Sorana Cirstea prepared for the US Open by hitting with a pair of former US Open champions: Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, her tennis idol.
"I was hitting with Andre before Stanford, LA and Cincinnati and I hit with Steffi before Indian Wells," Cirstea said. "Steffi came two times and hit with me and it really helped me a lot."
The 24th-seeded Cirstea showed the result of that training today when she overwhelmed Ayumia Morita, 6-1, 6-3, to reach the US Open second round where she will play Canada's Stephanie Dubois next.
The 19-year-old from Bucharest is one of five Romanian women ranked inside the top 100 and if the seeds hold true to form she could play her friend, fellow adidas endorser and sometime travel partner Caroline Wozniacki in the third round in what would be a rematch of the Roland Garros round of 16. Cirstea knocked off three top 25 players in succession — Alize Cornet, Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic — to reach the last eight.
Tennis Week caught up with Cirstea today for this interview.
Tennis Week: Sorana, I know you've been working with the adidas coaching team. Who have you been working with and how has it helped your game?
Sorana Cirstea: I am part of the adidas development team so I am working with Sven Groeneveld, Darren Cahill and doing fitness with Gil Reyes. I've been already four times in Vegas. I started working with Gil last year before the Olympics. I really started with Sven and Darren shortly before the French Open this year.
Tennis Week: How has that training helped your development? Have you hit with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in Vegas?
Sorana Cirstea: Since I got to start working with the team my game has changed completely. I think my mental (game) has changed more than my physical game. I love Vegas — it's my favorite place. I had the honor to hit with Steffi and Andre and just to be out there on the court hitting with them meant so much to me. I was hitting with Andre before Stanford, LA and Cincinnati and I hit with Steffi before Indian Wells. Steffi came two times and hit with me and it really helped me a lot.
Tennis Week: You've said Steffi was your tennis hero growing up. What influence did Steffi have on you? Where is your primary training base?
Sorana Cirstea: Because of Steffi I started playing tennis. I saw her playing on TV and I told my parents I want to be like her. Just to meet her and spend some time with her was a dream come true for me. I have been practicing in Vegas and Amsterdam — depends on where I am.
Tennis Week: I remember watching you lose to Kuznetsova in the second round of the Open last year and Kuznetsova said after that match that you were very talented, you just need to gain experience and learn how to play points. How would you compare yourself and your game a year ago to the player you are today?
Sorana Cirstea: Exactly. Everyone said I was very talented player, but maybe sometimes I was going a little bit crazy on court or not taking the right decision. I agree with Sveta: I needed to learn to play points and make good decisions. I think since last year I learned to be more disciplined and not rushing. Last year I was playing really good but in the right moments I wasn't taking the right decisions. I think I am more calm and more focused now and I think that's why my results are better.
Tennis Week: You had a very good run at Roland Garros. What did your success at the French Open do for you and for your confidence.
Sorana Cirstea: Of coure it did a lot for me. I went into French Open without having a very good year until May. So for the first time in my career I didn't think about the result. I just thought about playing my best tennis in every match. I was playing and better and better every match. I've had a really good run and since then my confidence is getting higher and also on court I think I have a different position and a different idea of what to do.
Tennis Week: You spoke about being calmer and more patient on court. How have you been able to develop that sense of competitive calm?
Sorana Cirstea: I wasn't calm before. I was going a little bit crazy and maybe talking too much. Since I started with the team and Gil it has helped calm ne. Gil is amazing and always talking to me and making me understand things. Since the French Open I don't focus on my mistakes as much as I did. Sometimes of course I have the frustration but I can focus on the points better now.
Tennis Week: Romania has a tennis tradition with Nastase and Tiriac. How did that tradition influence you and how popular is tennis in Romania these days?
Sorana Cirstea: Tennis was very popular when Nasatse and Tiriac were playing and also Pavel. After that, we really didn't have anyone for a while. Growing up we always had doubt would I get there or not? Because there weren't a lot of players. I was working hard and not thinking much and suddenly I was top 100. I think tennis is getting popular again in Romania and now again it is starting and we have like five girls in the top 100 and the boys are doing good. So it's getting really popular and I'm really happy to see that. Parents are getting their kids into tennis and now they start to think a bit more about tennis and people talk about tennis more so I think it is growing again.
Tennis Week: Did you know or hit with Spirlea growing up?
Sorana Cirstea: Not really I never met her because she is living in Italy. But I have a really, really close relationship with Dragomir. Now she is president of the federation and she has gone through the things I have gone through so to have someone who has been through it all is very helpful.
Tennis Week: You've said your goal is top 10, you've been as high as No. 23 and you are 26 now. What is your ultimate goal?
Sorana Cirstea: I always try to set goals that are small short-term goals I can achieve and when I get there I can put another goal. If I said No. 1 that's so far away, but if I say top 25 and then top 20 and then top 10 then it always gives me a goal to work for and it is like stepping stones. Now because I have been playing really well lately it's very important not to focus on one result but to focus on my game go as far as I can.