So, I absolutely love press conferences. In fact, I just love interviewing people period. I think that everyone has a story, and would happily spend half of every day asking people questions and finding out their history and nicely grilling them. I get that from my mother. (Don’t tell her I said that.)
Unfortunately, pressers are fickle. A lot of timing is involved: How you’re feeling, how the player’s feeling, who else is in the press conference, whether there’s someone coming soon after that you want to see. Some moments I’m just feeling more brave then others, sometimes I just feel that the player is not in the mood to be open at all, and sometimes I just miss my chance. Writers are humans too, you guys. Especially me. I’m super duper human.
The truth is, press conferences are more complicated than they seem.
The important thing to remember is that everyone in the press conference has a different agenda. There are some writers who are asking thematic questions to every player to get quotes on a certain story about rules or the surface or the city or the Pope or something like that. Then there are the local press, who are typically on tight deadlines for TV and newspapers and are just looking for a quote or two to throw into the piece. Then there are the full-time tennis writers for big outlets, who are looking for headlines. Then there are the random bloggers like myself who are mainly just asking questions to get to know the player better. While I know many of you guys prefer the more general questions, it’s important to remember that it takes all kinds to make the tennis world go around. I certainly don’t judge other writers for not asking more in-depth questions … often their job description simply doesn’t allow them to.
So to continue to nerd out, maybe you guys will find it interesting how pressers are requested and come about? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyways. BECAUSE I’M IN CONTROL HERE. Basically, you have to fill out a form and submit it to the WTA stating that you want to interview a player before their match is completed–and ideally as early in the day as possible. You have to specify whether you want the player “win-or-lose” or “win only,” and whether you’d prefer to do a one-on-one or just sit in on the press conference. Unfortunately, only press conference requests are mandatory, so especially once mid-week hits, it’s nearly impossible to get a one-on-one with a player unless you’re a top outlet/very important person. I am neither. I was hoping to get a couple of more one-on-one interviews like the one with Vania while I was here, but unfortunately I wasn’t on the ball enough earlier in the week. Things move quickly, and there’s so much going on that it’s easy to let things slide because it feels like there’s going to be time to do it later. Sorry guys. I’ll do better next time. I’m still relatively new to all of this.
But even though they’re not as relaxed and intimate as one-on-ones, I still LOVE PRESSERS. Sitting up-close and personal to see these tennis players as they fumble their way through questions by nerdy writers is often endearing, occasionally delightful, and always at least a little bit revealing.
It also helps that I’ve gotten much better at them throughout the past two years. At my first tournament as media back at 2011 Memphis, I think I asked two questions total and always sat in the back. Now, a full five tournaments later, I’m much more comfortable sitting up front, grabbing the mic, and asking follow-up questions if needed. The jaded local press doesn’t intimidate me as much as they once did, and I’m more confident in both my knowledge of the game and question-asking skills. Most of the time. This has been a process, though, and didn’t necessarily come naturally. It just got to the point when I realized that if I wanted to know the answers to all of the questions in my head, I was going to have to speak up. Often I ask ridiculous questions that don’t get me anywhere. Sometimes I strike gold. Usually it’s somewhere in the middle.
There have been A LOT of press conferences over the past three days. A. LOT. Since I’ve never been to a WTA-only tournament and haven’t seen any of these women in press ever, I wanted to make sure I made it to as many press conferences as possible. This means that I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in the super uncomfortable chairs in the media center and waiting for the media director to call the player’s name so we can all rush into the press conference area. It’s all very glamorous. So basically the majority of the stories I have to tell are from the pressers.
I thought it might be nerdy/interesting/fun/funny/whatever/awesome/awful to look through most of the press conferences from the last two days and share a few insights and some of my favorite quotes. My main takeaway? There are a lot of awesome women on the WTA.
I want to hang out with Bethanie and Justin all day long. They are just the best. Bethanie came into her presser after the four-hour Rodionova epic shivering because she had just gotten out of an ice bath. After a long press conference which I haven’t yet transcribed but will later because it was awesome, she was asked how she would be ready for her match vs. Sloane the very next day. Her answer? “I’m always ready,” followed by a smile and a shrug. Awesome.
It’s clear that Bethanie is completely comfortable in her own skin, and is feeling healthy and fit for the first time in a while. Here are some of my favorite moments from her post-Sloane-demolishing presser. She was in a good mood.
Was she surprised with her play?
You should never be surprised about good tennis.
