EXCLUSIVE: Gilles Muller Talks Injury, Confidence Issues And Retirement Plans
The player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon last year looks at the present and to the future during a special interview with Ubitennis.
LONDON: Blessed with one of the most effective serves on the tour, Gilles Muller’s first round win at The Fever-Tree Championships appeared routine. Until you look at the wider picture.
The 35-year-old veteran is currently ranked 46th in the world. Prior to this week, he had only managed to win one match in six tournaments. Suffering most of his losses to players ranked outside the top 50. His losing streak came to an end at Queen’s following a tense 7-6(7), 7-6(6), triumph over Denis Shapovalov. Muller claimed the victory with the help of his blistering serve, firing a total of 13 aces and winning 96% of the points behind his first serve.
“It wasn’t the best performance that is for sure. It is never easy to start a new tournament. It’s the first round and you have to get used to the court.” Muller told Ubitennis.net afterwards.
“It wasn’t easy, especially after not winning many matches. So I can’t say my confidence is high.
“I’m very pleased to have won it.”
Monday’s clash with the Canadian Next Gen star was very much a match of fine margins. During the opening set Muller missed out on three chances to clinch a 7-5 lead, before snatching the tiebreaker with the help of a Shapovalov forehand into the net. Then a case of Deja vu occurred in the second with both players remaining resilient behind their serve. Nevertheless, Muller managed to seal victory on his third match point after a return of the Shapovalov serve forced the Canadian to produce an unforced error.
“The serve today was working quite well. That always helps, especially against a guy like Denis, who is always hitting the ball very hard from the baseline. Once we were in a rally it was very hard to take control because he was hitting the ball so hard.” He evaluated.
“It was always important to dictate the points from my serve onwards and that was working quite well today.“
The injury woes
A lot has changed over the past 18 months. 2017 was a year filled with delight and heartbreak for 6’3” Muller. After ending a 15-year wait for an ATP title at the Sydney International, he claimed his second five months later in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Then at Wimbledon he downed Rafael Nadal 15-13 in a five-set marathon encounter. Finally the Luxembourg No.1 was on the up. That was until an elbow injury cut short his season. An issue that continues to hinder him.
“To be honest, my elbow isn’t 100 per cent. I’m always trying to find a way to be fit for the matches and not work too hard outside of the matches.” Muller openly admits.
“It is tough to find that balance and I haven’t found it yet.”
In order to continue playing, a plan has been implemented. Muller conducts daily treatment on his elbow, which may need attention multiple times during some days. Earning $5.79 Million in prize money throughout his career, he has ability to to hire a Physio to travel with him. Although it is more a necessity than a luxury.
“I have treatments every day, a couple times a day. I’m travelling with a Physio because otherwise I think it wouldn’t be possible to play.”
Fortunately, he can seek solace in the fact that he is playing during one of his favorite times of the year. The grass is the perfect surface for Muller to capitalize on his service game.
“It’s the nicest moment of the year when the clay (season) finishes and I’m ready to play on the grass. This year I haven’t had the best start on the grass. But with the win today my confidence is going up and I hopefully be able to keep on performing like I have done today.” He reflected.
Life after tennis
Muller is a late bloomer on the tour. Not winning his maiden ATP title until the age of 33. He is one of the growing numbers of players playing later in their careers. Although he knows that he is approaching the finishing stages of his career. When he made his ATP debut back in 2002, Shapovalov was just three-years-old.
So what does the future hold for him? Muller confirms that he has been thinking about his retirement, but remains committed to playing for now. As to what they might be, he is aiming to one day elevate the sporting profile of his home country. According to the ATP, Luxemburg has two plays of the official ranking system. Muller at 46 and Alex Knaff at 1283.
“I’m not sure yet. Obviously I want to stay in sport.” He said about his future retirement.
“Try to help develop a program in Luxembourg that can be helpful for young kids to fulfil their dreams in sport.”
Addressing why the talent in his country remains so limited. Muller has his own interpretation. For him, it is not due to ability. Insisting that the structure to guide young athletes “is not right.” Something he hopes to correct in the future.
