Kickin' it with Kiki: How I've embraced the pressure in Paris and why I think the crowd was fair to Muguruza

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PARIS, FRANCE — Roland Garros may sometimes be a tricky experience for French players but I must say I feel like I’ve always handled the pressure from my home crowd quite well.

I’m into my first French Open quarter-final and every single day is a new challenge for me.

I am a fighter and I’m confident, and I like to show that I can handle anything and that I’m not someone weak who would crumble under the pressure.

But it’s not easy every day because you want to do great for those people in the stands, for this support. It’s thousands of people, it’s lots of pressure, lots of expectations, so it’s not easy but it’s my mental strength that has got me through it.

You can see all my matches have been one big fight after the other; I’m not winning all those fights easily at all, but I just dig deep, I try to use this energy as a positive.

I’m just telling myself to embrace the pressure because at the end of the day, at the end of my career, that adrenaline, that pressure, is what I will miss the most.

It’s something you can’t find anywhere else in normal life except through sport and I take it as a huge privilege to see that so many people believe in me and put pressure on me. It means that I’m doing something great and that they believe that I can do even better.


So I think you’ve got to really be mentally strong to handle being the home player here at Roland Garros. We’ve seen big names, big champions in the past who couldn’t handle a situation like this – not only French players in France, but maybe Australians at the Australian Open or Americans at the US Open or Brits at Wimbledon. So it’s definitely not something easy, and maybe I’m not always going to respond well to this but the result at the end of the day doesn’t depend only on me, but also on my opponent.

Still, it’s true that since I first played the French Open, I never had regrets. I never felt that I went out there in front of 10,000 people and I just couldn’t play tennis, like I couldn’t feel my shots, my legs or I was totally paralysed. I’m extremely happy to have this privilege of feeling all this support, love and emotions.

I’ve had pretty tough draws over the years here at the French Open. I remember I had a wildcard in 2010 and I played Li Na – I beat her four years later, but the first time I lost like 7-5, 6-3, that was a great match. I also played against Dominika Cibulkova in 2012.

I had bad draws, I always played on big courts and I always embraced it. I didn’t end up winning those matches because tennis-wise my opponents were better than me but I always showed fight and I never felt like a fool out there. I always showed people that I want to belong there, I believed in myself, in the process, and I was always positive.

‘CROWD WAS FAIR TO GARBINE’

I know there’s been talk about the crowd being hostile during my fourth round against Garbine Muguruza but honestly I don’t think the crowd was bad at all with Garbine.

If you compare it to the atmosphere I experienced in the Stuttgart final in April against Germany’s Laura Siegemund – the people were extremely fired up, it was insane. I don’t know how many people can fit in the Porsche Arena – it’s also indoors – but it was ridiculous. I couldn’t hear myself breathing or talking.

It was so packed and loud but I never made any bad comments about the crowd because this is sport, it’s normal. People go there to enjoy themselves, to be entertained. If they have a home player, they pick their favourite and they support them.

Of course there are rules, not to scream during points and so on. In Stuttgart it was like this, so that was very close to the limit, but I embraced it. I think it’s normal. I don’t know if I have a different mentality to other players or what – I heard what Garbine said. Me personally, I never made any bad comments about that atmosphere in Germany. In fact, I actually thanked the crowd for loving our sport that much and being so into it.

I wasn’t surprised in Stuttgart because my opponent was German and if we talk about my Roland Garros fourth round with Garbine, the crowd was absolutely fair I think. Only once it happened that many people screamed between Garbine’s first and second serve because they thought it was a double fault since they didn’t hear that the first serve was a let. But other than that, they were supporting, clapping for her great shots and points. They were never disrespectful nor did they cross the line, just a huge support.

I mean we’re in a Grand Slam, I’m a French player, it hasn’t happened for so long [for a female French player to do well here], it’s a big match-up everybody was waiting for, so I was expecting that.

