the case to CAS, they noticed a change in the communication from the ITIA. Something that appears to be a deliberate tactic in the eyes of Du Coudray.

“They went silent for a number of weeks, they wouldn’t reply to anything, or simply delayed answering,” he said. 
“Our lawyers had said that they often do this if you want to take them on. They give you no option. They make you an initial offer to agree to a sanction, but if you want to go to CAS, they’re going to delay the process so much longer that you would have been better off accepting the initial offer.”

The accusation of the ITIA taking a while to deal with players is something that has been brought up before. Halep might have ended up being awarded a nine-month ban but she missed 18 months of the Tour. Meanwhile, Tara Moore failed a drugs test in May 2022 but a panel didn’t conclude that contamination was the cause until December 2023.

Trying to prove a player’s innocence isn’t a cheap process. Du Coudray estimated that it cost a couple thousand euros to send the substance in question to a lab to investigate. Furthermore, players pay for each test that is conducted rather than in bulk. This is why it is not feasible to test every supplement before consuming them. 

‘The ITIA bullies athletes’

After considering his options, Majchrzak opted not to take his case to CAS out of fear that the process could end up sidelining him from the sport for even longer. A warning that was issued to his team by his lawyers.

“There’s no question about it. The ITIA bullies athletes into accepting these punishments,” Du Coudray states. 
“They don’t particularly care how long the cases take because it doesn’t matter to them. Athletes are entitled to a fair hearing but there is no way that this process is fair. Athletes are in a race against time, it’s their time, and it’s their career time that has a very finite duration.
“The ITIA has an infinite number of days. They can take as long as they want and I want to say that they have a much larger budget because they’re playing with somebody else’s money, it’s not their own.
“Their tone also pressures you into accepting their offered sanction. We weren’t really discussing with them whether we could beat them or not – Kamil was able to prove his innocence and prove beyond any doubt that it was accidental contamination. It was whether we wanted to accept the length of time that they would force us into.”

Throughout Majchrzak’s suspension, he didn’t receive any sort of welfare check because no such system was in place. Both he and Du Coudray spoke to a medical professional for help with their mental health due to the toll the process took on both of them.

“There were some very, very dark months immediately after the positive test. And the pressure that is put on the athlete is very heavy. If you are feeling a certain way, please get in touch with a professional, whether the athlete is guilty or not. What we don’t want to have happen is that it’s going to cost someone their life.”

Reform and the future

The ITIA was set up as an independent body in 2021 by the seven governing bodies of tennis – ATP, WTA, ITF and the four Grand Slams. Their objective is to ‘promote, encourage, enhance and safeguard the integrity of their professional tennis events worldwide.’ Besides doping, they are also responsible for protecting the sport from corruption offences such as match-fixing.

However, Du Coudray and others have concerns about how the organization operates. The question is can changes be made or is there a case for the entire organization to be disbanded?

“Having dealt with the personalities there I think they are quite egotistical. They would not welcome any accountability just given how they have spoken to the athletes and the interactions that we’ve had,” he commented.
“I don’t know these people individually. But they do come across as being incredibly arrogant. So I’m not sure that they would welcome any reform.
“I don’t think it needs to be disbanded because I would love to have a system that is transparent. There’s no room for doping in sports. But when you have players like Kamil tested 15/20 times a year and we know of other players who don’t get tested more than one or two times. 
“I don’t know what the perfect answers are. But definitely, there needs to be very intense discussion and concrete changes made.”

Majchrzak returned to the Tour during the first week in January at an ITF event in Tunisia where he came through qualifying en route to winning the title. Since then, he has won a second ITF title, a Challenger event in Rwanda and reached the semi-finals of another Challenger that was also held in Rwanda. 

He is now ranked 396th in the world. However, his team is not getting too carried away when it comes to managing expectations.

“It would be a heavy burden to put such a strict timeline on it by the end of the year,” Du Coudray replied when asked if Majchrzak is targeting the top 100 before the year ends. “Kamil’s playing very well. We have to get through this year. Making sure that we are as well prepared for each level as we go up the rankings as possible. As we get higher and higher it is going to get more and more difficult.”

The coming months will be another battle for Majchrzak and his team but this time it will be on the court. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending