theaussieword.com Guest Tennis Writer Tanya Liesegang shares this personal piece – her take on that face to face interview with the world’s greatest tennis players.
Arm chair interviewing is easy, but what if you’re in the room, trying to talk to some of the best tennis players in the world? It’s actually a lot of pressure and isn’t easy for most. Even experienced reporters make mistakes. Half the time you have to tell yourself that you’re not talking to anyone special, just so you can get the courage to actually talk to the super stars of the game. If you get the hang of asking questions you might even become comfortable at doing it one day. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of what each individual player likes though, after all they are human, and they are all different. But first you may have to fight off a few backhanded and forehanded verbal num-chucks from some of the World’s finest players. You don’t often get to see much of the players in interviews, like you do on court, but a couple of reporters who have been around the block a few times can add a new dimension to your perspective on some of your favourites, whether it be flattering or not.
He’s good at tennis and he knows it, but there is an air of humble about Rapha. He quite often starts interviewing the interviewer; ‘I need to play well, no?’ almost as if seeking some kind of reassurance. Don’t ever ask him about his injuries or anything he may have said in Spanish cause you will make yourself a very powerful enemy. One reporter once pointed that Rapha had a virus, which had only been talked about in Spanish. Then it got out to the English media and Rapha began to express his disapproval for the journalist, like they were some kind of Spanish/English spy. Some players have a very long memory which spans over the years, so if you’ve upset him, get ready to try and repair your busted relationship with the Spanish bull at a snail’s pace. Rapha doesn’t seem to realise that often the people he’s angry with in the interview room could actually turn out to be his biggest fans, despite how they come across in cross examination. When asked about playing Roger Federer, Rapha charmingly points out that Roger is the best player in history, which translates to; ‘Roger is the best of the histories’. Although his English has improved in leaps and bounds, sometimes one has to rephrase to get a semi desired response, but it’s still often endearing.
Kei Nishikori– Kei is seriously over your questions about how happy everyone is back home after his success. Now it’s more about asking him if he can even walk down the street without being mobbed from over popularity! The ever entertaining Japanese sensation hasn’t just turned heads in Japan, but also at his home Grand Slam in Australia where his English had steadily improved, much like Nadals. He’s even developed his chat enough to make jokes; like about preferring the food in Japan to his new LA home, where he can happily go unnoticed at the supermarket. A very popular player on the court, Kei can pack out the interview room like Roger on a good day, much to the surprise of some reporters. He still comes across as an honest, nice guy and not a player you need to fear when posing questions. He does the best he can and is respected for it.
Novak Djokovic- did someone say joker? Well he was for a while, then he kind of disappeared for a bit, and then came back. For a couple of years it felt like Novak was so regal we could only ask him humourless questions. It seemed like every light hearted question was met with a sigh, as he felt he had earned the right to be taken completely seriously. A few titles, a few years, a wife and a kid later, Novak seems to have relaxed a bit, and the joker has returned. If Novak is in the zone during a tournament, he appears even more relaxed, and throws in the occasional one liner; like about how he only comes to the net to shake hands, rather than volley. He’s had to overcome some hurdles though, as he went from being the guy who couldn’t finish matches, wilting in the heat, to the guy who is like the terminator and almost can’t be beaten. He recalls working on his fitness and his diet frequently, and if he had’ve started all that sooner, who knows how many more slam titles he could’ve won. He now boasts the ultimate mental and physical toughness, and has earned the right to do so, and talk about it at length.
One year Joe Tsonga excitedly asked us for more questions so he could practice his English. A year later he was probably regretting this, as he was asked more and more questions he didn’t like and appeared suspicious, as if some reporters were out to get him. It could’ve been because of one bad article printed that got Joe on the defence, but suddenly he didn’t draw a big crowd in the interview room anymore. He’s still a popular guy on the circuit and is often misunderstood, lost in translation. In the early days when his English was rough, Joe was still able to surprise us with quick wit. He once played a big match against Novak years ago in Melbourne, and after losing, Novak used the excuse that he had been poisoned by some nasty Aussie meat pie. As we said, back then the Serb was not the indestructible one we see today. After the match, one reporter asked Joe a question, very, very slowly, so that he would understand what was being put to him; ‘Joe, No-vak said he was having prob-lems during the match…when did you first not-ice, he was having prob-lems?’ Joe then paused, reflected, and replied; ‘oooh…bout 5 years ago.” There was a silence and then some seriously appreciative laughter. We were pretty sure he’d improved his English in leaps and bounds now! It’s still one of the most memorable interview moments to date from smilin’ Joe.
‘Davydenko You beauty’, was what the Aussies used to call out when Nik was on court (serious Aussie rules football reference to the Jesaulenko’s mark). The phrase was never truer until one very, very interesting post match chat. The Russian was very serious on court, but still holds the unofficial title for the funniest interview in tennis, with the driest answer to a question (despite Joe Tsongas secret wit). Davydenko lost to Federer in an epic 5 setter years ago, and was asked what was going through his mind on a bunch of failed match points, to which he replied; ‘pissed off! Pissed off on my serve, pissed off on my forehand…it’s like everything was s*&t!’ Too funny!
Andy loves the word obviously. He uses it a lot because he hasn’t seemed to grasp that sometimes reporters have to ask obvious questions, with obvious answers, or else they can’t print the quote…obviously. We just said obviously so many times we could give Andy a run for his money. He once said the word about 17 times in the one chat! It appears at times as if Andy tries to give long, possibly dull, uninspiring answers so as if to discourage people from asking him questions. That way he will have shorter interviews and be a lot happier. Someone must have offended him badly, early on in his career because he is often on the defence without being attacked. Much to some reporters surprise, Andy also won an award for being courteous with the media one year. You might even suspect that he may have had some coaching on his demeanour, as it had ‘obviously’ improved. Andy’s new favourite word seems to be ‘again’, which indicates that he’s already said the same thing over and over, and you should probably lay off it.
Milos can be a tad suspicious himself in the interview room, like Murray, and is always pre-empting an attack that often isn’t there. One reporter asked him how he felt about his serve after losing to Novak this year, and he replied ; ‘I could’ve served better, but I don’t think I lost because of my serve’…we never said you did Milos, just wanted to know your thoughts on the matter :-s.. but thanks for projecting. We hear that off court he spends a lot of time on his hair, but don’t ask him about it post match, cause he’s one serious dude, and he’ll give you evils coupled with the silent treatment! He also has one unique voice, and when it breaks occasionally, he can sound a little like a white Kermit the Frog. It’s strangely enthralling. Either way, you can assume by the unimpressed look on his face, that he really doesn’t want to be in the hot seat.
He’s a likeable guy to the public, but he doesn’t appear to like the post mortem after a game. He is the Stanimal, Stantastic, Homer Simpson loving bashful guy, but for years Stan has been a little stiff and humourless in the interview room. Even when questions are turned to off court situations, Stan seems unenthusiastic about bringing the funny on those topics. It’s possible he’s getting more comfortable with the limelight though, as he has recently made a few jokes with journalists, but he’s actually a tough nut to crack. He’s probably hoping his fellow Swiss player Roger Federer doesn’t get knocked out of any more Grand Slams, cause he’s sick of being asked if he’s spoken to him and how he is. This year he proved it in a funny Stan moment, by telling one reporter what they would ask before they had the chance; ‘how is Roger, did I talk to him today, just tell me what you want to know’. Since winning a grand slam he seems to be getting more comfy with his high ranking and success, like Novak, but come on Stan, we know there’s a comedian inside you dieing to come out and we want to see it! Enough with the eye rolls please, we like you!
The ultimate 3 face, Berny switches between comedy, criticism, and severely negative mood swings. Whether its bagging the schedule for having him on until 2 o’clock in the morning (cause his eyes stop working after that time), or whether its having a go at tournament organisers for putting quality players on outside courts, or he’s cracking jokes about being the new Aussie number two to Nick Kyrgios, or even if its complaining cause he had to serve , volley and return for an entire match (to quote Rapha; ‘that’s tennis no?)’, you never know which Berny you’re going to get. He’s probably tired of his controversial father creating more questions for him, with scandalous violent allegations circulating constantly. More recently the hype has died down with his dad out of the game. He took Djokovic to a Wimbledon quarter once but couldn’t quite win. We hope he will get back to his best so we can see more of happy Berny again. Oh and Berny, please, you didn’t play ‘good’, you played WELL ;-).
What do you ask the man who’s been asked everything? Your ultimate goal in life here is to get Roger to say; ‘good question’, as he only says it about once a tournament, if at all. He is the ultimate professional, staying to answer questions for an extra half an hour in about 5 different languages, and yes most of the questions are repeated in all the different languages. Who says Roger isn’t a trooper? Even though the man is fluent in so many languages it catches you off guard when Roger uses the occasional ounce of poor English; ’I thought I played good’. Roger you’ve been listening to Berand Tomic too much! Still, nobody packs out the interview room like Roger. We’ve almost considered scalping tickets to his interviews, especially after a rare loss. It’s harder to get into than a Katy Perry concert. One of the best questions asked to Roger so far, was; ‘do you ever wish you didn’t learn all these languages so you didn’t have to sit here for an extra 20 minutes answering questions’ …yep, good one, but he still loves to learn and practice either way. The only time he’s really become hostile with the media for a period was after one reporter accused him of using his back as an excuse following a loss. Slowly over the years, the relationship has been somewhat mended, although like the other players, we’re sure Roger has his favourites in the media. He is flesh and blood after all.
*Ask me a question, go ahead, I dare you! You won’t outsmart me.* Andy was a volatile mix of cracking jokes and tearing strips off you in an attempt to prove he was more intelligent than you. Most are never brave enough to take him on, but never the less Andy said something that always rings in our head s every time we’re in the interview room; ‘is that a question or a statement?’ One reporter once remarked about how Andy lost a set, but then came back in the next, to which Andy replied; ‘is that a question or a statement?’ The reporter then nervously tried again, and Andy replied; ‘ok again, is that a question or a statement? Cause it just sounds like a series of statements.’ we always check ourselves from now on. It seems to be a culture clash though, as in Australian rules football, reporters often make statements and team coaches respond to them, but the tennis is an international event, and overseas players are waiting for some kind of regular punctuation on the end of the sentence, or there is some kind of confusion.
No, Fabio is not getting a mention because of his success in tennis (side note: he doesn’t really have much), he’s actually one of the rudest, if not rudest players on the tour. A reporter was once harassed because they didn’t use his name before asking him a question. Come on man, you’re not Roger Federer, take the ego down a peg. He eventually said something derogatory about the reporter in Italian, and had a laugh like a juvenile delinquent, and then the reporter walked out on a player in the middle of the interview. Bravo hot shot.
What can we say about the big Pol? Not a lot these days because we haven’t seen him in the main interview room for a while. One would imagine he said something hostile enough to get demoted to the smaller interview rooms, or perhaps we just can’t find a question to please him. Either way we think Jerzy should give Serena Williams PR person a call, cause he’s in need of a bit of a media makeover. After all, he has talent, and will find himself winning, and faced with more questions as he rises up the ranks. First he might want to create a happier public image of himself so he can focus on his best tennis. Misunderstood is perhaps the best adjective for Jerzy.
Nick is given a hard time by reporters for showing his emotions on court. But at the end of the day, he’s only 19, and most people forget that even Roger was hot head in his early days. Nick has had similar success, knocking Rapha out of Wimbledon in 2014, as Roger once did with Sampras, but when the guy is winning he just wants to be asked positive questions, rather than focusing on the negative, injuries, or losses of sets. It’s nice to start off the chat with the good news. Being the first Aussie guy to make the Aus open finals in a decade is a good place to start. We will give him the opportunity to grow and develop and hopefully give him more of a break, cause he deserves it.
Wow, if this guy is bursting with personality we would love to see it! Unfortunately trying to get an interesting story, or entertaining moment out of Berdych is like trying to get blood from a stone. One reporter once asked him what he would do on his days off during a Grand Slam, to which he replied; ‘it’s hot, I’m going to stay in my hotel room in the air conditioning’. Fair enough, but are you just staring at the walls Thomas? The reporter tried again; ‘not doing any exploring?’; ‘no I’m just going to stay in the hotel room and adjust the temperature on the air conditioner.’….yes that actually happened! A year later, Thomas had a new clothing sponsor, and a new fiancé, so we finally thought this would be his time to shine. But when asked about his new engagement, he started talking about how the weather wasn’t great the day he proposed. Thomas! You’re marrying a hot model and you still want to talk about the weather? Oooh dear. He definitely lets his tennis do the talking. Still, despite this, he’s not an unpopular guy by any means, and there doesn’t seem to be many grudges against him.
