An Interview With coach Pavel Slozil about Anna Kournikova
Q. She has clearly improved since the start of the year. Can you say the
ways in which you think she has?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Of course she is a very young player. She has to learn a lot of things. She is learning quickly. She has potential to be a really good tennis player. Somebody has to put this chemistry together. She needed somebody, doesn't have to be Pavel Slozil, somebody who is there who organize her everyday, who is telling her how to practice, what to do after matches, around, somebody experienced. I think Nick had no time to continue with her because of other opportunities, other players around him. So she found somebody who was there everyday and who tried to help her everyday with experience from past, Steffi Graf, Capriati, with Maleeva, so far we have success.
Q. You are very modest about your part in it, but it requires someone to understand her temperament, doesn't it and to make judgments on what she next needs to do?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Of course, but I don't know, maybe it is one of my strongest parts to find out where is quickly what she needs, what the mother needs, what the people around her need and give them my best advice. Because we are one good team so far and we have to continue working as a team and it is very important to have around you always, you know, good people or the people around you to do right things, right moment. You have many times very good tennis player, but people around them are struggling. They are not working, you know, they just travel with them, they don't go to school, brothers or sisters. It is a lot of pressure for a young girl or boy to take it because if they are a little bit smart: I am supporting eight people here, they know, age 17, 18 so, on. Altogether you have to -- for example the father is working, he is with us here, but not all the time. We have at the moment small team, little team and maybe sometimes it is more harmful than having eight people. But Martina Navratilova was different. She needed eight, nine people around her to be happier. Again it is individual sport and individual people have to support.
Q. When you came to Australia in January with Anna, that was the start, but at that stage it was more of a trial basis, wasn't it. When did things get confirmed or become permanent?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Right after Melbourne and yeah, we started -- she was No. 31 and I just went there to try again if I like it again to be -- to travel, to be around. But it was always on my mind, in my head that if I come back I come with somebody who as attractive as Anna, as good a tennis player as Anna, hardworking player as Anna, and she must have also the people around her must be all right.
I found in Australia that everything is working very smoothly, without problems and I gave another chance on myself. But I don't think there will be -- I don't know, I never say never again, but I don't think there will be any player after Anna. Because I had a lot of things to do, a lot of work to do in Europe, Spain and in Europe, in Middle Europe, and I was also -- full-time job too and I decided to cut my activities and still people are waiting for what to happen because sometimes I didn't plan to stay with Steffi five years and I stay five years.
I plan on staying with Capriati at least four years she was young, Top-10, progressing, on the computer. I came and we finished our relationship over four months, so I am not planning anymore. There are some people try to stay in Czech Republic or in Spain, if I quit this job or I get fired, I can go there right away and work, continue working with the kids, with the players and the team and so on. This is now what I am concentrate on.
Q. Anna has a lot of attention focus on her off-court. How much of a role do you play in guiding her through that?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Of course I have experience again and you would say it is better what Steffi always did: No press, no cameras, 7 o'clock practice in the morning, not people around. It was great too, it helped her to become greatest player maybe of all time. But Anna is different. She likes attention. She likes cameras around the court. If I can control the camera men and press people, and we can work together nicely. We have no problems. You will get her as much as you can and she will give you as many as possible answers you need. That is my job. I would never support or say Steffi you
have to do it, you have to do it, you have to do it. I felt she don't like it at all. Moments she was preparing for a match, preparing for a tournament, and Anna is different.
Of course I am trying to control the thing. I don't want to say just go and everybody come here and we have a good time and -- no, of course, I want to have my limits too. She is a different person. I am not saying that she will win as many tournaments as Steffi did, probably not, but that is another also new work for me to find out what is the best for this character.
Q. Is she distracted by all the attention? Does it make her lose focus
because she does like it?
PAVEL SLOZIL: In the moment, no. Not. If I have a feeling that she has a problem with media or with people around her, it is my job to cut it as soon as possible.
Q. You think it is good for her right now? It helps feed into her character or personality or whatever?
PAVEL SLOZIL: At the moment I don't see any problems. But I don't know what will happen if she progressing the way she was progressing and if she is six months maybe No. 5, No. 3, what will happen then? I don't know. In the moment I am happy the way everything is progressing.
Q. You have been around the players --
PAVEL SLOZIL: It is also different now than it was ten years ago with sponsors, with media and now really tennis needs people like Anna, like even Rios, new face, new characters, you can write more about, it was always only Steffi, Martina, done. Nobody knew about No. 3 player in the world, No. 4 player in the world. It was very difficult to find something about them. Because they were not strong characters too and it is good to have Hingis competitive and Anna competitive and Venus, yeah, and other character. That is what tennis needs. You can write more. Tennis gets more popular and we all
have a good life.