“I think we have a lack of young athletes that believe in themselves. There is talent, but they never believe in themselves. I think I can help change that.” He explained.
Muller will resume his campaign at Queen’s on Wednesday where he will take on top seed Marin Cilic. Regardless of the outcome, he already feels like a winner given his recent misfortunes.
“I’m just trying to enjoy today’s victory. I haven’t thought about the next match. I just want to go home, watch football and relax.” He concluded in an upbeat manor.
(EXCLUSIVE) Ukrainian Journalist Reacts To Controversial Booing Of Marta Kostyuk At French Open
The first day of the French Open saw Aryna Sabalenka breeze into the second round but the talking point of the match occurred just seconds after it had finished.
Approaching the net her opponent, Marta Kostyuk, refused to shake hands with the world No.2. Her decision to do so was because of Sabalenka’s home country supporting Russia in their war against Ukraine. It is not the first time that a Ukranian player has done this on the Tour but the crowd reception was something that has rarely occurred before. Kostyuk was booed off the court as a result of her gesture, even though it was widely expected that she would do this before the match.
The situation adds to the frustration of Ukrainian players with some of them previously calling for tougher penalties to be implemented on Russian players due to the conflict. Something the governing bodies of tennis refused to do this as they argue that players shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their governments. The only exception was Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association who last year banned Russian and Belarussian players from their events amid fear of those athletes being used for propaganda by the Russian regime.
One of those watching Kostyuk’s match was journalist Sergey Kontorchik who is the founder of the Ukranian tennis website BTU. As somebody who follows the actions of his compatriots on the Tour every week, he admits the reception given to fans at Roland Garros to Kostyuk caught him off guard.
“This is quite surprising to me. I think Marta and our players have explained quite clearly the reasons why this is happening,” Kontorchik tells Ubitennis.
“If somebody still doesn’t understand why Ukrainian players don’t shake hands with players from countries that kill Ukrainians and wage an invasive war, they won’t understand it anymore.”
Kontorchik lives in Dnipro, a city located in the centre of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. On Friday two people were killed and 30 injured following a Russian missile strike on a outpatient clinic in Kontorchik’s city.
The situation involving Kostyuk is even more surprising given the recent support that was shown towards one of her peers, Elina Svitolina, who won the Lyon Open title on Sunday.
“Not really, maybe somewhere in smaller tournaments,” Kontorchik replied when asked if he remembers any other players from his country going through a similar scenario to that of Kostyuk.
“Even in yesterday’s final (of the Lyon Open), the public was quite on the side of the Ukranian.”
Quizzed about the incident during her press conference, Sabalenka said she understood her rival’s decision to not shake hands with her. Adding that Kostyuk shouldn’t have exited the court in the way that she did. Sabalenka has previously said players are entitled to hate her if they wanted to and has called for politics to be kept out of the sport.
“I understand why they are not shaking hands with us. I can imagine if they gonna shake hands with us, and then what’s gonna happen to them from the Ukrainian side. So I understand that. And I understand that this is not kind of like personally, you know,” she said.
“I think she didn’t deserve to leave the court that way.”
Sabalenka also adds that she believes that ‘normal people’ would not support the ongoing war. This a rare statement from an athlete from either Russia or Belarus to make about the current situation.
“I said it many, many times: Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it.” She said.
“Of course, we don’t support war. If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”
However, that comment has been met with scepticism from Kostyuk who has publically called for the Australian Open champion to clarify her view about who she backs in the war and why.
“She never says that she personally doesn’t support this war,” Kostyuk replied during her press conference.
“I feel like you (the media) should ask these players who would they want the war to win because if you ask this question, I’m not so sure these people will say that they want Ukraine to win.”
(EXCLUSIVE) Clara Tauson: The Other Danish Rising Star Competing At The French Open
When it comes to Denmark and tennis in 2023, the name of Holger Rune comes to the mind of many given his rapid rise in the sport which includes nine wins over top 10 players within a six-and-a-half month period.
