Newmark posted a wonderful and important interview of Ruzici from 2014.
This was originally posted at:
Born 31 January 1955 in Câmpia Turzii, Transylvania
Married Jörg Mulder circa 1987
Active circa 1970-86. Virginia Ruzici arguably had the best year of her tennis career in 1978 when, at the French Open, she won both the women’s singles title and, with the Yugoslav (Slovenian) player Mima Jaušovec, the women’s doubles title. For good measure Virginia and her French mixed doubles partner, Patrice Dominguez, also reached the final of that particular event at Roland Garros in 1978.
Earlier in the same season of 1978 Virginia had been runner-up in the women’s singles events at both the German and Italian Championships, where she and Mima Jaušovec took the women’s doubles title. The Ruzici- Jaušovec pairing continued their successful run in the summer of 1978 on into the Wimbledon final where, after squandering two match points in a second set tiebreak, they were defeated by the Australian duo Kerry Reid and Wendy Turnbull.
Virginia Ruzici’s best surface was clay – she reached more than two thirds of her 27 career singles finals on it. But she also enjoyed a certain amount of success on hard (cement) courts, notably reaching the women’s singles final at the Canadian Open Championships on cement in the summer of 1980. In that particular final she was beaten by her Nemesis, Chris Evert, who beat Virginia Ruzici all 22 of the times they met in singles. But Virginia was capable of beating, and did indeed beat, most of the other top players at least once during her long and impressive career.
Nowadays Virginia Ruzici is a commentator for the Eurosport channel and the manager of fellow Romanian player Simona Halep who, as of March 2018, is ranked number one in the world in singles on the WTA computer. Virginia Ruzici reached a career high singles ranking of number 8 in 1983. Together with her German husband Jörg, she has lived mainly in France since the mid-1980s. They have one daughter, Caroline.
The following link leads to a wikipedia page on Virginia Ruzici in English, which includes a list of the open singles, doubles and mixed doubles finals she reached during her career, and the results of those finals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Ruzici
In May 2014, during a rain delay at the FedCup match between Romania and Serbia in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, Virginia Ruzici was interviewed in depth about her life and tennis career by a journalist from the newspaper Adevărul (‘The Truth’). An English translation of the complete interview is provided below.
10 May 2014
An interview with the former tennis player Virginia Ruzici. “I had a chance to win Roland Garros because Chris Evert wasn’t taking part.”
Carmen Constantin, for Adevărul
Modestly, Virginia Ruzici says that her big victory at Roland Garros in 1978 can be put down to favourable circumstances. She hopes that her exploit will soon be repeated by Simona Halep.
Beautiful and elegant, that is how I found Virginia Ruzici on a rainy Saturday when the Fed Cup match between Simona Halep and Bojana Jovanovski on the centre court at the Arenele BNR in Bucharest had just been interrupted by the weather. A fortunate interruption for this journalist, who thus had the chance for a nice chat and to recall some of the key moments in the career of the only Romanian woman to have ever won a Grand Slam singles title.
“Weekend Adevărul”: You spent your childhood in Câmpia Turzii, a small town in Transylvania, where you also took your first tennis lessons. How did that happen?
: Tennis chose me, not the other way around. Let me explain to you how. I liked football because my father used to play football. And I was quite sporty, probably because I had inherited some of his physical qualities. I used to play a lot of football with the boys on the street. Dad used to play on the local team in Câmpia Turzii, then he played for Rapid [FC Rapid Bucharest]. My parents had moved to this small town [Câmpia Turzii] a few years earlier, I grew up there and I lived there until I was 10 years old. When I was around eight-and-a-half we were playing football in the street when a man, who was passing by, tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Hey, you, would you like to come and play tennis?” Of all the children who were there he said that just to me. There were two tennis courts next to our house. None of us had ever gone there to play tennis, we had never intended to, but I was willing to play any sport because I had a lot of energy and I needed to use it up. So I said to the man: “Of course, why not?” And he replied: “Good, come to the courts tomorrow morning at nine o’clock.” That’s how my adventure began. The second day I went to the courts I was given a broken racket, wooden, so I could hit balls against a wall. That man, whose name was Vaida, was also the coach at that small club in Câmpia Turzii, and later invited me to train there. It was summertime, I was on holiday, so I played tennis there for three months. A short time later we moved to Bucharest, but I didn’t continue playing tennis there.
