Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Every end is just a new beginning

I don't like leaving businesses unfinished, yet, for everyone who had been checking on this page from time to time (and surprisingly it was more people than myself!) during the past year and a half it looked as if this page suffered a sudden and abrupt death. 
I am the one to blame and I somehow feel like this web page is but what my favourite plush used to be in my childhood: my best companion when I most needed it, when the world was big to my eyes, but little I had seen and little it had seen me. I struggle to say I am known to the world now, because I am very far from that, but looking at the ground covered in these 5 years, I feel like the journey has reached the point of no return and though scary it is the kind of thrill that makes you smile and look forward to the next steps of this adventure. The world got bigger than some writing from my desk at home, now I get sent to big sports events and I am more often on a plane than I would have ever thought.
I cannot see too far ahead of me, actually, I can't really see too well what I am going to have for lunch in a couple of hours (and yes, I am the one cooking!), so let alone what the future will bring, but there are many irons in the fire and I am absolutely thrilled by the idea of what these could bring. I know I am talking foggy here, but I don't want to say too much about these, yet I can tell you it is a great feeling when some big companies come to you and ask if you'd be interested in working with them, rather than being the other way around.
But enough with all these praises, I am still alive and I am making this seem like an eulogy! Even though, thinking about it carefully, it kind of is, because the main idea behind this stream of consciousness you are currently reading is to put a formal end to this page. As it is said at the very beginning the unfinished businesses really hurt my sensibility and for that I want to try and give a much deserved burial to this blog, whom I will always be grateful to as nothing I did by now would have been possibly without the hours I spent exercising my early reports, interviews and all sorts of skills here. Probably, looking back at what I did at the very beginning I would blush in embarrassment for the errors, the naivety in some mistakes, the complete inexperience... all of the faults are a part of the process and it is a never-ending one as this is the beauty of journalism: it is a never static job, things change quickly and one needs to learn new skills, adapt to new styles and technologies. For example, I am working a lot in social media to day and never would I have thought to as I consider myself primarily a writer.
But even if I am writing less (I am still finding some space for written journalism though, especially in Italian thanks to Il Tennis Italiano magazine and Sportface.it), it has been a year now that I took back an old dream of mine: writing a novel. I am saying that because it is part of this idea of mine of leaving nothing unfinished. I started it some 11 years ago or so, it was early in the days of high school and it all started as I was drawing maps and characters on the desk of my "neighbour" in class. I had been going on with random writing for years, even though never constantly, until the pages sank deep in one of my drawers during university. I meant to restart for long and I have even dreamt that the protagonist dragged me to his world to finish his story (which, for instance, I still don't know how it will end!), then last summer I suddenly decided to give it another go. I read the first chapters and decided that it was too badly written to only need some editing before going on, so I isolated myself in my mountain house and for a week I did not use social media, nor personal connections (bar a few of them to keep my sanity to a decent level) and started the writing the story from the very beginning. For someone who swims deep into the waters of sports writing, this book is far from my usual world, in fact, it is a far away world that nobody is familiar with apart from my characters: a fantasy world which is finding its reality and details through the pages of this absurd idea of mine. I am close to page 400 now, so fingers crossed I can bring it on to finally give an ending or I fear the protagonist could haunt me again! 
So what will be of this page now? I don't know, but I want to keep it, just like I still keep my wolf-plush in one of the shelves in my bedroom. Lately it came useful as I had my little nephew coming over to play but rain did not allow outdoor activities, so similarly I might come back to this place in a few months, a year, or more, just to write some more nonsense someone might find it interesting, though I highly doubt. But as for now, this is the end.

All the best,

p.s. I believe most of you follow me already on the social medias, but just in case you don't and you want to know what's happening in my life, or only if my novel finds an end or what the job opportunities I am being mysterious about are, give a follow to my twitter and instagram profiles.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the topic of comebacks

Or how did I end up giving another go

I have always thought that when an athlete calls it a career it should be once and for all. I have always believed that whenever a professional athlete was announcing a comeback it was because he, or she, could not adapt to a normal life, I thought it was a mistake, I thought one should have not retired in the first place, if so. 

I could not be more wrong.

It is hard to put yourself in another one’s shoes, but on this topic especially. Things change in life, that is a fact, situations change and sometimes our plans for the future take sudden twists that were not foreseeable. One thing does not seem to change with the time, like a friend of mine told me when I admitted him that I was missing some slalom gates earlier this year: “once a racer, always a racer!”

He could not be more right.
At Vail 2015 with my Eurosport colleague De Tessieres

You might remember the piece I wrote more than a year ago about my official retirement from professional skiing due to my choice of moving to the UK and chasing my dream of becoming a journalist (if not, well, here you can refresh your memory). Well, ever since many things have happened indeed and my career took off much better than I expected: in January I flew downunder to follow the Australian Open swing for tennis, then I flew all the way to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where for 20 days I worked in the mixed zone of the FIS Ski World Championships of Vail.

This last event was somewhat of an epiphany for me, because after almost three weeks watching all the best skiers in the world challenging themselves and each other for the crown of ski world champion, I realised how much I missed competing, training and challenging myself. It is hard to explain how this all came about, but if I was to pick one moment, I guess it was when I saw some of my old time friends and rivals going down that slope and stopping by my box for interviews. They convinced me to go back to some training sessions once back home and, why not, giving it a go to some races, if I felt ready.

My decision to be a freelancer is giving me a lot of time between one event and another, so I thought I could really use this time to do something I love, something I missed, something that makes me feel good.
I called my coach and organized a training session: we were both shocked, it was almost two years since the last time I did any gates, yet everything seemed to comeback after the first couple of turns. I know I am not as well prepared physically and the difference between good sections and bad sections is immense at the minute, but I am enjoying it all as if it was the first time again. I did a couple of local races and I finished second in the first, despite only one training day, and won the second one a few days later. There was not much competition, to be honest, but I loved the feeling of being back in a racing event, so I decided to push it forward and enter two FIS races.

My comeback to international races was not as good as planned: I fell in the first run on the first day when I was skiing very well, whereas I straddled a few gates from the end on the second day, but I was not skiing any good either. But what mattered to me is that I missed everything, I missed the tension when going to the start, the disappointment when you see the ground getting closer as you fall, the amazing feeling of skiing well…I know my comeback is not meant to be an effort to become a full-time pro, it is more of a hobby during my breaks from work, but this changed my prospective totally on the comebacks of professional athletes.

Of course, I still believe that one should not give up easily and then try a comeback whenever things are favouring it again, but I finally realize what pushes a professional athlete of whichever sport to call it a career and eventually change his mind.
Kim Cljisters made one of the most successful comebacks

I realized that you can feel old while being in your 20s, you can feel your body hurting every day on the training grounds and during your everyday life, you can feel that your mind is blocked and no matter how much effort you put on your trainings, races do not go as planned. I realized that when you are 22 you are likely to have been training for your dream for about 10-15 years and suddenly you could find new interests, “distractions” and your mind starts to fight against your will of working harder and harder.

I realized that when you surrender to these, you cannot give up to your love for the sport: you can fake indifference, but you cannot erase the feelings. I have felt this and I have seen it in most of my friends and former rivals: when I told my friends I was going back to some races I expected some jokes, but all I got was respect and some words of encouragement because they would love to do the same.

So what? Well, I think this experience taught and is teaching me lots and for my future as a journalist it gave me a deeper understanding on a topic that is always relevant and difficult to understand. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Patricia Mayr-Achleitner and her truth about the tour

When we think of Austria and sport, it is a natural association to think of winter sports, especially Alpine skiing. But the nation we all should be eternally grateful for the invention of some of the most amazing desserts ever created (Sacher and Linzer torte, Krapfen, Strudel and croissants!) has had a good tradition of tennis not to be forgotten. Thomas Muster is the clearest example, but other good players like Barbara Schett, Sybille Bammer and Tamira Paszek are all Austrian.

Today, the number one of this nation in the WTA tour is Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, even if the rankings have her second, but Yvonne Meusburger has recently retired. 

The 26 year old athlete from Tyrol has always been a strong character in the tour, well known for her sincerity, the kind of person that does not restrain her opinions. I could come to appreciate this quality in an interview I have done with her only a few days ago.