However, the Nordic country also has a promising player on the women’s Tour who has already experienced her fair share of ups and downs. 20-year-old Clara Tauson has been constantly compared to Caroline Wozniacki whilst growing up given her impressive junior career. In 2019 she claimed the Australian Open girls title at the age of 16 which elevated her to the top of the ITF junior rankings. During that same year, she rose by over 130 places in the WTA standings to inside the top 300.
Transitioning to the women’s Tour from junior competition is always a challenge but Tauson impressed early on. A breakout 2021 season saw her claim two WTA titles in Lyon and Luxembourg. She also won a WTA 125K event in Chicago. Then last year she reached a ranking high of No.33 before injury derailed her rise in the sport.
The person in charge of trying to get Tauson back to the top of her game is Carlos Martinez who joined her team just weeks before the start of the French Open. Martinez is a veteran of tennis coaching and previously worked with Daria Kasatkina. He has also guided Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Fabio Fognini and Feliciano Lopez in the past.
“She called me two or three months ago when I stopped working with Dasha (Daria Kasatkina). We have been in contact for a long time because we talked a few years ago as well,” Martinez told Ubitennis about his latest coaching role.
“She is a girl who has very good potential, really nice and kind. She also wanted to come to my academy. We started a one-week trial and then very fast we started to form a very good connection. In the beginning, we started without any conditions. Then we both felt good (about the collaboration) and started working (together).”
Martinez’s academy, CMC Competition, is located 20 km outside of Barcelona in CT Mollet. The facility has six clay courts, a fully equipped gym and even an outdoor swimming pool. Making it an appealing place to train at this time of the year for players such as Tauson who impressed her new coach at a young age.
“I first saw her when she was 16 and playing at a Fed Cup tie in Poland,” he remembers. “At that time I liked how she was doing. She won the Australian Open (girls) title and was No.1 in the juniors.’
“When I saw her practice at my academy I was not surprised (by her game) because I know she is a really good player. The only thing is that she has to be healthy and work on some aspects. I believe she has a very good future.”
Whilst there is a lot of optimism for the future, it depends a lot on how the Dane’s body holds up. A back injury ruled her out of last year’s French Open and hampered her preparation for Wimbledon where she retired from her opening match. The setbacks continued into this season with a foot injury forcing her out of the Australian Open.
It is always a concern when a player is blighted by injuries at a young age but she isn’t the only person to have experienced this. Another notable case is Emma Raducanu who is currently sidelined from the sport after undergoing three ‘minor’ procedures on both of her hands and ankle.
“I think because she is tall and it was at that time when she was growing, she was affected by a few injuries. We need to prepare her body to be healthy and be one hundred per cent confident that she can compete,” Martinez explains.
“We are not rushing in any aspect such as talking about her ranking because for me the most important thing is to recover her level and then make it better than before. The focus is to build her game, make her understand how to play tennis and believe that she can go back towards the top of the rankings.”
The work between Martinez and Tauson appears to be paying off. As a result of her drop in the rankings, the Dane competed in the qualifying rounds of the French Open. In her opening two matches, she breezed her way past Katie Swan (No.161) and Petra Marcinko (No.257). Then in the final round, she edged out Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-2, after almost three hours of play.
Roland Garros was where Tauson made her Grand Slam debut back in 2020. On that occasion, she also had to come through qualifying before stunning 21st seed Jennifer Brady in the first round.
“We are happy that she has qualified here at Roland Garros. My speech to her every day is that we have one more way to improve. There is no pressure at all because she is out of the top 100. This is just the beginning and little by little I am seeing nice things that we are doing in practice she is using on the court for matches.”Carlos Martinez
The trio of victories is undoubtedly a massive boost but back home her achievements have been overshadowed by her friend and former doubles partner Rune. Together they won the Danish Under-12s mixed doubles tournament. They will reunite later this year to play in the Hopman Cup which is taking place after Wimbledon.