I didn’t immediately think of going off to play tennis. And the idea of my playing competitive sport wasn’t fixed in my head or in my parents’ heads. Instead my parents had sporting friends, including a diving coach, who said to my mother: “Bring her to me, I’ll make a champion of her!” However, in spite of all my efforts, even today I can’t jump into water head first. I had no talent for that sport whatsoever! And when mum saw me struggling with water in my eyes and so on, she said to me, “Don’t you want to do something else?” I immediately replied, “Yeeesssss!” It was her idea that I try tennis again.
Because you had liked it the first time?
Because she was of the opinion that I needed to use up my energy. I had a desire to run, to be active. Mum looked for a club close to our house, but the closest one was Dinamo. So I went to Dinamo, where Mr Aurel Segărceanu was the coach. That’s how I met Mr Segărceanu one day, with mum holding my hand. Mr Segărceanu started by having me hit balls against a wall...
That was how it was in those days, isn’t that so? There was no coaching on the court, as there is today.
Yes, that’s how it was back then. It was completely different. Today no one hits balls against a wall. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not… I did that exercise. I remember the training periods when I was somewhere in the mountains with the team, and I would hit balls against the walls of some houses when I didn’t have a tennis court to use. Even when I was at home, sometimes, when I was bored, I’d hit balls against the walls of the house. Of course, those were different times and different methods. But to return to Mr Segărceanu, he told my mum to bring me for tennis lessons because she wanted me to be a champion. And so did he. And that’s how, two years later, I became a champion, at the age of 12. And from then onwards things started to go really fast.
How was it with school during all that time? How did you manage with the coaching and the studying?
At that time it was possible to continue school in parallel with tennis, much more so than is the case today. My mother (I talk a lot about her because she had a huge influence on me) passed on to me the ambition to be first in everything. And the competitive spirit too. I always had to bring the top grades home from school. She was demanding, but I was receptive. And I would even say that in the first ten years of school I was always one of the best pupils in my class. In other words, as long as tennis didn’t take up too much of my time, and I wasn’t spending too much time away from home, I was able to keep my grades high enough at school. After I turned 17 that became more difficult. I started to travel, to go to tournaments, to train more and more. I remember the first time I played the circuit on the French Riviera. I was away for a month and took my school books with me, and tried to study because exams were coming up. But it was very difficult. Later on I went to university – I spent four years at the Institute for Physical Education, on and off, obviously. I struggled there because when you’re at a tournament it’s very difficult to concentrate on something else. But I tried. And, of course, I was helped by all of the professors. I had already become quite a good player on the circuit…
You wanted to be one of the top players…
Even number one, if possible…
What were the subjects you particularly liked to study?
It might surprise you, but I wasn’t that fond of literature and poetry. I don’t have a particularly poetic sensibility, unfortunately (smiles). But mum used to read me a lot of poetry when I was young. I was much more attracted to mathematics and foreign languages. I studied English and German. I had chosen German, but not French (laughs), unfortunately for me, because I had a much greater need for French and I had to learn it later on. But now, although I have a German husband, we don’t speak German to each other. So I was much more attracted to foreign languages, and less to studying literature. But during tournaments, I must tell you, I really liked to read a lot, particularly because I was discovering books. I wouldn’t dare say the classics – I read them much later on – after I had ended my career. But I tried to teach myself a bit of culture. I was an autodidact. I felt the lack of learning, especially during my final year at the lycée [secondary school], but also at university. I wasn’t able to do much from that point of view because of the tennis.
What about the books that children of your generation loved to read – Dumas, Jules Verne?
Oh, I loved them! I also loved Agatha Christie’s whodunits. And before I read each book I used to try to find out who the killer was.