How did she recover from the longest WTA match of 2013?
You are going to laugh because I mean I did 20 minutes of ice bath, then I did like an Epsom salt bath later. Then I slept 12 hours, got up eight, took a nap for another four hours. So it’s a lot of sleeping.
So, Laura Robson is super British. I realize this might be obvious to everyone in the world since she is British, but since she doesn’t look British when she came into press with that accent and with those British expressions it somehow took me by surprise. She is really charming and open, and like, super duper teenager-y. I liked her though. She’s confident and she tells it like it is. She came into press after her first round win, texting with her mom and chewing gum.
On the British press;
I don’t wish it wasn’t there because it’s kind of a give and take relationship I have with them. They help me, and I help them. So, you know, it’s just something that you have to deal with and, you know, I’m lucky enough to have a good relationship with the majority of the British press. And, you know, there were times where I lose and they are the last people I want to see, but it’s all part of the whole learning experience as cheesy as it sounds.
On deciding to come to Charleston:
I heard that you get player gifts every day, so that was the main reason.
On her coach, Zeljko Krajan:
I would say he is scarier than he looks. He is actually quite nice sometimes. Yeah, I think it’s going pretty well. He has a lot of knowledge and especially this is the first tournament that we have done together on clay. So I think he is pretty good with that.
But yeah, I have a really good relationship with my coach and my trainer, they are starting to talk less Croatian around me which is good so I can actually be involved in the conversation. But yeah, the next thing we are trying to do is get him to quit smoking.
He stopped briefly for several years and then he is like yeah, I can quit wherever. Within two weeks he was back on it and he blamed it on me, he said because my matches were so stressful that he had to keep doing it.
I really enjoyed Melanie Oudin in press. She was mature, perky, open, and didn’t shy away from the tough questions even moments after defeat. I don’t know if she’ll ever make it back to a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam or even the top 50, but I do think she’s going to be around the top 100 for years and years to come, and will have some moments of significance. And you know what? That’s noteworthy. She’s only 21. That’s really, really young.
After a tough loss to JJ, she was an open book. On her plans for clay:
I am planning on going to Europe because I want to really try to get better on the red clay. I’m not the best slider ever. That tends to happen when you are American.
On the success of the young American women:
I think it’s really, really good for American tennis that women are doing really well so the men just have to catch up now.
I mean they know that the women have been doing much better than them for like a couple years now. But they are definitely, they definitely know that. They are working on it.
On Sloane’s slump:
Yeah I mean, we are, I mean I’m friends with Sloane. And I just told her I know exactly like how she feels, you know … But yeah, I mean, I think she’ll be fine, you know. She is also, like, older than I was when it happened. I mean she is 20 now. So I think I know she had like a couple rough tournaments but I think Sloane is going to be fine.
On her journey the last five years:
I mean I have learned lot obviously. I have been through like some really good times and some really bad times. And I think it’s good though that I have had the success now, I’ve had the failures. Now I know if either one comes in, I’ll know how to deal with it, I’ll know how to handle it.
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about Serena in press, but I’ve been lucky so far. She’s been in a great mood, very professional, and it’s surprised me how engaged she is in the sport. You know those narratives that Serena doesn’t care? Yeah, in case you haven’t realized by now, that’s complete bullshit.
After her victory over Giorgi, on whether she knew the youngster’s game:
I played her in doubles. I know her game really well. I have actually been watching her. I think she is a good player, so I knew one day I would play her, so I kind of knew how she would play going into the match, so it was good.
There are some players that I think that are really good. I think she is one that was really good and so, yeah, I mean there is a lot of players I don’t even know because there is just so much new people. So I try to watch as much as I can, you know, if I think they are going to be a good player.
There are a few other players I have kept my eye on. I’m not going to name any. (Smiles.)
On how Giorgi got on her radar:
I saw she did really well at Wimbledon and, you know, I thought she was just a really good player. I like her game and you don’t see many Italians coming up, like Errani who is young still and Vinci, she is a little older. And she is a fresh face from Italy, so I think that just caught my eye.
Madison Keys might have been the most impressive player in press so far. She seems so willing to accept the spotlight, the media attention, and the pressure, and that is just really refreshing amongst a sea of peers who would rather be hidden in the closet without food for a day than on center court with their nation cheering for them. If I had to hitch my hype wagon to one player, it would be her. You can quote me on that.
On the media spotlight:
I think it’s great. I think if you are getting that, then you are obviously doing well and you want to keep that because that means you are still doing well. So, I think you kind of just have to embrace it.