Juan Martin del Potro
If ever there was such a thing as a gentle giant, this is your guy. Somewhat of a quarter final specialist like Ferrer and Berdych, Juan has achieved a relative level of success with only one Grand Slam to his name. He has the doe eyed look, and the slow grumbley voice that just makes you think of the quintessential BFG. Juan’s English has also taken some big steps with his experience, but complex ideas and thoughts on the match are not his forte’. Much like Andy Murray he can have a tendency to depress the room a little bit with his somewhat sad demeanour and monotone voice. But smile Juan, the ladies seem to love you.
Uneventful, is unfortunately the word that comes to mind with this man. His english has slowly developed over the years but one suspects that like Li Na, he knows more than hes letting on, so he can get out of the room quickly. He rarely goes into match details and is forever the semi or quarter final bridesmaid too. He can appear hostile, but its probably due to a culture clash, and the fact that he seems quite worked up on court. And dont forget, his name isnt; ‘David’, hes the one and only, original; ‘Da-vid’ Fererr.
Some might believe, that almost having the word Tosser in your last name would say a lot about a perosn, and some might be right. The Bart Simpson of the tennis world, Matosevic is a hot head in and out of the interview room. Whether its bagging Andy Murrays female coach or biteing heads off without being provoked, it seems that his mental maturity hasnt quite caught up to his age. Dont worry, we arent complaining too much, its hilarious to watch, but Marinko just doesnt do filters. After a loss he was once asked if he was happy with his tournament, and amongst a few swear words he pretty much said no! In time he will surely improve, but for now, sit back, relax and get the popcorn out, the second he opens his mouth.
Leyton smiling in a press conference is so rare it’s like an eclipse. A popular player, even with the Australian media, but if you decide to ask Lleyton a question, you risk destroying your relationship with him. A bit like Mick Malthouse in the AFL there is rarely a good question to ask Lleyts. If you tell him he’s played well, he’ll tell you he didn’t. If you thought his 4th set was poor, I guarantee you he thought it was amazing. You quickly learn in the room that you don’t tell a player how it is, you ask them, especially with Hewitt. He’s famous on court for giving every single detail of the game in his post match interview, but in the interview room, three words in a sentence, and a slightly scathing glare is a good result. In a few words, Leyton appears to hate the media with a passion. Perhaps they should be flattered that the Wimbledon champ reads their work.
Li Na will be sorely missed post match. Whether it was cracking jokes like a stand up, or getting so emotional she runs from her interview, she is still loved by most. Some reporters believed that sometimes, Na would pretend she didn’t understand English, just so she could get out of answering questions and get out of the room as quickly as possible. After all she was smart, and had studied media at uni, so she had some idea of how it all works. What we wouldn’t give to hear her do some material on her snoring husband one more time, or even his tight grip on their credit card after a big win.
Agee is a bit of an enigma for those who have experienced her both on the court, and the interview room. When she stormed out of a Wimbledon semi final, not waiting for her opponent to walk off court with her, she appeared aggressive, bitchy and a sore loser to some in the public. But in the interview room she is as gentle and pleasant as any. Sure, her English is developing, but she is able to have a joke and show sympathy to those also struggling with their English. One Japanese reporter once intended to ask Agee how she would overcome her next opponent, who was known for their serve. Lost in translation the question came out as this; ‘Agee, your next opponent has very good serve, you have very bad serve, how will you beat her?’ We all laughed quietly and expected a blast from Agee. But instead she kindly smiled and said something like; ‘it’s going to be tough, but I’ll just have to play my best tennis’. What a champ. Hopefully she will one day become a champion on the court as well, and win a Grand Slam.
Jelena is also an off and on court surprise. During play she appears aggressive at times, looks to be getting illegal coaching, and having arguments with umpires. It comes across as uneducated, hostile and rude. Yet in the interview room Jelena comes across as extremely intelligent, and quite polite. Definitely gets the unofficial award for biggest surprise in a presser.
Where does one start? Sure she’s one of the most successful women’s players of all time, but she’s also one of the most controversial. It appears you don’t just have to be gay in tennis to cause a minor stir, threatening to shove a tennis ball down the throat of a lineswoman can do that too. Warning! By the end of this paragraph your opinion on this girl may change. One minute she’s biting off the head of every person asking a negative or POSITIVE question, and the next she’s the highlight of your highlight reel. Some say Serena hired a publicist/PR person to turn things around with the media, as nobody even wanted to go into the room to interview her, let alone ask anything, but gee it worked! Two or three years on from the ugly incident, not only was Serena packing out the room like Seinfeld, but she actually won an award for being courteous with the media as well. What a difference a paid advisor can make. None the less her personality was obviously always there, she just suddenly decided to show it and flaunt it regularly. She still rolls her eyes endlessly when asked about sister Venus, but in fairness she’s only been asked about how her 15 thousand times. When Serena is sick of your questions, her voice begins to deflate like a balloon and as the pitch gradually declines into extinction, you know she’s well and truly over it.
Marr-iiiii-aaaa! I just got shut down by Marr-iii-aaaa! A song we’ve heard all too many times. For years we have been to her interviews and observed one particular reporter be very forceful and strong in the way that he asks Maria questions, and we all walked away thinking why? Why is this guy so overbearing with Maria? And then it hits you. You have to be dominant with her or you leave yourself open for a barrage. If you’re submissive with Maria she will often take her opportunity like on court, to chew you up and spit you out, along with your poor choice of words. But if you’re dominant with the tennis queen, she can often become submissive herself and give soft, timid answers. So now we’ve finally realised that that guy has found one way to get a win with the Russian ice princess. At the end of the day we can’t blame her too much. Like Roger she’s been around the block more than a few hundred times and is sick of the same questions from reporters, thinking they are the first person in history to think of that question. Don’t ever ask her if experience counts for anything, cause it means nothing to her, and don’t ask her if there’s anything new to work out about her old foes game cause she’s pretty sure she’s got it down pat by now. Her results these days do the talking for her as she has returned to the GS winners circle a few times, and she has at least given us something new to talk about with the release of products like Sugarpova, and a tennis star boyfriend (so we can ask him about Maria when she doesn’t want to talk to us about it ;-).)
ok so here’s the low down. Don’t ask Venus what she’s thinking about during, after or before the match, cause she’s just thinking, hit the ball and win. Sometimes Venus can be hostile, and sometimes she can be funny, but she always makes us realise that sometimes things are a lot simpler than everyone else makes them. Life isn’t that complicated when you’re just trying to improve things on and off the court, and a loss isn’t the worst thing in the world. Venus actually was the undisputed winner of the one liner at the Aussie open in 2015. She was asked why she and Sister Serena had pulled out of the doubles, to which she replied ‘no further questions on that, I object! Sustained!’ Despite sustaining her own objection, it was damn funny, and one of the friendlier ways to dodge a question.
How do you solve a problem like Wozza? You don’t, she’ll solve it for you. Caroline once got upset because someone told her that her answers to presser questions were boring. So she decided to conduct her own interview one day because she felt like she gave drab answers because we asked her drab questions. So then we turned the questions to off court situations that were more fun like hanging with kangaroos. Wozza told us her current injury was due to being attacked by a roo! Interesting story right? Just one problem, she made the whole thing up in an attempt to liven things up. She then had to hold another press conference to explain that she’d lied, which did at least liven things up for a while. One does feel sympathy for Wozza though, as after she achieved the number one ranking without winning a grand slam, the questions on the topic were quite relentless. But the question had to be asked amidst a game style that she’s happy to keep going with, despite not winning a major to date. It’s a shame she’s not going further in tournaments these days as she was quite fun in the kangaroo days. For now, she’s probably just happy to see the end of questions about her ex fiancé Rory Mcllroy.