After many years spent looking for clay events all around the world, in this 2014 she has reached three times the last eitght at a WTA event (Shenzen, Kuala Lumpur and Luxembourg) and all of them were on hard courts. She has also won an important ITF for her, as it is only the second and first in six years, on the same surface in Winnipeg. I was wondering how this transformation came to happen and so this was my first question. That was the moment I immediately realised and appreciated her honesty.
I started to play more on hard courts two years ago, because it's useless to count on the clay season,” she said. “Because the clay court season is too short at WTA level. Also this year I missed most of the clay court tournaments because of an injury.
I also never played on hard court before the age of 22, so I am happy that I am playing better now on Hard Courts and maybe I can improve more and can reach three semifinals next year!”
Mayr-Achleitner would be no new to the later stages of a WTA event, as she reached the final match once before, like she told me: “It was nice to play pretty well at a home tournament in 2011, but I am always playing well in Bad Gastein. Of course I believe that I can win a title, but more important for me is to stay fit. This year I played some really good tennis until Madrid and then I got an injury and I have been hampered for three months. So the most important thing for me is to play a whole season fit.”

The Austrian’s game is a solid baseline game, her backhand is her best shot, but the quality that strikes the most of her tennis is the ability to lean easily on her opponent’s power. I personally was stunned when I saw her playing and upsetting Sabine Lisicki on the fast indoor conditions of Linz.

Difficult to say (how I play),” she told me. “I started to play more aggressively this year and my service is now also better. So I think I want to try and play a more active game.

“Against opponents like Lisicki it's easier for me, because I tried to make less mistakes than them. And it worked out well.”

Even before her new focus on hard courts, the Tyrolese played many good matches in the indoor conditions, testified once more this year when she challenged Genie Bouchard in Linz.
I don't know why my game works indoor,” she admitted. “I just play two tournaments indoors and mostly it works good. Maybe I am used to it, because in Austria you have to practise 6 months indoor cause of the snow.”
And about that match with the Canadian, Mayr-Achleitner was very vocal on social media when, after the first round win against the Austrian, Bouchard retired from Linz and saved some energy for Singapore (even though it must be said that she looked far from her best there.)

“Of course I am not happy with this, because it's unfair...” she told me, reinforcing the words she posted on her Facebook profile when this incident happened.
But she is not the kind of girl to live for the past and I had another reason to believe in that when I asked her about her favourite win of the career (she has wins over Yanina Wickmayer, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina).
“I don’t really have one,” she said. “I am happy about every good result. We are all very close.
There is not a big difference among players from WTA 20 to 100. Some of them just play on tour, so they focus more on ranking. For me, I play more league matches ( Austria, Germany, France...) and Fed Cup, because there you can make more money for your future. I played now 6 of 7 years in the Top 108, so this is the most important thing.”
Nonetheless, she is a frequent flyer and has travelled many countries and continents for tournaments, so I asked her about this new wave of Chinese tournaments and her answer had no political correctness.
I don't like to play in China,” she admitted. “It's pretty far for the European players and there are a lot of tournaments there nowadays, so it's tough for us to stay a long time there: different food, different culture. Not easy. And of course it's very expensive to stay a long time there. That’s why I prefer South America and Europe.
As my home country is just southern from the border of the Alps, I asked her about Italy.
I like to play in Italy and Italy is one of my favourite countries,” she said. “I am a big fan of AC Milan. So I would prefer to play more there, but there are no more higher tournaments and so it's difficult to play more there.

However, she sees little hope for the tennis movement in her home country too: “Austrian tennis has a poor future. Hopefully Dominc Thiem is doing well at ATP for a long time and maybe something changes for the Austrian tennis.”
The woman from Rum is one of these players that ended up in a relationship with their coaches. In her case, the two happily married four years ago, but she does not rely on her husband only as a coach.
My husband (Michael Achleitner) is still my coach,” she said. “But Vladimir Platenik (former D. Cibulkova's Coach) is also working with me 25 weeks. I always need new impulses...”
So, as she admitted that she does not know what her life will be when she retires from tennis, all I can wish her is the best for the next season.

