EXCLUSIVE: Jelena Ostapenko’s Fight For Form
Ubitennis spoke with the former French Open champion following her loss at the Caja Magica in Madrid.
MADRID: Almost two years have passed since Jelena Ostapenko stunned the women’s tour by winning the French Open at the age of 20. Shortly afterward, she was tipped to be the next star of the sport. Unfortunately, now she finds herself in a new and unwelcome challenge.
2019 has been dominated more by frustration than celebration for the Latvian. Five months in and she has only managed to achieve back-to-back wins once. Doing so at Charleston with triumphs over Johanna Larsson and Shelby Rogers. To put this into perspective, she is currently ranked 98th in the Porsche race to Shenzhen.
Ostapenko’s latest loss occurred at the Caja Magica, venue of the Madrid Open. After producing an emphatic display in her opening match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, she fell short against seventh seed Kiki Bertens. A player who was runner-up at the tournament 12 months ago. Despite glimmers of her top ability, a costly unforced error count of 30 guided Betens to the 6-4, 6-3, win. The downside of Ostapenko’s all or nothing approach to the game.
“I think in general it was not a bad match. Of course, I lost it, but I think the main thing was that I was not afraid to go after the shots. Even though I was missing during some deciding moments, that’s what I have to do with my game.” An upbeat Ostapenko told Ubitennis following the match.
“I have to go for the shots and play aggressive. That’s what brought me good results during 2017.” She added.
There is no denying that the 21-year-old is in the midst of crises on the court. Her last victory over a top 10 player occurred 13 months ago in Miami and her last title on the tour was 17 months ago in Seoul. Leaving Ostapenko facing one question. Where did it all go wrong?
The prime culprit for the results is the formerly injured left wrist in the eyes of the Latvian. In total, she missed three months towards the end of 2018. Meaning that she was unable to train during the pre-season. A crucial time of the year for many player’s.
“It’s hard. I have to get back in form during the year where you don’t have much free time. We play almost every other week sometimes.” She explains. “I’m using every opportunity to have some weeks of practice. Like, if I even have a couple of day’s I’m using it for practice. Just to improve everything.”
The mental demons
Ostapenko, who will turn 22 next month, has never been afraid to express herself on the court. That was visible during her match against Bertens with cries of frustration and glares towards her camp. Her series of blistering winners were ultimately canceled out by her erratic error count. Leaving the question, is Ostapenko’s downfall her own mind?
“I think for sure it’s the mental side because physically I think I’m strong enough.” She admits without hesitation. “In practice, I can play unbelievable and then I go into the match and do some mistakes that I never do. For sure, that’s a mental thing. I think tennis is around 70 percent mental because everything is in the head.’
“My first match here, I played really well and my mind was completely free. I was not afraid to hit the ball and hit so many winners.”
In a bid to overcome those problems, Ostapenko has enlisted to help of people with expertise in the area. Although she admits that there is no magical solution. Instead, she will have to give it time.
“I’m working with a couple of people in that area (of sports psychology). I’m trying to improve, but it’s not easy. I’m a very emotional person and sometimes that helps me, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m working by myself, trying to improve every day.”
Another grand slam title?
While she may lack wins, the belief is no less than it was two years ago when she claimed the French Open crown. Becoming the first unseeded champion of the tournament since 1933 and her country’s maiden grand slam winner.
“I know I can win more grand slams because I’ve already done it once. I’ve shown I can play at that high level.” She said. “However, with my recent injury, it hasn’t been easy this year.
I think I need to play more matches and win more matches. Then I think I will become a dangerous player.”
Just how dangerous she can become remains to be seen. This season has developed a trend of different players winning different tournaments. In fact, Petra Kvitova is the only woman to win multiple titles on the WTA Tour. Nevertheless, there is only one objective for Ostapenko this year.
“To be healthy. To try to stay healthy and enjoy it because I had all this pressure to deal with following the French Open.” The world No.29 stressed.
“Injuries are never fun. It can happen to anyone. You just have to enjoy the moment.”
Now over the first major injury of her career, Ostapenko continues to plot how she will once again rise to the top of the women’s tour. The only question left is when will that happen?
EXCLUSIVE: Why Carlos Martinez Is No Longer Coaching Daria Kasatkina
After four years of working together, the former mentor of the world No.8 speaks exclusively to Ubitennis about why their partnership came to a sudden end.
It is pretty standard for a player to announce in some form of a statement that they have decided to change their coach but Daria Kasatkina didn’t do that. Instead, her girlfriend, Natalia Zabiiako, broke the news in a vlog posted on her YouTube channel.
The revelation caught many off guard. Whilst the WTA Tour is known for its frequent coaching changes, the French Open semi-finalist had been working with Carlos Martinez since June 2019 and enjoyed some of the biggest success of her career under his guidance. Four out of her six WTA titles were won during this period and last year was the first time she reached the last four of a major.
So what was the reason for this change? Kasatkina has had a roller-coaster start to the season. In Adelaide, she reached the final before losing to Belinda Bencic. However, in her five other tournaments played this year the Russian has failed to win back-to-back matches.
“There are some reasons (why we have stopped working together). It is not about tennis but it is about other priorities that I have and I have some principles that I want to follow,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
“We have a different points of view about things and it is better that we do it like this.”
Martinez’s initial comment only sparked more curiosity about what was it that went wrong. The Spaniard has previously worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. He is also the head of his own tennis academy called CMC Competition which is located roughly 20km outside of Barcelona.
As Kasatkina begins a trial with Italian coach Flavio Cupolla, Martinez spoke at length with Ubitennis about his time working with the tennis star, why they have separated and his plans for the future.
UBITENNIS: Was Daria’s decision to stop working with you unexpected?
MARTINEZ: It was an expected decision from my side. It was not a big surprise. I was very sad because I loved working with Dasha. She is a great girl and a great player. I think our connection on the court was really good but in the end, there were things about what she was doing, in my opinion, off the court. In my opinion, these were not the best for her career. That’s why she has decided to stop because our last conversation was the same way. Then I think she was a bit tired and not agreeing with my point of view of how she has to do things off the court.
UBITENNIS: You said the decision to stop working together was not about tennis but principles. What do you mean by this?
MARTINEZ: As a coach, I want to do things in a way. I think if you want to be a top player you have to do better and better every single year because if you want to be at the top of the rankings you have to be more precise with how you do it. Especially off the court. That’s why I think we had different points of view on the things that one professional tennis player has to do.
UBITENNIS: What were the different points of view between you and Daria?
MARTINEZ: I am not saying what she was doing was wrong because she is a very good professional. But I feel that on some days she has to take care if she wants to be there. There is a lot of pressure, she has to work on very specific things and I think that she has to manage her time off the court a bit better.
Our points of view are a bit different. I like to just focus on tennis and try to do my best. To invest more time to get better every day and that’s why I was thinking a bit differently. I respect Dasha because in the end, it’s her career and her decision. She is an adult and she has to make her decisions. It’s not a problem for me.
UBITENNIS: Daria is sometimes inconsistent on the Tour with her results. Do you think this is due to the technical side of her game or is it more to do with her mentality?
MARTINEZ: Of course, Dasha is a very good player. She is not the kind of player who can win a point with one or two shots. She has to work and that’s why it’s more mental for her. She has to be more technical than others but she has the ability to do this. She is a super-talented player. The technical part, of course, is important but it is more about how she manages her emotions to get success.
UBITENNIS: You have worked together for four years. What would you say was your greatest achievement with Daria?
MARTINEZ: It was a very intense four years. I enjoyed it a lot with Dasha because she is a very good player and is easy to work with because she can do everything. She is a talented player.
The best achievement with Dasha was making her a consistent player and getting her to play all kinds of games. In the end, she was this player who could play with (big) hitters, stable players etc. She had the weapons to beat them.
