Fresh off a runner-up showing at the French Open and back to the site of her breakthrough grand slam semi-final appearance last year, Lucie Safarova is brimming with confidence ahead of her Wimbledon opening round on Monday against Alison Riske.
The 28-year-old comes to the All England Club ranked a career-high No6 following her exploits in Paris and while her compatriot Petra Kvitova may be the defending champion here and is the Czech No1, Safarova will have many eyes on her this fortnight after she came close to beating Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final three weeks ago.
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“It’s been a really long time that I’m trying to reach this huge result and when it finally came it was like a dream come true,” Safarova told Sport360 at SW19.
“It took me a few days to really realise it, and finally when I was at home with my family, just sitting and relaxing you just think ‘oh my God, this is really happening’. Since then, a lot of media, a lot of stuff to do but all positive and I’m happy to be here at Wimbledon.
“Yes the attention has been a lot more. At the end it was (overwhelming) but it’s been also nice. Everyone’s really positive. I was getting stopped on the street in Czech, people congratulating me. It’s been good.”
After Paris, Safarova went back home to celebrate and started hitting on hard courts there so she could train while still spending time with her family and friends.
She pulled out of the grass event in Birmingham citing fatigue and had just one match on the turf in her build-up to Wimbledon, losing to Dominika Cibulkova in Eastbourne last week.
“I usually don’t do really well in my first grass court matches. It takes me always a bit longer to get used to grass but now I’ve been training for over a week on it and I’m feeling good,” she assured.
Last year, Safarova made the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the first time in her grand slam career before falling to Kvitova. It was her biggest result at the time and it made people realise there was another dangerous Czech lefty on tour.
“A lot of happy memories, winning against great players and reaching the semis. First time stepping on the Centre Court is something you’ll never forget,” she recalls of her run here last year.
“Coming back a year later, it feels like I was here a week ago and the memories come back. So I really hope those happy moments will help me get through my matches.”
Seeing Kvitova win twice at Wimbledon has been inspiring to Safarova who goes back a long way with the reigning champion.
“I’ve known Petra for so many years and I remember when she was a young girl coming to Prostejov to practice so obviously to see her reach those great results makes you think like ‘she did it, and it’s possible. Just a normal girl from Czech can do it’. So of course it helps,” says Safarova.
“But you have to do it on your own, you have to go through the hard work and everything. It’s kind of each has her own path but it’s nice to see others from your country doing well.”
In doubles, Safarova could make history this fortnight with her partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The pair have won the first two doubles grand slams of the season and are going for three in a row. The last time a player captured the first three major doubles titles of the year was Martina Hingis in 1998, although her first of the season, in Melbourne, was with a different partner.
“I enjoy playing with Bethanie so much and I hope our game will suit the grass as well. Let’s take it step by step. Everyone now is telling us ‘so are you going to win the four?’And I’m like ‘it’s been a great achievement to win two and will be hard to win another one but I think we’re a great team and if everything works out, why not?” added Safarova.
Canadian coach Rob Steckley has played a big role in Safarova’s surge. They have been working together for a couple of years and the Czech believes his easygoing nature is key to their successful relationship.
“I think everything now is clicking together. I’m healthy which is the most important, my tennis has improved, Rob helped me hugely with that. We’re having fun, we are friends, he’s laid back and is a funny guy so he makes all the traveling and everything easier if you have such a good person next to you. Also I think with all the experience throughout the years, that helps too, so it’s just everything,” she says.
Defending Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic has squashed cheating allegations that have come his way after Boris Becker revealed that he communicates with his player to guide him during matches, saying it is more “encouragement and reassurance” he receives from his coach rather than actual tactics.
Coaching is illegal during grand slam and ATP matches and “communications of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching” according to the code of conduct for grand slams.
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However many coaches, including Toni Nadal and now Boris Becker, have admitted that they have their own ways of getting a message through to a player during a match.
“We have our ways about it to tell him it's good or tell him it's bad. Then it's up to him to change it,” Becker said in an interview with Radio Five Live.
Djokovic was asked to explain the nature of these communications with his German coach. The world No1 said: “I don't think that we're cheating. I don't think that's how you can call it. There are special ways of, I would say, communication.
“As he mentioned, the way you look at each other, the way you feel your box, and box feels what you're going through on the court. I think that's something that just gives you that reassurance, gives you that confidence.
“It's not necessary that he tells me where to serve or to which side of the opponent's court I have to play, because that doesn't happen. But it's more of encouragement, and more of a support and reassurance that's basically present in those moments.”
The Serb admitted that a certain level of communication is generally present between all players and their coaches but that there is a certain limit to how often it should occur.
“I think with all the cameras pointed out to him and to the box, I think you would already notice if he (Becker) would just kind of go kick serve, slice, to do the backhand or forehand,” said Djokovic with a smile.
“But again, we can't pretend like that's not happening in tennis. Of course, there are situations when it happens, and not just with the top players, with everybody. This is a very competitive sport. You're alone on the court. Of course, there are certain rules.
“But also there are times when the team of the player communicates with the player when he gets to go and take the towel in the corner, which is closer to the box, or different ways.
“I think it's all fine as long as it's not regular. I think it just depends. Also that's up to the chair umpire or supervisor to decide if somebody's breaking the rules or not. I think as long as it's something that you can tolerate, let's say, within the ways of communication, I think it's fine.”
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