On being a tennis fan:
I usually enjoy watching tennis. Sometimes, you know, sometimes when I’m watching, like, Djokovic and Nadal play on red clay and they have 40 ball ralleys every point, sometimes I’m like okay, I can’t watch anymore of this. It’s just so long. (Laughter.) But no, I enjoy watching tennis.
On women’s tennis:
I think it’s great. I think, I think it’s just — it’s awesome because going into a tournament you don’t really know who is going to do well because there is so many good players right now, you know, so it’s different every tournament.
So, you guys, JJ in press is revolutionary. I’m not kidding. It has been worth the entire trip down here. But JJ in press is going to get her own separate post, because it’s just been that amazing. I might write an entire 3,000 word essay on Jelena Jankovic. I might write a 10,000 word essay. I might write a book. Can JJ really hire me to write her biography? Can we start a petition or a Kickstarter for that or something? Please?
Anyways, all I will say right now is that she walked into the presser after her Melanie win, carrying her bags. She plopped down at the podium and let out a GIANT “Oooooh myyyyyy gooooodnesssss.” It was the best moment of my life.
That is, until today. It’s very cold today and after her other marathon match against Garcia she walked into press bundled up and SHIVERING and put a blanket over herself as she talked. When we all started to take pictures of her, she joked that we couldn’t because she didn’t have her makeup on. Except she might not have been joking. It’s hard to tell because she’s basically just smiling and laughing 24/7.
She’s perfect. More later.
She’s lovely too. I pretty much like everyone when I meet them in person, unless I have to interact with them for a long period of time, then I hate them. Not really. Just kidding. Kind of. It’s late and I’m waiting for Venus to come to press. (Venus came to press, then we left the site, and now I am back here at my “home” for the week having a drink and finishing this piece. I’m telling you all of this TMI because I want to be honest and transparent. And because I always end up finishing these diaries at the end of the day when my brain doesn’t work anymore. It must be love.)
Okay, back to Julia. I think of her as extremely goofy–it’s probably the facial expressions–but in press she was very well-spoken and thoughtful. I liked her attitude a lot after her R1 win over Putintseva.
On how she views her year:
I have to say I’m not really unhappy with my tennis, how I’m playing, because I feel like I’m playing better and better. So it’s just like the results are not there, but I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty well and that’s what counts for me, it’s not always the results I want, but the results will come one day.
On how she handles her emotions on court:
Honestly, I’m a pretty emotional girl, but sometimes you need to try to keep your emotions together to not lose that much energy and it’s always — yeah, a tough balance to find. And one day I’m — one day I’m screaming more, one day I’m screaming less. It’s always tough to find the balance. It’s also a little bit how your mood is on that day but — well, overall you always try to just focus on yourself and not letting the emotions do their way and just losing their focus, but definitely I’m not the type of girl who is quiet on the courts.
So, obviously Sloane did not have a good time in Charleston, getting thrashed by Mattek-Sands in R2 after her bye. She was decent in press, but it was pretty clear that she was in defensive mode and ready to get out of there and not have to deal with us anymore. She needs to completely reset everything, and she can’t do that in America.
On the match:
Yeah, definitely tough day and my first match on clay obviously and I love clay, so it’s definitely a little disappointing, but looking forward to obviously Madrid and getting back on the red clay and just kind of got to just shake it off and get ready for the next for the clay season.
On her tough journey over the last year:
Yeah, it’s definitely been tough. I mean the last I mean not the last year but the last three months has definitely been super overwhelming and definitely really really tough, but I think once I kind of like find my rhythm and find like what I want, like how I have to handle certain situations, then things that I have to do, like before trying to really get focused and things are just too overwhelming and I can’t do, I kind of just have to refocus and, you know, try and do my best.
Caroline Wozniacki has come a long way. I wrote about my impressions of her personality already in my last diary, so I’ll just stick to relevant quotes.
I asked her about her coaching relationship with her father, and how they deal with the rough patches:
Yeah, obviously it’s worked pretty well. I have done pretty well in my career so far and, you know, I have a very close relationship with my dad and, you know, he has coached me since I started playing. So I like it this way. And I am pretty sure that this is how it’s going to be until I finish playing because I feel it’s the way I can, you know, get the most out of my tennis.
Well, the thing is, you know, he is my coach on the court and obviously just after the match he tells me some of the things that I need to work on or things that were great and, you know, when I get back to the hotel if I don’t feel like talking to anyone, I just stay in the room and I chill and I do whatever I want.