She has won good tournaments such as the WTA 500s. She has played in the semi-finals of big events such as Roland Garros which was a very good result. She was a consistent player and last year I think that after three years of working very hard together, she got what she deserved.
So our biggest achievement is Dasha becoming more consistent and understanding the game much better. I can’t focus on one result but the fact she reached the WTA Finals last year was a good signal that she was doing things well.
UBITENNIS: I understand the separation has just happened but have you thought about what you want to do next? Are you still interested in working with a WTA/ATP player or do you want to spend more time working at your academy?
MARTINEZ: I don’t know what I’m going to do. The truth is that I do have some offers to work with WTA players which for me is good. I like working on the women’s circuit. But at the moment I don’t want to move from my academy. I want to stay here and work with those at the academy who trust the way that I work. Also, I want to enjoy time with my family.
But you never know in this world. It is full of opportunities and if something interesting comes up… I am going to study (the opportunity) and see if it’s good.
I will wait and see. I will not change anything from the way I teach tennis.
UBITENNIS: Following up on my previous question – are there any players you would like to work with if you had the opportunity to do so?
MARTINEZ: If my mind I have some players that I would like (to work with). Of course, it’s better and easier if you feel that the player can follow your way.
I feel that I have a lot of passion and power to help players who want to keep improving and working hard. Tennis is my passion and nothing is going to stop it. Even this situation with Dasha which is very sad. I’m ready to help whoever wants to achieve something good.
(EXCLUSIVE) Fernando Verdasco: “If I still played At The Level Of 2009, I Could Win A Major”
“When I was No. 7 in the world, the top four players were winning every tournament. It was impossible to get an important title under your belt,” says 39-year-old Fernando Verdasco. “Now everybody stands a fair chance.”
By Marco Lorenzoni
Earlier this week Ubitennis conducted an exclusive interview with Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco after his loss to Mackenzie MacDonald in the first round of the Dallas Open. Despite his 39 years of age and several physical issues, Nando (Verdasco’s nickname) continues to look to the future with optimism.
UBITENNIS: Fernando, you got to your first round match after playing two tough qualification matches. How did you feel from a physical point of view?
VERDASCO: The toughest match was definitely the first qualifying round against Zhu which I won 7-6 in the third set. I felt more tired after that match than yesterday (Monday), but last night I felt a slight pain in my forearm and elbow which I had to undergo surgery on in the last two years. Even after the Australian Open, I faced some lesser physical problems that did not allow me to play the two Challengers before this tournament. Obviously, when you play three straight matches you have very little time to recover and a sore elbow makes everything more complicated. I wasn’t able to serve at the same level (in the first round) as in the previous two matches. That made it hard against a player like McDonald who is playing great and is at a higher level than those I played against in the qualifying matches. However, I was leading 3-2 in the first set and also in the second there were many close games which unfortunately I didn’t manage to win. Tennis is like that, you can win a match 6-1 6-1 but every game goes to deuces and you are just lucky that day to win the decisive points. From this point of view was a bad day for me, but I’m still happy I played three matches in the same tournament and I hope it will help me and give me more confidence over the next weeks.
UBITENNIS: In recent seasons we have seen several players winning Masters 1000 or achieving excellent results in the Majors. You reached your best ranking, No. 7, in 2009. D do you think the general level today is comparable to when you were at the peak of your career?
VERDASCO: I think it’s very different today. When I reached the seventh position of the ranking, the top four players were basically winning every single tournament they participated in. It was practically impossible for other players to imagine winning a Major or a top event. Only Cilic, Del Potro and Wawrinka managed to win a slam in that period. During almost 20 years and in 80 slams it just happened on three or four occasions. Now there is certainly more space for everyone, from a certain point of view it is fairer … If you ask me if I would prefer to occupy the seventh position today or in 2009, my answer is today. Roger has just retired, Murray is no longer at the same level he was ten years ago and Rafa unfortunately is constantly struggling with injuries. I have the feeling that the seventh seed in a big tournament stands a real chance of winning. In my time it wasn’t possible.
