Wawrinka Interview: Feeling young ahead of his Roland Garros campaign

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Thumbs up: Stan Wawrinka.

For the first time since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973, the top five players are all aged 30 or above.

Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer have all crossed that age milestone. They’re all still winning and are all real contenders for the big titles.

Wawrinka, who is 32, is the late-bloomer of the bunch. He won his first of three Grand Slams when he was 28 and is still considered a bit of an outsider to the so-called ‘Big Four’, despite the fact that he has claimed the same number of majors as Murray. Their resumes are still fairly uneven.

Wawrinka was the last of them to arrive to the party and he actually sees it as an advantage right now.

“The thing is, for me I feel great. I feel young at that level. I’ve been playing for so many years but during 10 years I was like more between 10 to 20 (in the rankings). Since four years now I’m in the top 10 so I still feel young and fresh because everything is a little bit new, so I feel great,” the 2015 Roland Garros champion told Sport360 ahead of his opener against Josef Kovalik on Tuesday.

“I feel a lot of motivation to try to push myself. I know I’m getting older so I need to be careful with many things but at the same I want to push the maximum I can do in my career.”

The Swiss world No3 may be one of the big guns now, but he says he always tries to stay grounded and linked to his roots.

“I grew up in a farm, I was living there was I was young. I think it was great for myself and my family, my brother also to live there, also with some handicapped persons, so I know where I come from. I think it helped me for so many things in my career but also in my life,” says Wawrinka.

But no matter how much he may resist it, his life has definitely changed every since he started beating world No1s in Grand Slam finals.

He is regarded differently on the court by his peers, and off it, he finds pictures of himself and his tennis-playing girlfriend Donna Vekic in tabloids while enjoying some R&R on the beach.

Wawrinka watching his girlfriend Donna Vekic's match at Roland Garros on Monday.

Wawrinka watching his girlfriend Donna Vekic’s match at Roland Garros on Monday.

“For sure that’s not the best part but that’s part of the game,” he says of becoming the subject of interest for the paparazzi. “It’s happening since I won some Grand Slams, for sure, because then you become a little more famous and people want to know more about you.”

And tennis-wise, has life changed much since 2014?

“Yes, for sure there’s a big difference. When you become a Grand Slam champion and in the top five for sure people see you differently. They see you as a better tennis player, more people come to watch, more people come to see what’s happening, what you’re doing. It’s a completely different life as a tennis player,” he explains.

The reigning US Open champion had a strong start to his 2017 season, making the semis at the Australian Open and the final in Indian Wells. Both times he lost to his fellow Swiss Federer, who at 35, is back to his best, winning majors and Masters 1000s like it’s 2006.

Nadal has also rediscovered his form and currently leads the ATP Race to London standings. They are ageing champions whose magic does not wane.

None of this surprises Wawrinka.

“For me, if you look, we have ‘Big Four’ players, they’ve been winning every single tournament for more than 10 years. As long as they’re still playing, they’re going to fight and play to win big titles,” says Wawrinka.

“I don’t see them playing and being 20 or 30 in the world and they keep playing, because they’ve been there for so many years. So you know, you can see with Rafa, he had so many injuries, he always came back at his top level. Now he’s back at the top of the top, Roger also… so I think it’s a chance for us to play with those amazing champions.”

Nadal is targeting a mythical 10th Roland Garros title this fortnight in Paris. The Spaniard’s attempt last year to achieve that feat was halted by a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from the tournament ahead of his third round.

Many people wrote off Nadal, who hasn’t won a Grand Slam in three years, but Wawrinka never doubted the 14-time major champion.

“I’ve known Rafa since he was young, I saw him winning time after time. He had so many injuries but he always came back, since he was really young. I think he missed the first Roland Garros he was supposed to play because of a foot injury. And the next year he played his first French Open and won it,” said Wawrinka.

“So I never thought he would be out or less competitive because we all know that when he comes back, fit and ready, he’s tough to beat.”

Wawrinka’s clay season did not start well, with early losses in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome but he picked up the pace in Geneva last week, winning his home title on the eve of the French Open. Playing his home event in the week leading up to Roland Garros has gone well for Wawrinka in the past. He says it has helped him not get too wrapped up in Paris during the build-up.

“I think this year’s edition (of the Geneva tournament) was a little different. I think I had much more support. I had a lot of supporters for each match, really, which meant more emotion, also,” said Wawrinka in his pre-Roland Garros press conference on Monday.

“The beginning, early season on clay was not good. It really had a negative impact on my confidence. So being able to win matches was very important. It sort of was able to create some reverse thrust and build confidence.”

