(EXCLUSIVE) Q&A With Daria Abramowicz - The Psychologist Behind Iga Switek's Historic French Open Run - UBITENNIS
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(EXCLUSIVE) Q&A With Daria Abramowicz – The Psychologist Behind Iga Switek’s Historic French Open Run

From dealing with pressure on the Tour to what makes tennis unique compared to other sports. UbiTennis conducts an in-depth interview with Abramowicz who knows personally what it is like to be an athlete, coach and psychologist.

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Daria Abramowicz (image via https://www.facebook.com/abramowiczdaria)

Daria Abramowicz may only be in her early thirties but she has already established herself as one of the best known sports psychologists in women’s tennis.

 

A former competitive sailor from Poland, Abramowicz boasts an impressive resume in the world of sports. During her career, she has worked as both a coach and athlete. Although it is the field of psychology which is best known for. A graduate of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities she studied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology before switching focus to sports for her postgraduate studies. She has worked with national teams of both swimmers and cyclists, as well as tennis players.

It was at last year’s French Open when Abramowicz’s name within the tennis circuit started to explode. Working with Iga Swiatek, she helped guide her to the title in what was an historic occasion. Not only did Swiatek become the first Polish player in history to win a major title, she achieved the milestone in clinical form by not dropping a set in the entire tournament. Something that hadn’t been achieved since Justine Henin back in 2007.

She just made me smarter. I know more about sports and I know more about psychology and I can understand my own feelings and I can say them out loud.” The world No.16 once commented on her work with Abramowicz.

With the French Open swiftly approaching and Swiatek facing the daunting prospect of trying to defend her title, UbiTennis spoke to her sports psychologist about her current training, as well as a closer look at tennis.

UBITENNIS: Daria you have worked in a variety of sports. From the view of a sports psychologist, what is it that makes tennis stand out compared to others?

ABRAMOWICZ: You know, every sport is different somehow. It has its own specifics and has its own details. It’s unique.

In tennis, from my point of view, it’s kind of a sport which is based on pauses, breaks. You have this short break between rallies, points, games, sets and matches. Then from a wider perspective, you have breaks between tournaments. This is really relevant in terms of how we approach tennis in terms of mental preparation. When do you use the mental training tools and how do you use it? How do you keep focus, manage stress and regulate emotions?

I think that the differences are the unique qualities of tennis that go far beyond what is happening on court. Tennis is extremely closely connected to business. It’s one of these sports that’s the business aspect is really important and it’s extremely relevant for people to understand how to connect these two areas. How to manage the time and put the effort into some scenarios. I do think that this connection to tennis is one thing that makes it unique.

The other is that the high-performance level is kind of unique. Travelling across the world for eight to nine months per year and you have to go to all these places every single year for sometimes 15 or even 20 years. It’s extremely challenging. How to be yourself in it and how to keep the social support system and how to enjoy all that for so many years.

These are the most relevant qualities.

UBITENNIS: There will be a lot of pressure on Iga Swiatek over the next couple of months leading up to her French Open title defence. What are you going to do differently with Iga compared to 12 months ago in terms of preparation?

ABRAMOWICZ: We are definitely talking about higher expectations. External but also internal expectations as Iga obviously has some.

There are some things that we are doing differently with this being one of them. There’s a lot of things that we do completely the same as we would have done if she didn’t win (the French Open). We are working on focusing on the performance and single tasks. We have discussed a lot about recovery and are implementing some tools.

It’s kind of a myth that everything has changed. There are a lot of things that are similar.

I think it is a combination of these two things. If an athlete is able to be solely focused on the performance, the quality and the single task. It just fades away that he or she is a defending champion and the expectations are lower I think.

UBITENNIS: How is Iga’s preparation going after having to pull out of Stuttgart?

ABRAMOWICZ: This is kind of the top-secret stuff for the team. We are practising on the clay, having some high-quality preparation before Madrid, Rome and the French Open. That’s how it is. The team has decided that it’s relevant and the key is to prepare well for the clay season.

UBITENNIS: After the Miami Open, Iga posted a written piece on social media opening up about her experiences. Some players on the Tour are quite introverted and don’t like sharing too much as they don’t want to show any weaknesses. Do you see any correlation between a player being more open about things and an improvement in their performance on court? Would you advise other players to do the same?

ABRAMOWICZ: There are more athletes who are open about their experiences on social media. This is a change that is happening in sport right now. For example, there is this website called The Players Tribune where you can read a lot of statements and blogs written by professional athletes. I think they have extreme value.

Sometimes this is kind of a way to show people what an athlete is thinking, how they are approaching the sport and what the particular experience does mean to them.

I tend to say that you are in your sport on your own terms and you can share a bit of light on how you approach things.

It might be a little bit helpful in terms of how you approach the sport. Writing might be like a breath of fresh air that helps you solve some things and work them out.

It also helps avoid hate speech. I think that it helps people understand that high-performance sport is not all rainbows. It’s challenging, sometimes lonely and sometimes you can feel helpless. It’s human.

