GTT is thrilled to have reporter and photographer Andrea Nay on site in Cincy this week. Enjoy! – FF
“Are the batteries all charged?” Maria Sharapova asks with a smile as members of the media place no less than six voice recorders, five still cameras, five video cameras, and an assortment of smart phones in front of her. It’s Monday afternoon in Cincinnati, and the WTA is hosting an All Access Hour with the top eight women’s seeds. To our delight, most are on the chatty side.
“I’ve always dreamed of being an Olympian,” Sharapova says with sights set on 2012. She remembers watching Kafelnikov win gold: “It was the only thing I was really allowed to watch late into the night.” Although hockey and figure skating were appreciated, she had another favorite sport. “I loved rhythmic gymnastics,” she says wistfully. “I read somewhere in a kiddie magazine where you could make your own wand out of lace and a hanger. I was dancing around my garage, and I’d pretend I was a rhythmic gymnast.” Sharapova laughs: “On rollerblades, too!” What got in the way of her first calling? “Tennis took too much time!”
Fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva has other career ambitions in mind as well, but hers are in the future. “I’m at the Diplomatic Academy studying International Economic Relations,” she explains. Zvonareva admits finishing will take a little longer than the regular program, as her finals may be interrupted next summer. There’s a little gig called the Olympics on her calendar, too. “I’m taking my time right now. I’m not in a rush,” she says. “I’m still working on it. Doing some homework and reading, but it’s tough when you travel. I’m still trying because it’s something I enjoy very much.”
How does Zvonareva feel about having the men on site this week? She says the format feels like a Grand Slam. “I’m enjoying the atmosphere a lot. . . . For example, there are TV’s in the gym, you can watch some men’s matches. You don’t have to watch girls playing tennis all the time.” Does she have any favorites? “I like Rafa Nadal a lot. At the moment, I think Novak is playing unbelievable, so I’m enjoying watching him. And, of course, I’m always watching Russian players. I try to follow them.” Zvonareva picks up ideas from the guys, then tries them in her practices to see which tactics work. “It’s always interesting to learn from someone. It doesn’t matter if it’s male or female players. Why not give it a try?”
When not talking about her lack of a Grand Slam title or her budding romance with Rory McIlory, Caroline Wozniacki turns her attention to home. Where should fans go when visiting Denmark? “Definitely Copenhagen. It’s such a lovely city, especially in the summer. . . . Go in the cafes in Nørrebro. Just walk around. You can walk everywhere.” Are Danes really the happiest people? “I don’t think statistics lie!”
Newly minted Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is asked her favorite surface. She giggles, “Grass, for sure!” When did she finally feel she could win a Slam? “After I won!” Kvitova says the best part of winning Wimbledon is “knowing I can play seven matches of my best tennis in a row.”
Members of the media circle Li Na’s table like sharks this year, as compared to last summer when just a few writers trickled over to ask questions. That’s what winning Roland Garros and reaching the finals of the Australian Open in the same year will do for a player. Li smiles when reminded that she’s possibly the world’s second-richest female athlete. “My agent is doing a good job,” she says. “I just try to play my best tennis on the court.” Is she still hungry after winning in Paris? Absolutely. “After you win the first, you think, ‘Maybe I can win the second.’”
Francesca Schiavone says she’s recognized more frequently on the street since her back-to-back French Open finals appearances, including a victory in 2010. Well, sort of. ”I am not yet Angelina Jolie,” she quips. When one writer compares her to a player who could win at 40, Schiavonie shakes her head and scolds, “I’m 31. I am just 31!” Does she like Italian food in the States? “In Cincinnati? No way. Not good.” Asked to play the same travel game as Wozniacki, Schiavone channels Samantha Brown and Rick Steves: “Rome is unique. You must go there. It’s beautiful day and night. Then, you must take the train up into old Tuscany, where the people are so nice. Then, you go up into the mountains.” She remembers she’s forgotten the south with its sunshine. “Really, Italy is beautiful everywhere you go.”
How did Marion Bartoli find the drive to become a world-class player while growing up in tiny Le Puy-en-Velay, France, with long winters and no indoor courts? “I watched on TV and saw the champion get the trophy at the end of the week. I wanted to be there one day.” Is she superstitious? No, but she does make sure to eat the same type of healthy food exactly two hours before each match. “I’m not having soda and Snickers two minutes before I go on court.”
Wimbledon semi-finalist Victoria Azarenka steers completely clear of junk food. “No fast food,” she says. “Never! I don’t want to hurt myself.” Surprisingly, she likes Cheesecake Factory. Why? She says there’s a location in most cities, and she promises she can find healthy things there. Azarenka recently learned to surf in California and was drawn to the sport by her coach. “It’s been amazing. I didn’t get up on my feet yet, though. That’s my goal.” Her target this week? A Western & Southern Open victory. “This week is great for the fans to see all the great players in the world on both tours at once and get closer to the action.”
Andrea Nay is a freelance photojournalist based in Western Ohio. Although she lost part of her tennis soul when Safin retired, she now has more time to capture artistic shots of the rest of the ATP and WTA Tours. Find more of her work at AndreaNay.com.