When asked about his epic final victory over Djokovic that won him the 2015 French Open, Wawrinka said: “It was one of the best, for sure. I think 2015 French Open was probably the tournament I played the best tennis. I was playing really strong, really heavy. I was feeling really good with my tennis.”

Rallying with Stan

Which shots would you take from his rivals if he could?

Maybe I take the return of Novak, backhand of Novak, I take Roger’s forehand, I take Rafa’s fitness, and maybe Roger’s serve.

You wouldn’t keep your backhand?

Two-handed backhand is better for the return.

What do you make of all the Maria Sharapova wildcard drama?

I think now she’s back on tour, I think she’s been an amazing champion, winning so many big titles, I think the focus was a little bit too much about asking ‘does she deserve a wildcard or not’. It’s not the player who’s going to decide who is going to get a wildcard or not at the end of the day, it’s the tournament. And I think the fans are really happy to see her back so it can only be only good for the WTA tour.

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Ons Jabeur makes history for Arab women at Roland Garros

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Photo credit: Tnani Badreddine

Ons Jabeur made history at Roland Garros on Monday as she became the first Arab woman in nine years to reach a Grand Slam second round.

Jabeur's Tunisian compatriot Selima Sfar last achieved that feat at the 2008 French Open, and the retired North African remains the only Arab woman to ever rank in the top-100. Jabeur is inching closer to that top-100 milestone, with her provisional ranking now at 106.

The 22-year-old Jabeur made it into the Roland Garros main draw for the first time in her career as a lucky loser this week. The 2011 French Open junior champion took full advantage of the lifeline she was given by defeating Romanian qualifier Ana Bogdan 6-3, 6-4 on Monday, to reach her maiden Grand Slam second round.

[caption id="attachment_235520" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Photo credit: Tnani Badreddine. Photo credit: Tnani Badreddine.[/caption]
“It’s amazing to be here. Nine years ago was Selima (Sfar), right? I’m going to call her after, I’m going to tell her that it’s unbelievable to be here. I wish she was here with me. This lady is unbelievable, I have no words to describe her,” Jabeur told Sport360.


“To be here today in the French Open is unbelievable. I played juniors here, I have a lot of memories, I hope I will create more and more and hopefully I’ll be ready for the second round.”
Jabeur’s reward is a showdown with Slovakian No6 seed Dominika Cibulkova – a match that will more than likely be scheduled on a bigger court.
“It’s a great match for me, no stress at all for me, I’m just going to play relaxed and play my game and hopefully will create the surprise,” said Jabeur.
“I like to play on big courts, I played once here before on Suzanne Lenglen so I’m used it you know, as usual,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just joking. I’m really happy to be here, for me doesn’t matter to play on court 2 or 3 or 18 or Suzanne Lenglen, I just have to play my game and that’s it.”
Jabeur lost her last round of qualifying here on Friday to Japan’s Miyu Kato but found out soon after that she got a lucky loser spot that was available due to Laura Siegemund’s withdrawal.
She says she enjoys the feeling of getting another chance and is happy to grab it with both hands.
“It was nice actually, it was funny a little bit with the players because they come to me and they’re like ‘heyyy’, but they say the word ‘lucky’ and then ‘loser’ like out loud, I feel like ‘okay, I’m in the main draw, you don’t have to say the word you know?’ But I’m really really happy to be here. I think I got my chance, I won my match and hopefully will continue even better,” said Jabeur.
Against Bogdan, she was rarely in trouble, and her signature drop shots and slices were on full display.
“I played my game. A lot of the drop shots, and then things went really good. She got little bit pissed, and then I tried to get this opportunity to play better. Was slipping a little bit at 3-1, but then I came back and I was really, like, tough mentally to win this match,” she added.
[caption id="attachment_235519" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Photo credit: Tnani Badreddine. Photo credit: Tnani Badreddine.[/caption]
Jabeur’s best memories on a tennis court have come at Roland Garros having lifted the junior title here six years ago.
“I like to be here. It's really close to Tunisia, so maybe it's that. I mean, it's not the same as playing in Australia or USA than to play here. And I speak French, so it's -- I'm kind of close to this country and I like to play here,” she says.
“People are, like, very nice here. There's a lot of Tunisian who came to support me. So being here, it feels like being in Tunisia. And I got to say, the weather here, they stole it from us, so kind of is a little bit...” she added with a laugh, referring to the ongoing heat wave in Paris.
Jabeur spent her offseason training in Slovakia, with the likes of Daria Kasatkina and Kateryna Kozlova, and she joked that perhaps the people of Trnava – where she practiced – will support her against Cibulkova.
Her fitness coach is also Slovakian – Maros Molner.
“He's the craziest guy in Slovakia probably,” she said with a chuckle. “Yeah, he's a really good fitness coach. We had preparation together last year, and I see him a little bit during the - actually, lately, three weeks ago I saw him. I worked out with him. And at the beginning of the year, actually, a little bit my husband was helping me since he's a fitness coach. So it was kind of - if I'm in Slovakia, I practice with Maros. If I'm not there, my husband helps me a little bit.”


