Doubles Talk: The Education of Liezel Huber
By Megan Fernandez
This week, Liezel Huber is in Cincinnati hunting for her fifth doubles title of 2010, a stretch during which she led the U.S. to the Fed Cup final and usually stayed ahead of Venus and Serena Williams in the world doubles rankingsâ€“all while playing with seven different partners and, by her own admission, not playing her best. After winning her quarterfinal match Friday night after 10 pm with partner Nadia Petrova, the worldâ€™s number-one doubles player discussed her â€œunimaginableâ€ year with Global Village Tennis News before calling it a night.
GVTN: How have you handled playing with so many different partners this year?
LH: I still find myself in awe. If you had told me at the end of last year that this would be my 2010, I would have said you were joking. There is so much that has happened in my life this year, and not just switching doubles partners. But I believe that the tough times make you stronger. Maybe I havenâ€™t played my best tennis this year or won as many titles as I have in the past, but Iâ€™m really proud of myself for making the best of a bad situation.
Why did you split with Cara Black, your longtime partner?
I need to work on my game. You get really spoiled when you play with one partner. Itâ€™s easy to blame that person. Cara and I had a great partnership for three years, and won so many titles. Who would have thought, two girls from Africa? We formed a great friendship. But all good things come to an end, and it just wasnâ€™t meant to be anymore. Iâ€™m not looking for one partner.
What do you want to improve?
Really, I would like to mold my game all around, not just be more in the baseline or at the net. Cara is a good net player, and her game complemented me because I could stay back. Now, weâ€™re working on being more aggressive doubles players, being more versatile, going up the line when I want to, having more variety on my volleys.
But youâ€™re number one already!
Itâ€™s not about being number one. Itâ€™s about being a better player. Iâ€™m not defined by being number one. Iâ€™m a tennis player who happened to achieve that ranking. Itâ€™s not what I associate myself with. I just want to be a better player, like everybody here. Playing with different people every week, I can focus on what I need to do myself. Itâ€™s really a challenge playing with someone with whom I might not have a relationship– or maybe we donâ€™t speak the same language, or she plays the baseline and Iâ€™ve got to be the net player. But hey, I think you get better when a challenge is handed for you.
You must be in demand. Do you get a lot of requests to play?
Iâ€™ve been very fortunate that people come to me and want to play with me. Iâ€™m pretty friendly with everyone on the tour, and Iâ€™m on the Playerâ€™s Council, so that makes me very approachable. I really feel like we have a big family here. There isnâ€™t a person who canâ€™t ask me for doubles. I have had players outside of the top 100 ask me to play, and there are some young ones that donâ€™t even have a ranking that I have promised to play with. Iâ€™ve just been very fortunate that Iâ€™ve never had to skip a tournament because I didnâ€™t have a partner.
Youâ€™ve played a few times with Nadia Petrova.
Yeah, I really enjoy playing with her. Weâ€™re going to play here, Montreal, and the US Open.
Can you convince Lindsay Davenport to play more doubles?
Iâ€™m telling her she should play at least one more tournament this year because then sheâ€™ll have a ranking. But there arenâ€™t many tournaments left in the States.
Venus and Serena are taking doubles very seriously. How does this affect you?
Itâ€™s great for the game, and itâ€™s great for me because thereâ€™s a focus. Now people say, â€œWow, you took the ranking away from the Williams Sistersâ€”thatâ€™s pretty awesome.â€ They are great ambassadors for the game and are also on the Players Council, so I have a relationship with them beyond competing. I hope that they stay healthy and we can play. Weâ€™ve had some tough matches, like at the French Open.
What are you expectations for Fed Cup?
I love the team. When the Bryan Brothers would say they lived for Davis Cup, I would think, â€œHow can you say that? Itâ€™s only one or two weeks a year.â€ But now I understand that passion. I am so proud of what we have built. Weâ€™ve had a B team all along, and weâ€™ve made it this far, and last year we made it to the finals, too. Itâ€™s what Iâ€™m living for this year. Itâ€™s going to be my highlight of the year, if we can bring that trophy home.
Will you be playing?
Iâ€™m one of the doubles players. I still believe in my ability, and that they are the singles players on the team. I believe Mary Joe has confidence in me to put me in the doubles. I truly expect to play.
With one of the Williams sisters?
Do you have a preference?
Megan Fernandez is coveringÂ both the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters and Women’s Open for Global Village Tennis News. She’ll also be posting updates, commentary and photos on our twitter account – @GVTennisNews .