It’s also tough for me to handle this noise and atmosphere. It’s not that it’s easy for me and everything is difficult for her. It was also difficult for me to handle the nerves, the pressure, the emotions… I was ready for that but apparently she was not, but I don’t think there was anything unfair or bad.

LUCKY CHARM

It’s not just the crowd support that I enjoy here, I love this tournament and I have my own routines that make me feel very comfortable here.

They gave me my locker when I won the junior title here in 2009 so I have had the same locker every year – it’s kind of my lucky charm and I really believe it is because winning juniors, reaching the final in mixed, winning doubles and feeling great here… the locker is definitely my lucky charm.

There’s one lady in the locker room, Pat, she is like my mum, she’s so nice with me.

Having my meals on the sofa there watching matches on the screens while waiting for my matches… all these little routines – I just feel very comfortable.

MENDING FENCES?

My ex-doubles partner Caroline Garcia has also made it into the second week of the tournament and I’ve been asked about our falling out during press conferences and whether I plan on talking to her to clear the air after Roland Garros is over.

I don’t know if people realise that, yes we had an amazing successful doubles career together, but outside of tennis we never shared anything. We were totally different that we were kind of joining forces just for matches, not even practices – very rarely just for warm-ups – because we were both focused on our singles.

Outside of tennis, we never went to dinner together, we never went shopping together or stuff like that because our interests are way different. But it didn’t stop us from having amazing results in doubles because we were a great team.

So on one hand I didn’t lose much because it’s not like she’s been my best friend and I’d talk to her about everything in my life.

It’s very sad that it turned out like this, from her side, because what really happened is that she just decided that she wanted to stop playing doubles and she just sent me a poor message over the phone.

I would have understood any reason she would have given me to stop playing together –anything she would’ve told me I would’ve totally agreed and respected. But she didn’t have the courage or human values to come and talk to me face-to-face and say ‘listen Kiki, I have these goals, I see it like this, I want to stop for that reason’ but that didn’t happen.

So I was extremely disappointed about that. We met in Indian Wells in the ice bath and she was surprised I was actually cold with her. She wanted to know why I was cold and I was like ‘You’re asking me? I know we weren’t necessarily friends outside of the court but at least what we shared and lived through, our beautiful tennis results, you could have at least thought to see me face-to-face and tell me after all we’ve been through. You didn’t do that so I was very disappointed with you and I’m disappointed’.

And when I asked why she just messaged me and didn’t come to talk to me she didn’t have an answer. I felt a bit disrespected because I’m big on human values.

Now there’s no more drama. She’s doing her thing, I’m doing my thing, and that’s it. I didn’t see her, we’re not speaking that much and we are all just sticking to our routines and jobs.

*This column was done via an interview with Kristina Mladenovic. It has been slightly edited for clarity.

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RG day 8 diary and highlights: Muguruza's emotional and revealing press conference

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Tough day: For Muguruza.

On an emotionally-fuelled day at Roland Garros, Garbine Muguruza broke down in tears during her post-loss press conference and Pablo Carreno Busta cried his way through his on-court interview with Eurosport after his five-set win over Milos Raonic.

The two Spaniards were experiencing feelings on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, but both tearful incidents were equally moving.

It is often difficult to read Muguruza but her press conference at Roland Garros on Sunday allowed us for a few moments to get a look at the real person inside of her. Not because she cried, but because she came back in the room and took on whatever was coming her way.

She was overcome by emotion before she even heard the reporter’s question about Mladenovic screaming ‘forza’ to celebrate Muguruza’s unforced errors. It was obvious she was barely holding it together from the start of the press conference.

And after leaving the room briefly to collect herself, she came back and answered every question thrown at her.

The reporter told her he didn’t want to upset her with the same question, giving her an out. But Muguruza wouldn’t take it.

“Go for it, we’re here in the good and the bad, so go for it,” she said with a straight face. Muguruza then responded with a sarcastic quip about Mladenovic being able to speak “25 languages”.