UBITENNIS: You once said in an interview that sports psychology is still a bit stigmatized. What do you mean by this and what do you think tennis can do to overcome this?

ABRAMOWICZ: I did sort of say that sports psychology is stigmatised but I mean that Psychology (in general) is stigmatised. Seeking psychologists for help concerns the whole society and not only the sports environment.

I do not think that tennis itself is able to help overcome this. But every single athlete, every single human who is vocal about how important it is to implement mental preparation and taking care of their mental health has  the same importance as their physical health. It’s valuable and helps raise awareness.

UBITENNIS: Some players ranked outside the top 100 may not be able to work with a psychologist due to financial constraints. What can be done to help these players?

ABRAMOWICZ: I used to say and I repeat this on every single occasion that I have that the coach is always the person who is the closest to an athlete. He or she knows the player the best and has a lot of tools to work with an athlete. Not only in terms of tennis drills or strength and conditioning, but also about the mental aspect of the game.

If there is no possibility to work with a psychologist, psychology has some tools to help (athletes) work online. It’s absolutely an everyday thing, especially right now during the pandemic. It turns out that we are able to use online for almost everything.

The coaches are great people so sharing their resources with athletes so I would advise them to invest in their relationship. Also, social support systems are extremely important.

UBITENNIS: Poland also has a top player on the men’s Tour with Hubert Hurkacz. I was wondering if you have spotted any differences in the mental approach to tennis by the men compared to women? If yes, why do you think these differences occur?

ABRAMOWICZ: We could write a book about the differences between women and men. They obviously occur in terms of emotions, managing stress and focus sometimes. But the most important differences are actually connected to the way they are practising. Dealing with recovery and keeping in touch with social support systems.

At the end of the day every one of us is an individual and gender isn’t the key to how a particular human behaves.

Men are less intent to share their emotional state and their mood. For example in society, why do we have more data about women’s depression? Because men sometimes share their emotions less. Which is also relevant to sports.

Gender is just social psychology and biology, and that’s why differences occur. This is how we should approach each relationship, in a unique way.

UBITENNIS: You have also worked a lot on the mental health side of the sport. It has been documented that physical activity improves a person’s mental health and tennis’ governing bodies are making progress on this subject in recent years. Based on your experience, what more do you feel can be done to support players who might be experiencing some sort of issue?

ABRAMOWICZ: Psychology and sports are actually developing really well and it’s starting to have this tendency that we are not just talking anymore about the mental training and mental preparation for an athlete to use their potential the most effectively during competition. But also we’re talking more about mental health, especially during this pandemic. I think that all governing bodies, including tennis, should focus more on mental health.

I think there is a space for education and raising awareness in terms of how to use mental training tools and how technology could support this area. The most important thing to me is to work against stigma and raise awareness in terms of taking care of mental health.  

Daria can be followed on Twitter or Facebook. Her website (which is in Polish) is www.dariaabramowicz.com)

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Alex Corretja: “I’ll tell you who can win the gold medal if Djokovic doesn’t go to the Olympics”

The two-time French Open finalist, now working for Eurosport, makes his predictions for the 2020 Olympics

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Former world N.2 Alex Corretja, the winner of the 1998 ATP Finals (then known as the ATP Tour World Championships) now works with Eurosport, and, while he won’t be in Tokyo, he will still cover the Olympic Games and provide match commentary in Spanish.

 

During a brief rendez-vous with Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta, Corretja made a prediction for the men’s singles event at the upcoming Olympic event, which at the moment is slated to feature billboard names such as Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini. Here’s their chat:

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EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Says No To Replacing Line Umpires With Hawk-Eye, But Others Say Yes

Electronic line calling has become a regular feature in the world of tennis and is set to expand over the coming years. However, such a development will have big implications on the sports tradition, as well as on those working in it.

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Court 10 in front of the Centre Court with the Hawk-Eye testing markers laid out on court as they set up ahead of The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Monday 14th June 2021. Credit: AELTC/Thomas Lovelock

Wimbledon has always taken pride in its ability to combine tradition with modern technology. Players are required to wear all white, those invited to sit in the Royal Box must dress smartly, and hundreds of people congregate on the ‘Henman Hill’ to watch the play unfold every year. These traditions have made the tournament unique in the sporting world. However, given the growing presence of technology, one of said traditions is under threat.

 

The use of computer vision systems such as Hawk-Eye has revolutionised the sport in recent years, with more tournaments than ever turning to the technology. Using automated player tracking cameras and intelligent production software, officials can establish whether a ball is in or out with the use of a computer. Its margin of error is claimed to be in the region of 2.2mm but one study argues that the difference could be up to 10mm.

“Hawk-Eye’s goal is to implement our software wherever it is desired or required to ensure that sports are made fairer, safer and better informed by whatever means we can. In tennis, we develop our technologies to meet the needs of the likes of the ATP and WTA for them to use to serve their objectives, if that means we’re at every event, it means that we’re one-step closer to our goal,” a Hawk-Eye spokesperson told UbiTennis.