(originally written by me in Italian for SpazioTennis www.spaziotennis.com/2014/12/mayr-achleitner-patricia-intervista-wta )

Monday, November 3, 2014

I am still alive

Yes, I know, this blog has seen better days. I have not put any new entry since July, which is a hell of long time ago, however, I think I have never been more productive than in the past few months.

Truth is that in the past year I started writing for a few Italian and international tennis websites and this is taking a lot of time. Come to think that during the WTA Finals, I was writing some four articles every evening in two different languages...it is quite a challenge, though I love it.

In the time between my latest post and this one, I have done lots: I finished my MA in sports journalism in London at the Saint Mary's University of Twickenham, with a final project which was a documentary on the media pressure on the growth of a sports talent. Here's a sneak peek of the final work on Alessia Trost (athletics):

I have also attended WTA Linz, where I had the chance to interview a few players, including Camila Giorgi and Karolina Pliskova. With that, I got accreditation for four events this year, with another event coming up next week in Brescia, a number I will try to improve in 2015!

I promise I will try to keep up with the Alpine skiing on this page, for which I have not started writing on any other publication, but I am basically full time busy writing about tennis nowadays, which makes it quite hard to come back here and write about tennis more.

If you please to keep up with my writing, however, you can follow me on twitter here @GiulioGasparin and/or keep an eye on the other publications I write for. For the international readers of this page, I write often on the English page of ubitennis.com and here you can keep track of my latest pieces: http://www.ubitennis.com/english/author/gasparin/

For the Italian readers, well, I picked up my Italian after a whole year in London and increased the number of articles in my native language, so you can read my pieces on www.ubitennis.com and www.spaziotennis.com

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tamarine Tanasugarn: "I want to be top 100 again"

Thirty-seven years of age and still the smile of a newbie at her first event, Tamarine Tanasugarn has never lost her joy on the tennis courts, even during the difficult past seasons of injuries, and now she is planning to comeback as strong as ever.

In 2008, at the age of 31 she amazed the world with one of her best seasons, capturing her first grand slam quarter finals’ appearance at Wimbledon, right after winning a title on the Dutch grass of Den Bosch beating the world number 1 Dinara Safina in the final.

Six years later, she dropped out of the top 450 in the world, but she still enjoys every moment out there and she said not to be ready for calling a career.

“I guess it’s me, I like to challenge myself, you know, and especially now at my age, right now, it’s more challenging with my body,” she told me. “You know, the girls right now are a lot stronger, physically as well… it’s really more challenging and I like to do that. So, I keep enjoying the challenge and, you know, see how can I cope with this, you know.”

“Right now I’m just enjoying my tennis, but I don’t really plan, like, two or three years ahead,” she admitted with an excited voice. “So, most important thing, I hope I’ll be injury free… so right now I’m kinda like enjoying it all… but you know, every day has to be ‘improve, improve, and doing better’.”

At the age of 37 and in a sport where girls are often breaking through in their teen years, she often plays against opponent that can potentially have half her age.

But she takes even this detail with a relaxed and positive attitude.
Robbie Mendelson

“When that happens, actually, I am, you know like, ‘wow! She’s young’,” she said with a warm smile. “But luckily I don’t really pay attention to the numbers of the age, because, you know, I like challenging with their styles, you know, cause every girl has a different style,.

“I’m looking more at the game instead of, you know, who I’m playing or something like that, so I think it feels good for me if I don’t concentrate on their age but enjoy the tennis.”

Having been for many years one of the few faces of Thai tennis, she is now enjoying the company of up and coming girls.

“It’s good, you know, they are such amazing girls, both of them, like Noppawan (Lertchewakaarn) and Kumkhum,” she said. “They are very nice girls and we are in the same FedCup team together. They are great and they are fun, you know, and I’m kind of happy because during my time I was the only one, me  and also Paradorn (Srichapan), one of each side, you know, women and men, so it was kinda like not fun to travel alone with none speaking the same language, from the same nation.

“But now we are more girls with talent, so it’s kinda more fun, we hang out together, go out for dinner. It’s more fun and they are nice, you know, we are like sisters and we are pretty close, yeah.”

Tammy has been a very accomplished player on grass and fast courts in general, thanks to her flat strokes and low balls, she welcomed very positively the news that from 2015 the grass season will be one week longer.

“Definitely it is very good to have a longer grass court season,” she admitted. “And I was like ‘well, I wished that it could have been earlier, when I was, you know, like in a good shape’.

“But anyway, it’s very great for tennis cause we have longer clay courts’ season and longer hard courts’ season, so it should be longer on grass to be, how to say…equal. I know it’s kinda tough because French Open and Wimbledon are close, but it’s a good news, so, you know like, it’s a beginning to have one week longer grass season.

“It’s already, you know, a good start, so I don’t know maybe it might have more longer season or maybe more tournaments in those three weeks before.”

It comes as no surprise then that her favorite tournament of the year happens at the end of these soon extended three weeks, in London.

“Wimbledon. Yeah, because I’ve always kinda done well there, in that Grand Slam,” she added trying to contain her smiles. “I think the organizers and the people… it’s very very nice. They don’t really go for the big names, you know, they look for the tennis game, they cheer for underdogs.”

“I love that atmosphere because some places are just like, you know, ‘oh, big names’, so they go for the big names.

“Anyway, it’s overall great as in London there is summer-sale as well and there’s good shopping in the city, so it’s everything in the same week. So I think I’m always enjoying Wimbledon for different reasons.”

Ⓒ women's tennis blog
This year she did not manage to enter the Wimbledon draw, but this is only a motivation to try harder for the next season.

“For sure, you know, because at the end of last year I didn’t play much in singles, so I dropped my rank a bit, so my next challenge is, you know, to be back to the top100 again with my singles.

“I know it’s not easy but it’s really challenging and it is exciting to do that again, yeah, of course, you know, either way, singles and doubles, cope with my rankings in top100 again.”

It is an ambitious goal for her, when her best ranking, at number 19 in the world, arrived 12 years ago. But she is not afraid of trying.

“Just don’t underestimate me with the age. The age is nothing so I try to enjoy and have fun in the court though. But actually I have Kimiko Date as my idol so… if she is still fighting I can still play too!”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ethics and Hard Work of Sharon Fichman

While most tennis fans are probably associating Canada with the rising star of Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadians are witnessing the constant improvement of a former very promising junior, who is now proving herself in the big tour: Sharon Fichman.

The 23 year old girl from Toronto has this year reached her career’s best ranking at world number 77, confirming once again her constant improvement over the years.

She made her top 100 debut during this 2014 and she clearly means to stay, as her results keep improving week after week. In a lovely and relaxed chat, she explained me how this all could happen:

“It’s a lot of things, you can’t just pin point one thing,” she said. “You know, I work really hard and I know a lot of girl on tour do too, but I just try to be one of the hardest workers and every day I like to look back and make sure that I did my absolute best with whatever I had and I think that’s probably the biggest factor in the way my tennis is going, in my attitude.

“My team is great, you know, I love working with my coach: he is fantastic, he believes in me, I believe in him and, you know, he is not here with me this week, I have someone else with me and he is doing a great job. You just plan you work and work you plan and that’s it.”

Fichman has a great defensive game, characterized by a remarkable footwork and fast movements, but what has improved a lot over the years is her anticipation and how much flatter her shots are.

Despite being 1.63m tall (5ft4), her serve has improved dramatically and so the power of her groundstrokes.

This combination of defensive and offensive abilities has led to results equally as good on all surfaces and against a variety of opponents.

“The biggest thing for me is that, you know, I have my game style, I have my objectives and my goals when I’m playing, no matter the surface,” she explained to me. “You know, you still stick to your core values when you are playing; of course you have to make some few adjustments, a few tweaks, that’s natural, and I do that at the best of my ability.

“But in the end I focus on myself because that’s all I can control, that’s really all I can ask out of myself today.”

Earlier this spring, as an epitome to this improvements, she won her first $100,000 event in Cagnes-sur-Mer and then came very close to upsetting Jelena Jankovic at Roland Garros.

Despite the loss, she took lots of positives out of that match and, like you would expect from such a fierce personality, an additional motivation for the future.

