Tennis: WTA Finals stars talk to the press in Singapore

On the eve of the 2015 WTA Finals, the top eight singles players and doubles team talked to journalists about their respective roads to the elite year-end event in Singapore.  In order of appearance, here are some select quotes from each of the players at the WTA Finals All-Access Hour – which actually spanned five hours:

Petra Kvitova, two-time Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014

On overcoming health issues in 2015, which included a bout of mononucleosis: “I’m very happy to be here, to qualify again after what was a tough year for me…In the beginning of the year if somebody told me that I’m going to qualify, I’m not really going to believe them…I hope that next year will be a bit boring.”

Simona Halep, the top seed in the WTA Finals (which occurred after Serena Williams decided not to play in Singapore)

On the Romanian fans, who loudly cheer her at tournaments around the world: “Last year [in Singapore] I had a great crowd here. Everyone was supporting me. Many Romanians came over to see me playing. It’s nice to have supporters wherever I go. Here, it is special because I think they really like me, I have many kids that are coming and telling me they like me. So it’s a good feeling. It’s not easy because I feel a little bit of pressure, but you know, it’s nice to play with such a big support for us, and I just try to give everything to try to see them happy.”

On working with Darren Cahill, who previously coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, among many other players: “I think I’m stronger on forehand. I work a lot. I work also on my serve but it’s not 100% how I want. But you know, I feel better. I run better on court. I try just to be more aggressive, like I was when I won a few titles in the past. I think I have to improve many more other things. Going to the net, a little bit more. The slice. So I have many things to learn, but I am okay with my game now. I have confidence in it. I think that it’s a solid, solid game.”

Agnieszka Radwanska, who won her first two titles of the season in Asia just before Singapore (in Tokyo and Tianjin)

On the WTA’s proposal to introduce real-time statistics in addition to on-court coaching during matches: “Actually, to be honest, on court we [are] just talking, not really using all this technology. But definitely off the court we [are] checking statistics. I think it’s very interesting to see pretty much everything, what your opponent did the last match, all the percentages, pretty much everything what you can check there. It’s very, very useful. I think everybody going to use that, yeah.”

On winning the WTA Fan Favorite Singles Player award four years in a row, from 2011 to 2014: “When I won for the first time, I was so surprised and so excited that I could win. Then, of course, to win it four times in a row, I’m just so happy and glad I have so many fans all around the world. Well, I’m just going to do everything to win for the fifth time.”

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, the top-ranked doubles team in the world.  Mirza attained the No. 1 ranking this season while Hingis, who returned for a second time from retirement last year to specialize in doubles, won five Grand Slam doubles titles in 2015 (two with Mirza in women’s doubles and three with Leander Paes in mixed doubles)

Hingis, on the switch from singles to doubles: “It’s much more relaxed obviously because the practice hours are not as intense. I mean, they’re very intense with Sania, but we play like one and a half, two hours a day. We do some gym. The rest of the day is little bit more chilled…I’ve never been to Singapore, for example, before. Like a little stroll in the gardens, just visit the city. There’s many more things that I have time to do now. When you practice for singles, it’s so much more stressful…I’m also 35 now, so I think you take a lot more credit for what you’re able to do and enjoy the moment, live in the moment.”

Mirza, on her success in 2015 as well as that of her husband, Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik: “Well, I mean, the biggest difference for us is that he plays a team sport, which has 11 people. I always say, You can blame each other all the time [laughs].” (Hingis’ response: “You’re so nice [laughs].”)  But it’s tough for me to blame her. No, I’m just kidding [laughs]…But it’s great that he’s doing so well. He came back in the test team after five years. To make a double century, it was incredible at any time, but at the time he did. We try to push each other a little bit. Yeah, it’s tough to have two athletes playing at the highest level in their sports, competing. We’re playing in very emotionally charged sports all the time.”

Angelique Kerber, who won four singles titles in 2015

On her round robin group, which includes Kvitova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Lucie Safarova: “It’s strange. We are three lefthanders in one group. It’s a little bit different to play against lefties. At the end for the I practice a lot with lefthanders, so it shouldn’t be a problem for me. Of course, it’s a little bit different to play against lefties than right-handed because you have much more right-handed on the tour.”

Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2015 Wimbledon singles finalist who achieved a career-high ranking of No. 3 this week

On qualifying for singles and doubles at this year’s WTA Finals (Safarova is the other player to do so): “I think it’s a very good position to be here playing singles and doubles. I’m very excited. I’m kind of [a] rookie. Well, I played last year [in] doubles, but it’s obviously not the same.”

Flavia Pennetta, 2015 U.S. Open champion

On whether the Italian will change her mind on her retirement plans and hit the tour in 2016: “You’re going to see me because my boyfriend [Fabio Fognini] play tennis [laughs]. I will be with him not every week but few weeks for sure, in the right place I can say.”

On how Serena Williams tried to contact her after her U.S. Open win, but was initially unsuccessful: “No, I didn’t have her number. She just asked for my number [from] Caroline [Wozniacki]. But because my phone was ringing so much, I didn’t answer to the number that I don’t recognize. So she sent me a tweet. ‘Flavia, it’s me, it’s my number, call me.’ I called her. So now I have her number [laughs].

On what she and Williams talked about: “I mean, was not that long. She just call me and say, ‘Hi, baby, how are you?  I’m so happy for you.’ I’m asking her how she was feeling. She say, ‘It’s tough for me. But I’m so happy and proud of you.  You’re really going to retire?’ I say, ‘Yes.’ [To which she said,] ‘It’s good for you.’

Lucie Safarova, 2015 French Open singles finalist and winner of two Grand Slam doubles titles

On 2015 being her breakthrough season at age 28: “Well, I always had the dream to be there in the top 10, let’s say. I always believed in myself. It was just first in my early stage of the career, I was injured a lot. That set me back a little bit. Then I struggled with different things. But I always kind of believed that I can be there. I think that’s what kept me really motivated. I think if a person has the goals, it’s just going towards them, sooner or later they might become true.”

Maria Sharapova, 2015 Australian Open finalist

On her career longevity, despite all her injuries: “Well, look, I really love playing tennis. There’s nothing else that really gives me that feeling and that competitiveness and the thrill, the emotion that I get on the court. As long as I will experience that, I will always believe that I have the motivation to become better. I think personally that’s inspiring for me because I’m still quite young, even though in this sport there’s a much younger generation coming up. I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle. I feel if my body allows me to that I’ll still be playing for many years. As long as I have that passion and drive, nothing is as important as waking up and becoming a better player.

“As far as the season, I think, of course, we have certain commitment [to] tournaments that we have to participate in. But I’ve kept my schedule pretty minimal in my career from the very beginning of my career. When you’re young, you don’t always make the scheduling decisions. But my team and father really made a conscious effort to understand that, you know, you can’t look at rankings, you can’t look at points. You have to look at the bigger picture. That’s how I kept my career. I feel that I’ve done really well. So even though it is a long season, I’ve kept it pretty minimal in terms of the amount of tournaments I play.”

all press conference videos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Photos: 2015 WTA Finals All-Access Hour – Singapore, Oct. 24, 2015
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine