Q: Early in the summer, Robin Soderling opened up about the mental struggles he had towards the end of his career. What do you think about the importance of mental health in sports?
BECKER: It’s an important topic, we live very fast lives and expectations are always sky-high. Sometimes we criticise people without knowing the kind of pressure they are receiving. Novak is a highly intelligent man, and he would have never reacted that way in a real-life situation, but he had a lot of pressure against Carreno. It’s a big problem, and society should answer this question. Sometimes the expectations we have for some people are unfair.
Q: How did you handle the pressure?
BECKER: I was lucky because I came from a great family who explained to me what is important and what is real. Sometimes I have doubts about some players’ entourages, especially vis-à-vis the young ones, because they surround themselves with people who cannot handle the pressure and end up putting an even bigger burden on the shoulders of the players. I think that Justine and I were both lucky in this regard, because we always had great people with us, or else it would have been impossibile to cope.
Q: Boris, this summer you went on vacation with Bjorn Borg – how do you feel about him?
BECKER: I love him, he was my hero. He’s the reason I picked up a racquet and I wanted to win Wimbledon. He’s in good shape. I spent a couple days in Ibiza with him and his wife, Patricia. What happens in Ibiza stays in Ibiza!
Q: What do you think about Leo, his son?
BECKER: He was there too. I had a nice chat with him. He’s a lovely young man who love tennis and who is maturing as a man. This is the hardest time to do it, because you are not 100 percent focused on the game. We have all been through this, and I’m sure he’ll find his way.
Q: But what do you think of him as a player?
BECKER: He is talented, but there are many talented guys out there. The professional game is tough, and I’m sure he has even more pressure on him because his surname is Borg.
Q: I have a question about Kim Clijsters. She lost a tight battle in the first round, and her comeback isn’t going smoothly. How do you rate her performance, Justine? How does it compare to the early stages of her career?
HENIN: As Boris said, we need to be careful with expectations. This was her third tournament. It’s an enormous challenge, to come back after seven years and two more children. Honestly, you can’t compare her results with what she used to do. She did some good things, but her fitness is a concern. The real question is whether she’ll be able to elevate her shape. Maybe she’s disappointed, but it’s just her first few matches. It really depends on what her personal expectations and goals are, because it was her decision.
Q: Boris, do you have an opinion as well on Kim Cljisters?
BECKER: Firstly, I applaud her courage for coming back. It will be difficult, but it’s her decision to start playing professional tennis again. The game has moved on, and it is perhaps more physical than it used to be in her day. There are many strong young players who don’t care that she was a champion. When you win for a long time, you get respect, but I don’t think that the younger players feel that way about her. It’s human nature! I admire her decision and wish her good luck.
Q: Justine, what do you think about the disqualification of Babos and Mladenovic, who were the favourites to win the women’s doubles crown?
HENIN: It was a very strange situation. We can only wonder why the USTA protocol suddenly changed. It’s hard to judge, because I wasn’t involved in the decision or the whole process. Were there some political decisions on the rule changes? Did the tournament have to simply adjust to political decisions without having any sort of control? It certainly doesn’t seem fair, but you need to be inside the organising of the event to understand the situation. I wasn’t there so I don’t want to judge. The organisers did their best, they weren’t perfect, and it was unfair that the two players were forced to withdraw. However, there are bigger problems and it’s better to just move on from this situation.
Q: Without Novak, who is the favourite to win the title?
BECKER: That’s a good question. All players have a good chance and are sort of having a new experience. I have a couple names in my head, but, since we talked about mental health and pressure, I don’t want to put more pressure on the players. It will be interesting to see how some of them will deal with being the favourites.
Q: You coached Novak for a few years, and you have seen him mature as a man. Where do you think he is more vulnerable nowadays?
BECKER: He is a human being and human beings aren’t perfect. He is at his best when he plays with his emotions – however, if he can’t contain them, he can lose control. We have seen that with me and with countless other players as well. I wonder whether all the off-court pressure contributed to what happened – the new association, the whole Mannarino affair, when Novak had to call Governor Cuomo, and so on. Too many things made him lose his focus. He isn’t perfect and these things can happen, period.
Q (UbiTennis): I have known Boris since he was 16. He’s a highly regarded Eurosport commentator, so I can’t let him get away with not predicting who the champion will be! You have to take a stance, you can’t hide behind the pressure thing. So, who will win? And I would also like to hear Justine’s prediction.
BECKER: I’ve always been a straight shooter, and I always voice my opinions, regardless of who I work for. However, I honestly think this is a whole new ballgame for each of them. If we look at the rankings, Thiem should win it, then maybe Zverev. But I don’t see it that way. What I think is that we are going through some crazy times, we have a pandemic, we have Djokovic’s default. It’s a crazy tournament, and I’m sincerely telling you that anything can happen.