“It’s great to have had that experience, I’m very disappointed still, that I lost, I thought that it was close and I had my chances,” she admitted. “At 3-3 in the third, I had a break point I didn’t convert, I learnt from it and next time I’ll just be more prepared, be ready.

“I look forward to playing her and other top players again and learning from my mistakes and correcting it.

“I’m always looking forward, how can I get better, how can I improve and I know that one of the things that comes along with improving is you have better opponents. Obviously every single person you play on every given day, you know, anything can happen, everyone is out there to win and compete hard and fight, but of course as you play bigger events you’re gonna play players that are more accomplished in their careers and I expect a tough battle every time I’m gonna play such players.”

 Despite her lovely Canadian accent when speaking and her undeniably big love for her home country –as much as she named “making history with the Canadian team” as one of her best memories on a tennis court-, if you happen to follow one of her matches, you will soon realize that her way of cheering for points comes from somewhere else.

“My family, my background is eastern European: they are Romanian and Hungarian, so “haide” is “c’mon” in Romanian, so… I don’t know, it’s something that, growing up with my parents coming to matches supporting me, sometimes they would just say something in another language and I guess it just stuck with me.

“I don’t speak other than English, well, my French is decent, my Hungarian is decent, you know, my Romanian ehmmm…” and she paused herself with a funny face.

So where does she go from here?

“I don’t like putting numbers on things because you can’t control numbers,” she said. “You know, it’s such a cliché-answer but I just want to keep improving every day and I want to get more confident.

“I’m confident on my ability but I just want to keep doing it every time I’m on court and keep pushing myself, you know, and put myself in tougher situations and come out of it the best I can.

“I just want to keep playing bigger tournaments and improving and learning and getting better and I think that, at the end of the day, it is the most important thing. I think that is gonna get me to the numbers and, you know, the ranking and the seeding and all that stuff that comes with them.”

Surely tennis fans will look for her names during the American summer on hard courts, including the home event of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. But, as she said, there is one event that cannot compare with others for her:

“I love playing at home, but I think my favorite, the one that I enjoy, you know, I always look back on - and I think it’s just the city and everything - I love the Us Open, I love New York City. It’s super fun, it’s just a great place."

The most remarkable aspect of this tenacious girl came about in the very last question I asked. There are lots of players that have great work ethics, but it is not as frequent to see such a great passion for the sport and yet respect for the opponents as she honestly expressed.

She named many girls when I asked about her best friends on tour: Maria Sanchez, Johanna Konta, Olga Savchuk.

Then she added: “I mean, let me be honest with you, this is such a tough career path and I respect everybody that chooses to do it. You know, because it is such a difficult career path, you needs some remarkable people along the way and I’m fortunate to know a lot of people that kinda are on the same path as me.

“I hope they see me in that way too and it’s hard to just pinpoint a handful of people, but overall there are great people on tour, guys and girls.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christina McHale's way back to the top

After a difficult 2013 when injuries and the recovery from mononucleosis held her back, Christina McHale is finally bouncing back in this 2014, looking as determined as never before.

A small injury slowed her preparation for Wimbledon, as in the last training session before the ITF event of Nottingham, she slipped during sprints, falling heavily on her hand, which did not let her play for a couple of days.

The healing took a few days, but she managed to compete the following weeks, coming to Wimbledon with a bunch of matches played on green.

“It is definitely going in the right direction,” she said: “I think it was the right decision to pull out of Nottingham, because I was in quite a lot a pain, but I think it’s slowly getting better again.”

Having proved to be an all-round player with several good performances in each slam and on every surface, the girl from New Jersey has her worst wins-losses ratio on grass.
© Carine06
“I mean, I think part of the reason is ‘cause there are not many tournaments on grass,” she explained: “So I feel like by the time I get really used to it, it’s over.

“But, well two years ago, I did make a third round in Wimbledon, so I do feel I have had good matches on the grass, probably just not enough matches.”

Since that 2012 when she reached the third round in three consecutive slams, she had been struggling with a serious form of mono, that seemed to arrest her improvements.

