Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Petkovic and Mladenovic in conversation: fascinating and revealing

Every evening, former WTA player (and 2014 Charleston Open champion) Andrea Petkovic does a "Happy Hour" program on the Charleston Open grounds, in which she interviews players about both their on- and off-court lives. Petkovic is a very good interviewer (no surprise there), and this evening's first interview was especially insightful and quite interesting. Petko interviewed Kiki Mladenovic, who--while also a very good singles player--is known for her outstanding doubles career.

I don't have any photos, and I wasn't able to record the interview, but I believe that it's worthwhile sharing some of the high points of the interview. Mladenovic--whose parents are both athletes (her mom was in the audience)--said that she was a bit surprised that she wound up a a tennis player because her parents were involved in team sports, and she has always gravitated toward team sports. This is, she thinks, why she has always especially enjoyed events like Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) and Hopman Cup. Petkovic pointed out, too, that Mladenovic isn't afraid to accept responsibility, so she is a natural leader in team events.

In 2017, Mladenovic had a singles career breakthrough, but while playing a match at Wimbledon, she took a fall. She was examined and tested, and there was no injury, but--as Petkovic pointed out--things weren't quite the same after that. It turned out that Mladenovic's knee wasn't right. She didn't have an official "injury," but she had pain. Looking back, she said, it was a mistake for her to carry on--she should have taken a break, but she was doing so well, and didn't want to stop.

As it turned out, even with the knee problem, the French star was able to break through into the top 10 in singles that year. And while I don't know what it's like to be a professional athlete, I do know, only too well, what it's like to just not be able to determine which direction to take when a problem appears and it's hard to know whether it's better to stop or go on. I think that most of us know what that feels like.

Petkovic pointed out that, when playing opponents who are in the top 20 (or 30), a player can be even two percent off, but that two percent can make all the difference in the outcome.

By the way, Mladenovic added that--even though continuing to play was probably a mistake--she has no regrets.

The pair also discussed what it feels like to lose and how to manage a loss. "I cry every time," Mladenovic said, but she said that she's working on not doing that "or I'd cry every week."

Both women talked about the highs that come from playing sports, and they agreed that all of the injuries and travel and other stressors are worth it.

Kiki Mladenovic has won nine major doubles titles and three major mixed doubles titles. She has twice won the WTA Finals in doubles, and she has 20 tour doubles titles. She reached a career high doubles ranking of number 1 in the world in 2019.

I used to say that a winning WTA doubles team was Mladenovic and Anybody. In 2012, Lucie Safarova won the Charleston doubles title with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The next year, Safarova's Charleston partner had to withdraw, and so she had to find a partner at the last minute. She found Mladenovic, who also didn't have a partner. 

During press before the tournament began, Safarova said that not only had she and Mladenovic never played doubles together, they hadn't even practiced together. I asked her how she thought it would go, and she gave me an eye roll, and shot me a "what do you think?" look. Then they won the tournament, upsetting the top seeds in the final.

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