Speaking of your inclination for foreign languages, have you learned languages other than English and German since that time? I saw you giving an interview in Italian…
Italian is a language I didn’t study when I was younger, but during a period when I had more free time I decided to take some courses in Italian at a school in Paris. I attended that school for six months, once or twice a week, for my own personal ambition. But Italian is certainly not my best language.
What was an ordinary day’s routine like when you were at school?
If you remember, in secondary school we used to finish at midday or at one o’clock in the afternoon. But it was very difficult in winter because there was only one playing area at the Dinamo sports club, and not necessarily for tennis, where all of the athletes went and where volleyball, basketball and so on were played. And there were lines for all types of courts, there was one single wooden area and we were allocated specific times to practice there. Sometimes I had to get up at five o’clock in the morning. The training took place between six and seven in the morning, then I went off to school. We only trained two or three hours per week, and in winter for maybe an hour or an hour and a half, whatever was possible.
During that time, you made friendships that have endured.
Yes, of course! I grew up together with Mariana Simionescu and Florenţa Mihai – the three of us were at Dinamo, and all three of us were coached by Mr Segărceanu. We also had a common career path for a while. We travelled to junior tournaments, initially in socialist countries. We went in teams of two girls and two boys. That was how I first travelled to Czechoslovakia, East Germany…
Do you remember the first such trip?
The first one was, I think, to Bulgaria. After that I went to East Germany, then to Prague, from the age of 16 to about the age of 18 or 19. That’s when we started opening up to the West for the first time. But my first trip to the USA came a little late, at the age of 19.
A bit late?
Yes. In fact, very late because it’s important to get to know the best players of your generation at international level. In my case, it was very important that I later play against Chris Evert, who was from the same generation as me, and who, in my eyes, was a legend because I had only seen her on television. I only played her after I had turned 20. I had too much respect for her. And that’s why I believe that I never beat her – I had way too much respect for her. I played Martina Navratilova more often. I remember a final I played against her in Kiev, which I lost 13-11 in the third set (laughs). I’ll never forget that match. Like me, Navratilova was part of a team from a socialist country, so we played each other more often.
In that context, was the entrance exam to secondary school difficult?
It didn’t seem difficult to me. I remember that my parents made an effort to help me with particular lessons, especially maths, and I passed with flying colours. After that, afer class ten at Secondary School No. 24 [la Liceul nr. 24], which was located beside the Floreasca Sports Club, small problems began to occur. It was a school where certain subjects were taught, including maths, physics and chemistry. But I didn’t like chemistry at all. I couldn’t stand it, it was very difficult for me to understand, and I didn’t make an effort to either (laughs).
Did the baccalaureate prove to be harder?
Noooo! In France, the baccalaureate is an extremely difficult exam. Like the exam for entrance to a good university here in Romania. No, in Romania the baccalaureate was an exam with teachers who closed their eyes and let us do what we wanted to do (laughs out loud). That’s how it looked to us. By comparison, the university entrance exam was very difficult.
Did you ever travel to the same tournament with Ilie Năstase?
I played at Roland Garros when he was playing there. He was more at the end of his career, while I was more at the beginning of mine. In 1977-78, the men’s and women’s circuits split apart. Especially the circuit in the USA. In the USA the “Colgate” circuit was created for the girls; it was named after the main sponsor. It lasted four months or so a year. Everything, excluding the big Grand Slam tournaments, used to happen in the USA. Today there are so many more possibilities! There are even three tournaments being held at the same time – you can choose where to go. One of them takes place in Asia, another in the USA and the third one in Europe. The opportunity to choose is extraordinary!
The final you won at Roland Garros…
That was, of course, the biggest success of my career! It was my goal to win that tournament.
And as of today you are still the only Romanian woman to have brought off such a performance.
For now, but I sincerely hope that a female player from Romania will emulate me. Simona Halep has started to do so. She hasn’t won Roland Garros yet, but I hope she will at some point in the future.
How was it for you?