HENIN: I agree with Boris. It’s not that we don’t want to take responsibility by not picking. This is our job now, to say that things are not as simple as some might think. It used to be Novak versus everyone else and now he’s gone, and everyone could win. This tournament is exceptional and unpredictable in so many ways. We all need to adapt to these conditions. Whoever will win will have to be very strong from a mental standpoint
Transcript by Andrea Canella; edited and translated by Tommaso Villa
(EXCLUSIVE) Meet Carlos Martinez: The Man In Charge Of Daria Kasatkina’s Resurgence
As one of only two women to have won multiple WTA titles during the first quarter of 2021, Kasatkina looks to be on her way back towards the top. Coach Carlos Martinez speaks to UbiTennis about his work with the Russian star and why they are not working with any expectations.
It seems like Daria Kasatkina is a Tour veteran after making her WTA Debut back in 2013 but she is still at the tender age of 23.
A Former world No.3 junior player who once won the French Open girls’ title, Kasatkina was billed as a star of the future from a young age. By 18 she had broken into the world’s top 100 and scored a win over top 20 player Carla Suarez Navarro. Three years later she rose to a ranking high of ninth in 2017 and looked to be on the path of becoming a star of the sport. However, Kasatkina’s roller-coaster career hasn’t been without its blips. A series of disappointing results and confidence setbacks during 2019 lead to her dropping to as low as 75th last year.
After the period of frustration, the right-handed Russian is getting herself back on track under the careful watch of her coach Carlos Martinez. A former player on the men’s Tour who has also worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. Kasatkina has already won two titles this year in Melbourne and St Petersburg. The only other player to have won multiple trophies in the women’s game so far this season is world No.1 Ash Barty. Overall, she has recorded 15 wins in 2021 which is the fourth-highest on the Tour.
“For me the key was the hard work with her during the preseason and during the last few months of last season. She was doing well, especially after the clay courts (last Autumn). She got confident,” Martinez tells UbiTennis about Kasatkina’s resurgence.
“One thing we were talking about was our expectations. We don’t have any this year because for us the most important thing is to go day-by-day. When we talk about our work it’s day-by-day and this is what she did really well. That’s why we have started the season like this.’
“Of course, we didn’t expect this but the truth is she is playing well. Not amazing, but she is managing the matches very good and has more confidence.”
Sandwiched between the two titles won was a first-round defeat to Alize Cornet at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Her earliest loss in a tournament since the US Open. Ironically the setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Dubai was like an alarm. Not like an alarm at the end of a tournament when you win and relax a little bit. She didn’t relax much but we had a few problems with the visas and stuff. So she had to take some time and we couldn’t prepare very well,” Martinez reflected.
“It’s true we flew to Dubai a couple days before the tournament but conditions were different for her than Australia.’
“The ball was flying too much for her and she didn’t like it. But she did a good job afterwards when we flew to Moscow to prepare well indoors. After this, she got into a good shape.”
Within four months Kasatkina has almost cut her ranking in half (72 to 37). Although both her and Martinez admits there is still work to be done. Her biggest win during that period was over Petra Martic who was ranked 18th at the time during their clash in Melbourne. Her only meeting with a top 10 opponent was at the Australian Open where she lost 6-7(5), 3-6, to Aryna Sabalenka.
Martinez now has the task of trying to ensure his player continues her form over the coming weeks. A job that is easier said than done in women’s tennis given the depth of the game. Kasatkina has already experienced what it is like to stumble on the Tour. Something her team is eager to avoid.
“We know how difficult it is to be at the top and to keep this rhythm. To win two titles in five tournaments is super difficult,” he said.
“With the mental part, it’s true that we talk and talk. She was living this experience in 2018 and we can’t get into the same hole. That’s why I insist (on talking) a lot.’
“Tennis is super difficult and then when you win a tournament, next week it will be a totally different story. You have to start from Zero. That’s why I think she understands what our way is to get success and I hope it’s going to happen from now during the clay season.”
Big things to come on clay?
Fortunately for the world No.37 she will soon be starting her campaign on the European clay. A surface that brings her fond memories. Out of all the Grand Slams, she has won the most matches at the French Open with a win-loss record of 10-5. Reaching the quarter-finals back in 2018. Although she has only won one title on the clay in her career which was back in 2017 at the Volvo Open in Charleston.
“She prefers to play on the clay. In my opinion, she can play well anywhere,” Martinez states.
“We are preparing for the clay court season but we are not doing anything different between the hard court and clay court. Talking about the tactical or technical things. Technically you can of course change a few things but our job is the same.”
One of the intriguing aspects of the clay swing for Kasatkina is how her team plans to assess how successful it goes. One would think it would be simply related to match results but her coach points out that there is something more significant that needs to be focused on.
“A good clay court season for her in my opinion would be keeping this level mentally and with her tennis that she has shown in the last tournaments. I think she can do big things but I can’t measure which one is going to be the result which makes me happy,” he explains.
“The most important thing is to get the level and once you get the level things will go well on the court. You’re gonna get success for sure in the long term. This was my philosophy when I started working with her and I think this is working. I will not change my mentality.”
Looking further ahead Kasatkina has her eyes on securing a place in the Tokyo Olympics. She made her Olympic debut back in 2016 by reaching the quarter-finals in both singles and doubles. Although trying to book a place in the tournament is far from easy given the number of Russian players bidding for selection. The country currently has five women in the top 40 with Kasatkina being the fourth highest.
“The Olympics are one of our goals because she is not in a bad position,” Martinez outlines. “It’s going to be tough because there are many very good Russian players. Kudermetova, Kuznetsova, Pavlychenkova and Alexandrova are also fighting for these positions. So it’s going to be a tough battle and I hope we get this goal.”
The games were meant to take place last year but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result international fans are banned from attending the event in a bid to minimise a risk of an outbreak. Meanwhile, a debate is ongoing in tennis about if players should be vaccinated or not. Something that tennis’ governing bodies have urged players to do but some are hesitant.
“The vaccination is one that everybody has to get because it is for our health,” Martinez weighs in on the debate. “Health is the most important thing in life so I think we are going to be very happy when we have our vaccine. Of course, everybody has their doubts about the consequences but in my opinion it’s super important.”
EXCLUSIVE: Full Details Of Novak Djokovic’s Letter To Players As Stand Off With Federer And Nadal Emerges
UbiTennis can reveal full details about what the world No.1 wrote to fellow players in a bid get them to join the newly created Professional Tennis Players Association.
World No.1 Novak Djokovic has said players have been ‘disrespected’ in their efforts to advance their interests within the ATP structure in a letter obtained by UbiTennis.
On Friday, rumours circulated that Djokovic had resigned from his position as the president of the ATP Players Council to spearhead a new Players’ Association. The Association, which is co-founded by Vasek Pospisil, is designed to enable ‘better and stronger representation in the tennis ecosystem.’ As for the legal side, the newly named Professional Tennis Players Association will be supported by firm Norton Rose Fulbright and its chairman Walied Soliman.
Addressing his peers, Djokovic interestingly states that the initiative is not a new move by saying various generations of the past have tried to do something similar. However, he goes on to describe the current structure of the ATP as ‘flawed’ with players not being treated as fairly as they should. Something the governing body of men’s tennis heavily denies.
“There are many reasons and factors why it didn’t happen until now but probably biggest reason is because players were not united,” the letter reads.
“(The) ATP structure that is flawed for players. I don’t think ATP structure and system is helping players. It has been proven many times in the past that this system is going against players.’
“I am not blaming anyone individually. Various presidents and managements tried to do different things over the years. And of course, some good things were done for our tour, without the doubt. But I think that most of you who have been on the tour for a while would agree that players are not regarded and treated as they should be in this system.”
In his lengthy statement, the 17-time Grand Slam champion sets out three primary reasons as to why players should join. The first he says is due to unhappiness expressed over the management of the ATP regarding some of the decisions they have made in recent times ranging from ranking points to the scheduling of tournaments. Andrea Gaudenzi started his role as ATP chairman at the start of this year. Although a critical Djokovic writes ‘It’s the process of lack of communication with players in big decisions and exclusion of players that is bothering me/us.’
Secondly, the move has been made in order to help players generate what is being described as ‘executive power.’ Or in other terms the absolute right to have a direct influence on decision-making. The role of the ATP Players Council is advisory only to the board. They can influence decisions, but they do not have the final say. Djokovic also says there are ‘conflicts of interest’ within the current structure.
Finally, supporters stress that this move isn’t intended to form a conflict with other governing bodies and their aim is to ‘enable stronger player representation.’ Djokovic claims the ‘majority’ of those in the top 500 in singles and the top 100 in doubles want this to happen. Although UbiTennis can’t verify this.
“We need to start from somewhere. We need to show our unity and strength. Not because we want to fight but because we want to be consulted, valued , respected on all big decisions that are happening in our sport and so far that has not been the case. We all know how many Agents, Federation people, business people have been on the Board and/ or another influential positions in sport have been there for decades working on their own interest, not caring too much about players. It’s a monopoly and that why in order to change something in favor of players we need to show unity ..”
Reaching out to his fellow tennis stars, Djokovic states that the Association ‘is perfectly legal in all jurisdictions’ and those who join will not be excluded from the ATP for whatever reason. Although in the following sentence, they say no job action will be taken ‘at this time.’ A vague reference but one that suggests that should things reach a low-point, strike action may be a possibility.
Those players interested in joining have been invited to sign up at a meeting in New York on Saturday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
UbiTennis can also confirm that there is a big divide on the ATP Tour over this move and even a drift between the prestigious Big Three contingent. A letter co-signed by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Kevin Anderson, Jurgen Melzer, Sam Querrey and Bruno Soares have formally opposed the move. They are all current members of the ATP Player’s Council. In a two-page statement issued less than 24 hours after Djokovic’s letter, the group voiced huge opposition.
‘We are not against the players. We are not against a united player approach. We are all for the players but do not risk it all down this path with such little information,” the letter from Federer and Co reads.
“We are against this proposal as we do not see how this actually benefits the players and it puts our lives on the Tour and security in major doubt.’
It reportedly expected that a photo of those signing up to Djokovic’s and Pospisil’s Association will be made public within the next 24 hours.
Read full letter on Page 2 :-
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