QUÉBEC CITY, Canada - Melinda Czink started this year outside the Top 100 but after a series of strong results - including winning her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title this past week at the Bell Challenge in Québec City - she now finds herself inside the Top 40 for the first time. It may have taken the 26-year-old a little longer than others to make her move, but she sure is making it. We caught up with Czink just hours after her first Tour triumph in Canada.
How did you get into tennis?
MC: I started playing with my dad and brother. My dad is a recreational player and when we were kids we'd go and watch him. So when I was almost 10 and my brother was seven, he started teaching us a little. This was all back in Hungary. My brother went to Manhattan College on an athletic scholarship (he graduated in January) and is now working for Morgan Stanley in Hungary.
Talk about your upbringing.
MC: I grew up and graduated from high school in Hungary. I was always playing against guys at the tennis clubs I played at, which helped a lot. I came to the US in 2001 right after turning pro. Whenever I'm not travelling I like to spend time with my friends and family back in Hungary, but I spend most of my off-time practicing in Los Angeles with my coach, Ian Barstow. I split my time between Budapest and Los Angeles, then, but my home is Budapest.
How do you feel about being one of the few lefties in the Top 100?
MC: I definitely think it's an advantage, until I play another lefty - it's very tough to break another lefty! But whenever I play another one I appreciate my own serve. If a lefty is serving well it can cause a lot of trouble for anyone. The way the ball slides, especially on a fast court, is something you don't see much.
* Note: Czink is the second-highest ranked left-handed player on the Tour at No.37 (María José Martínez Sánchez is the highest, one spot higher at No.36)
What has changed this year that has helped take you up so high?
MC: I've been working hard for a long time. It has been a long process. I've been working with my coach, making changes technically, tactically, physically, mentally... And with it all, I'm really starting to enjoy the game and live up to my potential. I'm gaining confidence from every match, and I've beaten players in the Top 10, Top 20, Top 30... it's all coming together now.
What do you consider your biggest strengths on the court?
MC: I'd say my serve. My favorite shots are my serve and swinging volleys. I've been working hard on my serve since last year's off-season. I actually have two coaches - I already mentioned Ian, but I've also been working on my serve with Phil Dent. He changed my whole motion and it's working really well. He's a great coach and really motivates me. The combination of those two Aussies and their winning mentality is coming through. The serve is so important - if I can win my service games more easily, I can really focus on my return games.
What is your favorite surface and favorite tournament?
MC: I like every surface. I grew up on clay so I'm very comfortable on it, but I've been practicing and playing on hard for eight years now, too. I love grass. As for favorite tournaments, I have a lot, but I'd have to say the Australian Open. The mentality of the people, how they love sport and how they treat athletes, it's so special. And my coach's parents are there so I enjoy my time there. Of course, I think Québec is also one of my favorites now
What do you enjoy doing when you have time away from tennis?
MC: I love reading. I read all the time. I can actually read five or six books a week. I do a lot of Sudoku too. I love watching movies, too; one of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. I also like spending time with my family. I really enjoy my mom's cooking! I really enjoy going back home.
What are your career goals?
MC: I don't set any specific ranking goals. This season, I wanted to put everything I did in the off-season into practice and into my matches. And I feel I've been doing that ever since my first tournament of the year in Brisbane. I do have some goals but I like to keep them a secret. I just want to approach the game match by match and enjoy the journey.
You were a unique part of history a few years ago, in 2005 - at Canberra, you played Ana Ivanovic in the final round of qualifying, lost, but got into the main draw as a lucky loser. You two met again in the final of the main draw, the only time that has happened on the Tour.
MC: I do remember that
In the last round of qualies I didn't play so well against Ana, and she was playing so well. I was ready to leave and go to the qualies of the Australian Open but I got into the main draw as a lucky loser, which I was pretty surprised about! In my first round match I was down three match points and just kept battling... from there I kind of cruised into the final, and it was Ana again! I remember I was playing well, up 5-4 in the first set and maybe serving for the set... I can't remember for sure... but then I got a little nervous and she just started finishing me off. She won, 75 61. It could have been a turning point for me... but it was definitely one for her, because after that she started to really play well. It was a very memorable week for me. Ana and I were laughing about it, too. It was very interesting - I'm happy to be a part of history!