Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Alex Krunic: slight of build, fleet of foot, and born to compete

photos by Daniel Ward
Aleksandra Krunic is into the second round of the Volvo Car Open. The 25-year-old Moscow-born Serbian player defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-2 yesterday, and will face 12th seed Kiki Bertens in the second round. The hard-hitting, fast-moving Krunic has drawn the attention of fans in the last few years, partly because of her Fed Cup exploits. On more than one occasion, she was called in to play clutch doubles in final rubbers, and she played a major role in gaining victories for her country.

Now, fans are noticing Krunic on WTA courts. Last year, she won a thrilling match against Alona Ostapenko in Cincinnati, and there’s already a little buzz about her in Charleston. Krunic is quite small for a contemporary tennis player; she’s five feet, four inches tall and of slight build, but she competes quite well because of her speed, her hard hitting, and her very fierce competitive spirit.

I spent a little time with her today because I wanted to learn more about her and about her tennis.

The young Serbian began her tennis career when she was around three years old and her father gave her a racket with a sponge ball. Apparently, it was love at first sight. Krunic told me that it was hard to find a place to learn tennis in Moscow, but she was lucky—there was an older man giving tennis lessons at a court next door her house. At age four, she picked up a real racket and hasn’t put it down since.

“I played everything when I was a kid,” Krunic said. “I was an outdoor kid. I think I was the last generation of outdoor kids.”

Krunic was especially fond of soccer when she was a child. At age seven, she entered the Spartak Tennis Club. She also likes playing basketball, and her fitness coach is an ex-basketball pro.

Asked about her notable competitiveness, Krunic chalked it up to being Serbian. “I was always competing in everything. I think it’s more of my genes. I hate losing—that’s why I don’t play board games.”

The player who most influenced Krunic was former Australian- and French Open champion Mary Pierce, whom Krunic describes as “always a lady on court—but she was a hard hitter.”

Krunic describes herself as “fast but not strong.” She’s currently working more on balance. “I’ve worked on it a few weeks now, and I think it’s already better….Sometimes I get to the ball and I get satisfied that I’m just on the ball, and I forget that I can do much more with it.”

The Serbian has also added Sarah Stone to her team. Stone has effected some changes, and now, Krunic says, “I’m practicing more, but I’m a player who doesn’t practice much. I like to be intense, to keep my intensity. I prefer to be intense for one, one and a half hours, then spend three hours on the court.”

Aside from twisting her ankles a few times (‘because of the way I move”), Krunic has sustained no injuries in her professional career. She likes to slide on grass, so she tapes her ankles during grass court season.

I asked Krunic to talk about the obviously emotional moment when she defeated Kimiko Date in the Japanese star’s last-ever tennis match. Krunic defeated Date 6-0, 6-0 in the first round in Tokyo last year. She said she received some negative comments from non-athletes who were upset that she didn’t “give” Date a game. “I think the biggest respect I could show was just to be at my top,” Krunic explained. She talked with Date about this, and—not surprisingly—Date was in total agreement with her.

Talking about Kimiko Date prompted Krunic to discuss her feelings about what might happen after she retires from professional tennis. “This is all we know, pretty much. I’m trying to be very open, and I do my things on court, I leave, and I read an learn. But this tennis bubble is all we ever knew. You never get this adrenaline feeling ever the same….All of a sudden, you’re in the normal world, you have a lot of time to think….you know what the feeling was and you can’t get it back.”

When Krunic isn’t on the court or in the gym, she likes to drive her car, spend time with her godsons, and read about psychology: “I like to find things out about myself.”

I think that fans will be glad to find things out about her, too, as they keep an eye on her already-interesting career.


colt13 said...

I don't have anything profound to say, just like the piece.

sunnynine said...

nice interview diane. always enjoy watching krunic. i know a match with her will be highly entertaining. she makes her opponent earn a win. i enjoyed her win against konta last year at the uso.

Diane said...

Thanks to both of you, and Colt--I'm way too tired to read anything profound ;-)