“The fact Rune is doing so well is a good motivation for her,” Martinez believes. “They are different players and personalities but they can both become very, very good. It’s good for her to have a friend on the Tour who she can share experiences with.”
“She’s the kind of player who can do everything when it comes to attack. She has a huge forehand, one of the best that I have ever seen. She serves good and has a good backhand.” He added.
Regardless of how Tauson performs in her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Paris, her new coach admits she needs to work on improving her defensive game. Should this and a few other adjustments be made, the sky’s the limit in Matinez’s eyes.
“Her level for sure one day can be top 20. She is very young and has very good weapons. I’m sure she can be very good. As for when I have no idea because I am not magic. I hope I’m going to be with her for a very long time and see how successful she will become.” He concluded.
Tauson will play her first round match on Sunday.
EXCLUSIVE: Monte Carlo Tournament Director David Massey On Attendance Figures And The Rise Of Italian Tennis
This year’s Monte Carlo Masters marked the start of a new era for the tournament.
Overseeing the running of the event for the first time was David Massey who is no stranger to working in the world of men’s tennis. Massey, who has been a resident of Monte Carlo since 2001, has previously served as the ATP’s vice president for Europe and has worked for the organisation in some capacity for 20 years. He also speaks fluently in English, Spanish and French.
Ubitennis spoke with Massey on the final day of this year’s tournament which concluded with Andrey Rublev winning his first Masters 1000 title by outlasting Holger Rune in three sets. He reflects on his first year in charge of one of the most prestigious clay court events outside of the French Open, provides some insights into this year’s attendance figures and speaks highly about the rise of Italian tennis.
SCANAGATTA: I would like to know what has brought you a better experience and what have you learned this year as tournament director? Also, what did you enjoy the most about this year’s tournament?
MASSEY: May I start by thanking Zeljko Franulovic (former tournament director) because it is always easier to build on an existing event. He ran it extremely well for so many years. I also know him, we worked together on the ATP Tour prior to 2004. It was a great privilege for me to take over from him.
In terms of what I have learnt this year, I think my 20 years of experience on the ATP Tour has served me well. Plus I also had one year (2022) where I was the deputy Tour director so I felt I came here (to Monte Carlo) prepared. I think I will always learn every single year. There are always things to improve but we are very satisfied with how we have built up the site this year. We were prepared to receive every sector, whether it would be the media, players, fans etc. We were really satisfied with the results there. Unlucky with the weather a couple of times but overall I am really satisfied with the week.
SCANAGATTA: Can you give us some numbers regarding spectators and the success of this tournament? As an Italian, I would have liked to see Jannik Sinner in the final but still, there was a great final with two great top 10 players.
MASSEY: We had 140,000 spectators which is a number that we have surpassed for the first time in the tournament’s history. That was a result of the real eagerness of our fans to come to sporting events. It has been a great effort from our ticketing department to sell those tickets and market the event.
We have a capacity on the site which can hold 15,644 people at one stage. It is very important for us to keep this in mind. So we are at capacity basically and it is hard to imagine that number increasing in the future but we want to maintain it at least. That is our goal.
We always have Easter Monday during the tournament which helps us and makes a big difference because people can enjoy that Monday of the tournament which is usually a work day.
In terms of the Italian market. We are just 11km away from the Italian border, so it is also like having a tournament which is played in Italy. We had so many Italian fans here and the depth of Italian players these days is exceptional. We saw fine tennis from all of the players. I think Matteo Berrettini was unlucky to have injured himself because he was really in good form before that. We saw how far Sonego went, Musetti’s upset against Djokovic and Jannik Sinner’s extremely good form.
Sinner is one of the few players who have got to the semi-finals of Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo in the same year. I think only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are the only other players to have done this as well. So Sinner is in great form and I hope to see him go further in the future.
SCANAGATTA: Do you have any idea about the percentage of foreign visitors to Monte Carlo? We saw a match between an Italian and French player on Court 2 and there were more Italian supporters.
MASSEY: Roughly speaking, about 40% of ticket holders are Italian, around 50% are French and then 10% are international.
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