It was only two years ago when Daria Kasatkina was being described as the new face of Russian tennis and a star in the making.
A former French Open junior champion, Kasatkina achieved various accomplishments prior to her 22nd birthday that others could only dream of. Her rise in the sport started in April 2017, when at the age of 19 she defeated Jelena Ostapenko to claim her maiden WTA title at the Charleston Open. Her breakout took place the following year where she lost to Naomi Osaka in the final of Indian Wells and won another Premier title in Moscow. Furthermore, she also reached back-to-back quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon as she eventually peaked at a ranking best of 10th in October 2018.
It looked as if the sport had a potential future No.1 in the making who was on similar trajectories as Osaka and Bianca Andreescu. Then a lacklustre 2019 took place, serving as a stern reminder of how hard it is to rise to the top and yet how easy it is to fall. Last year she lost her opening match at 11 tournaments on the Tour as she struggled to reproduce the results from the previous couple of years.
“It’s obvious that we need to adjust a few things to play at this level. In practice we are fixing these things to get these good feelings back for her,” coach Carlos Martinez told UbiTennis.
Challenged with getting Kasatkina back on the road to top-level tennis is Spanish coach Martinez, a former world No.180 doubles player who is also known for his work with Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The 2020 roller-coaster for Martinez started in February when Kasatkina looked to be once again regaining form with a run to the semi-finals of the Lyon Open in France. It was the Russian’s seventh tournament of the season but the first where she won back-to-back main draw matches. However, a week later the WTA Tour was halted for what ended up being a five-month period due to COVID-19.
“It was very sad for us because she was starting to get some very good rhythm after Lyon,” Martinez reflects. “In my opinion, she lost her (semi-final) match in the right way because she is a player who needs to win matches and get confidence in her game.’
“She had good chances to do well in Indian Wells because of the conditions. It (the Tour break) wasn’t good for us and now we have to regain that rhythm but for sure she will be again at that top level.’
“Our expectation for us is to be good every day,” he added.
Sidelined from competition, there was one godsave with the fact the two could continue training during lockdown at the Club de Tenis Mollet on the outskirts of Barcelona, an academy owned by Martinez himself. During the unscheduled break, he continued to work with Kasatkina with one particular focus in mind – to make her more aggressive.
The return to competition
Opting not to play in any exhibition matches during the break, it was a case of wait and see if the hard work had paid off. Few can cast doubt on Kasatkina’s commitment to the sport, but – as with many of her peers – the question was how she would fare on the Tour after five months away.
The first stop was in the Italian city of Palermo, where the entire WTA Tour resumed. Unfortunately, there would be another blow for Kasatkina as she suffered a leg injury during practice heading into the tournament. She was still able to play, but ended up losing a marathon first round encounter against Jasmine Paolini. There were also mixed fortunes for Kasatkina in her next tournament at the Western and Southern Open in New York where she lost two out of three matches played. She managed to enter the main draw only with the help of a lucky loser spot.
“She couldn’t play her best in Palermo because she injured her leg the day before during practice. She couldn’t be 100 per cent ready to compete. It’s true she played three hours and 10 minutes against Paolini but honestly she couldn’t do more. Her leg wouldn’t let her run,” Martinez reflected.
“In Cincinnati (relocated to New York this year) she played three matches. The second was a good chance for her to qualify for the main draw but she lost a few chances during the second set.’
Kasatkina lost in the first round of Cincinnati to Anette Kontaveit.
So what is the reason for all of these early losses? Is it simply because the now-world No.68 has lost some of her form from two years ago or is there a more complex explanation?
Martinez believes it is the mental side of the game which is letting Kasatkina down at present. When asked how close she is to the type of form which took her into the world’s top 10, he firmly believes she is not too far away. Although the ongoing problem continues to be her mindset.
“She has the game because when she practices she is showing a really good level. When we compete against top players she is winning many times,” he said.
“The problem isn’t with her game, the problem is she needs to believe in herself a little bit more. To go on court and think she is very good. Her game is really consequential of these thoughts.”
“She’s not far away from achieving this. When we talk about the game, we just need to keep adjusting a few things and for sure she will be back (inside the top 10). I don’t know when but she will be back to the top level.”
Patience is a virtue
Over the coming weeks Kasatkina will not have to worry much about her current ranking position thanks to a change in the rules due to COVID-19. The WTA recently revised their system to the “Better of 2019 and 2020” system where a player’s position is based on their 16 best tournament performances between March 2019 and December 2020.
“Fortunately, this year we have no pressure and this is the thing she needs to understand. This year is about fixing a few things, starting again and being back into competition following lockdown,” outlined Martinez.
