By Jack Cunniff
On Sunday, three of the top four seeds of the 2012 New Haven Open met with the press to talk about on a variety of topics. Here are excerpts from those conversations.
Italyâ€™s Sara Errani, the fourth seed in New Haven, is one of the most improved players on the year. She started her year by reaching her first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open in January. Her year peaked in June, when she reached the French Open final in both singles and doubles. While she came up short in the Ladiesâ€™ Singles final against Maria Sharapova, she and partner Roberta Vinci won the Ladiesâ€™ Doubles title. As a result of her strong play in Paris, Errani cracked the Top Ten in the world for the first time.
- On whatâ€™s changed this year that has resulted in her new-found success: â€œI have changed rackets, so it was an important thing, a good change for me, and made me play better. It was more confidence and more matches won and everything.â€
- On why the racket change was successful: â€œIt is a bit longer and has more power. Before it was not easy for me, Iâ€™m not very tall so it was important for me to make more power as possible.â€
- On why she decided to change rackets: â€œI tried, I donâ€™t know why, another player in the academy where I practice was playing with that racket, so I just take it and play a few shots. It was an amazing feeling from the first ball.â€
- On Venus Williams, who defeated Errani twice this summer (Summer Olympics and Cincinnati): â€œBoth Williams have, I donâ€™t know, they have another category against other players, so much stronger than the othersâ€¦ Everything I tried was bad. I tried to make changes, change the spin and everything, try to make her run. But last weekend and the Olympics, I had no chance.â€
- On how life has changed after the French Open success: â€œItâ€™s a bit different, more things to do like this (the interview), maybe before I never didâ€¦ but I try to keep near me always the same people I like, and the same thing that Iâ€™ve done to arrive to these results.â€
- On the recent success of Italian players in the WTA, and Italyâ€™s Fed Cup titles (2009 and 2010): â€œI think we are a good team, all four of us, Schiavone, Pennetta, Roberta (Vinci). We motivate each other, if one is going well, maybe the others see and so itâ€™s a good competition.â€
Like Errani, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland also reached her first Grand Slam final this year, at Wimbledon. On the strength of that result and several tournament victories over the last twelve months, she has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world. However, since Wimbledon, sheâ€™s hit a rough patch, losing in the opening round of the Olympics to Julia Goerges and two overwhelming losses to Li Na. She is the top seed at the 2012 New Haven Open.
- On whatâ€™s the next step for her to reach No. 1: â€œWinning a couple more matches, thatâ€™s for sure. Iâ€™m working on it.â€
- On her shoulder : â€œItâ€™s OK, it could be better, but I think I played this year so many tournaments, so many matches, and changed the surface so many times and the balls. Itâ€™s always the worst part of the season because itâ€™s almost the end.â€ (Note: Radwanska retired in her first match in New Haven.)
- On whether she has been able to finish her degree: â€œIâ€™m trying, Iâ€™m trying to finish because I think itâ€™s a great thing to finish university.â€
- On her improvement in 2012: â€œI didnâ€™t really change anything. I was working hard off seasonâ€¦ I think a little bit more experience, for sure. It was a great experience at Wimbledon being for the first time in the final. This is such a different feeling, being in the finals of a Grand Slam.â€
- On her impact on Poland, and whether girls look up to her as a role model: â€œI think so, I think more people are planning tennis (in Poland) more kids are playing tennis. Iâ€™m just very happy I can be part of Polish history, tennis in Poland. Itâ€™s a great feeling that Iâ€™m doing something good.â€
- On what she remembers from her early years of playing tennis (having started at age 5): â€œIt was so much fun, especially when we were playing with other kids, with the balloons, the plastic rackets, and actually I think I was smaller than the net!â€
- On her sisterâ€™s success (Urszula, world rank No. 44): â€œShe really starting to play much better. Iâ€™m very happy for her that she can have some good results, after she was really struggling with her back for a long time before. Iâ€™m just hoping we can play all the tournaments together.â€
- On her fame in Poland: â€œThey know who I am, yes, for sure. There are not so many athletes in Poland especially playing a sport thatâ€™s famous around the world.â€
- On her mobile phone tennis game, and whether she has played it: â€œYes I did, but I think Iâ€™m better on court, for real! Itâ€™s a nice thing to have and Iâ€™m very happy that other people like it as well.â€
Caroline Wozniacki is no stranger to New Haven, as the four-time defending champion. While sheâ€™s no longer the No. 1 ranked player in womenâ€™s tennis, she has maintained a Top Ten ranking, and continues to challenge the best in the world, including a win over Serena Williams in Miami earlier this year. Wozniacki, from Denmark, is seeded third at the 2012 New Haven Open.
- On why New Haven is so successful for her: â€œItâ€™s a very homey tournament. Anne (Worcester, Tournament Director) really takes care of the players. I just like the courts and the atmosphere here.â€
- On working with coach Thomas Johansson: â€œI havenâ€™t worked with him so much lately because heâ€™s been on holidays and relaxing a little bit, but heâ€™s coming here. Heâ€™s a great guy and he knows the whole tennis life because heâ€™s done it before himself.â€
- On what Thomas Johansson brings to her game: â€œItâ€™s tough to say for me without going in to details and I donâ€™t really feel like going into details. He comes with some good advice, and itâ€™s nice to have my dad on court, as always, and nice having Thomas on court as well coming with a few different inputs.â€
- On boyfriend Rory McIlroyâ€™s success, having won the PGA Championships: â€œItâ€™s great. Iâ€™m really happy for him and proud of him because of whatâ€™s heâ€™s achieved. Winning by 8 (strokes) in the PGA is unbelievable.â€
- On how she deals with the madness in New York City during the U.S. Open: â€œI love it. I think itâ€™s great; I like Manhattan, I like the whole buzz around the U.S. Open. But the week before you donâ€™t really want to be around that all the time, because you can get tired, you can start thinking about it too much, too early. So itâ€™s nice to be here (in New Haven) and kind of just ease into it.â€
- On her recent Summer Olympics experience: â€œThis was my second Olympics and it was a bit different than it was in Beijing. Because in Beijing you could stay at the Olympic Village and feel as part of a team, you really got that whole Olympic feeling because youâ€™re eating with all the other athletes, the site was very close to the village so you just basically walk from and back. In London, it was a bit different because the Olympic Village was an hour and a half drive from the site, and we played at Wimbledon where the site was sold out but it wasnâ€™t packed, and a lot of security around. It just wasnâ€™t the same feeling. Hopefully in four years in Brazil weâ€™ll be able to stay at the village and get that whole Olympic spirit.â€
- On what drives her competitively: â€œIâ€™m just a competitive person, so no matter what I play, if I play cards with my family, or if I play Monopoly, or whatever, I hate losing. I can be so groggy if I lose. And if someone loses on purpose to let me win, I get even more upset. Just so competitive, but I think the whole family is, really, my brother, my mom, my dad, but especially my dad. He will do anything to win as well, so we get up into these small family fights!â€
- On balancing her competitive streak with her tournament winless streak: â€œYou always want to win tournaments, thatâ€™s what you play for. But if you donâ€™t, itâ€™s not like the world is going to break down in front of you and you always have a next week. I always look at it in a positive way. So many people in the world are in a much worse position, I just enjoy what I do actually. That feeling you get after a win or a good point, thatâ€™s something that no one can take away from you.â€