Secret women's business
LIFE on the women's tour is a unique experience — and this being my 18th full year, I should know.
Years and years of grinding away have allowed me to come across some real characters.
Mary Pierce, for example, has the odd ritual of lying on the floor with towels all over of her, including her eyes, and having a little nap before her matches. Svetlana Kuznetsova can be found belting out a rap song she has blasting through her headphones, trying to teach everyone the words, and Sam Stosur is often found hitting a few volleys on a wall somewhere before she heads out to play.
Many of the most interesting players have come and gone but so many issues remain the same.
Players have their favourite lockers. I know the Williams sisters will be in the back part of the locker room at the US and Australian Opens and quite often they have the high lockers because they're the only ones who can reach. And you can bet Maria Sharapova will ask for the same locker number at this year's US Open as she had in 2006. When I returned to Wimbledon in 2005 after winning the previous year and my locker was already taken, I was most put out!
We tennis players tend to be a little superstitious — and it's not just the lockers. We always try to use the same shower or toilet if we are winning, and it really can mess with your mind if you change it.
Lisa Raymond claims she lost a final because her coach sat in a different seat from every other day — the boyfriend of the girl she played was sitting in it. I have heard that story for years.
The increase in prizemoney has brought about an attitude of entitlement among players these days. Even the simple task of cleaning up after oneself in the locker room is beyond some people, who have a penchant for leaving their dirty, sweaty clothes lying around.
Having said that, there was one time in Zurich when Alicia Molik was so annoyed at me for leaving my clothes on the floor one too many times, she hung them all over the locker room on the lights, the window sills — you get the picture.
The women's tour may have a reputation for glamour, fashion and style, but the changing rooms can become a sweat jungle — very unpleasant.
Perhaps there should be a new year's resolution for all on the WTA Tour — put your clothes away and throw your towels in the towel bin. Parents with teenage kids will know exactly what I am talking about.
This brings me to another issue about the locker room that has changed throughout the years — parents.
When I started playing in the 1980s, there weren't that many around, but they started drifting into the locker room on a regular basis, to the point where we had to ban them. Samantha Stevenson, mother of Alexandra, used to walk in at any moment to have a good old chat to her daughter.
Actually, I think Alexandra liked the ban rule more than anyone, to be honest. I would say that there are a lot of players out here that are thankful their parents can't come into the locker room.
The locker room is a sanctuary. It's where you hang with your friends and where you can avoid others; like that person at work who you really just don't like. There are a few top players that don't particularly like one another, but when you are competing one-on-one, it's tough to be genuinely close to a main rival.
Having said that, though, Amelie Mauresmo can often be seen talking to Kim Clijsters, Kuznetsova to Nadia Petrova or Elena Dementieva, and it is not uncommon to see them cracking each other up. But don't get too close to Svetlana — aside from the taste in rap music, she has this habit of pinching you on the arm and it really hurts.
We try not to say many controversial things about each other in the press because we have to play and be around each other so much, but I haven't been averse to speaking my mind once in a while if I feel a player has done the wrong thing. That used to happen more, but now it is done more through the ever-increasing entourages.
There is the odd time when a player comes off the court and sits down to have a good old cry after losing, but the locker room is the one place to do it without the scrutiny of the cameras, the public or even entourages. I usually wait until I get in the shower to let it out, whether it be happiness or sadness.
When you walk through that door, the locker room is your home away from home, kind of like, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas". I've had quite a few conversations with players in there where you just sit and listen and talk them through tough times in their lives that might be happening on or off the court.
One thing that doesn't change from year to year is the amount of time players have to sit around waiting to play their matches.
You sit and watch on television all the highs and lows of fellow competitors battling it out. There have been times where I will be watching a women's match and I can hear the guys in the locker room next door getting right into it, too, even though they would never admit it.
Waiting for men's matches to finish can be bad, especially the ones that go five sets. You see players prancing back and forth waiting and waiting — I have even gone out and played an entire match and come back into the locker room to find they are still waiting.
A five-set match can last up to five hours, and to be on your toes for that amount of time is rough.
Having said all that, the locker room is special in so many ways because it is where only the players can go and the day will come where they won't let me in there and I will be wondering: I hope they're picking up their towels.
Rennae Stubbs has won more prizemoney and doubles titles than any other Australian woman.