On this, the opening day of the main draw of the 2021 Volvo Car Open, several players held press conferences throughout the day.
Top seed Ash Barty, just coming off of her victory in Miami, said that her body feels great, and that it helped that the Miami tournament spanned over two weeks, so she was able to get some rest. The Miami champion talked about her approach to winning and losing matches. "My self-worth," she said, "doesn't depend on wins and losses, or on my success as an athlete."
Barty--who won the French Open in 2019--said that, living in Australia, she had limited experience playing on clay. Because of Australia’s climate, it’s difficult to build clay courts there, and attempts to utilize both French and Italian clay have failed.
She credited working for a long time with the same team for the maintenance of her health and fitness. Her team knows her so well, she said, that she is able to rely on their guidance and skills at all times.
Of her Miami experience, Barty said : “It’s all about styaing in there and always giving yourself a chance. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I learned from Miami.”
And of pre-season training, she was quick to say, “I like the hard work.”
Sloane Stephens, asked about how she might turn her game around this season, said, “There’s no turning around—just moving forward….Tennis is a sport that takes time, to get your groove back, to get your confidence back.”
Petra Kvitova, who has never shied away from talking about her difficulty navigating clay courts (though she won Madrid three times, and has also won in Stuttgart), said:
“For me, probably, it’s the worst transition, to go from hard to clay, especially with the movement and bouncing the ball. I think on the clay it’s very special because it never bounces the same….it’s hurting a little bit more, I would say, not only because of the movement with the slides, but as well it’s a high-low ball, anytime. It’s not only the wind, but it’s also the surfaces.”
Kvitova said that she did hit two or three times while she was in Boca Raton, but—with her typical good humor, she added: “but it doesn’t really matter, because for me, it’s may be even better to not have time to be prepared. For me, mentally, sometimes, it’s more tough than physically….”
The Czech wild card, who is seeded third in Charleston, said that, though she isn’t a stranger to sliding on a clay court, she doesn’t do it that much, and that she has to rely on her aggressive game on all surfaces. “That’s my game, and I’m gonna stick with it.”
Sofia Kenin, whose career was interrupted by surgery to remove her appendix while she was in Australia, has planned a busy clay season which includes Charleston, Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome. Kenin was philosophical about her post-surgical entry into the tour; she said that she felt fine in Miami, but that she did get tired, which was to be expected. She said that goal is to play as many matches as possible and “get into a groove.”
The 2020 Australian Open champion, when asked about how she has handled the pressure of having won a major, was candid about this year’s Australian Open: “It wasn’t the best way of handling my emotions.”
Garbine Muguruza’s time with the media was especially personal and thoughtful. When asked if it’s easier for her to deal with losses at this stage of her career, she replied: “I would say yes, not because I accept them or anything like that—it’s just that I waste less energy being upset or being disappointed. I quickly get out of a bad energy and just start thinking faster, what do I have to do and what’s next? I don’t stay…in dark places.”
Muguruza said that she has also stopped thinking about rankings, and instead will “start focusing on playing well, getting to the last rounds. The ranking will come and you’ll have a nice number.” The Spanish star also said, about entering the clay season, “I’m very excited, and I have to control my excitement.”
I asked Garbine about how her extremely challenging off-season activities might translate to her game. She said that she guesses that these activities help her with tennis, but she does them because she loves doing them.
“Anything that challenges me mentally or physically gives me strength, gives me a wider perspective of effort….
“I love what it gives me—the self-confidence that I get once you achieve something. You know, when you go through something hard, and you do it…and that gives you so much power—it’s like an injection of confidence.”
Shelby Rogers, who grew up on Daniel Island and used to be a ballgirl at the tournament, was obviously very happy to be back at the Volvo Car Open. But she also enjoyed her lockdown period, during which she worked out in her house, caught up on her school assignments (she gets her psychology degree next month), did a Bible study, cooked more and learned some new recipes, and read more. “I was able to get into the routine and feel somewhat normal for a little bit….”
Rogers, who acknowledged that she has developed a stronger mentality as a tennis player, also talked about the comaraderie among the U.S. players, and said that’s really glad to be part of the group. “It’s so exciting, and it’s awesome to see U.S. tennis get that kind of recognition.”
Last on the schedule was 2019 champion Madison Keys, who talked about why she feels so comfortable at the Volvo Car Open: “I obviously grew up on green clay, and just constantly coming back and having the good memories here, and knowing that there’s been lots of matches when I’ve been close to down and out and have managed to come back and figure it out.”
Asked what it feels like to be a defending champion but to have to wait two years to defend, Keys laughed: “It feels a little weird. Everyone keeps saying ‘defending champion,’ but it doesn’t feel like it.”
“It’s obviously difficult, being a tennis player, and feeling like you can’t quite get your footing back, and getting that rhythm.”
Keys said that, in the past, when she’s been struggling, clay has slowed the game down and helped her piece together her game again.