Ironically the COVID-19 pandemic has been an advantage for those working on such technology. With organisers eager to limit the number of people on court due to the virus, many have gone down this avenue. One of the most notable is the US Open, which used the software on the majority of their courts last year and will use it to replace line umpires in 2021. Meanwhile, this year’s Australian Open was the first major to be played without lines judges.

However, such technology doesn’t come cheap. The exact price is unclear with Hawk-Eye telling UbiTennis they are ‘unable to provide such information at this time.’ One academic paper by Dr Yu-Po Wong from Stanford University estimates the cost of a ‘professional system’ to be in the region of $60-$70,000.

We are always evolving and developing our technologies to be as accessible as possible, and work with event organisers to support them in making it affordable for their events,” Hawk-Eye states.
“Our Electronic Line Calling System in tennis is a combination of robust software and hardware, and requires highly trained operators. As an example, we often generate revenue for events by opening up opportunities for sponsorship and fan engagement. Hawk-Eye is focused on making our technologies as efficient and streamlined as possible, while we continually work on pushing the boundaries of sports technology.”

The disappearance of lines judges

Line Judge pictured working at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships – Credit: AELTC/Ian Walton

One of the biggest concerns some have about this technology is the risk it poses to those working at tournaments. Should more tournaments rely on Hawk-Eye or similar, it is inevitable that the traditional use of lines officials will disappear. The New York Times previously reported that the 2020 US Open slashed their number of judges from roughly 350 to less than 100 following a decision to use Hawk-Eye Live on 15 out of its 17 courts.

“Over the past 18 months, we’re proud to have contributed towards the safe and successful delivery of events which otherwise may not have gone ahead during the pandemic. As a technology provider it is never the intention that our creations “replace” or make anyone redundant- as a technology provider that isn’t within our power,” they outline.

Richard Ings was a top chair umpire from 1986 to 1993 before going on to become the director of officiating for the ATP Tour for four years (2001-2005). Like many others in the industry, his pathway into becoming a Tour umpire was via the experience of calling lines from the side of the court.

“I started out calling lines. First at smaller events and then in the finals of major events. I then started chair umpiring. First at smaller events then larger events and gaining my international qualification gold badge equivalent at 19. I was then hired by the MIPTC ad a professional salaried unite at 20,” he tells UbiTennis about his career. “Lines (calling) has been a critical and necessary step in an official’s career path. That’s gone now. Working up the tables to major pro events as a line umpire is now gone. All those major event line jobs have been taken away.”

Ings believes that, as the technology gets cheaper over time, these roles will even start to go at lower-level tournaments at some stage, something he describes as ‘sad’ and an ‘end of an era.’ However, he believes there are positives too.

“The game will still need chair umpires. They won’t need the core skills of calling lines. So line calling experience is not required in this new world. It’s sad, sure, and good people will lose their link with the game as officials. But the quality of line calling will go up. Accuracy and consistency will go up. And that’s what officiating is all about,” he points out.

The future

Photo credit: AELTC/Bob Martin

So is it only a matter of time before every tournament will be switching to electronic line calling?

Wimbledon first tested Hawk-Eye back in 2004 before implementing it on their two premier courts three years later. Now it is currently used on Centre Court, as well as Courts 1, 2, 3, 12 and 18. Ten cameras are built around each of those courts: they capture 60 high-resolution images per second. At least five of those cameras cover every ball bounce. It is said that the Hawk-Eye Live team is made up of less than 30 people.

Whilst there is high praise, The All England Club tells UbiTennis they don’t intend to solely rely on the system just yet.

“Line umpires remain an important element of our officiating set-up at The Championships, and there are no plans to switch to electronic line-calling,” they said in a statement.

Wimbledon’s view is one which is also echoed by the WTA when it comes to the running of their tournaments, although they are monitoring the impact of electronic line calling on what they describe as the ‘tennis community.’

“The WTA supports the use of automated line calling in order to limit the number of personnel at tournaments that are operating during COVID-19, creating a safer landscape for players, staff and officials themselves to work in. The WTA will continue to support live electronic line calling where appropriate for the remainder of the 2021 season while monitoring its impact closely on the tennis community. Line officials are and continue to be an important and highly valued part of the WTA Tour,” the WTA outlined.

Hawk-Eye Live will be used throughout the upcoming US Open series. In May, the USTA, ATP and WTA confirmed the use of electronic line calling at the US Open, ATP Atlanta Open , ATP Citi Open, National Bank Open (ATP Toronto and WTA Montreal), ATP Western & Southern Open, WTA Cincinnati, ATP Winston-Salem Open and WTA Tennis in the Land.

As for the Lines Judges who will be affected, there appears to be no program in motion aimed at redeploying them to another area of the sport. Hawk-Eye says they have no comment on this matter because it is “not an element within our control.”

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