“There are no goals regarding her result. But I have goals to establish again this pattern of the play that she has to do on the court. This for us is the most important. I know if she starts doing this pattern and believing in herself again, she can do good.”
The next test for Martinez and Kasatkina will be next week’s US Open in what will be the Russian’s 19th consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearance. Although recently the majors have been a thing of misery, with Kasatkina only managing to win two matches since the 2018 US Open.
“The important thing is to understand the philosophy of this game because with this knowledge she will get the goals we are expecting in the future. Of course, for us it is to be back in the top 10 because she has the game to do so. So we just have to be patient and work on this mentality.” Martinez concluded.
Kasatkina will play Marta Kostyuk in the first round at Flushing Meadows.
(Exclusive) Albert Costa: “Davis Cup Finals Are Going To Remain The Best Of Three Sets”
Last week at the Barcelona Open during one of the many suspensions due to the rainy weather UbiTennis had a chat with 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa in the elegant clubhouse of the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona.
By Federico Bertelli, translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
Born in Lleida, Albert Costa grew up as a tennis player at the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona and also won the tournament in 1997. When he retired from tennis he became the director of the tournament until three years ago when he handed it over to David Ferrer. One of the best stands on the centre court takes his name. Until the 1980s the tennis stadium was the Spanish team’s Davis Cup home.
Now, after stepping down from his role at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Albert Costa has become tournament director of the Davis Cup which is now advertised as “The World Cup of Tennis.”
UBITENNIS: Players have asked to be able conclude their season before playing the Davis Cup. As a result, the group ties which will determine the eight quarter finalists have been moved to September and the final knockout stage will unfold over five days. What can you tell us about this? Is it going to be a definitive format?
Albert Costa: It hasn’t been confirmed yet but likely it will be six days starting on Tuesday until Sunday. It is not yet agreed with ITF but, as organisers of the event, our intention is to play from Tuesday to Sunday at the end of November. As far as the future is concerned, we are trying to find the best solution. We are aware that the first years will require some fine tuning but I believe that in the next one or two years we’re going to reach a consolidated format, which will enable us to work comfortably and to give certainty to our stakeholders.
UBITENNIS: In 2022 and 2023 the Davis Cup will be played in Malaga. Can you tell us anything more about the selection process, considering that last year they were speaking about Abu Dhabi and then at the beginning of 2022 a neutral location was being considered?
Albert Costa: Actually we were in negotiations with Abu Dhabi, there was a concrete proposal. Then Malaga came up with a very attractive proposal and at that point we considered other factors which led us to choose the latter: tennis tradition and culture are at a different level in Spain and this was an aspect that drove Kosmos to choose Malaga. Other considerations are involved as well: an easier destination to reach for tennis fans. Europe is the centre of tennis in terms of countries and players, the ATP finals are played indoors in Turin. This last aspect is particularly relevant: in fact it is very simple to move to Malaga just a few days later and the environment is similar. Besides, Malaga is a city which is growing very fast and sees Davis Cup as an opportunity to gain visibility and to pair with its tourism.
UBITENNIS: The first edition of Davis Cup with the new format was played at the Caja Magica in Madrid, where the Mutua Madrid Open usually takes place. One of the advantages of the facilities is the possibility to use the three indoor courts simultaneously. Has the idea of playing simultaneous matches been put aside? Playing more than one match at the same time could allow them to go back to the 5-set format like in the old Davis Cup.
Albert Costa: I know very well the format of the former Davis Cup, but we have ruled out going back to five set matches. We haven’t taken into consideration the option of playing simultaneously.
UBITENNIS: But with the current three match format, the double counts very much, much more than before; amazing runs like those of Djokovic or Murray, who a few years ago carried their teams on their shoulders and led them to victory, now would no longer be possible.
Albert Costa: It’s true. With the new format, having a great number one isn’t enough. You need a balanced team with a good doubles. But in this way the format makes competition tighter and more open and potentially there is a great number of teams that can win the trophy. This makes it all more exciting. For instance Serbia, in spite of having Djokovic, who has dominated tennis over the last years, hasn’t yet succeeded in winning the Davis Cup with the new format.
UBITENNIS: Summing up, the 3-match format, two singles and one doubles, isn’t going to change.
Albert Costa: Yes, I confirm this is the direction we are taking: 3 matches in one day.
UBITENNIS: Speaking about the calendar, which are your expectations in terms of public, now that tennis fans have got two months to make arrangements for going to watch their team? Last year it was very complicated since the teams qualified for the quarter finals were known only one week before they actually played.