UBITENNIS: What are your plans for the coming weeks? Have you already decided with your family and team which tournaments you are going to play?
VERDASCO: Fortunately I’ve been given two wild cards, for Delray Beach next week and Doha the week after. I hope I’ll not have any issues with my elbow so at least I can participate in these two events. As for the month of March, I still have no idea if I’ll play in Dubai and rest in the week of Indian Wells to return to Miami. I could also skip Dubai and play the Sunshine Double. It will all depend on my physical condition and how my body responds in the next two weeks.
EXCLUSIVE: ‘A Bit Worried’ – Daria Kasatkina’s Coach On Her Australian Open Exit
Carlos Martinez reveals what exactly happened to Kasatkina’s form during her shock first round exit at Melbourne Park.
The mentor of Daria Kasatkina admits that he is ‘a bit worried’ about her most recent performances on the Tour but is maintaining a positive outlook for the weeks ahead.
Kasatkina, who was seeded eight at the Australian Open, suffered one of the heaviest defeats of her career in the first round where she lost 6-1, 6-1, to Varvara Gracheva who is ranked almost 90 places lower than her. The world No.8 only managed to win two points behind her second serve and hit a costly 23 unforced errors against three winners. Overall, she was on the court for less than an hour.
The performance was not easy viewing for Kasatkina’s coach Carlos Martinez. A Spanish-based former player who has also previously worked with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. Speaking to Ubitennis shortly after arriving back in his home country, Martinez provided some insight into what went wrong at Melbourne Park.
“It was not the best. The truth is she was managing very badly because we expected to play on Tuesday. Then at the end, she played on Wednesday evening,” he said.
“We spent Tuesday waiting a lot of hours at the club. The first day was ok but the second day for her was tough. It’s not an excuse, this is what it was.”
Kasatkina’s match was among those affected by mother nature. Earlier this week, there was a three-hour delay to play due to the blistering heat. Then showers disrupted matches on the outside courts multiple times.
Although the encounter against Gracheva wasn’t the only disappointing result the Russian has experienced this year. At the Adelaide International 2, she looked to be in top form after reaching the final before losing 6-0, 6-2, to Belinda Bencic. In an unfortunate coincidence, last year Kasatkina also reached a tournament final (winning a title) a week before the US Open and then lost in the first round of the Grand Slam.
“There was zero energy, it was windy and the court was very fast. She didn’t do so well, she played not good. This is the truth because to lose 6-1, 6-1…..in her position now it’s very tough,” Martinez admits.
“Especially after the last week when she was doing well (In Adelaide) against Barbora Krejčíková and Petra Kvitova where she played two very good matches. The final against Bencic wasn’t good. So that’s why I’m a bit worried because the last two matches were very easy scores (against Kasatkina).”
In the eyes of her coach, Kasatkina’s biggest problem during matches doesn’t involve the upper part of her body. It is another part of her body which is biggest factor.
“Physically when she doesn’t have this energy in her legs it is more difficult for her because she doesn’t have as impressive strokes and depends a lot more on her legs.” He commented.
Although there is still no reason to panic just yet given the credentials of the 25-year-old. So far in her career, she has won six Tour titles and reached the semi-finals of the French Open last year. She has also recorded 19 wins over top 10 players with six of those victories occurring during 2022.
“I am not worried because I know that it is just the beginning of the season and we have to keep working,” Martinez states. “We will adjust a few things but not change her preparation a lot because in my opinion every day we are working one hundred percent.’
“I’m expecting better results when we are in Abu Dhabi. There are three super tough tournaments (coming) but we are going to prepare well to get ready to compete and to try to win matches. We will see how it goes.”
Kasatkina is the only top 10 player to not win a match at this year’s Australian Open.
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