Kristina Mladenovic's column: The challenge of grass, Kvitova's return and tennis' baby boom

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LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN — We’re back at Wimbledon, dressed in classy all-whites and ready to go.

Grass can be tricky to play on but I feel that I’ve always had a good relationship with the surface.

I love it, I just love the challenge. I’m a positive person and I want to challenge myself and try to play well on every surface and not be that kind of player who thinks ‘okay, this is not my surface, it doesn’t matter, I can give up if it’s not working well’… I’m not like this, I try to be a perfectionist and try to always do better.

It’s different. Especially this year I could feel that I improved a lot my game overall, from a physical standpoint and tennis-wise and we could really notice that on the hard courts, even more on the clay courts.

And to switch to grass, it kind of limited the level, because of the surface obviously, points are way shorter, it’s faster, you can’t develop the same intensity, the same spin, the same footwork and running – it’s challenging.

I try to adjust my game differently because I can find solutions with more aggressive shots, flat shots, slices, a different style. The way I usually play, which involves me using my forehand a lot, maybe heavy rotation spin shots, that’s something I’m not going to do on grass. For example I’m not going to run around a lot of my backhands to play forehands. So it requires an adjustment for me but I’m just happy to try my best to do it.

PETRA’S BACK

I got to play Petra Kvitova in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago and I’m so glad she’s back on tour.

I was horrified to hear what happened to her back in December and of course we all sent her the warmest support ever, because it’s something you don’t wish on anyone, even your worst enemy, and Petra is actually one of the nicest girls on tour.

She’s a big champion but is also – which is the most important thing – a nice person. What happened was heartbreaking and we were all in doubt about the issue, if she was going to recover well and everything. So when she announced she will be back I was personally very happy about the great news because it’s nice to have a person like her, as a competitor back on court. I was very happy and proud to share the court with her.

I lost to Petra in Birmingham and she ended up winning the title in just her second tournament back. I wasn’t surprised to see her doing well, especially that her comeback – even if she played the French Open – but her comeback is on her best surface (grass).

Maybe she’s not in her best physical shape yet because she’s just coming back but you don’t really feel it on grass because it involves short points and it’s her best surface. I knew she could be dangerous, I was expecting a tough match.

Of course it’s always a bit surprising to see someone do that well so quickly but I’m very happy to see her back playing, it’s very important for the game.

BABY BOOM

Victoria Azarenka is also back and I saw her baby boy Leo the other day. Serena Williams also says she wants to return to the tour next year after having her baby, so we’ll have a few more mothers traveling on the circuit which I think is very interesting.

I still feel young and I’m not planning on having a baby yet. But this is a topic that has actually been bothering me.

I’m always impressed with athletes who become mothers and come back and play as well as they did before. I never had a baby so I don’t know the process, how it feels afterwards and if it’s difficult to come back or not. They’re saying that it’s not.

But it’s always a tricky thing for female athletes. It’s nice for those ATP players, they have their wives and kids next to them and they don’t have to think about stopping their careers, they can just keep on going.

For us at some point we are like, okay, do I go on with my career and then when I’m done, I’ll stop when I’m over 30 and I want to start a family, or do I take a break at age 24, 27, 30 and go have babies? Because tennis isn’t everything. Of course it’s a lot, at the moment it’s all my life, from childhood, through my teenage years, until now, but the sporting career doesn’t last forever, there is life as well, which is probably even more important.

This is something you have to think about, and of course women have to think about it way more than the men but I also guess it comes with the flow, with the timing, with your situation in life, if you have a partner or not, we will see. Everybody has their different view, on life, on goals, on timing…

SASHA THE ENTERTAINER

For now, I’m just going to stick to focusing on Wimbledon. On Monday, Andy Murray will open the action on Centre Court against Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik, who is actually a friend of mine.

This guy is just hilarious. He’s a very funny guy, he’s full of energy, he enjoys life, he’s very friendly, he’s just an up-and-coming player on tour and he’s not afraid to go up to any player and say hello.

He’s a very close friend of Daria Kasatkina, and I’m friends with her. He lives in St. Petersburg and he was there during that week when I won the tournament (last February) and Daria was there as well so that’s how I met him.

He’s easy-going and I’m also quite open, a few jokes here and there, we became friends. Now he’s part of the tour as well and I can see he’s doing a great job already, and he’s proving to be a big hit with the ATP who are recording videos with him quite a lot, asking him to play a journalist’s role by interviewing other players on camera. He has a great sense of humour and he can be a great player as well. He’s a character so hopefully he can entertain lots of fans and he has brilliant talent.

We had a bet before St. Petersburg about me winning the tournament and it happened and here the situation is quite crazy because he thought about leaving London after he lost in the final round of qualifying but then he found out he was a lucky loser.

To play Andy on Centre Court is something very special, especially here. It’s a huge mountain in front of him but for now he’s excited. I told him not to be too excited, then stuff could be different on court, but hopefully for him he can enjoy it and play some good tennis.

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

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Roger Federer says skipping Roland Garros gave him 'best chance' for Wimbledon

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In peak shape: Roger Federer.

Roger Federer insists he won’t have an easy road to a record eighth Wimbledon crown despite the recent struggles of his title rivals.

Federer is the bookmakers’ favourite to win Wimbledon for the first time since 2012, after landing the Australian Open title in January and then pulling out of the French Open to remain fresh for his latest assault on the All England Club.

The 35-year-old’s challenge could be helped by Andy Murray’s hip injury, which prompted the reigning Wimbledon champion to withdraw from two exhibition matches this week after he was stunned in the Queen’s Club first round by world number 90 Jordan Thompson.

Novak Djokovic, three times a Wimbledon winner, won on grass at Eastbourne on Saturday, but the Serb has endured the worst run of his career over the last 12 months, while French Open champion Rafael Nadal hasn’t been past the fourth round at the All England Club since 2011.

While Federer is aware of his rival’s various issues, he still expects to be confronted by one or two of them in the latter stages at Wimbledon.

“Depending how fit he is, if he’s anything close to 100 percent physically, I consider Andy one of the big favourites to win the tournament. It’s that simple,” Federer told reporters at Wimbledon on Saturday.

“For me, everything that happened before Queen’s for Andy doesn’t matter so much because I feel like he’s one of the best players in the first week at Wimbledon. I don’t worry too much for him there. He can play himself into shape hopefully for week two.

“It’s the same for Novak and the same for Rafa. I think it’s very even when we put it all out on the line. Look, Novak is just coming back from winning Eastbourne now. Rafa is coming in red hot from the clay.

“So I see it positive for them rather than negative in some shape, which I’m sure people will try to see that way. I see that they are going to be tough to beat here.”

Lleyton Hewitt was the last man other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray to win Wimbledon, back in 2002.

There appears little chance of that changing this year and Federer, bidding to win his 19th Grand Slam title, agrees that the big four are still head and shoulders above the rest.

“Zverev and Kyrgios have shown what they can do, how good they can be. The likes of Raonic and Nishikori and Dimitrov I think are in a good spot right now where they can go very deep and nobody would really be surprised,” he said.

“Away from those five players, I’m not sure how deep we’re talking about. Are we talking about winning Wimbledon? That’s going to be obviously a long shot.

“It’s been very dominant by a few players here at Wimbledon, and in many of the other Slams too.”

Federer, seeded third, starts his bid to reach an 11th Wimbledon final with a first-round clash against Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov.

Worryingly for his rivals, after missing the clay campaign, Federer is fresh and ready to roll again.

“It hurt because it was the first time I pulled out of a Slam actually feeling 100 percent ready to go,” he said.

“But it gave me the best chance for the grass, so I would never look back and have regrets once I came here. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my opponent. I want to take charge and play aggressive myself. For that I need to be fast on my feet and quick in my mind. I just need enough rest so I can play enough inspired tennis.”

* Provided by AFP

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Andy Murray can lose his No1 ranking at Wimbledon, here are the possible scenarios

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They're coming for you, Andy.

As players are putting the finishing touches to their game before Wimbledon kick-off on Monday, four men are not only competing for a Grand Slam title but also the world No1 ranking.

Andy Murray, the current resident of that highly sought-after top spot, has three players chasing him, with Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic all mathematically in a position to overtake the Scot.

Murray’s reign at the summit, which started last November, has not gone as smoothly as he would have hoped. He is 21-9 win-loss this season, compared to 33-6 heading into Wimbledon last year, and has picked up just one title in 2017 (in Dubai).

The 30-year-old arrived at Wimbledon suffering from a sore hip and coming off an opening round defeat to world No90 Jordan Thompson in Queens.

Murray is aware it might be hard for him to keep his No1 ranking this year.

“It’s most likely that I’ll lose the No1 spot at some point this year. If you want to stay at No1 you can’t have periods of three months of the year where you’re not winning matches, not performing well in the big events, which was the case for me until the French Open,” he was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

“So more than likely that will happen and that’s fine. I’m not trying to win Wimbledon for the ranking points. I just want to win Wimbledon. That’s my goal.”

If Murray reaches the Wimbledon final, he will keep his No1 ranking. If he doesn’t, any of Nadal, Wawrinka and Djokovic has the opportunity to overtake him. Here are the possible scenarios:

Murray has been world No1 for 34 weeks, while Nadal has spent 141 weeks in that position, and Djokovic 223 weeks.

For Wawrinka, if he does pull it off – he would have to win the title with both Murray and Nadal losing before the final – it would be the first time he’s occupied that spot and it probably would come as a surprise for the Swiss, who had told Sky Sports at the ATP Finals last November that he doesn’t have a realistic chance of becoming world No1.

“I don’t think so. Right now I’m 31,” Wawrinka said when asked if he could challenge Murray and Djokovic at the top, at the time. “I know I can beat every player, I need to do it more often in the year if I want to think about that, but so far I’m way off that.”

Nadal must at least reach the fourth round at Wimbledon in order to have any chance of leapfrogging Murray. After he captured a record 10th Roland Garros title last month, the Spaniard was asked if the No1 ranking is on his mind.

Nadal during a practice session at Wimbledon.

Nadal during a practice session at Wimbledon.

“I am playing well and I am in a good position… If I am able to keep playing well, [then] why not?” said the Spanish 15-time Grand Slam champion.

Djokovic is currently ranked No4 in the world, having dropped out of the top-three for the first time since 2009 following his Roland Garros quarter-final exit to Dominic Thiem. He said after that loss that he is up for the challenge of trying to fight back for the top spot.

“[Being No1] is one of the highest points that you can reach as a tennis player… one of the highest goals of any player. I know how it feels to get to that spot, to be there, and to also lose that spot. I hope that the experience that I have and also the time ahead of me will serve me well and, hopefully, I’ll be able to get back,” said Djokovic.

The Serb would have to win the title, with Murray and Nadal both losing before the semi-finals, in order to regain the No1 ranking.

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