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: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?
Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.
At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.
Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.
The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.
“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”
According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.
“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”
Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.
Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.
“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’
There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.
Mats Wilander Exclusive: World Events Making Rublev And Medvedev More Focused At French Open
The former world No.1 and Eurosport presenter has also tipped a young 20-year-old player on the Tour to crack the top 10 in the future.
Mats Wilander believes Russia’s top two men’s players are finding comfort playing on the court in the wake of an ongoing military conflict involving their country.
Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are competing in this year’s French Open as neutral athletes following a joint-decision by tennis’ governing bodies to remove the flags of Russia and Belarus from being used in tournaments. The action was taken in response to Russia’s ongoing military assault against neighbouring Ukraine which began on February 24th that has already killed thousands of people, according to the United Nations. Both Wimbledon and the British LTA have gone one step further by banning those athletes from competing all together.
Seventh seed Rublev will play Jannik Sinner in his fourth round encounter at Roland Garros on Monday. The 24-year-old is bidding to reach the last eight of the tournament for only the second time in his career after 2020. He trails Sinner 1-2 in their head-to-head with his only victory being due to a retirement.
“I’ve watched him pretty well. He’s winning pretty easily and improving the way he is playing every time I see him,” Wilander told Ubitennis when asked about Sinner’s chances.
“(Andrey) Rublev is probably not a great opponent for him because they play similar and Rublev is a little bit faster.”
Former world No.1 Wilander, who won three out of his seven major titles at the French Open, admits that Rublev can at times lack variety in his game but says it can also be an advantage for him. Furthermore, the Swede believes he is even more focused on the court due to the ongoing political fallout.
“Rublev is tough. I think Jannik has a good chance at some point to be maybe in the top five. But Rublev right now is mentally in a different place.” He continued.
“Of course he doesn’t (have the variety in his game) but sometimes that is also a strength. It is simpler to play when you don’t have the variety and when you have a reason to be extremely focused because of the situation in the rest of the world.’
“It’s a very nice place to be on the tennis court right now when you play in a Grand Slam and you’re not representing your country. It is like a safe place.”
Rublev has dropped a set in all three of his previous matches against Soonwoo Kwon, Federico Delbonis and Christian Garin in the French capital.
Another player bidding for a place in the quarter-finals is Daniil Medvedev who plays Marin Cilic in his fourth round match. The world No.1 has a rocky relationship when it comes to playing on the clay and is yet to win a title of any sort on the surface.
“The same thing applies with Daniil (Medvedev). I think what’s going on in the world has a lot to do with how players react on the court,” Wilander commented. “I think for them (Rublev and Medvedev) it is such a serious situation.’
“I think they are going to die an ‘athlete’s death’ on the court. It’s going to be tough to beat them.” He added.
Praise for Musetti
One player which has caught the attention of Wilander is Lorenzo Musetti. A 20-year-old Italian currently ranked 66th in the world who held a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round before losing. Triggering memories of his clash with Novak Djokovic 12 months ago, which he also lost after having a two-set lead.
“The question for him is how does he learn to play five sets? Maybe he already knows how to play five sets. He has played two (at the French Open) against the champion last year and a potential champion this year. He was two sets to love up against both of them – Jesus, that’s unbelievable.” he said.
“I think he’s going to be unbelievably good. He has the right attitude.”
Despite those two tough losses, Wilander believes Musetti has a very bright future as he tips him to crack the top 10. The 2019 US Open boys champion is yet to win an ATP title, but has scored two wins over top 10 players – Diego Schwartzman at the 2021 Mexican Open and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 Monte Carlo Masters.
“He has the quality of being in the top 10, for sure,” Wilander states.
“He has the tennis quality to be better than the top 10. It’s very difficult to be better than the top 10 unless you do well at all the majors.”
Musetti’s conqueror Tsitsipas will play Holger Rune in his fourth round match.
(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.
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