But, you know, obviously he is a dad as well and, you know, when we are having dinner at night it’s not like he is talking about the match or about tennis, you know, he’s just trying to be as normal as possible.
I asked whether she gets nervous watching Rory:
When I’m walking out there I’m okay, I’m not as nervous, but obviously if it gets tight, when he is in contention and he has a possibility to win, obviously I do get nervous because I have absolutely no control or power over it.
So, obviously, yes. But I think it’s worse to watch on TV because you are just sitting there and you have no clue, you know, you don’t even — you can’t — like at least when you’re walking there you can see how he is feeling, if he is feeling confident, if he is feeling good about it or, you know, you kind of have a little bit of an idea.
But if you just sit at home, it’s like okay, come on, just make the putt.
On being recognized by golf fans:
Well, I hope people see me as more than just Rory’s girlfriend, you know. I would like to be known for my tennis. So I hope that’s why.
Mallory Burdette had the biggest win of her career today, a three-set victory over Sabine Lisicki. It was my first time seeing Burdette play live and talking to her in press, and she was really impressive. Her game is as solid as her attitude, and I really think she can have a solid top 50 career for years to come. I really liked her thoughts on pressure and help — you could tell she was a psych major at Stanford.
On how she deals with pressure:
I think I have still got a long way to go. And, you know, even when I have a big win like this, you know, there are definitely things that I still need to continue to work on. And I think a lot of my goals and things like that I keep to myself and I talk to my coach and talk to him about them and my sports psychologist Alexis Costory and we kind of — even when the media or other people outside of my team may have different expectations, I know what I need to do and the steps that I need to take to continue to improve.
On working with a sports psychologist:
Oh, it’s been huge. I have worked Alexis Castorey since I was 14 years old and she has been a huge part of my career, just always there for me. And a lot of times as a tennis player, especially in the juniors a lot of times the things that bother you on court are issues that are going on off court.
And so whether it’s living away from home and, you know, trying to balance school and tennis, you know, having a sport psychologist, somebody to bounce ideas off of and somebody to kind of just help you organize your life and think through different situations that you are put in has been huge for me over the course of my career.
And I still talk to her on a regular basis and, you know, I think she is someone who I will know for the rest of my life and she has been a huge supporter.
So, I’ve already gushed about how much more relaxed Sam is off-court, and her demeanor after she thrashed Erakovic was no exception. So let’s just cut to the chase. She said in press that her calf was feeling better, that she definitely tried to be more aggressive to get off the court quicker and that mindset probably helped her, and I asked if she had any advice to give Sloane on dealing with local media pressure, which is the closest I will ever get to trolling.
But this answer, on how she dealt with the the aftermath of winning the US Open, was just super insightful and wonderful:
Yeah, I think it was just tricky. It was a totally different experience for me and I mean the best moment of my life career-wise with, you know, winning and all that and I enjoyed every single second of it. When you, you know, the next day you do all that media and got home a few days later then you do it all over again back in Australia.
And, you know, I always think that I didn’t practice at all for 10 or 11 days or something then you go to Tokyo and you kind of want to click your fingers and make it all happen again and pick up from where you left off and it didn’t happen. So, then you feel like there is a major let down. But at the same time you certainly were nowhere near prepared for that next match the way you normally would be.
So, it’s a tricky thing. The tennis circuit, it always keeps going, there is no real time to absolutely celebrate and take it all in. So, that’s probably what I found the most difficult was just thinking well, I have been playing so great, I want it to keep going and it didn’t happen for lots of reasons.
So, and the start of the year it’s difficult in Australia anyway and yeah, and it kind of rolls on. But I think know that’s all in the past and I feel good and, you know, I enjoy playing in the States whether it’s here on clay or in the hard courts anywhere. So, it’s certainly calmed down, but, yes, certainly a moment I’ll never forget.
Okay you guys, that’s it for tonight. There are a few more pressers I haven’t gotten to, but I’m saving them for other things. Hopefully. Time is FLYING, I can’t believe it’s already Thursday!
Anyway, thinks for sticking with me through the nerding out. Tomorrow during the rain delay I promise to get some blogging done about actual tennis. Still have a lot of notes to dump out on you guys. Oh, and pictures. There are a lot of pictures too. All very poor quality, but I think it gives them character.
Okay, I need sleep. Tomorrow’s blog will be shorter, I swear.