Re: The A Team !!! - Krajan and Vojnovic
Really good interview - Aug 29th 08
Dinara Safina was tired of the bickering. It was enough to deal with the pressure of trying to beat the Serenas and Venuses and Marias and Anas and Elenas of the tennis world without having to make herself heard to her own coach. Enough already.
So after the U.S. Open last year, Safina decided it was time to be heard - by somebody else. She parted with the Dutchman Glen Schaap, started working with Steffi Graf's old coach Heinz Gunthardt and also developed a working relationship with retired Croatian pro Zelko Krajan. It didn't hurt, too, that she took on another Croatian, Dejan Vojnovic, as her fitness trainer.
Krajan is now full-time, and Safina is now full-bore. She's the hottest, most consistent player on tour, No. 7 in the world and rising. She wasted little time in beating Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 6-3, yesterday to advance to the third round of the U.S. Open.
Tennis is a team game, and we aren't talking doubles or World Team Tennis or Davis Cup or any of that. We're talking a player, a coach and that small assembly of trainers/nutritionists/best friends that provide stability to an athlete who performs alone. Justine Henin, who retired after losing to Safina in Berlin in May, credited coach Carlos Rodriguez with giving her much more than tips on technique and strategy. He provided a father figure for her when she was estranged from her family and husband. She always said she couldn't be No. 1 without his support.
Now Safina is getting that support, without argument.
"I was working with the Dutch guy almost two years. Just at the end we just stop listening to each other," Safina said. "He would not accept what I would say. He didn't want to hear my opinions. It's tough, you know, when a coach doesn't want to hear a player's opinion, even if I am wrong, but at least he can talk, he can listen then we can discuss."
That wasn't happening, and it was getting ugly.
"I have enough stress on the court playing a match and if I go practice and I'm still fighting with my coach, I don't need this," she said. "So I took a decision, like, OK, I better try with somebody else who would listen a little bit more to me."
And these are the results. Safina, 22, has been a dominating player from the spring right up to now. She's reached the final of six of her last seven events and won three of them. She ran off 15 straight match victories by taking the titles at Los Angeles and Montreal before losing to Elena Dementieva in the final of the Olympics. She reached her first major final at Roland Garros, losing to Ana Ivanovic. But her march there was impressive and indicative of both a new focus and piece of mind. In matches against Maria Sharapova and Dementieva she rallied from a set and 5-2 down, facing match point, to win.
Her older brother Marat, the Open champion in 2002, has touted her potential for years, often saying that she just needed to grow up, something he admits freely he's had difficulty with.
Sure, she's talked with her brother a lot, he's given advice, but they are siblings. "I would say more my tennis coach had to spend time with me, because I think my brother would not have so much patience," she said. "Because I mean, I would never imagine that one tennis coach would have so much patience for me that I would scream, cry, whatever, and he would say, 'OK, let's go.'"