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Helena Sukova's book

Helena Sukova: About Myself (...About Obsession and Mental Attitude) [1998]

[Co-writer Pavel Cirtek]

Contents:
First chapter: A Place of Introduction
Second chapter: A Wimbledon Obsession
Third chapter: From Platinum and Iridium
Fourth chapter: Coach
Fifth chapter: The End of Grandfatherly Tennis
Sixth chapter: Billie Jean
Seventh chapter: Steffi
Eighth chapter: A German Myth
Ninth chapter: Except for Spartakiada [mass gymnastic events celebrating Czechoslovakia's 1945 liberation by the Red Army]
Tenth chapter: Desire For Victory
Eleventh chapter: A Run-Down Tennis Player
Twelfth chapter: Genetics
Thirteenth chapter: ... so that daughter doesn't play
Fourteenth chapter: About Their Coach
Fifteenth chapter: Rarach [? Unsure of the meaning]
Sixteenth chapter: Year After Year
Seventeenth chapter: Other Years After A Year
Nineteenth chapter: Epilogue
Twentieth chapter: Something More

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post #2 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:04 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

First chapter: Place of Introduction
(The chapter, besides other things, deals with the difficulties of a literary introduction, a certain piece of radio news, a women's shop on a Pilsen arterial road, quotes a prematurely wise child, yields a brief digression to a dramatic theory, then quotes Martina Navratilova and finally brings a request for forgiveness).

This book doesn't have an introduction. The first chapter starts immediately. It's not that the author may have been lazy and refused to write an introduction. On the contrary, I think that a very good introduction was actually written down until, in the end, it embarrassingly wound up in the garbage. I'll explain that in a moment.
----It was, if I'm not mistaken, the 12th of June in 1998 on the highway a little outside Pilsen. I was returning from Marianske Lazne, where I had started to write this book about Helena Sukova.
----I'm not sure whether it was merely as a result of some beneficial spa treatment or the sunny climate that springtime. In any case, I had a mood that said "Laugh" which contributed and actually, on the seat next to me rested in plastic wrap a disk with the first page of the birth of the opus. The thing is that I had the feeling that I had already gone through the worst that the manuscript related. It was, in fact, the introduction.
----The majority of authors confirm to you that introductions belong to the worst labor of writing. Quite a few kind readers actually expect that in the introduction they will get at least such-and-such promises for the ensuing reading experience so they can justify the amount of time spent buying the book and securely stave off remorse that they spent money on rubbish. Poor is the author, then, who tries to fabricate an appropriate amount of promises in spite of a terrible premonition that he must keep them.
-----I wouldn't wish this labor on anyone, so I decided to bypass it without promises and jump directly, as they say in medias res, right away to the center of things. In the end, though, I said why jump to the center when I can jump straight to the very end, right to the moment when, as foolishly supposed in this minute, the singles career of Helena Sukova in major tennis finished. For, as she had already claimed to me a few weeks previously, in singles she had already played in the Australian Open, where she fell in the first round. Last tournament, last match, last set, last game and last ball and adieu.
----As I say, this morning on the highway outside Pilsen the introduction was already prepared and the words began:
The decision of Helena Sukova to stop playing singles, and thus, in effect, big-time tennis, came down the 22nd of January, 1998 shortly after noon at the Australian Open tournament in Melbourne. In the match, which began with an utterly masterful start for Sukova in the first set, she went down a break in the middle of the second set. The final result was defeat, and thus ended her presence in the tournament.
"In a short while, when I was in a place of congratulating my opponent, I knew that I was ending [my career]. I don't have the motivation anymore nor the energy to continue. I've lost my appetite, I've lost the resolve to train. The idea that I would slave away further only to repeat disappointment from defeat was simply unacceptable. The end, enough. As long as I stimulate myself into training for doubles, fine, there I can still play, but in singles I'm saying goodbye for good."
----In such a way, then, this introduction started and continued on a somewhat nostalgic contemplation of the fatal destiny of top-level tennis players since every one of them sooner or later waits for the last tournament, last match, last set, last game and last ball...
----Yeah, it was rather sentimental, but I said why not move the reader right to the start? In any event, the introduction was finished in this spirit, and at that point in time on the highway outside Pilsen I was glad that I had it with me.
----And in this good mood I turned on the radio, where surely some kind of tirade would start about the upcoming war and it would continue with sports coverage, when I couldn't believe my ears and in no time I already knew that this whole introduction was collapsing like a house of cards, that everything had changed, simply that I could shove this masterful writing into my hat.
----Some unpleasant and annoying voice from the receiver claimed that Helena Sukova had announced her participation in the doubles tournament at Wimbledon. With that fall, her Melbourne decision and my introduction became all at once passé.
----For God's sake, maybe she went crazy, was the first thing that crossed my mind, because when I parted with her before leaving Marianske Lazne, it was with the conviction that I had something to do with a tennis player whose singles career she deadly seriously thought was over.
----At the first forest turn-off before Pilsen, I stopped. I dialed her mobile phone number.
----"Sukova," could be heard on the phone and I, in that moment, with the feeling that she would make me a fool, yelled, "Mrs. Sukova, am I dreaming or awake? Do you really mean it?"
----At once she knew what I was thinking of, and with the nonchalance of a person who obviously never worried about a literary introduction said, "Yes, clearly."
----"What do you mean 'clearly'? I have an introduction written that's done, ended, finished. Are you aware that I might as well throw it away?"
----"So throw it away," I hear over the phone, and there is the impression given that the young lady is enjoying herself.
----I think that I am rather angry. He who knows Helena Sukova and her peculiar sense of humor certainly understands me because at that time I was making faces. She makes faces in a really outrageous manner, and it can cause someone to lose his composure. One of her former coaches wrote the words that "she stared in a way that it seemed like I was a moron." At that moment I completely understood the feeling of a man who definitely does not seem to suffer from a complex, and yet feels that he does. She stares at him, fooling around with his composure.
----"Wait," I continued on in that conversation, "you want to say that you simply got up the day before yesterday, the weather was nice, and it occurred to you that it would be good to win Wimbledon..."
----"No, I've been preparing for two months."
----"Just a sec. You already started training two months ago?"
----"I'm telling you that."
----I think that I had the intention to write for her the feelings of an author who tears up lifelong work for someone, but I thought it over. For one thing, it was because I would be immediately accused of exaggerating, and another thing, someone started tapping on my window. In the end, I humbly wished her good luck, and I think that I even threw in some remark about breaking a vase...
----I knew that for a good new introduction she had still failed to answer the question what would come next, no matter the impact of the Wimbledon comeback. The answer that had started, though, waited because in the event that another crushing defeat came about, like the one which was initially reported, then it would be the definitive end of singles. Her slump and the unhappy introduction would have hope in a resurrection because it would then be enough to write the date and place of the retirement decision.
----Except that with Helena Sukova you can't ever be certain which surprise she is preparing, which is namely an element of her suspenseful manner. Nevertheless, extremely dangerous for any other introduction, which should start by writing about her definitive decision to end her singles career.
----I turned off my phone and sat a little while longer like a fool. Parading before my eyes, television pictures showed the duchess of Kent greeting Helena Sukova, the president of the country sending a congratulatory telegram, a crowd of people welcoming Sukova at the airport... when I finally started to perceive who was trying to break in. She had a white, almost tennis-like miniskirt, lips the color of clay, eyes like a tennis player and said: "What about a little sex, honey?"
----My rather hysterical laughter deftly convinced her that I evidently wouldn't be a client who, here on the arterial road to Pilsen, was looking for fun.
----During the stop at the first Pilsen traffic light, I came to realize that now I would wait for a new introduction until the end of June, when Helena Sukova started playing on Wimbledon's courts. I also found at least the positive fact that if my publisher was going to berate me for procrastinating with handing in the manuscript, I had a firm argument for defending myself.
----"Why until June?" my publisher asks me.
----"Because I must wait to see how Sukova does at Wimbledon," I answer.
----"I don't understand it, I don't see a reason why you couldn't write a book about Sukova without knowing how she does this year at Wimbledon," commands the publisher.
----"No, really! Wimbledon, it's actually a metaphor, you know, it's a symbol, a theme that the book is about..."
----"I don't understand."
----"Understand, if she actually won Wimbledon..."
----"Then she simply won. You're not writing about one Wimbledon, you're writing... Jesus, as it is in the contract... it doesn't matter! Because of one Wimbledon I'm not canceling the printing!"
----"Just listen, my dear publisher, this Wimbledon, it's more than a yearly tournament or episode. In her life it was the biggest goal, the biggest dream. I believe that if she had already won Wimbledon five years ago, maybe she would have already long since hung up her racquet. Do you understand it yet? It's really about this dream that the whole book is about. If she now gathered up the strength for a magical performance, I could throw away the whole manuscript because it's really about that huge, unfulfilled dream. Do you get it now?"
----As I know my publisher, maybe he would ultimately understand that handing in the manuscript with the new ending would, after all, be even more. Nevertheless, what I said about Wimbledon and the role it has played in Helena Sukova's life holds true one hundred percent.
----This book clearly testifies to much of the life of a first-class tennis player, but it is primarily about one big dream which, all right, forgive me for a wicked cliche, is going through like a red thread [Czech for "which is always present"] not only of a sports career, but really the whole life of a sportswoman who long ago, like a prematurely wise child, says to her grandmother, "Grammy, I will one day win Wimbledon."
----It didn't happen and now, when a definitive decision had been finally made (???) that singles was over, because the last Wimbledon tournament in singles had ended for Helena Sukova in just the first round, and she arrived at boredom by browsing through the pages of her diary and her drawers of memories... in that lies the answer to the question "Why?"
---Such a situation has happened sooner or later to the majority of people. We bang our heads and ask how is it that things turned out as they turned out, why didn't they turn out as we'd hoped, what did we do right or wrong, who is behind that etc., etc.
----Helena Sukova isn't exactly the type who must bang her head, but for all she cares to return to the cause which in one way or other impacted her tennis career, one couldn't say that she stopped being interested in things which were already long ago passé.
---Not that it would be scratching a painful wound. Many world-class athletes have the advantage or disadvantage, as you take it, of being able to trace back every day or week of their lives translated into records of victories or defeats without any problem. Tennis, which has an obsession with statistics, is particularly crafty in this way. In contrast to we normal mortals who escape from many of life's mishaps for no good reason and consider it stupid to write a journal every day, in tennis you have documentation to the level of even set, game, and an individual point. This is something or other atrocious, because it's as if someone kept a detailed school report about us for the purpose of having us, after the summer, bang our heads and berate ourselves, for in this or that second of our being we should have done something else, behaved otherwise, felt otherwise, gone or not gone elsewhere...
----Terrible thoughts.
----Top-flight tennis, as far as I could peer inside its wide avenues and nooks, seemed to me like one big sum of continual opportunities for introspection. Somewhere in the cerebral hemisphere women and men with a racquet- especially during the time they stop succeeding- are subject to incessantly analyzing every stroke, every point, game, set or tournament, until it gets to be every season. In the end, each career finishes with a sit-down with a journalist and tape recorder in search of that which happened and why it happened and how it would have been if it had been different, which is an activity not unlike pointed research or the meaning of history.
----It's as if parts of your life which one way or the other left their mark were cut up by someone like salami, bigger or smaller... the most or least significant episodes and every individual cross section salami slices that would be connected for a tasting, whether the cut off fragments were good or not. It's a wonder that the tennis world isn't overcrowded with madwomen because the mental consistency of normal mortals wouldn't be able to be unaffected by injury. We are, in fact (thank God), largely used to yielding to temptation like that of New Year's Eve around midnight because our coach, official, or journalist doesn't confess to us after every day that passes which errors we made, what we neglected, what we should have done differently...
----The value of a tennis victory, one dreams, lies in knowing that after a win you don't have to answer those types of questions, and in such a way you save up a scattering of pepper for the sore mornings.
----It's true that these returns to memories are more read and more pressing, whose other reason we find is to claim that things should have turned out differently, or rather so that in the end they happened according to our ideas and dreams. Hence, reflections with a time machine and voyages to the past, since in life every one of us for a while would somehow like to change some additional things.
----It won't do. At any rate, not for the time being, as tears over spilt milk are just as foolish as man's level of comprehension. Thus, I don't want to say that the tapes on which I recorded the narration of Helena Sukova were tear-stained. The truth, however, is that much of what was spoken was distinguished by a certain bitterness. In that, this book may be a little bit different from other monographs of successful athletes, among which Helena Sukova undoubtedly belongs.
----The problem is that the size of success for those who concern themselves with it doesn't need to match the general view. What more does that person, by God, want? I would be happy to achieve at least a fraction of what he, let's say, in the eyes of the law rules for somebody else a success.
----"You musn't try to persuade me about that which I've achieved," says Helena Sukova. "After all, I know it well. But I wanted more. I wanted to be first in the world. And I wanted to win Wimbledon."
----It's a curious thing. A person hardly ever meets someone who so openly shows that in his life something or other lingers unfulfilled and doesn't even arouse suspicion that, in spite of an impressive career, he didn't accomplish what he longed for. Such a declaration isn't usual. The smell of failure and a lack of success are not popular. It's remarkable that we can pinpoint without hesitation our fellow man's goal- what we alone can scarcely consider- and then, when our fantasies don't come true, we give up on someone and nonchalantly suggest how it was in order that it was how it was. Champions wash lament over disappointed hopes, words fall out about laziness, betrayal, a lack of will or motivation, about disappointed hopes of fans- a saint be happy he did not get beat [tr. note: a verse from the poem "Romance o Karel IV." where the context is that Czechs are so stubborn that even if all the saints would try to teach them, the Czechs would be lucky not to get beaten].
----The legendary mountain climber George H. Leigh Mallory, who on May 20, 1922 was at a height of 8,225 meters below the peak of Mount Everest after an unsuccessful return, allegedly had to face a similar attack. He responded that he would return to the mountain and find his destiny. Some authors claim that his return to Everest from far away wasn't merely the result of his ambitious obsession. Why not assume the role it played along with experience when he had to answer to inquiring people who, while he froze in the Himalayas by a fire with cigars and cold sores in his mouth, theorized about how to try to get to the top of the world. Mallory returned, that life faced him, but he became a legend even though the triumph which he had within arm's reach didn't take place.
----I know of the only case when someone lost his life on the tennis court: the phenomenal screenwriter Jaroslav Dietl. A man who, despite his physical handicap, grasped a racquet, and his ill heart imposed a bigger task than he could endure. He was found after that and some lamented, "For God's sake, why would someone who had everything that a successful person could have risk his life running on a court?" Jaroslav Dietl apparently was hardly aware of the hazard, but in the first place, people like him have within themselves a colossal motivation to win and it doesn't matter in which field of human endeavors they want to achieve. Although they are aware that they won't become Wimbledon champions, they fight all the same for each point, game, or set because the meaning of their lives is to at least strive for victory. For a good, life-sustaining feeling, it's enough for them to have the knowledge that nothing was given up prematurely, that their battle continued to the last match point.
----The return of Helena Sukova to the Wimbledon lawns in the year 1998 came from an identical life-sustaining feeling since that last match point still wasn't finished. As long as the chance of reversing the story of her struggle for fulfilling a lifelong dream existed, it must be used, because the opposite would mean already living eternally with the regret that an opportunity, a last one, was thrown away.
----I wouldn't say, though, that the musings of this book are about an unsuccessful life, as perhaps it could seem with the appearance that the dream, in a matter of speaking, was never fulfilled. Even when Helena Sukova herself claims that it's like that. Wimbledon was, nevertheless, the phenomenon in her life which had by far the most importance rather than only being one of many tournaments.
----Clearly, Wimbledon by itself is a term that makes itself felt, and its exceptionality is quoted so often that the ears tingle from it. Helena Sukova's relationship with Wimbledon's grass, though, doesn't have much in common with growing weary about emphasizing ceremonial traditions, the duke and duchess' suite, strawberries and cream, hats, and strict attire taboos that the players concern themselves with.
----The mania with which Helena Sukova hungered for a Wimbledon victory wasn't far from an obsession which, after all, even she herself doesn't deny. She proves it, even, with a crack at a comeback, which had such a devastating consequence for the first version of the introduction to this book.
----Already for a long time I haven't blamed her. Taken straight in a literary sense, the fact that the protagonist in a play has to struggle until the final curtain without his biggest desire being fulfilled makes for good stories and is absolutely helpful until the finale with a salute from the Duchess of Kent, telegrams from the president of the republic, and crowds at the airport.
----My immortal teacher, the writer Vladimir Kalina, would obviously say that it's not a good play without great desires and without secrets, whether or not they are fulfilled. This asking for suspense and urgency also shares with the protagonist defeats and victories until the final moment, just as we follow a tennis match with suspense and nothing is clear until the last point. When a single ball, game, and set draw forth hope, there's skepticism.
----And finally, everything that a play's protagonist goes through, everything that happens and doesn't happen, has its reasons. And tennis victories or defeats have their reasons, and if so then in talking about a tennis career in general it holds true doubly. The main difficulty researching this cause lies, however, in that, and there will be talk that even these causes are consequences of other causes. Searching for the causal connections, then, belongs to the fundamentals of literature and not bigger pleasures unless the author concerns himself with fiction or plays, piles up reason upon reason, mixes up a life story and its circumstances which had an influence so in the end the protagonist turns out how the author had intended, be it well or poorly. A catharsis which we take away from the theater or the pages of a book doesn't bring by itself the thing we know, how it turned out. What is important is the knowledge why it turned out that way, from which characteristic of the protagonist and his action was born in the end, why the causes of people's destinies and deeds constitute the foundations of morality. So, readers, or spectators in the stands, look attentively since you don't know when it's going to come together for you until you make up your mind what to do, what not to do, how to live, and how not to live.
----Compared to an author of made-up stories, naturally, an author of books about what really happened has a relatively more difficult task. He can't make things up, he can't move chess pieces as he'd like, he can't change the personality of the protagonist, send it here or there, because everything has already happened. He has one possibility: actually, really, start from the beginning, from the knowledge of how things turned out, and look for causes in reverse. Return to research, how it actually was, and how it turned out in that way. Similarly, a tennis player and her coach go to the locker room or hotel room after a match and scrutinize where she made a mistake or, on the contrary, how a moment arrived which led to victory, so that it's possible to apply that experience in the next match.
----The result of every single tennis match is, on the whole, from an incalculable number of possible influences which namely give off dictionary details like bad or good serve, rash or strong net play, inaccurate or precise passing shots, outstanding concentration or, contrarily, a lack of concentration etc., etc. Nonetheless, even from these details there consists in the end the final outcome of the match, tournament, or computer placement, and they are consequent upon something. It's not only about preparation, training, or the physical or mental disposition of the player, about his condition and form. In the end, simply speaking, it's about everything in the total picture of the human personality we have dealt with.
----This book is, thus, an attempt to draw the reader nearer to the personality of a brilliant sportswoman and indisputably remarkable young woman, among other things, by way of searching for answers to the question why exactly she did not in the end fulfill her dream even though it was seemingly within arm's reach.
----Martina Navratilova expresses it accurately:
----"From the time she was a little girl, Helena was predestined for that, to become a champion. I know that she had it in her to win Wimbledon. Why, though, for heaven's sake, she was always ultimately standing just short of the target, that's a mystery."
----Unfortunately, there doesn't exist any exact method for solving puzzles of this type, and so there's not a guarantee that one can be fully and entirely successful. Simply many things apparently always remain secrets, for they're things between the sky and the Earth...
----If there remains a feeling in the reader after perusing this book that many things stay unclarified, not fully disclosed, or unclear, please: I already ask for forgiveness in advance. It was certainly an attempt.
----As far as tennis expertise, I repent no less. Apologies, all right, that neither Helena Sukova nor the author had the intention of writing down a technical publication. Much of what will be discussed definitely belongs to Tennis 101 and may be viewed by experts as redundant repetition of what is generally known. Pardon, please, the ambition of our endeavor aiming more likely for an audience of people who know a little about the subject, but their acquaintance ends up knowing how to count fifteens or the notion of what is advantage, match point, lob, or return.
----And still one comment. The book carries the title Helena Sukova about myself, which follows the idea that it will be a first person narrative, and so some kind of confession. He who knows Helena Sukova knows that to assign her something similar is rather difficult, if not impossible. For one thing, that is given her rather introverted temperament and, for another, the entirely practical experience that without questions there aren't usually answers. The image of a Helena Sukova who wakes up one beautiful morn and says "Today, I'll embark on a book," cancels something about herself. It's utterly insane. You would have to know her, and after reading this opus I think that will be totally evident.
----To write "about myself" an author must be someone for whom exhibitionism is not a definite foreign companion. Helena Sukova simply does not belong. The book is, however, still primarily told "about myself" because its text arose principally from the base of many hours of interviews with Helena Sukova face to face. If, in addition, the introduction is testimony on the one hand to those closest to her and on the other of coaches, journalists, athletes and others, then most importantly it's the testimony of people who could one way or the other contribute to the entire work's main character. In that sense, it's thus a book partly "about myself" and partly "about her".
---- What the author himself considers, without a torturous confession, is that upon first meeting with Helena Sukova and other people around tennis, and in subsequent studies of literature, he wasn't by a long shot and until now doesn't feel an expert in those subjects. The mission of the following chapters, though, wasn't creating a technical handbook but providing for the readers a, regrettably anyway, lay-person's- like the author himself- possibility to look inside the world of tennis by means of one of its outstanding representatives. Many laypeople's visions are destroyed in the process, and the views of many TV viewers turn out to be untrue. Nevertheless, from the beginning it was clear that here we have something to do with an extraordinary person's life story whose depiction is unmissable, along with settings which already of their own accord form a stage where amazing things take place.
----Because the tennis world is unquestionably amazing, however good or bad. I'm glad that the path was cleared for me to have a look inside, just by way of Helena Sukova.
----So much for a first chapter in place of an introduction.
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post #3 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:05 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Second chapter: Obsession with Wimbledon

(The chapter brings one long interview with Helena Sukova about a certain inspiration, about Wimbledon, but also about a specific season, about Mommy, about a certain match with Pam Shriver, about belief and also tennis players supposedly being impossible. )

----The following interview with Helena Sukova was, as a matter of fact, the first we conducted together. At that time, I knew roughly the same about her and about the tennis world. Actually very little. Because of that, there are questions which could perhaps even appear trivial. They are, however, not as important as the answers. I took great pains to only minimally edit in spite of the fact that the interviews oftentimes kept digressing from the subject and in certain passages became somewhat awkward because they fully diverged from and returned to the original subject.
----Above all, I present this authentic form for that reason, that without a complex account it immediately draws nearer to some things all at once.
----First and foremost, there is a great deal about the interviewee herself, which means Helena Sukova. But what is important is that, somewhat without any fuss, it shows that which Helena concludes about her sport. And finally, at a minimum, she supplies those of us who are tennis amateurs a dependable work about the era and the world in which her story takes place.
---We started- how else?- with Wimbledon, from the end of it. The rest followed from the context.

Helena, above all it interests me: when did it cross your mind to enter the singles at Wimbledon this summer of 1998 and thus ruin my beautiful introduction to this book?

I'm sorry about the introduction but believe me, I didn't have any idea at all that my decision to take part in this summer's Wimbledon would have anything to do with your introduction. If I had known, believe me, I would have carefully thought it over.

Now the joke ends. Seriously, when did it cross your mind?

----It was totally random. They were playing some men's tournament maybe sometime in the spring. By chance I met your colleague Macka from Sport there. I respect that journalist because he always wrote knowledgeably and objectively. He wrote about me- whether I would change my mind, if I would once more for the last time try to play Wimbledon. I said, yeah, I would have to train, and it ended like that.
----But that idea really started growing in my head and I called my coach Jaromir Jirik, and he also thought it would be possible, but I would have to train. That resulted in me knowing, then, and without him, but I rather wondered if it didn't seem to him like total foolishness. For a few weeks we chatted about it here and there and then I said I would try it. We reached an agreement. Training went really well for me. We got into it quickly. We did everything, jogging, weight training, playing, everything. That amount was tough.
----It was really a new target, a new enthusiasm, so I tried hard to give it what I had. I had a good feeling, I believed in it. Previously, I had not stopped playing doubles in a German league, so that transition to hard training wasn't even so painful. The preparation was good. Everything was changing really fast. One week, it was horrible: I had quite a bit of fear that my back would slip, that my body wouldn't cope, but as soon as I started, it was promising. One match I played against Kleinova, I lost 2:0 in sets, then I brushed up for ten days and defeated her 2:0. It was simply a noticeable difference.
----I think that I was really well prepared. I believed in myself, that my return would be a success. The preparation was timed with Wimbledon.


Were many people around you surprised?

I didn't place much in those responses which resulted in skepticism. The people around me were predominantly pulling for me. It was also, ultimately, nice of you to call. Still, everyone was surprised.

So now describe for me how your perhaps truly final Wimbledon took place.

We arrived there on Sunday morning. I was arriving to play in the afternoon. We had to find where we were going to stay because we had decided late and our usual place was already taken.
----It was going well on the grass, I had a good feeling. I was convinced that I was as ready as ever. The desire for success was similar to the time when I still constantly had a huge belief that a great career was ahead of me.
----I didn't have to play the first match against the Swiss Patty Schnyder until Tuesday, so we rented bikes on Sunday morning, in the afternoon we did some training, in the evening we went to the cinema, the name of the movie was maybe The Big Levinsky or something like that, I've probably never seen a worse film.
----On Tuesday it rained, so in the morning I started hitting with [Lisa] Raymond indoors. Then Jara and I went to loosen up in the gym, which was next to the courts, and in the evening I prepared normally for the match.
----At the beginning, things worked out for me. I was playing well, focused, I approached the net a lot, I simply didn't give her any chances. I think that she had a fair amount of respect for me. I led 6-3, 3-0 and then while the score was 6-3, 3-1, and 30-0 on my serve it started to rain. The match was suspended, so we would finish playing the following day.
----On Wednesday morning it was nice and sunny. I went to warm up and nothing signaled that any problems would come about.
-----Except as soon as the match started again, it was different from the day before. My opponent started to play better and little by little, with my overconfidence, I lost. It didn't turn out as easily for me as the day before. A classic situation. Instead of playing my game, I started to think about what to do, which was when I panicked and Schnyder suddenly had an answer for all of my tricks.
----I didn't really give up, but rather all at once I lost confidence in myself. I think that the win was within my grasp. It was close the whole time. Then I lost my serve and my self-confidence crashed.
----So when she won the last point I went to the net. I don't even know if I said anything. On the way to the locker room I met Jara and there was great sadness. Despair coming from the fact that I lost the chances I had like a schoolgirl. A schoolgirl because having already experienced that situation so many times, when nothing goes right and a person doesn't know why, I didn't find a way to escape.


Were you still at that time on the computer?

For sure. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to play. But I had decided that after Wimbledon, I would ask to be removed from the WTA singles rankings.

Is there any ritual connected to it? After all it's almost like a person disappears from the list of the living.

Only if I would arrange that farewell ceremony myself. Nothing like that. I simply picked up the phone and dialed the number of the hotel where the vice president of the executive board Peachy Kellmeyer was staying. "Hi, I would like to be 'taken off' [written in English], which means taken off, the singles computer," I said briefly, and she answered without showing any kind of big surprise, "Okay, I'll arrange it."

Were you in a sentimental mood during that?

I don't know anymore. Maybe when she told me that she was very fond of me. I hadn't even had the slightest idea.

Let's leave that sadness and from the end now go straight to the beginning. Do you still fully remember your first Wimbledon?

Everyone definitely already knows the pictures from today, so to describe how it looks there doesn't maybe make any sense. But at the time when I went there for the first time, I had previously only seen it in postcards and nothing more. Because back then nothing much was shown on television in our home, tennis was more or less on the black list. I would say that in that regard it was a much worse situation than maybe even in the sixties, when my mom won, and then in the seventies, when, in the upshot of the successes of Kodeš, Hřebek and others, they still weren't connected with some political context, as it came to a head after Martina Navratilova's emigration.
----It was such a complicated time. I would say that in some totally illogical way they perhaps really thought they were above you, that when you didn't write about something in the news or broadcast it on our TV, that it didn't exist.
----I remember when in 1986 we played in the final of the US Open, our TV had a chance to get my final with Martina Navratilova and Mecir against Ivan Lendl from the Americans, but they didn't even show one ball because it would be a noticeably bad example that American Czechs defeated the representatives of socialist Czechoslovakia. So celebrating our tennis success didn't happen for viewers at home.
----Sometimes it even went into absurd situations from which the state remained understanding. Let's take when we played at home for the Federation Cup in 1986. Thanks to that, they completed the construction of the new Stvanicky compound more quickly. Just for the record, the manager of the investing organization, which back then did the construction, was inž. [for someone with a Master's degree] Borivoj Kacena, who also to a great degree contributed as a sponsor representative for the existence of this book.
----Back then, the Federation Cup was really the first big tennis event in the new stadium. For that occasion, the publishing house Olympie published Kings and Princesses Around the Cup, really nice, decked out with color photographs.
----In order for the Federation Cup to be played in our country at all at that time, because such was the requirement of the International Tennis Federation, they had to agree that Martina Navratilova would come. I don't know in whose head that was born, but that somebody maybe thought that we would close the eyes of everyone in command and we wouldn't see her out of spite. After they prepared and printed that book, someone suddenly became stubborn and said that by no means could it go into distribution because there were pictures there of Navratilova. In any case, that book was withdrawn and everywhere Martina was, they edited her out, but because it was hasty and they couldn't produce enough so quickly, in the end it came out with the people all in black and white. I hid that book so many times as proof of the crazy era.
----Of course in those days, when I went to my first Wimbledon in '80, the situation was still different because in general there was terribly little information about the tennis world. Now when a person is a little bit of a fan, he can follow tennis from morning to night on all possible TV stations including broadcasts where they show our stop. Back then I knew, at least I have such a feeling, less about Wimbledon than I know today about life in the African bush. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but it was like when you know somehow a hazy silhouette, but what is inside stays absolutely hidden. Maybe that awful respect for Wimbledon came into existence already at that time and just on that account.


Related to that, I suppose, are the experiences of your mom...

Yeah, of course, because she got to the final and I couldn't not think about that, how and for which reasons she didn't win that final. Because for Mom it was really the biggest success and the biggest failure, she really paid such a price for her defeat in the final.
---But not just that. Perhaps already from childhood in the subconscious mind of every tennis player is the notion that Wimbledon is something more than a tournament. Wimbledon is a totally exceptional phenomenon; one could investigate why it's like that and where it came from. It could be the subject of a book. God only knows where that started or if it's from the especially refined power of the English to create legends and myths, although perhaps every nation knows something similar: the French have the Eiffel Tower, the Italians Ferrari, the Germans Wagner; simply those symbols around which the chest heaves with pride. The English have Wimbledon. That is passed onto you. Wimbledon is the biggest, the best, the most traditional and I don't know how it still...
----Already on that account you have great respect for it, greater reverence than for other tennis tournaments.
----In 1980 I went for the first time on the junior circuit. Anywhere I arrived for the first time, I remember that I always devoted two days to it so that I could go around everything, every court, every nook, and follow every player whom I had the chance to see. Even though there was a shred of respect in that, there wasn't any embarrassment. But with Wimbledon, like, I would walk on tiptoes. I looked around there with great respect...
----You know, it was almost such a feeling that you shouldn't be there, even that maybe an employee stood there and kept an eye out for if someone who didn't belong came, or didn't know how to behave himself, or...
----Look, when you start to travel to tournaments around the world, you're actually constantly entering a foreign environment where you don't know practically anyone, where no one knows you. Being alone by yourself is enough of a traumatizing experience. You must address unknown people. You're actually constantly in some sort of subordinate role. I think that with that, you're meeting most people as they're entering some place that's new for them.
----At Wimbledon you feel that kind of not belonging to its presence in that amazing world not twofold but tenfold. By God, what am I doing here? Do I belong here at all? Isn't it actually some mistake?
----I know that it seems weird, but I felt it at that time and really, that respect for Wimbledon, maybe even excessive, stayed in me for good.


Before you went there, they told you something at home about that famous Wimbledon, right?

Not really.

That's not possible. When you go to Wimbledon for the first time, then maybe the family sits around the table and says, "Helena, this and that..."

I remember that in those days when Mom was alive, Dad- because he was an official of the tennis federation- always traveled to these tournaments, and it wasn't really quite feasible that after a return there would be such a conversation. But in the period when I started to travel, he finished with that. He didn't want it said that we were a touring family.
----At home, anyway, we preferred to make an effort to not talk much about tennis. At home it was more likely that we talked about normal things. From the beginning maybe a little only if my brother and I dragged it [the subject of tennis] in, but otherwise not much.
----Mom always tried not to exert any pressure on me. She never said to me, for example, that I must win. In these things she was actually really tolerant. Although the attempts were like when they wanted for me to play the piano. Maybe I didn't really like it on account of them forcing me.
----Being strict with me never paid off for her, and maybe our parents knew that. But returning to the question...
----I really don't remember any lessons before that first Wimbledon and frankly speaking, I also didn't ask too much.


Good, so you arrived there and how were the first impressions?

We were juniors, so we stayed at a university which was nearby. They were student dorms with a sink in the closet. Back then I was with Misa Pazderova. We traveled together most of the year and sometimes felt suffocated in such close quarters, so we sometimes even fought [had physical fights]. Today we both remember that with laughter.
----Otherwise, the Wimbledon regime was really strict. Eight in the morning off to breakfast until nine o'lock on the bus, and when you didn't catch it you were out of luck. You had to leave on that bus because there wouldn't be another until it came back again in the evening. Meanwhile, there wasn't any chance of getting out of there. So there was enough time to do some sightseeing and find out how it looked, but as I say, with great, great respect.
----Yeah, and then you go to start playing, shower, eat, and then wait for the match. Before a match you loosen up, maybe in the locker room, there are spectators everywhere and still you must scramble through somewhere.
----In those days I really stood on the Wimbledon lawns for the first time. It was different from what I'd expected. The grass there is really fine. Before that we'd trained in Nymburg, but the grass there was really different. It didn't bounce much, and so what a difference from Wimbledon- really low.


On which court did you start?

It was maybe present-day Court 15.

Was is just as you'd imagined there?

I don't know. I would probably say that I didn't expect anything.

But your mom perhaps at least intimated what awaited you...

It didn't even occur to me that I should ask about such things. And as I said, at home we didn't really talk about tennis excessively. It was just like that. My parents lived tennis from morning to night and from night to morning. All the time. But to still converse about tennis at home in front of us children, no.

I understand it as this: that to not talk at home about tennis was something similar to not bringing work home?

Maybe not even that. For how I had to play, how I had to train, there was enough time on the court. To explain at the dinner table how to hit an overhead smash is nonsense. That's training. And regarding what was happening outside the court, I think that our parents decided that for those questions I had enough time.

Your grandma Karolina claims, though, that you were a very curious child. You didn't ask questions?

I asked, but they told me to wait until I was older. For example, when Martina Navratilova emigrated, I was ten years old, so of course it really involved our parents. Mom as a coach and Father as an official. Of course, I already had knowledge that something significant was going on because not many commented on it in public, but there was a great deal of gossip. When I asked about it at home, they told me, "When you're older." So I really didn't know anything about Martina, I only suspected that my parents had some problems. Today I know well enough and I understand very well that they didn't want to speak in front of me about that.

Excuse me, but I don't understand very well how politics had a connection, because a lot has come out here mainly about politics with you going to your first Wimbledon, although not your parents in a manner of speaking packing for your trip and advising you what might come in handy...

Please, what could they tell me? How to behave myself? That I had to be healthy, eat with good manners... Which way the court was?
----It could make sense if Mom had been there with me. She was the best coach we had at that time. An outstanding psychologist. It would have been of great value for me and for my fellow players. And if you have in mind some warlike discussion before the trip to Wimbledon, that simply didn't happen because to philosophize in the living room about how it was going to be didn't make any sense. I wish I could confess I depended on it back then, that I advised myself alone. I was 15 years old and at that age I obviously thought, like every fifteen year-old, that I knew everything better. At home I namely argued about various things like every young person with her parents, but not until I was twenty did I wise up to the fact that there were so many things which I could still ask my mom, and I didn't do that. Really, in the time when she could have passed on to me all of her experiences, she wasn't around anymore. The last time she was with me was when I represented us at the Federation Cup in 1981 in Japan. She was sent there more or less as a reward, but that was already after the first operation. Mom had already gone through that horribly, already it was terribly difficult for her to conceal her nerves. Previously, at junior tournaments in this country, I usually travelled alone or with the parents of players who played doubles with me.


And what about your father?

That he could dedicate himself to my training? Surely, maybe until I was fifteen. Then it wasn't possible anymore because thanks to being the manager at the railway, Dad didn't have time, and I think that he didn't even want to because to cope with me was already a weight on him. Finally, it was already said everywhere that I had favoritism, even when I got a world ranking, so they said, "Who did he pay off? etc." Plenty of people supposed that it was possible to go to an umpire or maybe even an opponent and slip federation dollars in their pockets. Maybe in our country that works somewhere, even if I doubt it, but I understand completely that in that time a lot of people had their reasons for thinking that for every success there must be some kind of favoritism.
----But if it had never happened, that in those times I hadn't been on the court with Dad- of course we played the part, there were moments when we sometimes consulted each other about something.


Let's go back to that first Wimbledon. You were 15 years old, you spoke about the then great respect with which you arrived there. Did that have some impact on your game?

I think so. Maybe back then I wasn't aware of it too much, but definitely.

If I wrote that your Wimbledon "curse" started there, would it be true?

It would be wrong to say that. Although the first match with Kanellopoulous from Greece worked out for me. I won 6-2, 6-1. In the second match I met Patricia Hy from Hong Kong. I lost the first set 4-6, in the second I won 6-4, but in the third she thrashed me 1-6. All at once it actually came to me that I really didn't know what I had to do on that grass, how to play, if I had to stay back on the baseline or if I had to go to the net... At that time, after the victory over the Greek I said maybe it was going to work, but Hy already knew better how to play on the grass. In that match I was totally confused. Because of that, her game going well and mine not, I may have panicked a little.
----It's commonly said that on grass you have to approach the net. Maybe that changed a little when Agassi won Wimbledon playing entirely from the baseline. It's true, though, that before him maybe Connors, Borg and others played at the net also until they overindulged. My quest, though, was always to go to the net as soon as possible, not only on grass, maybe because I have a long reach and it was difficult to hit past me. And mainly it was never much fun for me to hit around from the baseline.
----On the grass you don't have much time to think or hesitate about how to play. There isn't as much time as there is on clay, where the majority of the bounces are the same. In addition, the adult [non-junior] tournament starts on the grass at Wimbledon. It's even quite pretty, but the juniors don't start until the second week when the grass is already worn down, and in some places you don't even know where the ball is going to skid off to.
----So viewed psychologically, when you miss a ball, you have enough reasons to say that in spirit you can't do it because a surface is really playing against you, but at the same time you get angry. Your opponent, though, is in the same situation, but in that moment you don't consider that. I like when things appear as I planned them. God only knows if later, somewhere in the subconscious, that Wimbledon grass didn't seem like a terrain I didn't like.


Were you thinking about your mom's loss in the Wimbledon final in the process?

Maybe not until later, but never while I was playing.
----No one ever knows everything you have inserted in your head from childhood. Possibly that respect and my terrible desire for success there could have by themselves played a role, and all of that could somehow be connected to Mom. When one says Vera Sukova, in one breath it's immediately completed with: participant in the Wimbledon final in 1962.
----Mom was only one small step from victory. That Karen Susman beat her in the end, it was also caused by the fact that Mom was injured. The circumstances of her getting injured were so absurd that it seemed as if it had to be the doing of some kind of evil demon.
----The day before the final match, after she beat Bueno, whose odds were 10:1 against Mom, reporters arrived for her in the hotel. One of them proposed to her that it would be amazing to take a photograph as she slid down the handrail of the staircase. She started to go absolutely crazy during that whole mishap because someone disclosed about Mom that she washed her underwear and shirts herself. Which was apparently then such an unusual thing that it evoked the interest of the media. A mob of reporters burst into the hotel and one of them... But I already said that. Maybe if nothing had happened, if that demand hadn't formed the words: Could you deal with that? And Mom, maybe still in that euphoria from the previous victory, maybe because of that doubt whether such a thing could be managed.... She simply jumped to that handrail, slid down it, stumbled down to the carpet and that was it. An injured right ankle, pain, and even still she led in the first set of the match 3-0. One careless stroke was enough and then it was already decided.
----Mom, though she didn't make a science of that Wimbledon defeat, clearly thought that not all of her days were over. But that handrail, as was shown in the end, prepared Mom for the peak of her career, and she didn't get such chances from that time on.
----Such a thing always brings about various if onlys and what ifs. In any case, it was some kind of fatal injustice, and so many people perceived that; ultimately even me, because generally when I think that something unjust is going on, I have an inclination to endeavor to correct it. If I said that in me now was a terrible desire to avenge injustice recently, I wouldn't be so certain. Maybe that was there somewhere inside. Let's say that I wanted to show, even if maybe it sounds terribly noble, but I sincerely think that the name Sukova would be linked to a Wimbledon success again. Except the more and more you want...


Did something from that very beginning somehow develop your relationship with Wimbledon?

I would say that tournament by tournament, that desire to win Wimbledon was greater and greater. It was almost an obsession. Of course, as the summers left, changed, I would say also the intensity of that feeling, that it must finally work out somehow. Okay, this year it didn't work out, so next year. Except every new failure is in that next tournament like a rock on the foot. When it happens, then, to you so many times, with time you already start to doubt whether there isn't something in that curse. But the desire for that victory doesn't diminish; rather, the opposite. So for me Wimbledon stayed at the top of my efforts. When it doesn't go your way one year, two, three, and again and again, more and more you start to lack confidence in victory, even if that desire is always similarly intense. But without belief that doesn't work.

One minute, please. As far as I know there was a summer when you were in great form. Everything was fine. I would say that if there weren't reasons for a lack of belief in such a case...

Look. In 1987 I won the tournament in Eastbourne, which precedes Wimbledon and is some kind of dress rehearsal for it. I really felt that everything was going well because I defeated Chris Evert in the semifinals there 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 and Martina Navratilova in the final 7-6 and 6-3. The journalists promptly started to talk about Mom, who precisely twenty-five years prior was in the Wimbledon final. It would be extraordinary if I won Wimbledon in those circumstances.
----I was in fantastic form. In the first round I defeated Britain's Louis 6-1, 6-4; in the second the American White 6-2, 3-6, 6-3; and on the way to the quarterfinals I was up against the Italian Reggi. She had previously beaten me at Roland Garros, but I simply knew that I would get her, and she also left the court, with a 6-0, 6-0 defeat. She didn't even win a game, a performance from me which, until then, I had never had against someone at Wimbledon.
----In the quarterfinals I went up against Pam Shriver feeling absolutely at ease. I believed that I would move on even if Pam, as was her custom, put on her usual act that is capable of bowling over the whole world. I had a match point in the fourteenth game of the third set. I lost it and with it the whole match.
----In the two preceding years I had been in the quarterfinals and now I was finished there again. The next year as well. That already thoroughly shakes your belief and you really start to think what is it? It appears almost incomprehensible, especially taking into consideration that in that same tournament, I'm speaking about 1987, I won the doubles final with Claudia Kohde. So the duke with the duchess presented us with the doubles cup. I could be glad about all that, which I was, but still it was only doubles. Unfortunately, the next year my Wimbledon participation ended again in the quarterfinals. I really think that at that time, even if I never reflected on it back then, my dream about Wimbledon slowly started to vanish.


Does that mean that when you were going to Wimbledon after that, you were already fearful that it would again end badly?

It's not as simple as that. A person would have to sit at home and rather not go on court at all. You must have belief in yourself. The problem is generally also restraining oneself because that belief is really tested in every second of a match.
----When I believe that my match is going to be a success, I feel such strength that in spite of whatever might happen I will manage to achieve my objective. In short, you have certainty that you need to get a first serve, and you know exactly where and really hit it there. That inner confidence is transferred to the match and it really works.
----Of course not by itself or automatically. Before every point you change your mind about where to serve, how hard to hit it, which spin to use. You think it over in your head. Unfortunately, it happened to me a lot, way too often when the stakes were high, that my confidence, that rock-solid certainty, left. It really crashed as I started to think too much about how to play a ball and where instead of continuing to play as before. Because in normal circumstances the person in front "knows" before playing his stroke where the ball is going to drop.
----Understand, you say to yourself- play great, everything will work out just as I want, and bang. I guess psychologists speak of that as frustration, which is stronger the greater the preceding expectations. And how you start to doubt, so already that doubt isn't so defined or you don't give it your empty strength as you would otherwise. It's recalculated and so you start to put a little bit less or a little more of something into your game, and it's not the same anymore. And then you start to think how to play at all, panic sets in...
----The coach tells you, don't make it up, do what we planned, but you, the devil knows why, already can't return to how you played before.
----It can happen to you that you're succeeding, that you get back into it and you start to believe again. A classic example was Korda this year (1998) at the tournament in Monte Carlo in the quarterfinals against the Dutchman of Czech origin Richard Krajicek. Petr knew that he could become the top player in the world, but at the moment he was behind 6-4, 4-3, "he stiffened up" [used up his energy reserves]. Still, though, it was enough to be leading 5-4 and even 30-15 on his opponent's serve, but then he really didn't even win a point. And I say that it's impossible to fault him because I've experienced it myself a million times already. My coach Jara Jirik, who has experience in other sports, is totally teed off from that. He says that tennis players are "impossible" when they have these problems.


How did he think that- impossible?

He's actually right. If in fact tennis players had the chance to try out other sports where doubts or hesitation have fatal consequences, maybe then they would be able to cope with calmness, and effortlessly. It's even for them seemingly "the most threatening" situation.
----Look. For example in gymnastics, if you hesitate during a somersault, you'd fall on your head, so you could kill yourself or at least end all chances of success. On a motorcycle you pause and that's the end of you. In tennis there isn't actually anything similar, so there you actually hesitate, but at the same time unless there's a match point, it's like nothing happened. You may not lose. Tennis is really a terrible sport in that it constantly gives you chances and then space for carelessness because you can always tell yourself, "Another game or set and I'll lead again." During a match you always move between skepticism and hope. You scold yourself, but at the same time you constantly have a reason to wish that your flaw will correct itself. On the uneven bars it's fast- crash down and it's the end. Fall off a motorbike and everything is clear. Not in tennis. Tennis is primarily about skills failing and getting up again and mainly incessantly restoring confidence in yourself since getting back up is worth it, since you can turn around that game, set, or match. You must have a temperament for that. I'm not sure if I've always been like that. I think not. When you then play a tournament like Wimbledon and when you have such a relationship with it as I had, then every single mistake grows in terrible proportion. I think that I didn't win Wimbledon just on that account, that I wanted it so badly.


