Ana Konjuh: I so want to meet Federer, but not before I make a name for myself
We remained completely zipped up. And they didn't hold it against us. Eventhouth Zagreb hasn't yet seen snow this year, it's not exactly pleasant to stay around the National tennis center. Not if you only watch and stand still.
- This is great, no snow, temperatures aren't below freezing so we're celebrating every day - cheerfully will say Ana, soon to be a 17 year-old, a great talent of Croatian tennis.
- The only problem is to warm up at 7 AM after crawling out of warm bed. That's the hardest thing, the worst, but the body gets used to the cold here quickly so I don't even pay attention to it anymore.
While many are spending their days in some warmer places at the moment, Ana finds all this "just great".
- My school is here, my coaches, family, I like being here, it's where I'm at home. I, for example, admire Donna Vekic, who is practicing in Florida right now, but she left for London at an early age, now headed off to the States...Kudos to her for being able to handle all that. But I love Zagreb. I moved here from Dubrovnik at the age of 10 and Zagreb is my Florida. Yes, conditions are not ideal, many can't believe where I practice, but once you get used to it, it becomes a part of you. You even learn to like this tent balloon - she said through laughter.
- And that's not bad at all, after all this you're OK with everything. You come to big events and enjoy while you can.
We barged in in the middle of practice. Coach Kristijan Schneider, who's been with Ana for 7 years now, was pumped. Ready to win.
- I'm flying around the court. It's my day today - he continued tirelessly, getting on Ana's nerves.
- Luckily, you shot this one out.
Who is usually better?
- Depends, but I'm closing in on him. When he's in form like now, with his serve, he wins. Have to admit he is better now, but soon he'll have to start looking for some sparing partners for me - once again she said laughingly.
- Sometimes I play with the boys, juniors.
And demolishes them.
- Well, let's say that - she'll say reluctantly.
When there are no juniors, then the coach is there. Along with almost 3 hours of tough tennis session, but tennis in which they both enjoy.
- We get along great, I hope we'll stay together for a long time still. We get on eachothers cases when we play, fool around, like it should be, otherwise it'd be boring.
And when Maca Maradona, Center's employee for over 20 years, has her day...
- She's my biggest cheerleader.
Once the match gets tight, like this one that we watched, Maca is the one cheering for Ana, full force. Some other come as well, those who want to see how Ana is developing, applause at good shots, give her some praise...It's sort of a homey atmosphere. Mom and sister were waiting patiently until she finshes her job and then head with them home for some rest. There's still fitness practice to do in the afternoon.
- There's a 4-week practice cycle behind me, I think we did everything great. Alongside tennis coach Kristijan, there's also fitness coach Slaven Hrvoj who works with Cilic and Karlovic as well...And it's good that you didn't come on Friday.
What's happening Fridays?
- On Fridays I usually puke.
- Literally. I hate Friday. Running, intervals on the track, laps around...
We get it.
- The hardest thing for me is 200 meters, 8 times, two minutes for rest in between. The type of cramping I have afterwards, gets me on my knees. I can't wait for that day to end.
Until they figure out how to run laps on an airplane, Ana will keep her stomach contents intact this Friday. Cause that's when she's heading for New Zealand, to open up the new season. Her first real one on the pro Tour.
- I like it already to be a senior. The hours of practice are getting shorter. When you're young, you practice a good deal more, but once you're a pro and know how to play, it's only important to keep yourself in shape.
The will to work is something she says to have in spades now.
- After AO I had an elbow surgery and couldn't play for 4 months. I matured a bit because of that, but also got more desire for tennis. This desire is what drew me to get back to a normal season as soon as possible.
Does she feel like a senior?
- Yes. I'm inside top 100, I've played on the biggest events, saw how everything functions, I'm slowly getting to know more players, coaches, entering the WTA Tour and I hope to stay here until everyone gets sick of me.
What has this top 100 changed for you? Besides finances, obviously...
- It's all different compared to juniors. Everyone is so serious, professional, there's no more fooling around the court, there's no situations of someone gifting you a win because they don't feel like playing. You're dying for every point.
Does she have some new friends?
- I've met many great names, but I wouldn't call them friends.
She also met a girl because of whom she got her nickname, "baby Serena". Serena Williams.
- A manager introduced us. I was very excited, cause it's Serena after all! She told me she's looking forward to be seeing me on Tour. Looking from one angle it's a burden to justify this nickname, but on the other hand I'm flattered when someone says I'm baby Serena, to be compared to such greatness. There's no one better than her, and I don't think there will be. She and Sharapova will be at the top once more next season.
There's one big name which she'd like to get to know.
- Federer - she said all endeared.
- I already had a chance to meet him, but I didn't want to.
- I don't want to meet him and be one of the fans. I'd love to meet him some day when it'll be enough for me to offer a handshake and just say "I'm Ana Konjuh" and that he knows who I am. First I want to do something on the Tour and then offer a handshake. He's a legend of tennis, I don't think there'll be someone like him. Possibly ever.
What is she missing to start the hunt after the world's best?
- I think it's experience. Of course, I need to keep working on everything, but at the same time, on nothing in particular. Psychologically I'm stable, elbow surgery is out of my mind, I'm not pacing myself, I'm finally healthy and tennis-wise things can always be better. I didn't have to change anything about my technique after the surgery, nothing in my shots, and that's huge. In terms of next season there wasn't a focus on anything in particular, we did everything at the same rate. I could maybe point out fitness, I think I'm really ready. Cause movement is paramount, in today's tennis fitness takes presedence over technique, cause everybody knows how to play, but those who are more physically prepared are those who win.
Ana will spend Christmas in her native Dubrovnik, and on Friday she is taking a plane.
- I'll celebrate my birthday on an airplane.
She'll turn 17 on December 27th.
- We'll be celebrating mid-air, but it's an essential part of tennis. You get used to it.
After getting used to conditions the first tournament awaits on January 5th.
- Hope it'll be better than last year's second round. Then a week for practice and Anstralia. I love Australia, people there are so nice.
But there is still one Grand Slam that she likes more.
- Wimbledon. I love playing on grass above all else, it suits me the most. Although, I don't mind other surfaces either.
For the coming season, she's got only one wish.
- To stay healthy.
OK, there's one other.
- To get to play a full season. If I play well, results will come. I'd like to climb slowly up the rankings, to avoid slumping suddenly, but if I make a bigger jump, I won't mind. There's a few of us now, young guns from Croatia, who are doing good, Borna, Donna, there are some others. I think we have a bright future.