Albert Costa: Now it’s much easier. We are going to work with travel agencies in order to set up interesting packages. We are also going to work with the national federations in this direction. We are aware that environment and support are the distinguishing traits that make Davis Cup so special. Our target for 2022 is to have at least 1000 supporters for each team cheering their players from the stands. The environment is definitely one of the key factors to success. This means that we want at least 8000 supporters coming from the different countries for the final eight. If Spain were to reach this stage, the number would be even higher. Then we have to add the neutral public that simply comes in to enjoy tennis. Our idea is to create an experience which combines Davis Cup with the possibility to have a trip to the Mediterranean and enjoy the city.
UBITENNIS: The old format was no longer viable. For many players winning Davis Cup once in their career was enough, whereas Majors are never enough. How do you think you can succeed in attracting the best players to always play Davis Cup?
Albert Costa: when I used to play from 1995 to 2005, I remember that the players were already asking to change the format. It was impossible to dedicate four weeks to the Davis Cup, which often involved moving to different surfaces from the Tour schedule. With the new format the workload is different. The players of a team that reaches the final stage have to invest three weeks. In terms of surfaces and event preparation it’s all much simpler: the final stage of Davis Cup is played indoors, just like the rest of the indoor season. As the matches are played best of three sets the players are much less impacted in terms of physical engagement, which is an excellent thing considering the increasing amount of injuries we’ve seen recently. It’s true that in the past many players were content with contributing to winning one Davis Cup only. We aim at providing a comfortable scheduling so that players will be eager to participate every year.
UBITENNIS: Wouldn’t the event be made more legendary if at least in the final the matches were played best of five sets?
Albert Costa: I understand the historical point of view, but also the finals of the ATP Masters 1000 and of the ATP Finals were played best of five sets and now things have changed. Especially with the stress, both physical and mental, which modern tennis brings in. Players are already pushing their limits. It’s already three matches, which means at least six hours of competition. It’s enough both for the public and for the players. I believe that the value of a Davis Cup victory cannot be measured on the basis of the physical toll paid by players. It’s the overall value of the team that ought to be rewarded, which is also the reason why it is fair that the most well-balanced teams, with a strong number 1, a good number 2 and a good doubles, are the most likely to win.
UBITENNIS: Under a communication profile the claim that has been delivered since 2019 is that it’s a World Cup of Tennis. This theme has already been broadly discussed, but I’d still like to hear your opinion as a former player.
Albert Costa: Before the format we used to play with, home and away ties, Davis Cup was like America’s Cup, where the winner of the previous edition waited for the challenger selection series. Changes are in the order of things. I believe that going towards a World Cup type of format, with a group stage and a knockout stage is an excellent solution.
UBITENNIS: A last question: until 2023 everything is scheduled, in terms of format and location. For 2024 could there be an agreement with ATP Cup?
Albert Costa: We are working at it. Having Davis Cup at the end of November and ATP Cup at the beginning of January doesn’t make much sense. Kosmos and the other parties involved have to get into talks. We’re trying. Let’s see what comes out of it.
(Exclusive) Viktor Troicki: “I’d like to win The Davis Cup as captain And With Djokovic Anything is possible”
The Serbian Davis Captain was interviewed by Ubaldo Scanagatta in Belgrade in the modern Novak Tenni Centre: “We aim at being one of the best tennis clubs in the world.”
By Antonio Ortu
A nostalgic smile appears on Viktor Troicki’s face as soon as we evoke his victory in the 2010 Davis Cup Final. He won the decisive fifth rubber against Michael Llodra and Serbia was crowned Davis Cup Champion for the first and – till now – only time.
“Hopefully there are going to be a few more coming! But now as a captain. Not anymore as a player. When you have Novak (Djokovic) in the team, the chances are pretty high. Now we have (Memoir) Kecmanovic who is playing very well, and there are also (Filip) Krajinovic and (Laslo) Djere. We have a really good team and I think we can go far this year.” Troicki tells UbiTennis.
Last year Serbia lost in the semifinals to Croatia, who was then defeated by Russia in the final.
Winning a team event like Davis Cup would mean a lot for the country and their tennis movement. In fact, in 2011 all the players got a boost and played at their highest in the following season.
“Novak had an unbelievable year, winning basically everything, Janko Tipsarevic started his best season in 2011. He also reached number eight in the world. Zimonjic was number one that year in doubles and I reached my best ranking, number 12, not so bad! It gave us the confidence to play our best tennis and helped us achieve the best results.” Troicki recounts.
Thanks to this result in 2010, and above all thanks to the records established by Djokovic, who is now considered as one of the greatest tennis players in history, tennis has risen to an important role in the Serbian sportscape which had been historically centred on team sports.