If I were now strictly logical, I would then be able to state that the women who won Wimbledon didn't pine for it as intensively as you...

I wouldn't say that. I don't know if that precisely formulates proof, but every athlete is a figure who is composed of a certain disposition or, if you like, attribute. In that, which kinds of attributes there are, it plays a huge role in a number of circumstances. In someone it's this, in someone it's that. And in the same way, if you could create some ideal tennis player, nowhere is it written that everything that's ideal would work just perfectly in the most necessary moments. It depends on the era he plays in, who his opponent is, what control (over which he doesn't decide) he has. I've thought about that a lot, but I wouldn't want to consider myself as a body on the autopsy table. Because there doesn't even exist a criterion according to which you could assemble an ideal tennis player. It doesn't work to say ease up here, speed up here, and everything would be different. If it were like that, it would be a champion...
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post #4 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:06 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Third chapter: From Platinum and Iridium
(A short chapter because it merely contains slightly essayistic thoughts about whether it's possible to make a champion from platinum and iridium.)

Let's now interrupt the interview with Helena Sukova because the image that would "take off here and add there" and so create an ideal is definitely enticing and worth giving some thought.
----Clearly someone else has already given it a try. Tennis isn't lacking in statistics. It's sufficient to feed a computer figures about the top tennis players and then calculate what kind of common attributes characterize the champions. As easy as it would then be to create something or other as a computer model, a kind of parallel is the international meter, which is made from platinum and iridium and lies in Sevres near Paris. If you're not sure whether one's meter really is a true meter, run over, place those two meters side by side, and immediately you'll know.
----The ideal tennis player, unfortunately- or, more likely, thank heavens- is hardly poured off from platinum and iridium, and to model it at all on the computer would be a challenge. The first difficulty would already come with what to actually load onto the computer. Weights and measures? Performance in a 100-meter sprint, weightlifting in the two-hand snatch, long jump and high jump, possibly the number of squats or pull-ups before fainting? Or the results of an intelligence test, psychological resilience, aggressiveness or assertiveness, or emotional intelligence? In consideration, it would indisputably cost the genetic research of ancestors up to ten generations back. And finally it suggests measuring heart rate during constant stress, parameters of a blood serum, illnesses suffered in childhood, an EKG, an EEG, and who knows what all those kinds of measurements of the human body are called.
----The truth is that such research and testing is more or less really done. The truth, of course, is also that athletes in tennis sometimes suffer defeat on the court against an opponent whom they would easily beat on a running track. And it happens that a cool-headed athlete with an expression of stone must put up with that well-known nonchalant pat on the shoulders at the net from the opponent who is, on the contrary, a knot of emotion, and still prevailed. And finally it's also true that the offspring of tennis stars, inheriting amazing genes, quite often end up as rather mediocre players playing in Sunday tournaments run by charitable associations.
----So I don't know. The closest realities will be visible to you, which claim that sports are suspenseful and adventurous, that a person never knows. Similarly, in horse racing, you speak directly about splendid insecurity, for the favorite can finish a loser in the field and an outsider victoriously reach the finish. Tennis is not lacking in similar surprises.
----With victory or defeat, and it doesn't matter in which type of sport, there are always many different factors with the results and, strictly speaking, you must get those factors right exactly in the instant when you need your optimal performance. Although well-worked out scientific methods exist, in this harmony it hugely matters how that optimal state of the body and the psyche achieve. The result is in the end equally uncertain, as uncertain as any result depending on an unprogramable system like a human being. A little luck is enough, journalists later comment, and they have in mind the fact that however everything shows that success was within reach, it didn't happen, for something unpredictable, some kind of subtle element was lacking or on the contrary was left over....
----Perfect recipes for molding champions simply don't exist, although the desire to find them causes sleepless nights for coaches and theoreticians just as much as sports officials and sponsors who would certainly sign their souls over to the devil and risk the torture of the deceased Doctor Faust to obtain the secrets of creating an ideal. That athlete from platinum and iridium would become measured in every other man or woman who had to prevail and gain the right to be called champion. Nevertheless, there exist experts- primarily brilliant coaches- who demonstrate how to prepare champions. All the same, everyone agrees that they can train them even to death, but in the end it's always the personality of their charge which decides if those efforts bear fruit.
----We've had the opportunity, at least partially, to get to know Helena Sukova's personality somewhat from the inside in the introductory interview with her...
----Let's now look at her from an outside view. In fact, in the interview with her coach, who immediately told me in the beginning of our talk:
----"When she herself doesn't want to, there is no force which could make her do it," said Ing. Jan Kurz.
----It is precisely that man who is connected with the period of Helena Sukova's first big success.

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post #5 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:06 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Fourth chapter: Coach

(The chapter yields an interview with Jan Kurz about, among other things, how their start together went; he suggests some important wins and losses; he mentions Helena Sukova's ambitions, her self-confidence, how she accepted disasters; and finally, he mentions a little about money and education.)

Do you still remember when you saw Helena Sukova for the first time?

I must say that when I saw her for the first time, still as a fifteen year-old, she didn't really catch my attention. The most noteworthy thing was that she was the daughter of Vera Sukova, Wimbledon finalist. I must say that in that moment I didn't think that she was a future top tenner, but at that time I had never in my life been anywhere, so I didn't know those top women at all. When I later came by her, she was already 19 and #29 in the rankings. At that time, it was clear to me that she was a player who would be awfully good in any case. It was clear to me that she would soon move to somewhere around #10. Unlike the other girls I was coaching, she was already almost a mature world player as a nineteen year-old, whereas the others were either average or so young that one didn't know what awaited them.

When did you begin your collaboration?

It was later. Kukal, who coached Helena before me, left as a state coach for Austria, and because he was in essence the main coach and in charge of the women's national team, he received permission from the federation under the condition that he got some compensation. He called me and offered the opportunity. Even though I had a relatively good job, it didn't have any of those prospects, so I agreed to try it, and I went to Sparta as a coach.
----Initially, I coached Helena on occasion. Then she played some league in Pilsen and she lost a match she shouldn't have. For Sparta it was a crucial match and I later chewed her out that it was her fault, that it was unfair to her coach, her dad who was there, her team. She took it amiss. Then we didn't communicate for some time, she trained with others, and after three months of marshaling she offered for me to go with her to America. That was the beginning of 1984. There, I was witness to her first appearance at the Championships, played in New York at Madison Square Garden as the climax of the past season.
----In the summer of that year came the Canadian Open, where I went with Helena again, after she had fallen in the first round of two tournaments. In Montreal she played against some American she should have beaten. After the first set it was 2-6. In the second she was hopelessly out-and-out, losing 1-4. Then I sat there and said to myself, "That's an excellent trip, three times finishing in the first round. That turned out nicely." Then something happened. That American suddenly made errors, it went to a tiebreak, and Helena finally won the second set. The third went altogether smoothly. Then she started to play fairly well; she defeated Kohde and lost in the semifinals against Evert. Nevertheless, it was an enormous achievement.
----From there we went to the US Open, where she was in the worst position as the second unseeded player. She played in the first round against the seventh-best player in the world, the American Lisa Bonder, and after a really superb performance she beat her 7-5, 6-3. Then, she got into the quarterfinals. In the last eight she had yet to play against Martina Navratilova, but because we both said that she didn't have a chance to win, before the match I went home with the thought that (although unspoken) I had been in America for a long time. Maybe you know how that era was back then.
----I think she lost to Martina 6-3, 6-3. When she returned, she probably had to feel that my presence played some role [in her success], and then she offered for me to work with her regularly. Because she was at that time the most important player at Sparta, the vital member of the team, so the weight of her personality got her her way and she said that she would play the league, but she got Kurz as a coach.
----A month after that we went to Australia, where she achieved monumental success. It started in Brisbane. She won it. I would say that it was the first big tournament that she won. At the Australian Open, where she beat Martina for the first time in her life in the semifinals, and even when she lost in three sets against Evert, it was a mammoth success. After the results in Australia, for the first time time in the five years we'd worked together she got to the top ten in the world rankings. She moved constantly moved between the 4th, 5th, and 7th spots. The closest she got to #3 was when she had match point against Shriver at Wimbledon. Unfortunately, she lost in the end.


How would you explain those Wimbledon debacles?

I wouldn't say those were debacles. She won in doubles there all the time. Helena naturally has her own opinion about that, but if she doesn't appreciate doubles, oh well.
----You know, that desire to win Wimbledon is simply a reflection of her ambition. She always laid an emphasis on her highest goal. Of all the girls I trained, Helena was the most ambitious, the one who knew the most what she wanted, although I would say that with the passage of time time she really eased up in her exertion. I don't want to criticize her and defend myself, it was mutual, but obviously we were together for five years and that final year was rather bad. We fought. She felt that I wasn't kind enough with her, that I always looked for mistakes and criticized her. The truth was on both sides. It was already a worn out [relationship], and it's clear that from the start we didn't know much about each other. When she did something she didn't have to I said, "You know, Helena, I think that you should do that and that," and she strived to comply. But after those four years, if I overstate it, I didn't have the nerves for being considerate anymore. I reproached her, saying that I was trying hard, and again and again she didn't run off. So it was mutual.
----Helena mainly needed someone to trust, and when I pretended to remove her responsibility for what she did, she could play in considerable comfort. I ordered her to get to the net after her second serve, and maybe she wouldn't go there if I didn't tell her to. She fought herself alone- I have to get up there, I don't have to get up there- whereas when I told her that, then she actually paid enough attention to me, and when she approached the net and lost that point, she could say that it wasn't her fault, which obviously helped her psychologically. In addition, it usually worked out so she could play with a ready-made plan. Then she played much better. In the case of a player's huge composure, self-confidence is the most important thing. When a player doesn't admit to himself that he can lose, then he usually doesn't lose. The worst is the start. It doesn't work out, and a person immediately criticizes- my God, they're bad, these things end up poorly...


Does that mean that she had problems with self-confidence?

I would say not back then. One can sometimes think that when she was in the final of the US Open, in the final of Australia, in Paris she was in the semifinals and she was two points short of defeating Navratilova, that in such a time all of a sudden she didn't believe. But I'm almost sure that in those five years she wasn't eliminated before she should have been at any Grand Slam. That explanation is simple. In that situation, there were simply players facing her who were better. Of course, she could beat them, but there are so many ifs...
---You don't win a match just from being seeded. But it's true that she could just lose on account of wanting it too much.


Did you sometimes have the feeling that victory was missing precisely because she lacked belief in her personal strength?

On the contrary, every now and then her healthy self-confidence surprised me again and again. She didn't think at all that she wouldn't win a Grand Slam. I don't want to say that she couldn't ever win one, but in comparison maybe with Navratilova or with some other Grand Slam champion she moved worse than those shorter girls. That was such a handicap, and although I had huge belief in her and I thought that she was a superb player, it looked to me that she couldn't ever reach the top spot. That it wasn't possible. That simply performance-wise, that wasn't possible at the time that Navratilova and Evert played. Later she was already past her peak age, but I don't want to speak about that. Simply, Helena wasn't clumsy or a butter-fingers. She had really great anticipation, and at the net she was extremely skillful. Obviously she didn't have the game to dig in at the baseline and run around there for two hours from corner to corner and back. An overall outstanding player. But she simply had fixed limits, even though she wasn't aware of them, which her more successful opponents had higher.
----And back then she caught me off guard when I asked her what would happen if she didn't get to the top spot in the rankings. She said that if she didn't believe she could be first, then she wouldn't play tennis at all. I laughed and said, "Well, what would you do?" "I would be a doctor," she answered me. So I said to her, "Of course I don't want to deny you that. You would be a very good doctor, but on the other hand, now you are the ninth-best tennis player in the world and that's not enough for you. You don't want me to believe that you could be perhaps the ninth-best doctor in the world when in tennis that notion is impossible for you. After all, if you were only ninth and you couldn't go higher than that, then it would actually be a lost life for you." She was exactly like that. All or nothing. Anything that was less was insufficient for her. Wimbledon was exactly about that.


Don't get angry, it's just that you say that she actually had bad luck, that right at that time tennis players such as Navratilova and Evert were playing. Logically speaking, then, you claim that she didn't have it. But after all, she defeated them several times...

It's difficult to answer that. The simplest thing would be to say that she didn't have it simply on account of not having it, even though she managed to defeat them. Look...
----I would say that she had the biggest chance for that dreamt-of victory in 1987, at the time when she got to number four in the rankings. The week before Wimbledon, in Eastbourne, she defeated Evert in the semifinal and Martina in the final. We went to Wimbledon greatly in tune. Also there through the quarters she played with assuredness, and then she played against Shriver, who was just as confident a player as Helena, maybe more confident, from time to time almost disgustingly so, but that's something else. Helena had that famous match point in the fourteenth game of the third set. Shriver missed her first serve and hit her second practically underhand like a desperation serve. It was awkward and Helena was horribly surprised by how it was fed to her. She wasn't expecting it to be so weak, and she wrecked the return and, ultimately, she lost the whole match. She had her best year, she could have gotten by Evert or Navratilova, and even though it would have been terribly difficult, who knows... it wasn't insurmountable.
----But that's just speculation. If only one could understand why some player is #2, another only #3, why they're not #1... but how? Something is simply missing there. Something small, really small, and already that means that that top player is better.


Nonetheless, would you try to guess, at least, some moments which might have played a role?

Helena definitely didn't suffer from any complex and she was confident enough, but where she came from definitely played a big role, I don't claim a decisive one, in that period. To go off, say, to America was a problem. And in those fifteen years traveling around the world, I sometimes had a feeling of inferiority when I was in that America. A person didn't have to be exactly aware, but already those conditions automatically placed you into, I would say, an inferior role. Around all those players, not better than Helena, there was always a much greater fuss. Maybe they already had a contract for $100,000 and hers was only for $20,000 because she was from Czechoslovakia. And that plays a role. Because it's a question if Navratilova would have been the best in the world if she hadn't escaped. If Lendl would have been the best if he hadn't emigrated.

How did she handle disaster?

I would say poorly. I also lived through her weeping. I remember one day when I gave her a horrible dressing-down after a defeat the one time in my life, even if I didn't actually understand well enough what that meant. We had been together a short time, maybe half a year, and it was a tournament in Stuttgart where she was definitely not the favorite, but she was seeded. She reached the semifinals, where she played a girl who was clearly worse than her. And Helena lost two 7-6 sets or in the third set, and according to me for half the match she was sulking or for some unknown reason she was fighting very little. I don't know why.
----After the match, I chewed her out that she did it on purpose, and she said that that wasn't true. That dressing-down was then rather a reproach. I said to her that she had terribly disappointed me and that I was there with her, I was nervous, and she sabotaged it halfway through. And that I was horribly disappointed with it, and I had not expected it. And that I didn't have an interest in such collaboration. And from the start she made an effort to claim that it wasn't true, that she had tried, and then we strangely split up. She went to shower, I was in the bar, from there we then went back home, she started talking about it in the car, apologizing and saying she didn't know exactly what it was with her. Again I must say, even if it's stupid, I had plenty of moments when I could have hit her. I'm slightly exaggerating it, because I went through it horribly emotionally with the girl. Certainly for me it wasn't just a job.
---Clearly, by the end it was already such with Helena that I furiously told her that if it wasn't fun for her, so be it. Don't bother. At the beginning I considered it an injustice against myself, against her, that I was working hard and there was nothing from her, even though since the beginning perhaps it had never been that she wasn't trying hard. On the contrary, she was perfect, I hit her, and she started to be furious, but with herself: God, what guts do I have that I let myself get hit, and not like you hit me and it hurts. She took it terribly prestigiously. She always wanted to win, in that she was flawless.