It reminded me of why she’s a Grand Slam champion. Between the setbacks and the nerves and the inconsistent form, Muguruza is confrontational, a fighter, an aggressor…

In Spanish, veteran tennis journalist Neus Yerro asked her what was most painful – the loss, the feelings it evoked, or what exactly?

Muguruza almost broke down again and could only say one word: “Derrota (The loss).”

Still she continued.

When Muguruza was walking off the court following her defeat to Mladenovic, she wagged her finger at the crowd, sending a message that what they did on Sunday was not acceptable to her.

The Spaniard felt the pro-Mladenovic crowd crossed a line, but she also said she understands that they were rooting for their home player. Still, it must have been hard for her to go from being adored one year as the Roland Garros champion, then heckled the next year for facing a Frenchwoman. The contrast must feel unsettling.

“I think the crowd today was a little bit obviously tough for me. I understand,” said the 23-year-old.

“I just think that they were a little bit, sometimes should be a little bit more respectful, even though for the game, because we had to, you know, stop. The chair umpire has to always calm the crowd down. I’m not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here. Is not a good feeling, so…”

Muguruza’s coach Sam Sumyk is French and he branded the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Sunday as “pathetic”.

Ultimately, players react to pressure in different ways. For Muguruza, being the defending champion in Paris and spending a whole year being the French Open title holder weighed down on her. While she is hurt by the loss on Sunday, she seems relieved that phase is finally over.

“It’s gonna sound weird, but I’m actually happy that this stage kind of the year is done, because I wanted to go as far as possible. But even if I didn’t, I think I’m going to feel much better now to continue the year, and everybody is going to stop bothering me asking me about this tournament, so it’s going to be a little bit like, ‘Whew, let’s keep going’” she said on Sunday.


For Carreno Busta, his breakthrough win over Raonic – his first top-10 victory that took him into his first Grand Slam quarter-final – has given him confidence ahead of his next monumental task against Rafael Nadal.

He isn’t shying away from what is essentially the toughest test in tennis today – facing an in-form Nadal on clay at Roland Garros.

“Of course I believed a lot in my possibilities today. I believed a lot in my possibilities in the last match. I believe a lot in my possibilities in the next match,” the 25-year-old Spaniard said confidently.

Referring to his emotions after a brutal four-hour 17-minute battle with Raonic, he said: “It’s difficult to explain to you my emotions at the end of the match. It was the best victory of my career. Maybe in one of the best moments and of the best places.

“This match that you dream when you are young, playing Roland Garros, five sets, four hours and a half. It was really tough, really tough. But I just try to do my best.

“I enjoyed. I suffer, but I enjoyed. And of course if you win, you enjoy more.”

Stats of the day

6 — top-five wins Mladenovic now owns against seven losses.

11 — Roland Garros quarter-finals Nadal and Djokovic have now made to join Roger Federer at the top of the list for most Roland Garros quarter-finals reached in the Open Era.

20 — wins and just three losses Nadal now has against Spaniards across all Grand Slams.

20 — games lost by Rafael Nadal in four rounds, just one more than his best of 19 at the same stage in 2012.

21 — and 21 days, Khachanov is the youngest man to reach the last-16 at Roland Garros since Marin Cilic made the fourth in Paris aged 20 years 252 days in 2009.

23 — years since two Frenchwomen had last reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. The French are now guaranteed two women in the last-eight after Kristina Mladenovic beat Garbine Muguruza and with one of Alize Cornet or Caroline Garcia also advancing.

25 — years after Petr Korda reached the French Open final, son Sebastian made his junior debut on Sunday beating sixth seed Marko Miladinovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.

48 — consecutive service games Roland Garros fourth debutant Karen Khachanov has held.

84 — unforced errors from Milos Raonic in his fourth round loss to Carreno Busta against 92 winners.