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Roland Garros day 1 diary and highlights: Sweltering heat and laughing fits

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Tough but victorious day in the office: For Kuznetsova.

It often seems that Roland Garros only deals in extremes. It’s either freezing cold, wet, windy and with constant showers like last year, or there’s a heat wave, with so much humidity, it makes Dubai’s summer weather feel like spring.

Right now, it’s the latter, and it ain’t pretty. The 20-minute walk from my hotel to the tennis, that includes at least three stops for security checks, feels like a marathon and you get to the stadium feeling so sweaty, I’m half-tempted to sneak into the players’ locker room to take a shower.

Players had to contend with two things on Sunday – tough weather conditions and first round nerves. No one can escape those first round nerves, even a veteran and former champion like Svetlana Kuznetsova. She had such a tough time on court on Sunday that she lost track of the score and didn’t know she was serving for the match.

“It was really, really tough. I was playing not so good. Like, you know, when you’re so nervous and you kind of gotta relax and just play the game. Like, I felt like I was playing against myself,” she told us after her 7-5, 6-4 win over Christina McHale.

“And on the changeover when it was 4-3, I thought it was 4-3. I heard it was 5-4, and then I was just serving for the match. So umpire got me really happy. I’m like, ‘What is the score?’ He’s like, 5-4. I’m like, ‘Oh, good’. And he looked at me like I was from another planet. And it looked to me better because I couldn’t win my service games, and I got so much happier and I could finish it. I mean, it was a really difficult match for me.”

What a legend!

It was quite a funny day all around in press conferences as I somehow, unintentionally, sent Grigor Dimitrov into laughter after his straight-sets win over Stephane Robert.

I asked the Bulgarian how it felt to finally claim his first Roland Garros match win since 2013 and he immediately started laughing.

“I was sure that question was coming. It’s great. I’m so happy,” said a chuckling Dimitrov.

I’m not sure what I did there but I generally aim to please so…

Meanwhile in the players’ lounge, I spotted Victoria Azarenka who made a surprise appearance at Kids’ Day on Saturday, and stuck around Sunday as well. She was dressed in tennis gear which perhaps means she did some training on-site, in preparation for her grand return from maternity leave next month?

Moving on, here are the highlights of day one in sweltering Paris…

Point of the day


Stats of the day

1 – Angelique Kerber became the first top-seeded woman in the Open Era to lose in the first round of Roland Garros.

10 – Top-10 wins for Ekaterina Makarova at Grand Slams, the fourth-most amongst active female players.

31 – Winners from Petra Kvitova in her first match back from hand surgery. 15 of those came off the forehand wing. Welcome back Petra!

Quote of the day

“Tennis is, I think, just a simple game for – you know, for, I guess, for intelligent people so…”
— Grigor Dimitrov tries to get philosophical. 

“My all time favourite thing – because she (my friend Julie Coin) drives around on a little Vespa – is driving around on the back of her Vespa around Paris. This is the highlight. She has a little yellow one and I named it Bumble. So, like, I’m, like, I just want to go every where on Bumble. Take me on Bumble. So that’s the highlight of Paris for me is riding the Vespa.” — Madison Brengle told reporters after her 1-6, 6-3, 13-11 win over Julia Goerges

Upset of the day

Cagla Buyukakcay bt Mirjana Lucic-Baroni [22] 6-3, 6-3

This time last year, Buyukakcay made history for Turkish tennis by becoming the first ever Turkish woman to win a Grand Slam main draw match. It seems Paris brings the best out of Buyukakcay, who on Sunday upset No22 seed and Australian Open semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in straight sets to reach the second round. The world No155 faces last year’s quarter-finalist Shelby Rogers.

Camera position of the day

GIF of the day

Random moment of the day

Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe was at the tennis on Sunday and for some reason, they thought it was funny to give him a tennis ball as a “Ballon d’Or”.

Day 2 highlights

Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [4] v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)

Alexander Zverev (GER) [9] v Fernando Verdasco (ESP)

Benoit Paire (FRA) v Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4]

Ons Jabeur (TUN) v Ana Bogdan (ROU)

Marin Cilic (CRO) [7] v Ernests Gulbis

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