“Tennis is really popular. It’s one of the most popular sports in Serbia. People love to watch it and love to play it. They’ve really followed tennis since Novak, Ana Ivanova and Jelena Jankovic, and also Zimonjic in the doubles, became number one in the world. Novak is absolutely the hero and the best athlete ever of Serbia, so people really love and enjoy tennis.”
The Serbia Open has just ended with Djokovic’s defeat to Andrey Rublev in the final. The tournament is scheduled in the ATP calendar as a 250 event. Yet the Novak tennis Centre features state-of-the-art facilities and a number of courts which equals the most prestigious and well-known clubs.
“Right now we have thirteen courts, but we are going to have some corrections. We are planning to have some indoor courts and we are going to lose some courts. But we are also going to extend the land we’ve got to make some other courts. In total we’re looking to have around 15 courts we can use all year during the winter and the summer,” Troicki outlines.
“It’s going to be one of the best centres in this region of the world. We’re trying to bring up players to raise the interest for tennis and bring more competitors. After tennis was very popular in 2010 and 2011 there was a slight decrease, so we are trying to get as many players as we can. We have really good players here in the centre who are among the best of their age in Serbia and across Europe. We’re really looking to attract as many good players as possible to have a base here and to train them.”
Currently there are about 1500 official players in Serbia, but with the Novak Tennis Centre this number is surely destined to grow over the coming years.
Exclusive Interview With Goran Ivanisevic: ‘Djokovic Will Be Ready For French Open’
In Montecarlo, Ubaldo Scanagatta has a long talk with Djokovic’s coach who speaks about his work with the world No.1, as well as his own experiences as a player.
Goran Ivanisevic is a name embedded in tennis history. His run to the 2001 Wimbledon title as a wildcard stunned the Tour and made headlines around the world. As a player he peaked at a high of No.2 in the world and won 22 ATP titles. Once his professional career came to an end, Ivanisevic found success as a coach and has worked with 20-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic since 2019.
During this week’s Monte Carlo Masters, UbiTennis sat down with 50-year-old Ivanisevic to discuss his own experiences in the sport and the current state of Djokovic’s form.
UBITENNIS: Good morning Mr Ivanisevic. We met many many years ago. You also played the final at the tournament in my hometown, Florence.
Ivanisevic: Yes, it was one of my first.
UBITENNIS: When you were a kid. But in Italy you also had a great story as a junior: the Trofeo Bonfiglio, the Avvenire title.
Ivanisevic: Yes. I started at Avvenire, Bonfiglio. After that I went to Florence, Milan Indoor. I also won the doubles with Omar Camporese. Also in Florence I played the final with Diego Nargiso.
UBITENNIS: That was a major achievement! Not easy to bring him to the final…
Ivanisevic: (laughs) Italy first of all is a neighbouring country, very close to my hometown, Split. I love Italy. I always play well in Italy. They like me there. I’ve got good memories.
UBITENNIS: I remember you also played very well in Rome, once.
Ivanisevic: Yes, till the final. But in the final I didn’t show up. (In Rome 1993 Jim Courier defeated Ivanisevic 61 62 62)
UBITENNIS: What did you do the night before?
Ivanisevic: Actually nothing. I went to sleep at 9.30 in the evening. That’s maybe the problem.
UBITENNIS: You weren’t used to it!
Ivanisevic: I was too rested…
UBITENNIS: I remember one great moment when Marin Cilic won the US Open. Was it one of the best experiences you had as a coach?
Ivanisevic: Oh yes. It was my first coaching experience. The win for Marin was a very impressive thing, in the years when all these three guys were dominating. It only happened with Marin, (Stan) Wawrinka and (Juan) Del Potro. And (Andy) Murray of course. That was a very impressive thing. That was the beginning of my coaching career. Yes. It was really an incredible feat. Nobody really expected Marin to win. He played unbelievable tennis. And the way he played the last three matches, (Thomas) Berdych, (Roger) Federer, (Kei) Nishikori…he destroyed everybody.
UBITENNIS: I’m not saying this just because I’m interviewing you, but in my rankings of attending a press conference when I say who the best people to talk to are, I say No.1 Goran Ivanisevic, No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic, No.3 Goran Ivanisevic, No.4 Andy Roddick. No.5 I don’t remember. I remember Wimbledon 2001, that year was unbelievable.
Ivanisevic: Yes, that was an interesting 15 days. But I had fun with the journalists, I had fun in the press conferences. Maybe sometimes I was too honest. About my game, about describing whatever I saw, saying whatever I thought, and you loved it. I had fun. We all had fun. Times have changed. It’s all different. Now every PR tells you that you have to know what you are saying. I actually enjoyed those times, those press conferences.