Q. Do you help her with her tournament schedule? Are you involved in that?
PAVEL SLOZIL: When I came in, of course schedule was done for the first half of 1998. But now I am helping her with the schedule for second part of the year and hopefully for next year.
Q. Do you think there will be a benefit of playing a little bit less TierI, more Tier II, she could win a tournament, would that be more for her confidence win a smaller tournament than --
PAVEL SLOZIL: She is playing both. You can't forget that this is her first full year on the circuit. Last year I think she could only play eight or ten tournaments because of her agents. This is the first full year and what I don't want to see end of the year that she is tired, yeah, going to 1999 very tired; maybe injured. Must be very careful. We did already one mistake. She played four tournaments in a row. She played Linz, Paris, Hannover, then Indian Wells and it was a mistake. We cannot do it again.
We have to watch out because she played very well doubles too, so she already played, I think, triple so many matches in the last year all year. So it is new for her. Every second tournament is new for her. It is a lot of travelling for all of us and we must be patient. If she loses sometimes second round, third round or sometimes she never lost to somebody lower than 15. It is fantastic. But one day she will probably lose to somebody lower than 15 because the people are very strong now. My goal is of course that she ends the year somewhere around Top-10. That she is seeded next year, Australian Open, top 8 or Top-10. And that she she is not burnt out after one year on the circuit because if she stays healthy, she will play around 20 tournaments and it is double as last year. It is new. She has to go to Tokyo then to Europe, indoor tournaments, different culture, different food. It will be difficult not only for Anna, but the Williams sisters too, for every young player.
You can play any tournament many tournaments as you like and who will -- it is nice to have success one year, but look at now Steffi we are talking more and more how Steffi was or is being five years No. 1, serve years No. 1 being always there. Already difficult is for Hingis. She didn't win tournaments since May. She is still No. 1, but it shows something that you cannot do it repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. It shows how good Martina was and how good Steffi was or is.
Must be careful really choose the right tournaments. If I see that she gets tired, right away, cut the next tournament, stay home, practice well, rest, practice and go to another one or two tournaments. It is not easy because managers try to, you know, say you have to play this. You can monitor, you can monitor, exhibitions, Federation Cup, Olympics, it is very difficult to say to parents too or to managers, no, I don't think she should play. Not many coaches can do it. Or able to do it or allowed to do it. So I hope that I can save her for next five, seven, ten years of tennis not only for two great years and then as you said Capriati's case -- I don't know.
Q. What do you see her as her potential?
PAVEL SLOZIL: She has the strokes to become, I don't know what. I don't know. She was Top-10 already, so, Top 5 I think so. She beat -- except Novotna she beat already all players in the world.
Q. Can you compare her to Steffi? Can she be as good as Steffi in a
PAVEL SLOZIL: I don't think anybody can win 21 Grand Slam tournaments anymore. But I hope she can win -- she is good on every surface. She can play very well on grass, very well. I think it is the best surface, probably. Hard courts, she is playing very well. Look at Lipton, on clay she beat the best clay court players, Hingis, Majoli, Sanchez already twice on clay. So, indoor she has to learn something about indoor tennis and she is fine, she is going to be fine. Step after step.
Our goal was this year to qualify for Championships at Madison Square Garden that, was our goal, mother's goal. My goal was around 10 to 12. If she just play average tennis, she is going to be Top-10 of the year.
Q. Can she be No. 1?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Anybody. This question is speculation. She beat already No. 1 player in the world and why not one day. But it is not our goal to become No. 1 overnight. It takes time. Other players and how many players in the history of tennis had that chance, opportunity to become No. 1. It is only a few, I don't know, six, seven. We have hundreds of players. Novotna such a great player, she is very close, but maybe never become No. 1. It is only six, seven players No. 1 in the world.
Q. When she beat Hingis she seemed to be developing the ability to play slow and then play fast and to mix up and change the paces at the right moment in the rally. Is that one of the most difficult things that --
PAVEL SLOZIL: We are working on it. She was very successful with it, but because of the break, injury break, she lost a little bit of it. Like in Montreal she was trying to only play forward and very aggressive game, but she didn't play the way she plays in May or, you know, Lipton. She must mix it up. She can't -- she is physically strong so she can do it. It takes time. A few more tournaments and she is back, I think in good form.
Q. She has the mentality to do it, do you think?
PAVEL SLOZIL: I think so. She is very tough sometimes. It is very difficult to believe that she finished that match against Steffi Graf with that injury. Because she played about 40 more minutes after the injury happened and probably if she would call for a doctor, she would probably quit the match, probably they wouldn't allowed her to play. Once they touch the thumb, that would be a big pain and she would probably default that match. It was unbelievable. She couldn't even touch it after the match. She couldn't move it for one week after she finished -- how she finished that match, it was unbelievable.
Q. If she had defaulted, would she have come back sooner?
PAVEL SLOZIL: No. I don't think she damaged the thumb more next three games, four games. I am not a doctor, but -- no. I don't think so.
Q. How would you compare -- I am not asking you to say which of the two is a better player, but how would you compare the situation from when you first started working with Steffi and you first started working with Anna?
PAVEL SLOZIL: First moment was very positive for me. First practice, I arrived after 30 hours in the air from Europe. She arrived from America also 24 hours flight. And same morning I thought: Okay, now maybe afternoon we will practice one hour and we have a time. She wanted to practice twice that
morning, that day. I said: Oh, come on, that is good. I get tired -- of course I will get tired today, but that is very nice, very positive. She wants me to show me maybe that she is strong, but it was very -- came from her. We practice in the morning and late afternoon. Of course I agreed. Tired, but I agreed. It was great. It was the first very positive -- the other things compared to Steffi is very difficult because if I say something it could go like I am criticize something of Steffi. You must always believe
me that I am the biggest fan of Steffi. If she is losing or winning, for me she is still the best player ever on this planet.
But Anna is different. She is different. She is a new generation and she likes to work also hard and I only hope that I can bring her as far as I can.
Q. Did you say she hasn't lost anybody ranked higher than 15?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Lower than 15, yeah, in 18 months I think she is playing tennis she was very close to lose, also she was down set and 4-1 a couple of times. She was down matchpoints if you times. But against lower-ranked players, she could lose, nothing would happen. She is beautiful. She is nice, what you say, but she tried against -- in Austria against Austrian girl to come to Indian Wells when she was very tired, she came back from down set and 4-1 and next day matchpoints against her. So she is very tough.
Q. That is the type of makeup that makes a Top 5 player, don't it?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Yes, she is tough.
Q. People look at Seles and say her determination is her biggest thing. Steffi, her physical prowess. What makes Anna the player that she is?
PAVEL SLOZIL: I don't know. I think she likes tennis very much. I hope that she will not lose this really. When I saw her already she was 12, 13, 14 playing juniors later, I always heard you know that, she asks somebody else to come and practice all the time. That is very important. Most of the players they sit, wait, coach comes, let's play. Okay, we go and we practice. That was different. She is different a little bit. She must be the engine.
Steffi was the engine of our team and we support her. Peter, me, managers, doctors, we were supporting actors. She must be the engine. I cannot be engine or mother. She just supporting us, the team. No, she must be engine. She must understand it and we will try to do our best job to support her, only support her. She is the main thing: If I am not here or mother is not there, she must be still the engine to work.
Q. Her natural timing she generates a lot of pace just through timing?
PAVEL SLOZIL: I am very lucky that I work with somebody who is so far already with her technique, with her volleying technique, she has to work a little more on serve and other things. But I am very happy and lucky to be with somebody who is already so far again. That we don't have to work on
technique on backhand slice or forehand. If we are working on something, that is another good thing compared to Steffi, for example, Lendl and other people, they needed more time to learn something.
In the moment I have a feeling that maybe she is more talented and don't mean she gets to the point where Lendl won many tournaments or Steffi. But if I say something, she can do it in two, three, four weeks. I can see the result. Steffi, took her maybe three, four months, but then she was perfect or nearly perfect. So Steffi is different. She is very talented and if you show her something she -- she played now -- she didn't probably tell you show play six weeks lefthanded. All the time she play tennis she couldn't touch. But she played tennis lefty.
Q. How good was she?
PAVEL SLOZIL: Serve is not good. But otherwise, yeah, it was important that she moves on the court, little steps, timing is there, because she place double-handed backhand so she can hit the forehand as a backhand. So she was working hard even days off.
Q. Did she get depressed during that time?
PAVEL SLOZIL: I don't think so. Because always the first five or six months of a year are very tough on any player older or younger because you have three Grand Slam tournaments, a lot of travel around the world and she needed a break, maybe it was very goods for her. Any break for older or even younger player is good. I don't want to get anybody injured, but the break is always good because it is for 17, 16 years old people, it is very tough. Every week, every tournament, doubles, singles, travel -- it is not easy so she needed a break. She comes back and plays the same tennis that she did, I think so. I am positive. Optimistic about it.
I need also time for my family because I didn't see them. I saw them six months only eight days. I need also time off. I didn't need six weeks, but you need two weeks at least. Didn't have time even two weeks to spend together or one week together.
Q. Do you find that pretty tough?
PAVEL SLOZIL: It is tough on my family, definitely. But I am not complaining because it is our life and I think we should do always what we can do best and I like tennis and I have no problem with travelling anymore. I had 20 years ago, but not anymore. So as long as my family will support me then I will support Anna too.
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