I got lucky. Chris Evert didn’t take part! Neither she nor Martina Navratilova did. They did in 1980, when I lost in the final, against Chris Evert. People usually only remember a victory, but I managed to win by playing better than I had ever played before. I said to myself: “Okay, Chris Evert (who beat me 22 times out of 22 during my career) isn’t playing.” As I’ve already told you, I had too much respect for her and she dominated me mentally on the court. I came close to beating her a few times, but she was always stronger. In short, that final was a great achievement for me. What counts is winning and seeing your name inscribed there on the walls of the centre court at Roland Garros. “Virginia Ruzici, winner in 1978,” is written there. And beside my name is that of Björn Borg. It’s something I’m very proud of. The day after my win, when I walked by there, I was in a totally euphoric mood. I haven’t experienced anything similar since then.
Were the prizes big back then?
No! In total, because I also won the women’s doubles, with the Slovenian Mima Jaušovec, the player I beat in the singles final, and I also reached the mixed doubles final with the French player Patrice Dominguez. So, in total, I won 20,000 dollars.
That’s nothing compared to the prize money nowadays.
Nothing, really, that’s true. With the money I won I threw a party and I invited a few friends to a restaurant. I can’t remember what I did with the rest. I probably kept it, saved it.
At Wimbledon a few weeks later [June 1978], in your match against the Australian Evonne Cawley, a strange incident took place, following which you were praised for your sporting nature, but you lost that quarter-final match. How do you remember that incident?
That incident really had an effect on me. Because it happened right after I had won Roland Garros, and before then I had never won more than one singles match at Wimbledon, grass not in any sense being a surface I could easily adapt my game to. What’s more, at that time the grass was much faster than it is nowadays. I would like very much to have played on the grass they have nowadays… But anyway it was much faster in those days. The ball bounced very, very low and it was much more difficult to adapt yourself to the surface, particularly because you were coming off the clay. However, I made it to the quarter-finals because of the good run I was having after Roland Garros. I had complete confidence in my game.
Had you prepared for Wimbledon in a special way?
I practised for about a week before Wimbledon, with Ion Ţiriac, who was my manager, and with Guillermo Vilas, who he was also looking after at that time. We trained in a place close to London, where we had rented a court. So I had that preparation, plus the self-confidence… and I reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the first time, where I faced Evonne Cawley. I led 5-2, 30-0, and was playing very well. Everything was coming off, I was incredibly inspired. I was taking the ball early and was very confident. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a scream and saw Evonne walking towards her chair, beside the umpire, where she sat down with a pain in her leg. She had a problem with a tendon. In those days the fans were separated from the court only by wire netting. They had easy access to the court. There were no security guards, no kind of guards whatsoever, nothing like that. So Evonne’s husband came onto the court and gave her an injection. That’s not allowed, of course, but the whole thing took place so quickly I didn’t even realize that it had happened!
However, I well remember my disappointment, and how I said to myself: “Oh, she’s injured. That’s why I’m leading 5-2!” A big mistake on my part, of course. Instead of remaining positive, and of waiting to see what happened, I became negative and put too much pressure on myself. In any case, the umpire asked me if I wanted to continue the match or not. But for me it was impossible to win a match in that way, because her husband had broken the rules, and she should have been defaulted. So I said: “Of course I’ll continue the match!” And I did continue, but from that moment on I didn’t win another game in the first set. I was very upset and I lost my concentration. I lost that set 7-5. After that I refocused and led 3-0 in the second set before Evonne began to play perfect tennis, probably because she was no longer feeling any pain and the injection was taking effect. That’s how she was able to come back and win the match in two sets.
Yes. And do you know what happened? That match was played on a court near centre court, and there was a view of it from the women’s locker room. Martina Navratilova, who was due to play the winner, followed the match from the locker room. And the following day, when she was playing Evonne, the same thing happened, but on a much bigger court [centre court], to which Evonne’s husband couldn’t gain access. And in those days you weren’t able to call a doctor to examine you, the rules didn’t even allow you to have a 10-minute break. Things weren’t organised as well as they are nowadays. Everything was much more amateur. So Evonne had the same problem, but Navratilova stayed sharp and concentrated, and won the match, albeit in three sets. I regret very much that I didn’t remain the same way because I would have had the chance to play in the singles semi-finals at Wimbledon. Instead I reached the women’s doubles final that year [with Mima Jaušovec], where we had two match points before losing. So, you see, I wasn’t very lucky that year at Wimbledon because I also lost that doubles match!
Have you read Andre Agassi’s book “Open”?
I have read it, but I rarely read other tennis players’ books, because I think that there are more interesting books to read.
How did you find it?
It’s a well-written book, of course. It caught my attention, but it upset me that he didn’t give tennis much credit, and that he stressed how much he hated the sport. That attitude shocked me somewhat because tennis brought him so many good things, even if it was hard. I understand he was coached from the age of four by his father, so he probably didn’t have a normal childhood, and maybe that’s why he has that attitude. I had a normal childhood and I enjoyed the sport. Different generations, different times. The work was much harder, more intense, even for the children. Another American player, Tracy Austin, who reached number one in the world, started at the age of four, so very early. But the training with children from the age of seven or eight, especially in America, is very, very hard. That’s why some of them don’t enjoy it! For us in Romania, and I’m referring to all of us – Mariana Simionescu, Florenţa Mihai, and the boys – it was always enjoyable. We all trained at Dinamo and we spent the whole day there. We played a bit of tennis, then we played hide-and-seek. We also had contact with the children who played other sports. A real social life was part of the club. That’s no longer the case today. Everything is very hard and professional from a very early age.
According to the legend, a final you played in Salt Lake City [in September 1980] inspired the success of the Williams sisters. Is that true?
It is true! I met their father, Richard Williams, who I thanked for making me famous (laughs). If I remember correctly, I met him at Wimbledon the first year that Venus Williams won the tournament , beating Steffi Graf [Lindsay Davenport] in the final. And I had the chance to meet Venus, too, who was with her father. That story is extraordinary and I feel flattered. I’ll tell you why. When I played the final in Salt Lake City, the top players were Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. It’s true that I was a champion, a good player for five years during which I was always one of the top ten players in the world, with a record of which I’m proud. I was much more flattered to learn that Richard Williams was so impressed by my victory in Salt Lake City. I hope he was also inspired by my playing style, because it was quite spectacular, quite aggressive. I was very surprised when I learned that, together with his wife, he decided to have two more children, just so that he could make them into tennis players. Here is the impressive part of the story: he decided to create two children, two people, two girls, both of whom became number one in the world!
You left Romania in 1984. Was it painful for you to decide to stay in France?
I have to be honest and say no. The situation in Romania had become very serious, I was feeling a lot more stress, it had become difficult to go to tournaments, I didn’t know whether I was going to get a visa or my passport in time, or if I’d be able to leave. However, my biggest wish was to play tennis competitively and to win tournaments. So after that period, during which I suffered, I bought a home in Monte Carlo. But let’s be clear: I didn’t request political asylum. For a while I wasn’t able to come back here, but I always played for Romania.
You’ve been working with Simona Halep for some time. What does that actually involve?
I’ve been working with Simona for six years, since I saw her winning the junior event at Roland Garros [in 2008]. She impressed me, I saw something unusual in her. We decided to work together, and since then I’ve been her manager. It’s my job to look after her interests, to look for sponsors for her, to create the best conditions for her so that she can relax and fulfil her potential, to look for a coach or physical trainer for her when she needs one. Anything I can tell her or advise her, bringing my past experience into play, anything that could be of use to her – I’m here to give her that. She is very organised, has her own team, has a personal trainer, a Belgian we found together. I’m the one who advises, but she’s the one who decides.
How far do you see Simona going this year? Could she win Roland Garros?
A lot of things can happen before then, but I can say that at the present time, regarding the four or five players ahead of Simona in the rankings, none of them are safe. If Simona is well-prepared, if things go well at the big tournaments before Roland Garros – in Madrid and Rome – and if she goes into Roland Garros with a lot of confidence, anything is possible.
Do you yourself still play tennis?
I still play, but only a couple of hours a week, to maintain a modest level. And I’ve been commenting on the Grand Slam tournaments for Eurosport Romania for a number of years. That’s given me a special pleasure, I feel as if I’m on a stage somewhere, like when I was during my career.