People get frustrated with Sam in the public, and in post match interviews. She can go from blasting her way through a set to a sudden capitulation. Unfortunately she doesn’t know why she’s losing most of the time, so it can make for an awkward post match discussion. None the less Sam is still a Grand Slam champion, and one suspects that when she knows what’s going wrong, she will tell us…right? Sometimes the hard questions have to be asked, and there’s somewhat of an understanding that she’s doing the best she can at dealing with the circumstances, on and off the court. The unusual nature of the matches does challenge one to work on the specific wording, and phrasing of a question, so as not to appear like an attack on Sam. Yet at the same time we wouldn’t be human ourselves if we didn’t ask why.
Gennie is quite smart, and can be fun at times. She can also be serious and throw a bit of attitude your way. It does keep you on your toes, as she makes you come up with something intelligent, testing you ‘Andy Roddick’ style. But at the end of the day we could maybe thank her for helping us get the best out of ourselves. Still, we don’t want a Maria in training on our hands, where some poor newby reporter is put on trial for a lack of thought or experience. Like Kyrgios she is young and talented and we’re all gonna learn this stuff together no?
She may not have moved mountains in her game, but Aussie Alicia Molik is still one of the most honest people you will ever see in the interview room. She was once dominating a match at the Aus open years ago, and when she was just a few games from victory, things completely fell apart (to the next big thing in the women’s game no doubt). When asked why she lost, Alicia, surprisingly, didn’t just give a fob off answer, she told us the absolute truth to the point where it was refreshingly shocking; ‘I started thinking that the match was won, and about the locker room, and relaxing, and got ahead of myself.’ No bull, no excuses, just an admission of how she let herself down. Players don’t usually share their deep thoughts in answers, so this was a rare jewel. A lot of respect was probably earned in the interview room that night, and it’s a shame she’s retired. These days her honesty comes out in the commentary box.
Petra can be a female terminator on court, but off court you wouldn’t mind getting on her bad side. She probably doesn’t have one. With such an impressive rise up the linguistic ranks, Petra seems to understand questions in English very well now. She won hearts in her early days, every time she was asked about her first GS title. She would charmingly reply; ‘oh, of course I was happy ven I vin die Vimbledons’, you almost want to jump the rail and give her a hug for being refreshingly honest, innocent and real.
Much like Agnieszka , Anna is a compettitor on the court and quite a contrast to chat to. During a match she pumps her fist like a little kid who just knocked over somebodys sand castle. It’s juevenile and down right annoying. But in the in room she purrs like a kitten with gentle answers and a friendly nature, which would have the lads swooning. Anna was careful not to become the next Anna Kournikova, and just be known for her looks. She now works at her craft and has become a top womens player who wants to raise her level (which is one of her faourite phrases by the way). After a loss, herslef and Agnieszka tend to tear up a bit. Again, it makes you want to jump the rail and give them a hug, if it wasnt for the fact that you would be tackled by security.
Vika wasnt always the Queen of the court. Back in the day she was a Serena in training, appeared hostile with the media, and was so downright catty that nobody really wanted to chat to her. But as age came and so too did success, Vika calmed a little. Unfortunately for her, the media have long memories too, and even after she started winning, and matured in the interview room, you could still hear crickets. None more so than after she won her first championship at the Aus Open. The interview room attendant called for questions for the Champion twice, coupled with silence, before someone finally broke the ice for poor Vika. Now shes showing a bit more of her fun side, by turning things around and questioning the media for a change. Whether it be asking what the fashion experts think of her outfits, or asking for proof of her ‘legendary’ feat of doing the splits on court, Azza has started to liven things up for sure. And dont ever call her Vicki, thats just not how its done in Belarus.
Shes had her controversial moments but like a good wine Justine matured and could be seen as the female Roger Federer in the interview room. Her well thought out answers and comments on the match, and her courteous behaviour in her later years meant she was generous with her time during questioning. Her succeess on the court was mirrored in her reputation… despite upseting Serena in a 2003 French Open semi final for raising her hand during a point. It wouldve been hard for a tiny and timid character to carry that one through interviews for seven years. But if thats seriously the worst thing youve ever done in tennis, you’re doing ok. Serena obviously didnt realise she would top it years later and probably shouldve given the Belgian a break for some good karma.