“It was tough…it’s really like something some people don’t really realize, that once you actually get over it, then the time you need to get back in full strength takes a long time,” she said with a slightly trembling voice, a sign of how hard it has been for her.

“So, I think I’m so happy to be over that and I think also I’m back now working with my old coaches again it is making many differences as well.”

And the difference is that this year she came very close to capturing her very first WTA title, as she reached her first final in Acapulco, losing in three sets to Australian Open runner-up, Dominika Cibulkova.

“ I think I’m getting closer, that was definitely a very close match, it was a really good week for me,” she acknowledged.

“And then, you know, like in Strasbourg, I made the semis and almost made the final as I had a match point. I’m putting myself in more opportunities and I think the more I’ll do that, it’ll just naturally come on its own.”

Not only the first title is coming closer, but her old habit of upsetting big names –she has wins over Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova- is about to come back too, as testified by her match against Maria Sharapova in Madrid, when she was a break up in the decisive set.

“I definitely took a lot away from that match even though I lost,” she admitted: “It was disappointing. But it reassured myself that I can compete against the top girls, and it gave me confidence and in my next matches in Rome I carried that over.

“So I took a lot from that and hopefully, yeah, I can just keep building and improving my game and hopefully get there, one day.”

After her big battles this year and the surprising results of many up and coming youngsters at Roland Garros, more and more players believe that beating the top names is not impossible after all.

“I think, when you see someone, you know, like the top seeds pulling out against players that are around my age or that I’ve played against. So you think, if they can do it, then I can do it too. So it’s really inspirational to see them doing such things,” she said.
© Christian Mesiano
Moreover, the new wave of American youngsters doing well is a great support.

“I definitely think so, there is a lot of us, who are trying to push through right now,” she admitted: “A lot of the Americans girls we practice together in Boca, in Florida…so it’s really a competition, we push each other every day, so I think that has really helped us and, yeah, I think especially Sloane, she is really doing well a lot, Madison, Lauren, me… so I think it’s like kinda pushing each other.”

But it is not just a matter of training, there is also a good relationship that grew stronger with the years.

“I think that American girls in general get along really well,” she said: “I think we, you know…obviously if we play each other it’s a different story, we are rivals. But I think that off the court we get along pretty well, I mean, we see each other all the time, so it’s nice to have, you know, friendships with them.”

Having achieved the same success in all the slams and so in all surfaces, one would expect her to find it hard to pick a favourite one, but she has no doubts about it:

“It’s hardcourt. I just feel the most comfortable on it cause I grew up playing on hardcourt. But I mean, yeah, I’d say clay it’s my second and then maybe grass is my third for right now, but it could change.”

Also tournament wise, the choice was easy:

“The Us Open! Yeah, I don’t have to think about it. I actually live really close to that, like 20 minutes away. So I used to practice there all the time, so for me it’s like my home tournament. I really love it.”

Around the world is very common for players whose native language is not English to communicate with coaches in that language, but not so for the 22 year old, who speaks a beautiful Spanish during the changeovers.

“My mum is Cuban,” she explained: “My physio is Argentinean and my coach is also Argentinean, so yeah, I speak Spanish a lot to them and to my mum.”

She also told me that speaking Spanish, even in the world of tennis, can come in hand very often:

“Yeah, I mean, it was useful in Madrid, like, I just communicate in Acapulco and Mexico, like I just communicate with everyone and all the people there or also many players speak Spanish, so that’s really helpful and all in that aspect.”

Despite the young age, she has had a great deal of experiences, but there is one that so far is her most memorable.
© Aleksandr Osipov
“I would say I go with the Olympics. That was really really cool, like nothing has compared to that, like the opening ceremony and just being with all the other athletes, it was unreal, yeah.”

So after a look back, it is time to look ahead and what lies in her future plans.

“I mean, I definitely would… I want to try and win a WTA tournament, that would be a good goal for me.” She admitted: “But I mean, if I just keep on working on the same way I’ve been working, just really focus on what I need to improve and get more power in my game, things like that.

“I feel like naturally the results will start coming. So, yeah, that would be like my tournament-wise goal, but on a more day to day basis it is just doing the right things, my fitness, my tennis every day.”