UBITENNIS: Do you remember when you said there were three different Goran Ivanisevic’s?
Ivanisevic: The good one, the bad one, the 9-1-1 the emergency! It created a good story. To cover myself, have fun, and to win the tournament.
UBITENNIS: And now, what is the experience with Djokovic? First of all we could start from the end. The end which is yesterday. He didn’t play his best but, as you said to me, he wasn’t feeling well.
Ivanisevic: He wasn’t feeling well before he came here. He was sick. Let’s say he’s not fit one hundred percent to compete. First of all in this situation. Three weeks ago he was not allowed to play here because of the Covid decision. Then France opened and he was allowed. And it’s difficult mentally. You can play to the semifinals. But you can’t prepare the way you would need to. And then he got sick. And, to be honest, I didn’t expect something spectacular from this tournament. But he’ll be going to the French Open in five/six weeks, he’s got a couple more tournaments and he will be ready.
UBITENNIS: Don’t you think that if he had won against Fokina Davidovic, since he had to play second round against Goffin or Evans, not heavyweight players, they don’t hit as strong as Davidovic, he could have found his form round after round and maybe go to the end?
Ivanisevic: You never know. This guy for me is the best player in the history of tennis. He always finds a way to win, he always finds a way to get out of trouble. About yesterday first of all, he was supposed to win the second set 6-0. One moment he was losing three love when he was supposed to be leading three love. He had break points and game points. He lost a lot of energy. But he’ll find his way out of this in his constant playing. He only had three matches prior to this tournament. Clay is not easy. Last year he started pretty badly here, he lost to Evans in the second round. Then in Belgrade he lost in the semis. He started to play well in Rome where he got to the final, then he won the French Open. So I’m not worried. He just needs some continuity, he needs to play more and more matches and he’s going to find his way.
UBITENNIS: Last year he decided to play the Olympics when was running to complete the famous Grand Slam. Wasn’t it too much? Do you think he maybe shouldn’t have gone there? Was it a matter of pride because it was his country?
Ivanisevic: First of all he’s very proud and he loves to play for his country. Every Davis Cup he’s played, every Olympic…
UBITENNIS: You like this, don’t you? You were like that.
Ivanisevic: No one could stop him from playing in the Olympics. I don’t think he made a mistake. I just think he made a mistake playing the mixed doubles. That was not necessary, because in the end he was tired. He didn’t even play for third or fourth place. I don’t think that because of this he lost the final of the US Open. (Daniil) Medvedev was very good. You can never underestimate him at any time. He’s an unbelievable player. He was a better player that day. But Novak was not Novak. Something was missing. But again, I don’t think it was because of the Olympics. It just happens. It happened in a bad moment. It happened in the most important match. Probably it would have been the history of tennis to win after… so many years. The first guy who had the chance to complete the Grand Slam in the same calendar year.
UBITENNIS: A little bit like Serena Williams when she missed the Grand Slam losing to Roberta Vinci in 2018.
Ivanisevic: It can happen, but he’s human, he can have these days like that. But when you have Medvedev on the other side of the net you need to be one hundred percent.
UBITENNIS: I’d like to ask you a few last questions. First of all, how did you react? Did you try to convince him to have a different schedule this year? There is this famous problem of the COVID-19 vaccination.
I also wonder – you are Croatian, he is Serbian: you seem to always be friends. I also see the journalists, they are friends. Croatian and Serbian now are friends. How has this changed so much in the last few years?
Ivanisevic: I wouldn’t say it happened just now. The war finished twenty years ago. Politicians sometimes have problems, not only in our country, but everywhere in the world. We are all friends, we speak the same language. That’s helpful. About another schedule, that’s impossible. Like I said before, three weeks ago he was not allowed to play here by the vaccine rules.
UBITENNIS: Did you try to persuade him to have the vaccine? Or didn’t you even try? I know everyone is a person…
Ivanisevic: It’s his life, his decision. I respect his decision, his family. He said it truly that he’s going to risk his career. I even love him more for that because he’s standing by what he’s saying. He’s the only person in the world who says what he thinks. You know, one day they say one thing, one day they say another. He, from the beginning, is straight and this is why I respect him even more. Hopefully this pandemic is going to stop. Only now he can play all the tournaments. I hope that America will open so he will be able to play the US Open in September.
UBITENNIS: Are you going to follow him in all the tournaments before the Roland Garros?
Ivanisevic: We need to talk first today, to see what the schedule is going to be. He’s going to play all and we’ll see how things are developing and we’ll decide day by day.
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