Quotes of the day


“I think she speaks like 25 languages, I heard, so…”
— Garbine Muguruza throws shade at Kristina Mladenovic when asked if she was annoyed by the Frenchwoman celebrating her unforced errors by yelling ‘forza’.

“When I got injured, my only hope was that I would get a second chance so I can play some of my best tennis again.”
— World No290 Petra Martic after making the fourth round having missed 10 months of action due to a back injury.

“When she said that I was known for that sort of thing on the circuit, really? I think we should ask other players if that’s what they think. I hate calling the physiotherapist onto the court.”
— Timea Bacsinszky recalls gamesmanship accusations made by Mladenovic towards her during Fed Cup earlier this year.

“Of course everyone knows Swiss cheese is so much better than French cheese, and that Gruyere cheese does not have holes. You call it Emmental. You are imposters. Gruyere is a place in Switzerland with a castle there. It’s a region. In the Canton of Fribourg. It’s a very pretty place.”
— Swiss player Bacsinszky’s idea of trash talk ahead of her quarter-final against France’s Mladenovic.

“I mean, if we live in fear, you know, that’s not life. I also believe that you kind of attract, you know, certain things that when you are, you know, living under stress and fear of everything.”
— Novak Djokovic when asked if he is worried about his and his family’s safety at Wimbledon in light of the latest attacks in London.

Upset of the day

Considering he was 0-16 against top-10 players entering that match, this would have to go to Carreno Busta, who beat fifth-seeded Raonic 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (8), 6-4, 8-6.

GIF of the day

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Rafael Nadal blasts Carlos Ramos: This umpire is trying to look for my faults

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Trouble with time: Nadal.

Rafael Nadal blasted French Open umpire Carlos Ramos on Sunday for treating him like a “machine” and suggested he was being unfairly targeted in an effort to speed up play.

Nadal reached an Open Era record-equalling 11th Roland Garros quarter-final with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Spanish compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut.

But his joy at matching Roger Federer’s mark for last-eight appearances in Paris was overshadowed by an astonishing broadside at Ramos.

The umpire had warned the 31-year-old in the first set for slow play and again in the third before deciding to dock Nadal a first serve.

“If you want to play well, you have to let players breathe a little. We’re not machines that cannot think. That’s my viewpoint,” said Nadal, who repeatedly falls foul of the rule which stipulates a maximum 25 seconds between points.

“What else can I say? I’m telling you this with some sadness, because I don’t want to have any problems. But this umpire is, I think, trying, in a certain way, to look for my faults, my errors.”

The 14-time major winner believes that some umpires are stricter than others who may afford a player more leeway especially in the red-hot atmosphere of a Grand Slam.

“Theoretically the umpires are here to analyze the match and they are not here to use the stopwatch, otherwise we should have a stopwatch on the court,” added Nadal, warming to his theme.

“That’s the whole point. Some dictate things or give their calls in a certain way. Other umpires have different styles.”

Despite a career-long habit of over-stepping the time allowance – a situation not helped by his idiosyncratic plucking at his shorts and smoothing of his eyebrows – Nadal insisted he will not change.

“I told him that he will have to give me many warnings, because if I have not yet grabbed my towel, that he’s going to give me a warning,” he added.

Vanquished opponent Bautista Agut backed Nadal in his spat with Ramos.

“Rafa and I need to play a lot of points. We need to run around a lot. Having the pressure of the umpires is something we don’t really need,” said the 29-year-old. “I don’t think I really agree with that rule.”

The fall-out with Ramos meant that Nadal’s smooth progress to the last eight became a sideshow.

He has dropped just 20 games in four rounds so far, just one more than he lost at the same stage in 2012, as he attempts to become the first player to win the same Slam 10 times.

Nadal will face fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta who stunned fifth-seeded Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-4, 8-6.

Carreno Busta, the 20th seed, will be playing in his first Slam quarter-final at the age of 25. But he did it the hard way, needing seven match points to seal victory over the Canadian after 4hr 17min on Court One.

*From AFP

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