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Getting To Know... Jarmila Gajdosova
BRISBANE, Australia - Upon traveling to the Australian Open as a 14-year-old junior, Bratislava-born Jarmila Gajdosova fell in love with the place - and, later, a young Australian player called Sam Groth. Destiny was set: the young Slovak would forge a new life on the far side of the world.
Indeed, so clear did Gajdosova's commitment to the land Down Under become that in 2007 she was awarded a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport; technically she still represents Slovakia but the 21-year-old is casually referred to as an Australian by local media, and fans have also embraced her as one of their own. In any case, a citizenship application is with immigration authorities, and as soon as the upcoming Australian Open is over, the current world No.98 and Groth will tie the knot. The dream of playing Fed Cup for her adopted nation could soon be a reality.
That's good news for both player and country. Ranked as high as No.64 in 2006, when she reached the third round of the US Open, Gajdosova has struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons. But since last year's US Open she has enjoyed renewed success, especially on the ITF Circuit where she collected four singles titles in 2008. She also registered her best Sony Ericsson WTA Tour result at the Japan Open, beating Shahar Peer before falling to eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki in the semis.
We caught up with Gajdosova at the Brisbane International, where she upset China's Peng Shuai in the first round - her 29th win in 33 matches - and gave No.2 seed Victoria Azarenka all sorts of trouble before falling 76(4) 75.
First things first: Have you ever been camping in the bush?
JG: No, I think I would be too scared! All those snakes and other creatures...
Speaking of which, if you could have an Australian native animal as a pet, what would you choose?
JG: A koala... no, a kangaroo! I saw one from a car once. I wish I could jump high like that.
Do you have a favorite piece of Aussie slang?
JG: You wouldn't be able to publish it on the website! So I'll say dunny (toilet). It's really rude but I love that word.
What do you miss about Slovakia?
JG: Our food - it's great, you should try it! It's very fattening though; I don't think our fitness trainers would be very happy about it. And of course I miss my parents (who are both engineers) and my brother Jan (a former pro skier). I've taken Sam to meet them though.
What do you consider your best assets as a player?
JG: Normally my serve, although I didn’t serve that well against Azarenka today. And I've had a good backhand since I was a kid. But slowly my forehand is coming better. It's hard to say though... things change over time; you improve in one area and try to keep mixing things up.
If you could acquire a shot from another player, what would you choose?
JG: I'd take the second serve of my fiancé, it's an awesome kicker. And I'd like Dominika Cibulkova's footwork - she's really fast.
What has been your best Tour win to date?
JG: In terms of rankings and experience, I would have to say Katarina Srebotnik, and I beat Ai Sugiyama in Sydney last year.
You have just given a Top 15 player a very tough work-out; does that kind of match make you reassess your goals, think maybe you should revise your expectations?
JG: Not really. If I'd won that match I would have got 70 points and maybe moved up 10 places in the rankings, but there's not really that much difference between being No. 90 or 80. It's when you're up where Victoria is that 10 places makes a big difference.
If I am able to keep practicing I will keep improving and one day I'll get where she is, if I'm lucky. For the past two years I was injured a lot, I'd practice for a week and want to play a tournament and then something would happen. It was really on and off. So I really just want to stay healthy and keep playing week to week and get more matches, and see where it takes me.
Your coach has adopted an interesting training technique...
JG: Yes - if I hit drop shots during a match my coach (Chris Johnston) makes me do sit-ups afterwards as 'punishment'... 50 sit-ups for each one. Since I was a kid it was my favorite shot to hit, but I would do it at inappropriate times like second serve returns on match point down. So when he saw me do it the first time he said, 'Nup, you've gotta do sit-ups for that'. He makes me do it even if I win the point so now my first reaction when I hit a drop shot is to say sorry! But he's actually really nice. At least he doesn't make me do it for double faults.
If you could play a player from the past, who would you choose?
JG: Monica Seles. She was really good when I was growing up, and I liked the way she played. Even though I couldn't hit a double-handed forehand, when I started as a kid I imagined that that was the style of play I would like to try to play.
Do you have a favorite tournament?
JG: I used to love playing the Gold Coast event. And of course, the Australian Open - anything at home, really.
Tell us about your wedding plans.
JG: We're getting married in Albury (a town on the border of New South Wales and Victoria), where Sam is from. He's a country boy. My parents can't come because they are scared of flying, but they said they will make us a second wedding in Europe some time around Wimbledon.