No boy ever came along?

I know terribly little about how to respond to that. In those years, and maybe always, she was- as far as boys go- very demanding. In order for me to tell the truth, I myself regarded her more as a tennis player and not as a girl, although I must say that when Helena laughs she's terribly pretty, it suits her. During that period when we were together, obviously a thousand people thought that we had a relationship, and those rumors weren't refuted, and maybe it didn't go over well with my older daughter when Mom said "Daddy is leaving again with Helena for America." Fortunately my wife is downright fond of Helena and never had the feeling that she had to somehow be fearful.
----As far as Helena's love life, I think that when a boy turned up around her then she feared that he was after her dough. Even if I actually don't know about any of them, except for one American. He was very kind, big, taller than her. He really cared for her. I would say that he was certainly rich enough, but Helena- for a reason unknown to me- horribly evaded him even though he really fought for her. Nothing came of that.


How did it go back then amongst the players?

I must say that when I came into women's tennis, I was terribly naive the first year. Certainly Helena was for me the most important one in the world, but when she finished playing and nearby maybe Iva Budarova was playing, then I went to cheer for and clap for her. But soon I found out that she really didn't wish that for those girls, even mercilessly, although amongst the guys that's not a big deal. Only with difficulty could the girls win and head out to the bar and pick up a partner, whereas the guys do it without problems. Women are clearly alone a lot more, that's why amongst them there are quite a few lesbian relationships, because what are they going to do in the evenings? They lose and cry somewhere in the corner, and the only person who caresses them is a female friend. Men, they get drunk and it's simpler. Girls are definitely filled with a lot more complexes, maybe as they seem or don't seem, but for men that's not so important. It's not a contest of what is nicer. But girls... I read in the newspaper that when Kournikova lost to Hingis she said, "I'm just as pretty," or something to that effect.

What characteristic do you consider typical of Helena Sukova?

She was unusually straight and even so much so that she exaggerated. From the beginning I was scared of that because in that era she paid me a lot of money. She proposed terms I agreed with, and then they operated exactly as they were. She had maybe an account and she counted, for example, $320 and then said, "I paid the dry cleaners' for you there, that cost 75 cents." And I said in spirit why, for God's sake, insist on those measly pennies. Except that in a month there was a statement and she said, "Here you have $3.50 for that, as you bought me a Sprite," and I had long since forgotten... It never happened that she would dock me even a dollar. Everything was in perfect order. Later, I didn't really appreciate how great that was. With Helena I never had, financially speaking, any bad feelings. On the contrary, I remember that in Eastbourne when she beat Evert we had some conditions which were initially different. My fee wasn't originally high, but she still wasn't 21, so she paid the majority of her earned bonuses to the federation. Then she was over 21, she was good, so my payment doubled. Maybe that was 5% of her earnings, I don't exactly remember anymore.
----Then in Eastbourne she beat Martina Navratilova and won 45,000 pounds. I obviously didn't expect that it would have an effect on my salary. But all of a sudden Helena said, "As of today we're going to 10%," and applied it already to that tournament, although there hadn't been any contract for that...
---So she retroactively gave me 2,000 pounds just because she won a tournament. Extremely fair.


That sounds almost like an ideal situation...

Of course, sometimes she acquitted herself stubbornly, but she always knew how to admit to a mistake. I don't know of a single thing for which I couldn't forgive her. Before our split, though, I really had the feeling that I couldn't give her anything more, that I was worn out, that not even she was like those first years. So, in essence, at the end of the season we agreed to split up.
----With Helena I spent the nicest years of my life because she was my most successful player. That money was obviously nice, but the most important thing was the feeling of success, and with Helena there was really a lot of that. She really left her mark on me. She actually changed my whole life. By way of her, I came into contact with big-time tennis, I gained a certain name. I know that any time I might need any kind of help, I can find it from her.


Could we return to the end of our subject? Can you somehow summarize in a few points why, according to you, Helena Sukova never won Wimbledon in singles?

I've actually said it all. It came down to performance. She played in then Czechoslovakia and maybe that really played a certain role in her personality traits. I think that she was also lacking such a cutthroat attempt to go for it, which is characterized by the very best players. She simply wasn't brought up for that, and she didn't have such a disposition. Unfortunately, back then tennis really changed and the era rather favored those brutal, uncompromising types of players. A person had to really respect the fact that she could manage to push through against them. But for her it meant putting out much more psychological and then physical energy. If I had to put it in a comparison to performances, then without considering results, it was sometimes that her defeat was paid for with a much bigger effort than the victory of her opponents.

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post #6 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:07 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 5: The end of grandfatherly tennis
(The chapter yields, among other things, a treatise on what changes over time; references an encyclopedia; mentions pleasure from opponents' defeats; remembers ancestor Janacek and takes a bite out of Evander Holyfield's ear; comments on the lamentations about the disappearance of grandfatherly tennis and what Pavel Slozil said about Steffi Graf; refers to views of annual tennis earnings; and finally yields brief information about one act of dieting sabotage.

----Tennis changed, said Jan Kurz. But how did it actually change? What happened with that white sport of respectable gentlemen and delicate ladies? And did that really have relevance as far as Helena Sukova's tennis destiny?
----To what extent that goes, with whom we have that privilege, sharp readers certainly drew conclusions from the aforementioned interviews. We at least roughly know, then, our heroine.
----Now, it's about time we had discourse about the time and place of the plot, as theater theorists say, since without that familiarity the drama can't carry on. Without command of the consequences of the time and place, in fact, the characters would sort of move in a vacuum and the spectator would perish after the first act to the coat check, confused which way Duke Hamlet's father actually marched and how it happened that an unhappy prince covered the trip to England at the speed of a nice jet plane which wasn't around yet, when meanwhile in the Elsinore Castle a mere couple of days passed. A brilliant Elizabethan arranged it so he didn't let his actors tell the spectators whether it was day or night, whether we were in a dining hall or in a battlement, and we're going to follow his example.
----Let's try, then, a certain meditation about tennis and its evolution in time periods when Helena Sukova's career started, climaxed, and eventually finished as one of the best players in the world.
----So, what is tennis...
----Why look for succinct words when dictionaries do it for us?
---According to the latest edition of the Diderot Universal Encyclopedia, tennis is: lawn- tennis- ball sport. Game. The goal is to play the ball with the help of a racquet over a net to a specified space so that one's opponent cannot return it. The rotation, the kind of flight of the ball and its speed are possible with effective technical strokes. The rotation and effect of the ball's bounce are caused by the player's surface and the opponent's racquet. Games deflecting the ball with the hand or some analogous paddle or racquet have already been known since medieval times (ex. ancient "trigon"). The Middle Ages brought a related game, jeu de paume, which even got into the Olympics in 1908.
----I have a friend who, although absolutely not the sporty type, year after year spends part of his vacations at the tennis hall in Starych Splavech. After dinner he groans, for an hour on the court renders him nearly invalid. To the question why, for God's sake, he destroys himself, he doesn't answer (oddly enough) with the habitual, well-known slogans about health. He actually claims that tennis is the manifestation of atavism, deeply hidden in our human nature. For one thing, you can pound something without people around you thinking that you're crazy. For another, provided that your opponent's talent and experience are proportional and you beat him, you experience great pleasure not only that you're better, but, which is even less praise-worthy though sweeter, that he lost. If there are in addition spectators for your victories, the pleasure multiplies.
----To the question how it feels in the case of defeat, he answered laconically it tastes like a shot, yet already thinking about a successful rematch manages to improve his mood.
----Obviously there's something to that. And even though during archeological discoveries of the relics of australopithecus, pithecanthropus or human neanderthals they haven't discovered any instrument similar to a racquet, it's wholly beyond a doubt that the spirit of competitiveness was given to man from time immemorial because, anyhow, from the time of Janecek's ancestors it could be stealing from the neighbor's hunting gang, the beef steak of a mammoth or a woman. Victory brought delight in and of itself, the same as a defeat led to a depressing reflection on the meaning of life somewhere in a secluded cave.
----Tennis is actually combat. A duel in the most unadulterated sense of the word. There's me and across the net the opponent, and only one can win. Tennis doesn't know the humiliating ties of football or hockey. Tennis is boxing done by other means, and the tennis net is mainly an obstacle which makes the possibility of playing the ball with the help of a racquet over a net to a specified space so that one's opponent cannot return it more difficult, but primarily it makes up an effective barrier between guys, or rather female jocks, who in the ring would also be capable of taking a bite out of an ear, as an infuriated Mike Tyson did to his adversary Evander Holyfield.
----To be physically stronger than your opponent ranks as a fundamental of sports. So it is in this sport, where your opponents compete against you. Hence, the demands of physical conditioning, since without appropriate musculature it doesn't work, and to force an ant into an elephant is nonsense. If there is a conversation about women's tennis, then, Martina Navratilova came to the court as a perfectly prepared athlete who was physically in no way worse than the men regarding strict training. At least according to the tennis experts, the phenomenal Czech tennis player was thought to have sometimes perhaps surpassed the male examples. It would in all probability be impossible to reach the title of champion without extraordinary strength, stamina and endurance in women's tennis, no matter who likes it or doesn't like it. And then...
----If we look at the list of the top female player in the world since the year 1979, we spot the following:
----Until the year 1987, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova took turns occupying the top spot of computer rankings, except for two episodes of Tracy Austin in 1980, which together lasted maybe five months. The competition was not only between those two women but also between different concepts of playing, although it would be wrong to say that their styles were complete opposites, because it's not true that an aggressive game at the net is an invention of the last twenty years and before that one only hit from the baseline.
----The post-war tennis years and tennis as it has developed into its current shape didn't go through any revolution from day to day, let alone concerning the emphasis on as much technical and physical preparation. Coaching methods were perhaps different, after all. In general, today we know more about human physiology and psychology than after the war, and it would just be enough to compare, for example, the diet of the Wimbledon champion between the wars and the champion today, and we immediately have two different worlds before our eyes. The development of materials in tennis equipment had a huge impact, anyway, including modern surfaces, which sped up the game a great deal.
----As far as styles of play, it was rather likely a long blending of new and old, which were and until now are recorded as throwbacks and players whose games were ahead of their time.
----Nonetheless, Helena Sukova's mother, Vera, in her book Do You Want to Win Wimbledon? called a very peculiar chapter devoted to Chris Evert "Old School Tennis Player." In the following citation she describes a common opinion about her style of play:
----A characterization of her game? She never goes the net unless a she gets a short ball. From the baseline she reportedly returns the ball like a machine. A perfect warmup according to the old style... Chris is used to that stereotype. Untiringly, she returns ball after ball from the baseline. She only goes to the net to pick up balls... Chris also remains level-headed, so much so that many get exasperated. Durr said after her defeat: "It's annoying how she returns one ball after another. She doesn't even bat an eyelash, she doesn't notice the applause, even whistling. She returns and returns the ball like a spider which patiently spins its web. She returns the first ball the same as the last on match point. It's tiring."
----It's tiring. Except that fatigue doesn't just concern the opponents. It's a means for tiring the viewer, especially if there are cruddy female players on both sides of the court. That later provoked reflections on essential changes in the sport so that it could become part of the juggernaut of televised entertainment. Later still we said that that's why the quickening of the game wasn't just a result of new materials and surfaces, but also the temperament of the players, such as Navratilova, Mandlikova, Shriver and Sukova.
----Certainly, tennis experts now say that the game from the baseline in women's tennis has once again returned, and no one holds it to be un-modern. Except that the baseline game from the past and the precise, hard strokes nowadays are like apples and oranges. The current game from the baseline and that of the past have, perhaps, only the net in common.
----It happened, even though those who have the right to think back have an inclination to idealize "their time" and criticize (with a little exaggeration absolutely everything in the present era. Originating from there are the wailings and complaining of nostalgic survivors whose serve-and-volley games, that is, boom boom in men's tennis, became the reason for griping over the long-lost beautiful exchanges with precise passing shots, scintillating lobs, and unreachable dropshots, which in present-day tennis have definitely decreased. We have to admire them greatly whenever we see them.
----Grandfatherly tennis, which some might really miss, was sent off to the trash pile of tennis history with the evolution of the last twenty years. Today we admire with fascination the hellish serves that give the balls vigorous, cannon-like shots and threatening returns, that, if they hit the player, would put him in an ambulance. Times change and it cannot be helped when there are players like Agassi, Courier, or the majority of the Spaniards who don't detest the game from the baseline. On the contrary, they feel at home there and would rather not hurry too much to the net. They also win. But even they don't go to the net. Simply the game got a lot faster and tougher. Obviously the ever-improving training preparation contributed to a big part of that, not only on the tennis court but mostly off of it.
----Training sometimes becomes a torture chamber where success is determined by the cost of kilometers of running and tons of weightlifting in the gym. A light jog, a bit of hitting the weights... ugh, whatever happened to getting by with that?
----And then again, of course, another purgatory on the court.
----Hours and hours of hard work arrive which obviously require the willingness to suffer through this slog.
----Pavel Slozil, Steffi Graf's coach for many years, said this in connection with his charge:
----... when I say that I'm with Steffi for four hours on the court, then we're simply there. With everything in all ways. The foundation is in that. Just four hours of hard practice which aren't even the slightest bit cheated, shortened. This is Steffi's strength. And it's also important that she's never afraid of work, sweat doesn't bother her. She knows that no other path leads to success.
----And Sue Heady, author of the book Steffi, adds:
----As soon as she's on court, she takes in the atmosphere of the match, she's very focused and doesn't show any emotion. In short, she single-mindedly and effectively conducts her work. An emotional outburst would obviously be a sign of weakness. She shows that the tennis court is her workplace in which she tries to do her job in the shortest possible time.
----Brr! My goodness, where have we found ourselves? Where is the pleasure of sports, where is the Olympic message of love and peace? What happened that at the end of the nineties in the twentieth century someone describes "play" with a technological dictionary from the Ford assembly line or the Bat'a factory? Is it still a game at all in the original sense of the word, which implies a human activity which doesn't have any other meaning than to make someone happy, to bring about entertainment, to amuse without having any kind of practical meaning?
---Time, dislocated from its hinge, goes crazy, said Hamlet. And thus Shakespeare wanted an immortal to indicate, besides other things, that in the Danish kingdom things turned upside down, and the contents of the original concept of the term got lost because everything is otherwise.
----How?
----If we put aside the technical strokes, the physical preparedness of players, simply everything that somehow physically creates the present shape of women's tennis, because there's no doubt about the value of physical training for champions. We must touch upon other traits of today's modern tennis.
----In fact, it's a sport, and it has suffered other changes in the last twenty years as a social phenomenon, some of which experts believe to be equally symptomatic if not more important than gigantic demands in physical conditioning.
----According to many, actually, contemporary tennis still has something on the court that wasn't there before and which causes throwbacks to the appearance of sport as an expression of prehistoric atavism. As an arena wherein two psyches fight (at least in terms of singles) at the same time opponents clash, for a long time already it hasn't been a gentleman's game but a gladiator match where the attempt to prevail resembles an almost atavistic desire to destroy the opponent.
----The simplest thing is to give some kind of universal, atmospheric time period reasons for this phenomenon. Sociologists speak about an increase in environmental aggression amongst people in general, relationships becoming dehumanized with a more sophisticated world in postindustrial society, the popular cult of violence, etc., etc. Worshipping success, and that at any price, means giving this world a financial price, and he who wants to succeed must be strong and uncompromising.
----Let's leave the skeptical side of this grouch. To which measure they're right, time will tell. The fact remains, however, that if circulating in the veins of present tennis are sums of money which are going up or not, they can make even a considerably hardened spirit shake towards Mammon. They have a considerably sure-handed effect on the atmosphere of today's tennis. Also related to that is the fact that tennis already long ago stopped just being a duel of opponents over the enjoyment of winning another cup for a private, club or national trophy case.
----Symptomatic of this trend is that in the yearly Player Guide published by the WTA (Women's Tennis Association), which brings together a directory of all the players participating at the top-level tournaments, around the heading of everyone's name and their personal data there also stands Career Prize Money- that implies the to-date earned sum of money in dollars, where there are rows of statistics and it's not unusual to find almost unknown names in the million row.
----Precisely today, when this book was finished, the agency information stated that Steffi Graf, after defeating Frenchwoman Sidot at the tournament in Leipzig in November of 1998, stood as the tennis player with the most earnings on the WTA circuit, and "that overcame the thirteen year-old record of Martina Navratilova. Already in the quarterfinals she won $8,450 dollars, which added to her $1,025 collected in the first round of doubles. In her bank account, she then had $20,348,992 (roughly 600,000,000 Czech crowns), $5,000 more than Navratilova earned in her career." Steffi Graf, who certainly doesn't intend to end her career yet when after a seriously injured turn of the year she imposingly returned to the court in '98-'99, then still has in front of her many more chances to modify her "record."
----It's obviously not just about tournament prize money. Other huge amounts follow from sponsors, advertising agencies, and ultimately the capitalization of earned money.
----That actually caused one-time entertainment to become, for professional tennis players, employment with all the connections which emerge from this fact.
----But differing from a postal worker, the cashier in the supermarket, or perhaps a top manager, this job has certain specifications. The main one is, unless we used the employment office dictionary, that in top-flight tennis, although it sounds somewhat unsuitable, an armada of the unemployed jostle their way towards us, distinguished by extraordinary motivation because it's also about extraordinary money, but not only about that. There is stardom in the game, the adulation of fans, media interest...
----In addition, an office clerk or cashier in a supermarket don't have before them a fatal perspective which sooner or later a tennis player must arrive at. That is to say that their bodies are sooner or later condemned to unemployment, towards a definitive absence from top-level tennis.
----In your tennis job you must practically constantly and unceasingly defend yourself in an actual fight with your opponent. Rivals stand by you cheek to cheek, initially in the first round of the tournament, then in the second, and later still they meet you in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finally they snatch victory from you in the tournament. That's why that perspective approaching from the end produces a bundle of nerves...
----And finally. Sports in general and tennis in particular, if pursued as a job, belong to those human activities which are unequivocally orientated to success in the meaning of victory over others. Because with a commodity, any kind of profession is ultimately some product or service that is provided to other people, and you get money from it. Tennis is merely a spectacle. The product of a tennis match, thus the work of tennis players, is victory. What is that, though?
----If coming out of a car factory, alright, that has some practical sense. When you launder someone's clothes or lend money at a bank, that has its practical sense. Tennis victories are perfectly lacking in this meaning. The reason for being, the meaning of life for a tennis champion, lies only in victory, and money from victories brings again just that, if we don't take into consideration supporting a coach and a pair of other people on the team. You are only paid from victories, because only victories have any value, for without them you can't be a tennis player or a coat stand in a commercial which, if there is practical sense to its existence, stays in the end. But, and my statement may definitely not go for a big part of tennis players anymore, often they prefer just winning a single match or tournament to financial rewards.
----Long ago, I followed a television interview with a famous film director. He spoke about his work with considerable disdain, for he swore that he actually makes shadow projects on screen and it scares him how those productions drain huge funds when humanity somewhere else might benefit more.
----Victory in sports doesn't even have traces of that. Clearly, there is a battle which onlookers watch. But this duel, whether we like it or not, does not improve or worsen the life destiny of even a single human being. To have a job which makes a match a picture, to be also with the amazement of the watching spectators, and that match in addition doesn't have any alternative to victory or defeat, is terrible. Only victory can provide compensation from the deeply hidden need in the overwhelming majority of people, in fact, to be profitable and create value. To play and not win simply doesn't make sense even for me, when already it's missing any kind of practical sense at all for the other.
----That's a life for thick-skinned characters, particularly when you can constantly follow yourself rising with results taking you ever closer towards the last game, set, and match so that the computer constantly shows changes to your ranking.
----In that respect, tennis is like a terrible product of darwinism, a fight between whom and whom in which even the strongest survive only temporarily and, on top of that, they know about that temporariness very well.
----How much time still remains, how long will I play, how long will sponsor interest remain? I must strenuously work hard as long as there's still time, as long as the pendulum of performance doesn't swing over to the other side. From the top ten to number twenty, then to fifty, one hundred, and it's the end.
----Where money's involved, feelings get put aside, the cynics say, and the reality (not only in tennis) proves them right. But it's not only about money.
----"It's still, of course, that I can't go on the court with the intention of making my opponent happy, which in essence means to lose. That would be crazy," claims Helena Sukova. "It doesn't mean, though, that it would delight me to growl at my opponent like an angry tiger and scare her. Unfortunately, it seems that in women's tennis distant relationships amongst the players are already typical today rather than the exception. I'm not sure if that has a really positive influence on a tennis player's performance. As for me, I simply don't have the personality for that."
----Martina Navratilova also isn't convinced that it must actually be that way. Nonetheless, she confesses that sometimes that an even hateful attitude became one of the psychological instruments in a player's equipment, and feminists perhaps aren't going to get angry with me if I add that hatred in the delicate sex can be more devastating than it is with men.
----The thing is that it's not just that you defeat someone. With the women, there are roles and effects like the appearance of an opponent, their popularity in the media; their roles can act as information about mutual relationships and opinions which they hold in relation to themselves. Those kinds of journalists, but also people around tennis who with gladness bring a type of information- she said that about you or she thinks that about you- there are lots and lots, and sometimes they produces falsities in order to influence the self-confidence and the psychological well-being of the opponent. Because the era when we met after a match and chatted or even went to the cinema, that's long gone. Today it's rather the exception, and even in the locker room mutual communication is mostly limited to a greeting and sometimes not even to that, and when we don't already leave out the spark of mutual dislike, then usually it's demonstrative silence. Such a pat on the shoulder when you part at the net after the match you is rather often putting on an act, and sometimes it's so patronizing that it gives you goosebumps," characterizes Helena Sukova relationships amongst players.
----Although Martina Navratilova and Helena Sukova admit that time can change it, according to everything tennis is presently a sport which requires a significantly thick-skinned disposition. That in no way disproves even a teardrop and gesture of compassion which affect the spectators on court and on TV so much.
----Sue Heady in her book Steffi, devoted to Graf, quotes the American Richard "Pancho" Gonzales, who said what a person should do to become a champion: Put out. Give up joy in life due to training, have a bullish craving to succeed."
----Jiri Janousek quotes Ivan Lendl: "The moment that I go out on the court, I try to throw punches. Physical and psychological. He who withstands more and proves to give the decisive blow wins."
----A somewhat bleak image of daddy's tennis outlook, tapping his child, who hardly grew up with a ribbon in her hair. You want to be a champion? Then train like a boy, set aside everything that's considered a woman's weakness, and destroy that woman over the net! Because she wants to destroy you just the same. And in addition, her sponsors will be your sponsors as long as you get to her position. They'll only devote press to her for as long as you don't send her to a lower rung on the computer rankings. Then the duchess of Kent will kiss you, the presidents will send you congratulatory telegrams, and people will give you ovations at the airport.
----God, how can a person not be defeated by that if she is ...-teen years old? How can you not trust that it must be that way when it seems that it really works? Shame on the parents, coaches, and officials who won't train you in that manner from your early childhood on. Navratilova, who although she laughed on court and complimented her opponent's shots. Many of those who came after her will already be cut from a different cloth.
----Let's give the word, though, to Helena Sukova...

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post #7 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:09 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 6: Billie Jean

The chapter familiarizes the reader with what Helena Sukova claims about happiness from the game; is about pit bulls and Saint Bernards; yields a brief treatise on Billie Jean King with a small diversion to her participation in the fantastic finish to Martina Navratilova's career, her credit in founding of the WTA, and the humiliation of Bobby Riggs; and recalls the entrance of the elite of women's tennis in hockey gear at the tournament in Madison Square Garden.

Helena Sukova claims:

I have lately had the chance to watch a little tennis with a detached view. When a person is playing it, obviously, sometimes he wonders where his ideals went, which my mom still even had. However, above all she really saw in tennis a beautiful sport that needs to bring joy.
----I'm not sure how she would assess what is taking place in our sport today. Most likely, it wouldn't make her happy. I don't know...
----To tell the truth, in the final years of my career I felt I myself was lacking that very joy which my mother understood. Of course it was related to my performance going south, because when you're perpetually tumbling down the rankings then you're not filled with any enthusiasm. But I think that the main reason for my kind of displeasure with tennis was where that last summer was headed. And just the relationships between players were, I would say, such a barometer.
----Certainly, some complimentary notes were dropped in front of journalists here and there referring to the opponents' play; anyway, who would declare that they were beaten by a weaker opponent? But about sincere admiration and respect for quality net rushers, many around tennis with average knowledge oftentimes genuinely had doubts, and I also belonged to them. Because that animosity bordering on hatred is too much for my taste. And what's worse, in some cases, it even purposefully works.


Aren't you exaggerating?

Maybe. There's no doubt that in the world of women's tennis similar approaches were tested. Their actual influence on the psychological preparation of a champion is a question for experts, sport psychologists, but to absolutely deny that "negative energy" doesn't belong in the arsenal of many athletes wouldn't correspond with reality, at least for certain types of players. I experienced it even with a player from my closest surroundings. Sometimes I had the feeling as if they thought that to get victory it was necessary to hate their opponent.

And that really works?

For some it works, for some it doesn't... In today's tennis everyone goes more on their own path. They have their own team, their own base to retire to during tournaments rather than being in the company of other players, but someone still encourages it more because they think that it helps them. And above all, for it to work, you must allow that you always behave entirely honorably. If you're a bitch, then with everyone in all ways. You can't think about a compromise because it could be sign of weakness, and that image is just about strength, about invincibility, about no one being better. On the contrary, worms are facing you and it's necessary to trample them. I'm not saying that here we don't all have our transgressions, but perhaps Martina Navratilova, and I completely agree with her in this, had certain borders beyond which she was never willing to go.

So I must destroy the other and that's my happiness...

That's maybe the sense of every sport, even perhaps of every entrepreneur, at least as we're witnesses today to things around us. I don't think that it's only in tennis.

You have, I guess, a very bleak image of the people around you...

Not always and not about everyone. But there were many disappointments. Which certainly doesn't mean that maybe somebody's victory doesn't still have value, and after all, why should anyone care if she wins a tournament with a smile on her lips or with clenched teeth? A win is a win. And it's also true that to look into whether a set before victory a player eyed her opponent with hatred or lovingly, it doesn't make any practical sense.
----As far as tennis today being a sport which demands the temperament of a pit bull training for matches in the ring rather than a peaceful St. Bernard, it cannot be helped because as far as that bearing fruit, you simply can't erase that from tennis. That doesn't mean that you have to like everyone. I'm one who never got used to that, and I wouldn't even say that I'm sorry for that.
----I'm afraid that it cannot be helped. Imagine that in some upbringing we brush up on time with our grandmother. It's naive. I'm not saying that I always had friendly relations with my opponent. I downright hated some of them. But for me to hire a psychologist who would drive into my head a moral jungle so that I would be capable of winning, then for God's sake, no. That's, nevertheless, also not just about self-respect but also mutual respect, about some kind of value that doesn't end on the court.


You wouldn't have done anything to your surroundings that would have helped you win Wimbledon?

I can't imagine knowing how it would have looked. It probably would have really depended on suggestion, and as far as I know a person must lose his inhibitions for that to work. Maybe it would have meant casting aside everything my mom gave me.
----And if I'm already speaking about Mom, in connection to that, I remember perhaps one bit of advice which went in that direction. Mom told me: Remember, you mustn't fight anyone. The longer on the court you give the impression you simply cannot lose, the better for you. Weak moments happen to everyone, but no one must learn of yours.
----That is, though, a little about something different. And already it doesn't have anything at all to do with a kind of psychological massage, picked up by watching the Marines somewhere. For it to have been that way, I would have had to change as a person- perhaps I wouldn't have been capable, even if it was driven into my head a hundred times that without it there was no chance of victory.
----I'm rather glad that I still have those ambitions within me.


----When did that start? When did tennis start to be an arena of gladiators?
----It's difficult to find a date, year or some concrete period of time. It's rather according to a name, according to a player.
----Maybe the first such personality with a huge, uncompromising desire to win was Billie Jean King. At least Vera Sukova, even if she really respected her, writes in her book about how Billie knew how to humiliate her opponent as she proved to be ruthless...
----On the other hand, though, B.J. showed an admirable ability to help those who asked her for help, even if that concerned the era when her fantastic career had already ended.
----That amazing champion, six-time Wimbledon singles winner, in fact, among other things, helped Martina Navratilova in perhaps the most difficult time of her career in the year 1989 when Gabriela Sabatini almost humiliatingly overpowered her at Amelia Island in Florida because Martina, as she herself said, played terrible tennis.
----At that time Navratilova contacted Billie Jean King with a request for help. It was three months before Wimbledon, when she wanted to break the long-standing record of Helen Wills, who won her last Wimbledon fifty years prior and, with it (similar to Navratilova years later), eight victories at the most prestigious of tournaments. Martina's goal, to win for the ninth time and rob Wills of the record, seemed at that time completely incomparable, because the contender for the title played in her last tournament "like a watch woman". King agreed to help her.
----For the portrait of the tennis world as it is dealt with in this chapter, it's typical that Adrianne Blue in her book "Martina Unauthorized" even describes that time as something utterly extraordinary. She writes:
----That telephone call became an important unknown point in tennis history since a big tennis champion promised to help another perhaps greater champion so she could eclipse her in the hearts and memories of the fans, in the books of famous sports victories, and in the record books.

----For our discussed theme, in fact, that is when and how tennis changed into a dogged and uncompromising match. Including those spiteful moments, it's worth adding that similar collaboration between former and current champions remained from that point on very unique, and in the modern era the one example is just the Mandlikova-Novotna tandem. In men's tennis it already wasn't an unusual affair, and it still isn't. There are examples of collaboration like Roche-Lendl, Tim Gullikson-Sampras, Roche-Rafter, Gilbert-Agassi, and others.
----If already, though, in connection with the birth of absolute or also total tennis the name Billie Jean King was mentioned, let's stop at her, if only because thanks to Billie Jean, women's tennis took a huge leap on the path to the recognition of its equality with the men and thus to the form we know today.
----Billie Jean King was really in her time considered the typical representative of that, let's say unfriendly, ruthless, implacable tennis. That women, who really behaved towards her opponents like a hellcat, still, on the contrary, showed an exceptional sense of solidarity and mutual backing the moment there was interest in women's tennis at all. Maybe if not for her excessive stubborness, which she had in her nature, women's tennis would have had to wait an even longer time for its emancipation.
----Written down in the annals of Wimbledon for a completely surprising reason when there, like sacrilege in that place of distinction, she broke a racquet in anger. Although she was certainly known for her exceptional ability to humiliate the opponent, off the court she knew with grace and tact how to treat her counterparts who, after playing match point on the court, would without a doubt wring her neck with pleasure.
----And not only with them, but we can say even in their interests, because before them none of the women dared to openly step out against the dismissiveness with which women's tennis was regarded until that time.
----The first episode was the celebrated humiliating Wimbledon victory in 1939 of Bobby Riggs who, in a fit of male chauvinism, invited her at 55 to a match in order to show that women's tennis could not stack up against men's, and women thus didn't deserve the same prize money as the men. King refused. Riggs then turned to Margaret Court, and in the match designated The Battle of the Sexes he defeated her the 13th of May, 1973 6-2, 6-1.
----Although some journalists commented then that Court defeated herself with her nerves, Billie Jean decided to avenge that disgrace, maybe on account of the match between Riggs and Court going unnoticed right on Mother's Day, which was an unpleasant enough consequence since Court was meritoriously called The Mother of Tennis.
----Instead of that revenge taking place, King shot to fame while the world number one for how she contributed to the founding of the WTA. During Wimbledon, she held conferences in the Hotel Gloucester, which until now hosts Wimbledon participants. She entrusted Dutchwoman Betty Stove to block the doors to prevent participants who didn't want to "stand in solidarity" from leaving until the decision was made to found the women's tennis organization.
----Incidentally, it's the same Betty Stove, Wimbledon singles finalist in 1977, whom we'll later speak of in connection with her enormous influence on Hana Mandlikova and Jana Novotna.
----The result of that session of captives, nevertheless, was that the WTA was founded and thus the emancipation of women's tennis was decided. After it followed the first big wave to flood money into tennis players' accounts. Actually, in comparison with the men, it grew a lot less until that time because it was commonly thought that women's tennis was far from having the same sporting value as men's.
----And still one more bit of credit goes to Billie Jean for helping (even though perhaps she didn't intend it) women's tennis become not only more and more the center of catchy media interest but also a sport in which the prejudice concerning the players' sexuality suffered a serious blow for the first time.
----Martina Navratilova actually thinks that in the nineties there were maybe half a dozen top-level gay players. Jan Kurz already intimated the reasons in the quoted interview, but one thing is perhaps not only supported by the fact that sexual relationships between players are due to a lack of male affection in one's arms in the moment when they're experiencing the pain of defeat.
----Homosexuality, above all for top-ranked players, leads to the regrettably not very expert theory that, in fact, a female champion is really in her own way a guy. Of course, with respect to tennis, the gentler sex didn't weigh in. With the men it didn't matter. Why should it when there wasn't any homosexuality? At least it's generally thought to have nothing in common with their performance. With women, as far as looking for a link between sporting performance and sexual orientation, it's otherwise. According to those smart alecks, a woman didn't win, but some kind of guy was deeply hidden in her body.
----From those surroundings it's no wonder that sooner or later the hunt for lesbians broke out, and Billie Jean became the first victim.
----May 5, 1981 a scandal broke out when Billie Jean's longtime lover, Marilyn Barnett, pressed charges against her. Of course it was about money because Marilyn, who appeared at Billie's side as her secretary, was left in a wheelchair after a difficult disability. At first, Billie kept refusing to come clean. In the end, though, she assembled a press conference where she declared- yes, as a married woman I had an affair with a woman.
----That confession immediately gained her the public's sympathy because, as Bill Clinton's scandal eventually showed, Americans forgive all sorts of things (if there was anything here to forgive at all, but oh well) as long as you tell it straight. Clinton and King, even if she was first, came clean in the end, and so King suffered the biggest damage in terms of her finances, because the lawsuit cost her up to one and a half million dollars. As far as the seriousness in the eyes of the public, it doesn't seem that she suffered too much.
----King and her husband Larry eventually hired themselves an armada of lawyers and won the dispute with poor Marilyn. Nonetheless, a genie was let out from a bottle, and homosexuality accompanying women's tennis became res publicae, a public thing. Still for a long time, however, Billie then maintained that her relationship with Marilyn was just a mistake and not at all her sexual orientation. According to some publications from recent times, however, she had already admitted that she was really bisexual.
----Martina Navratilova then had an easier situation even if she initially didn't show too much willingness to be honest. Who could be surprised, either? Her status was made harder by the fact that she was a naturalized American who was only just waiting to be granted citizenship and who, with the backing of the public, including immigration officials in the country where she was a foreigner, couldn't be sure. However, there were also the considerations of her former home- what, for God's sake, would the neighbors of her family in Revnice? And finally, even sponsors didn't support lesbians in their ads.
----It proved, though, that the path Billie Jean's scandal tread willy-nilly was already heading towards certain understanding and tolerance. If the relationship with Nancy Lieberman was still, though, kept quiet when it ended, she already openly claimed total responsibility towards her future partner Judy Nelson, so their relationship was, as it were, legalized in a way, which not only didn't harm Martina but apparently earned her considerable sympathy. Martina became the first tennis player who, in spite of the pressure of sponsors and tennis bosses, openly declared her sexual orientation. In the process, the public repaid her with not only complete tolerance but, it could be said, a medal for bravery. Nevertheless, sponsors weren't so tolerant, and it cost Martina a sizeable amount of money.
----King, then, definitively belongs to a more than honorable place in the tennis Olympus. She proved in due time to carry out a necessary deed. Cruel tongues, in fact, claim that today, in her efforts to push through a common interest, even Billie Jean would fare very badly because of the particular egotism of the tennis ladies. Or, rather, their agents would thwart any kind of agreement.
----King then topped off the efforts to emancipate women's tennis with the beloved Bobby Riggs after her Wimbledon and US Open victories over Chris Evert. She hammered the way in which journalists and the public were ultimately convinced, anyway, that women's tennis was absolutely worthy of its own "servant" pay. The very match against Riggs took place in September 1973 at the Houston Astrodome before a record turnout of spectators which came to over thirty thousand. They were witness to how Riggs, only with a great amount of self-denial, humiliatingly ended the match on the verge of physical collapse. Nevertheless, when it came to the question of equality for men's and women's tennis and their respective value, nothing was definitively resolved. Far from it. The discussion of the topic didn't quiet down and it sometimes continues even today.
----For example, in 1984 Vitas Gerulaitis happened to be heard saying that Navratilova couldn't even keep up with the number 100 player from the men's tour. While that was possible, the issue there wasn't so much a performance-related comparison but showing that women's tennis was intrinsically inferior to men's tennis.
----In 1992, Helena Sukova fell at Wimbledon in the third round to the Frenchwoman Halard. After her loss, Krajicek, the Dutchman of Czech descent, shot to fame when in a radio interview he scandalously declared that "80% of the women's tennis players in the top 100 are fat like pigs," and he added that they didn't deserve the same prize money as the men. A few days later, his statement was reduced when he said that he was only referring to 75% of the female players.
----Somehow Billie Jean wasn't at hand then, but Martina Navratilova spoke up. She accused him of male chauvinism and threatened to beat him up. Krajicek apparently got a little scared and then later apologized for his words. He said, though, that women continued to be overpaid for their performance.
----Let's return, though, to Billie Jean's era.
----As long as we recall here the incidents where one way or the other she had an influence, it's not only for reverential remembrance of the revolutionary period under her banner. It's really about the definite atmosphere of the time in which the present-day shape of women's tennis was born. Because exactly about Billie Jean, Martina Navratilova wrote:
----Billie Jean was a great tennis personality: strong in her own determination, she created modern women's tennis. She set the tone. She roused in us the resolve to fight for our common cause, and we let her lead us to being convinced that we would be something completely new in the sport of tennis.
----I think that today's young players don't say anything about that stuff anymore.

----Billie Jean's intensity, though, had its bright side. Vera Sukova writes in the book Do You Want to Win Wimbledon?:

----What's not to imitate from King?
----Her fighting spirit sometimes went to the extreme: she was irritable, bad-tempered. She knew how to impress the spectators with skill and spunk, though they oftentimes got angry with her unpleasant behavior.


----The word "unpleasant" is a nice euphemism because Billie Jean behaved in an utterly disgusting way, for...

----...on the "hallowed" Wimbledon lawns she angrily broke a racquet. Sometimes she let off steam from being worked up and still she played in a match with a weak opponent one high lob after another and ostentatiously lost. In later years she carried out loud, reproachful monologues on the court.

----No matter how King was, today she is a very warm-hearted lady in the best years who, with tremendous diligence, devotes herself not only to beginning players but also the role of Fed Cup captain for team USA. And it's impossible to say that it was exactly her behavior which left such a mark on the shape of women's tennis in the way we witness it today. Maybe it's more likely just how Vera Sukova assessed it, because the fact that she helped women's tennis attain respect and recognition also aided how its shape changed into its present form. In fact, thanks above all to King, the prize money flowing to the fairer sex started to be greater and greater, and the WTA became a powerful and respected organization which managed to promote interesting players with vigor who were unprecedented up until that time.
----And it seemed that the golden age of women's tennis set in. Two graceful ladies ruled the courts- Evert and Navratilova. The media then followed how things were going among the girls with, at times, a kind of perverse attention, but taken altogether a certain idyll still reigned on the court. Here and there, that was upset by a statement from one lady or the other that that other one... Let's leave gossip aside.
----Nonetheless, what a surprise! The gals supposedly still had a sense of fun back then.
----If we actually return to the era of Helena Sukova, then, it's with a certain trace of nostalgia, because she claims that back then when she started, there still really existed tennis friendships, good relations between players even off the court. In other words, somehow the overall mood in women's tennis was still perhaps from somewhere in the wooden racquet era; it included the residues of Victorian get-togethers for a cup of tea, be it metamorphosed into a mutual hamburger orgy at McDonald's, convivial dinners, or even a collective performance similar to the one Helena Sukova remembers in relation to the Championships in New York in 1985.
----It took place at Madison Square Garden starting Monday always at dinnertime, though on Saturday only in the morning, because in the evening a basketball game took place.

----We had the locker room where the basketball players used to normally be, but on Saturday they moved us to the hockey locker room. We had so many laughs. Before the doubles final we put on hockey helmets and entered the court with hockey sticks in our hands. That's obviously only such a small episode, but I remember it with fondness simply because I can't remember if anything similar has taken place since that time.
----It's a shame, it was so much fun, but that kept happening less and less. I'm afraid that's completely disappeared already.


----If it appears, kind readers, that we're pecking here too much at a characterization of how the overall mood in women's tennis was before and how it appears today, we're not doing that just so we can shed bitter tears of sorrow over fallen off manners but rather so we can better document the changes which in one way or the other transformed its shape.
----If we actually return to a historical overview of the world's number one player, to how players found themselves on the climb up the computer and thus to the era of the long-standing duel between Evert and Navratilova, let's actually return to the period of time when women's tennis was switching, metaphorically speaking, from the age of the steam engine to the age of the jet engine.
----The Old-School Tennis Player, Chris Evert, followed the Old Lady, Billie Jean King, at the top of the rankings.
----In her, it seemed that the more or less affable world from the past was fused with a willingness to fight, which King established. We're still friends, we still go to dinner together or to the movies, but it can't be helped. Our destinies face off on the court and there isn't a reason to play nice.
----The British author Sue Mott presents an interesting incident from the Catulovsky family odi et amo, I hate and I love, which shoes how ambivalent the relations between players could be. Mott states that Chris, cognizant of the danger of her position from Martina's direction, made an attempt to do something like diet sabotage:
----"With the assistance of McDonald's, it's said that she introduced the adolescent Martina's appetite to the world of chocolate cookies and hamburgers, and Martina enthusiastically threw herself in."
----Of course, it doesn't seem from afar that that dietary attack had some impact on the future career of Navratilova. Obviously not. The point is that in that era, relations among players aspiring to the top spot were still termed friendly in spite of "diet sabotage", even if it wasn't a rule.
----Nevertheless, Evert eventually definitively prepared Martina Navratilova for the throne, praised perhaps rightfully for her elegant and proper behavior in relation to her opponent. But August 17, 1987 the computer murmured, and the display announced the name Steffi Graf.

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post #8 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:09 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 7: Steffi

(A chapter about a new model coming into existence; a bashful teenager; what Borg, Lendl, Becker, Sabatini, Mandlikova, Piggot, Schumacher and Steffi have in common; about the stars' destiny being loneliness; what Graf has in common with Pavarotti; and about a computer model without naming Bill Gates.)

----To claim that what happened with present-day women's tennis is only a faithful picture of the new circumstances which Steffi established is nonsense. For one thing, they are reflections of the general mood in this sport anyway, and for another, Graf obviously didn't make them up herself. As far as her becoming a certain model, apparently above all on that account, in a feverish search for "working" algorithms for victory, many coaches and players imagine that what's good for Steffi will be good for them.

----Helena Sukova's last coach, Jaromir Jirik, says about that...

----So it always is that when two or three individuals start to jump the gun, or only one like in Graf's case, you imagine that their path to the championship title was the result of some method, mostly such that above it the guardian of gentility and tennis refinement wrings one's hands. But the truth is that in a situation when someone actually tries to win at all costs, even with the help of somewhat deplorable means, then the others blindly copy and think that if they do the same they'll attain the same success. But Steffi Graf isn't quite a typical example.
----Even if tennis really, as I would put it, dehumanized itself thanks to her. Steffi on the court is compared to an unfeeling robot of success which doesn't perceive anything other than the opponent and sometimes has on a computer program inside how to more quickly, rationally, effectively destroy her.
----Good, and we'll manage to create a robot, the others say, and they start to intensively work on it. And when it's already there, then they say, "Why not equip this machine with more aggression, why not program it with a furious yearning to destroy that creature over the net? Graf, I think, wasn't very much like that, but she served as a clear example of a dehumanized player.
----And it's not just about a player herself but what's going on around her.
----Many then simply say if it's happening around Steffi, paying interest to such striking success, it should work universally.


----Clearly we've been witnesses to the following reality in connection with Steffi.
----Peter Graf, her father, certainly did not support any kind of close contact with the other players. In 1987 Martina Navratilova expressed the belief that it's not certain whether Steffi's father would allow Steffi to become friends with any players.
----Father or no father, Steffi had her position among opponents already made worse since most of them were an average of eight years old than her. Sue Heady writes frankly:

----...how many 23 year-old gals would want to be friends with a fifteen year-old girl when that child has a terrifying forehand and is attacking the top ten of the world rankings? Very few would be found, if any at all. And even if Steffi was still a shy teenager at that time, she most likely wouldn't have found enough self-confidence in herself to establish a true friendship.

----As far as her age getting in the way of Graf establishing contact with players, it was certainly a factor she couldn't do anything about. Nonetheless, Steffi got into a certain isolation, and she didn't hesitate to communicate with journalists her attitude towards other players, which is maybe in a certain sense also a manifestation of an immature youth.
----Heady presents her statement referring to Evert: "She's slippery like an eel, always scheming. A person never knows what's going on with her.
----Such a statement would totally, unimpeachably make a confirmed non-friend of the elegant ladies at a Victorian five o'clock, let alone later in today's world of women's tennis, from which bare nerves stick out right and left.
----Let's quote one more utterance with which Steffi could give the impression that a champion must be a lonely runner and not let anyone near her.

----To sit around in the player's locker room doesn't interest me, although in the last two years a somewhat friendlier mood has reigned. Already there isn't such a big age gap with the other players like with Chris, Martina, and Pam. Everyone's now a little more open, but I still don't mix with the other players a lot. They behave very egotistically, and in such boredom I don't find it necessary to listen to that.

---We can obviously suppose this belief about tennis stars our own way. That doesn't mean, though, that there would be none of the critics standing for them.
----After all, adjectives like arrogant, haughty, and unapproachable were associated with stars like the already named Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, or even Andre Agassi, although in his case he was supposedly credited with worse and insulted journalists when trying to appease them. And John McEnroe? That phenomenal tennis player knew how to fly into a rage so insane that allegedly some of his opponents just waited for him to go off on them. And that's not even mentioning how he was towards the umpries!
----In 1990 at the Australian Open in Melbourne, John started out well in his quarterfinal match against the Swede Pernfors. People were applauding him for his masterful shots, and it's possible to say that at that point he basked in the glow of the sunny spectators' graces. Starting in the second set, the Swede sharpened his game and closed in on a struggle in which McEnroe complained a few times about the umpire's incorrect calls. In the fourth set, Pernfors was already leading 4-2 when McEnroe in such a state once again protested. And how!
----To the astonishment of all present, he threw his racquet to the ground and started to chew out umpires Armstrong and Bellinger with the juiciest possible expletives, like an American navy sergeant cussing out his troops. He kicked everything under his feet, after which he was disqualified and fined.
----The newspapers then had the headline that McEnroe behaved like an animal. Except that there were also those who claimed that John the Great was deliberately cultivating his image and reputation as a bad guy, however many times he was fined, because it would ultimately pay off when his opponent respected him. That saved him a lot of time and energy, especially with weaker opponents.
----Ivan Lendl, a representative of showy self-confidence, a very proud man, was at the time of his greatest success not only hated by spectators and journalists but also his opponents. Janousek and Vitous refer in their book on Lendl to the match with Wilander at Roland Garros in 1982, in which after a long series of victories Lendl was beaten by the opponent.

----He resembled a boxing heavyweight, outraged that his opponents, albeit from a lower category, wanted to really box. "Every now and then it seems that Lendl doesn't get how it's possible that those balls return at all to his half of the court," wrote a columnist for French Tennis Magazine.
----Match by match it was more obvious that Lend's psyche, overloaded with dazzling series of masterful wins, was like an overwrought pen...
----The press conference started as a public interrogation of an enemy of tennis. Three questions are fired out, one more aggressive and malicious than the other. Lendl has a tightened shape with his deeply sunken eyes. "Are there still any similar questions?" he asks belligerently and into the silence hurls: "If you want some sensation at all costs, I can hang myself in the locker room. I can't do anything else for you."


----That quote, though, doesn't even testify to Ivan Lendl's personality like the nature of tennis of that era. If Francois Villon contends that human poverty makes wolves, then in that case it's not about poverty but the stress which top players are subject to with greater pressure the greater the media hype around tennis, and all influences which make of them gladiators in an arena.
----But let's leave tennis.
----What about just recalling the stony, arrogant shape of reputedly the most phenomenal jockey of all time, Lester Piggot, who in his ninth English Derby won in 1983. The queen honored him with the Order of Knighthood. That knight, though, forgot to pay taxes, and so the English IRS sent him to the slammer for three years. When he returned from jail, he was 53 years old. No one expected that he would get back on a horse. Nevertheless, he did that and won again. In 1992 during the Federation Cup in Frankfurt, where our team members famously lost in the quarterfinals to the Australians (which was because of some "falling out" between players, predominantly antagonism between Sukova and Novotna), he again raced on a high-tech track. He finished third, but he didn't live to see adulation. On the contrary, the journalists wrote of him that "He didn't behave like an English gentleman. He was arrogant, conceited, and he spoke only when he received payment."
---God knows what percentage of his famous career had to do with those traits. One of his leading rivals contrarily declared:

----They also say that it's hard getting acquainted with him. It's not true. It's impossible to get away from him! Later they said that he's a great jockey. That's already total rubbish. He's the greatest jockey the world's ever seen. The word "great" is too small for him.

----By the way, there were similar concerns about arrogance and disdainfulness involving Zdenek Matysik, who won the Velke pardubicke in 1998. He didn't even smile on the winner's podium, and he looked journalists in the eye and claimed that he didn't like them.
----Two-time world champion in Formula 1, Michael Schumacher, who doesn't hesitate to use his cars to act like his opponents are bowling pins, makes no secret that the meaning of his existence is simply and only victory. Apparently mesmerized by this mixture of arrogance and self-importance, the referees in Silverstone proclaimed him the winner in 1998 even though be broke the rules in an usual way. Hence, some journalists gave him the nickname Mister Arrogance.
----We could provide lots and lots of similar examples of men and women whose ability to win was linked with an absence of sociability, thoughtfulness, or just politeness.
----Martina Navratilova also has experience with a theory of hatred. She writes:
----"Her theory even worried me [author's note: Nancy Lieberman's, who was one of Martina Navratilova's coaches]. If I wanted to get to the top, I would have to hate Chris [Evert]. Nancy also stressed to me that I not speak with the other players about what or how I trained. I couldn't understand it. I was convinced that I could defeat them and still go with them to dinner.
----Except, psychologists say, there's something to that. The phrases self-confidence, dominance, superiority, which tennis players bring with themselves to the court and off it, have a debatable influence on opponents. They irritate, anger, and take away peace. Why not assume that precisely those traits could be effective weapons which dependably work on the court? In truth, not always and not against all opponents.
----In the period when Steffi declared- Friends? I don't have any, which even earned her the commiseration of Seles- I wouldn't want to be as unhappy as Steffi, and Navratilova's words that Steffi- carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, "Fatty" Lindsay Davenport won the juniors at the US Open. A kind-hearted player who's all smiles, the favorite jokester among colleagues, she definitely doesn't look like she could be based on the concept of all-star unpopularity as a requirement for success. And goodness, the 12th of October, 1998 she expelled Martina Hingis from her place as world number one. Hingis had been tipped to be almost unflappable in holding that position.
----If it means, then, that smiling Lindsay is the dawn of better times, at least pertaining to the mood of women's tennis, we'll see. Helena Sukova isn't going to be affected anymore.
----Her presence in big-time tennis took place exactly at the time when, with King, Navratilova, and Evert, the last generation of tennis players to train in the age of gentlemen's tennis from the first stroke against the wall was really dying.
----One of the last of that generation will be Helena Sukova because she wound up at a crossroads when women's tennis definitively got rid of the traditional image of being a white sport which was born someplace in a distant era when men in knee breeches smoked cigars together after the match and ladies in long white skirts gossiped over small cups of tea about Victorian domestic secrets; when the sport of tennis, including international tournaments, was still always a place where associated unions of friends in the community met up and chatted in the locker room before the match.
----Her career ended at a time when future champions would have to generally really hold true the words of the renowned tennis fashion designer and brilliant tennis expert Ted Tinling on Steffi Graf: Steffi can't find friends in the world of tennis. You have to understand that the destiny of stars is loneliness."
----Let's pay attention to the word star. Not that it's referring to the top tennis players in the world for the first time. The word star in connection with Steffi Graf, though, for the first time acquired the very value that was until then limited to movie stars.
----Evert was a star, Navratilova was a star, and before them King and Bueno. "The so-called star," writes Vera Sukova under the photograph of French star of the 20's Suzanne Lenglen. But "star" as the media manages to fashion it with a cult not unlike Oscar statues was not around until Steffi Graf.
----And a big boom started.
----Helena Sukova says of it:

----With Steffi came changes for which women's tennis was already, I would say, ripe for a long time. But with the phenom Steffi Graf, a new situation was produced. Similarly, in men's tennis there was the need for a phenom, Boris Becker. That newly-emerged situation I would characterize as tennis no longer being definitively a sport for itself. By that I mean that until that time, it was obviously a thing for those who played and the fans, but even when there were many, it still didn't have a character such as when you go down West 54th in New York and all of a sudden you find yourself on Broadway. That's a completely different world.
----From the end of the eighties, tennis was already forever a sport for business with all that entails, which implies huge media interest, the tennis industry down its back and even politics, an element which so far only rules soccer.


What, then, do you think actually happened?

Tennis had already obviously looked forward to an attentive public interest, including the media, before that. That interest, though, didn't amount to the dimensions we are witness to today by a long shot. Every comparison fails. Nonetheless, as far as we could liken tennis fans to admirers of, let's say, an opera singer, then tennis before Graf was the same as opera singers before Pavarotti. In other words, if today the name Pavarotti is known even to the proverbial "average Joe", then that kind of public attention also holds true in relation to tennis these days.
----The first step towards that, for tennis to get to present-day dimensions, was performed in 1968 when the division between professionals and amateurs dropped. Immediately, let's say there started to loosen the ethics of sport from its meaning that it's not a sin to earn money for your daily bread from sport (which ultimately didn't only hold true for tennis, because that stance was more or less inferred from the taboo stated by the Olympic movement for sports anyway). A certain dam which protected the entrance of big business into sports fell down. The best goods introduced the most famous names. In sport, champions. That attracted media interest and the media provided publicity.
----The conditions for the maximum efficiency of invested money, of course, were to maximally expand the size of the audience. Already in the era when I started, tennis fans, even if their numbers were in the order of millions, didn't really create a basic tennis advertising market for a truly mass audience. When you consider the size and global nature of a sport's audience, it was definitely better for companies to invest in soccer or, in the USA, in American football, baseball, or ice hockey, although with hockey it had yet to really experience a market boom.
----The interest of the general public in tennis focused mainly on where there was state representation, Davis Cup and Federation Cup, and the center of attention was naturally Wimbledon with its mighty traditions.
----The reason it was like that could have been the fact that they still didn't agree on objective, reliable criteria for how to rank the best. Such were the world rankings defined in their origins, which were established in 1975 and which eventually as a part of software evaluation passed onto the computer in 1977. Until that time, actually, there existed several rankings put together by experts on the basis of tournament results, where they obviously differed.
----Only with the start of
opentournaments, that is contests where everyone could participate, professionals and previous amateurs, came the possibility to evaluate tennis players without any kind of subjective or different influences.

From that I understand it wasn't previously objective?

It's a matter of opinion, but here the point isn't if it was or wasn't objective. Here the point was for the public to get results which were not open to doubt. There simply had to be one competition with one set of rankings so the people could follow things and so it was suspenseful. What is suspenseful, I say, in ten different competitions being played from which ten winners come out, or I don't know how many? So who of them is the best? You don't actually properly find out.
----If a criteria provided the chance to say- this one or that one is champion without there being any reason to doubt it, it was a huge step in the direction towards the needed media and sponsors. The world rankings which later merged with the concept of the computer meant a first step towards tennis no longer being a matter of a particular tournament. It actually became a continuous struggle for placements on the computer.
----At any rate, I think that.


----Helena Sukova precisely expressed the connection between the approaching of the tennis boom from that time and how tennis competitions were formed into a transparent and perfectly quantifiable system which the media badly needed. That process continues. In November 1998, the magazine Sport-Bild carried the news that German tennis player Boris Becker and media tycoon Leo Kirch planned to create a strong coalition which would once again totally change the shape of tennis competition. Supposedly, Bernie Ecclestone, the head of world championship Formula 1 Racing, also promotes their intentions and admitted that he is negotiating with people within tennis.
----These men reportedly have the intention of investing 300 million marks and launching in 2000 a tennis championship which would unite individual tournaments into one competition. The point, then, is actually to establish and launch a tennis Formula 1. At the end of 1998, they were preparing a meeting with the manager of the biggest tournaments, who would agree to enter a collective enterprise.
----Helena Sukova is, thus, perfectly right when she claims that the unification of competitions and the formation of a system of awarding points had enormous significance. But to list the influences which left their mark on the tennis world until the era we know today, it wouldn't be complete if left out mention of the origins of the present tennis boom actually depending on the general post-war development of the world.

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post #9 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:10 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 8: German myth

(The chapter discusses the social status of coaches then and now; quotes Thornton Wilder; describes the effect of a German star on tennis' media popularity; mentions the problem of how to send Rambo to the court; and finishes the reflection on great loneliness.)

----If after the war tennis still represented another exclusive form of entertainment for the well-situated classes, then as industrialized countries got richer it became a more and more plebeianized white sport. Hours on the court, equipment, coaches, etc. were becoming more accessible to an ever wider class when for many new members of the middle class tennis was a symbol of a new social status, if we don't already take into account the charm of the sport itself.
----At the beginning of 1990 I had the opportunity to meet a Czech emigrant in Lausanne who worked there as a tennis coach. He came to the meeting in a BMW, at first sight a wealthy man. In the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying, as soon as we entered the manager came and welcomed my colleague with obvious respect. It was certain that he had been looking forward to the visit. I gradually realized that a tennis coach fit in there to a position of nobility.
----I was reminded of one episode from Thornton Wilder's book Seven Towns, whose plot takes place early in the year 1926.
----The hero of the novel, a Yale graduate, wants to change his lifestyle. He goes to Newport on the eastern coast of the USA and accepts, among other things, even a position as a coach in a tennis club in the local casino. One of his pupils is a boy from a well-situated family who expresses profound astonishment at the fact that a Yale graduate works as a tennis coach for a dollar an hour.
----"If you went to Yale, why are you working at the Casino?"
----"So I can make some money."
----"You don't look like... a poor guy."
----I gave a laugh: "But yes, I'm very poor, Charles..."

----To claim that all of today's tennis coaches at clubs in the US are rich is obviously nonsense. In any case, though, the vast majority of men and women in that profession certainly aren't poor, and the most successful are millionaires. And the least affluent can hardly advise the proletarians.
----The European benchmark was obviously somewhat different. And still a totally different situation in which during the seventies and eighties they formed the foundation of Czech, Czechoslovak rather, tennis.
----Be that as it may, active tennis players, their clubs, and tennis courts began to multiply like mushrooms after the rain even in Europe after the postwar wounds had healed.
----The amount of money in the sport also determined the very fact that increasing affluence enabled growing consumerism. The propagation of leisure goods, above all of a sporty nature, but also tennis and sport products absolutely wasn't related to the urging of marketing executives to look for more and more new ways to get into the media and above all television.
----From the beginning, the most watched program for the audience was sport, that fascinating insight into the fight between people. That duel, though, needed to have characteristics more or less comparable to the needs of the audience's taste in responding to news reports and film and television cinematography. If it's not about life, it's not about anything. If today some authors compare athletes to new-age gladiators, then they don't speak of anything else than their performance of risk, which the Romans received morituri (those who go to death), they must at least approach a metaphorical meaning of the word. Let alone the media, with its Barnum inclination towards exaggeration, knows with routinely sophisticated technology.
----A media hero or, if you want, champion, doesn't make do with playing a game for a trophy in some stupid cupboard. In the game there must obviously be glory, but if possible in amounts that take the viewer into ecstasy. It's not enough anymore just hidden in the duel itself; it's necessary to package information in such a way that it targets the spectators' desires by anticipating their tastes, which are to a large extent just formed by the media. When we can't put Rambo on the court anymore, at least we put out a replica in shorts.
----And finally, why not hitch to marketing services such things as national pride, patriotism, let alone becoming conscious that the regime in our country was in no way enthusiastic about tennis, and the result was that the "bourgeois sport" became a showcase of socialist success. Thanks to that, Stvanice Hall was built, and in spite of the rather classy nature of tennis, it was thanks to the great efforts of many enthusiasts that champions grew up in Czechoslovakia. And we are into politics.
----By the way, it apparently had to be just the Germans who spun this gigantic media circus. The German miracle, like a greedy-gut who is already overweight, must sooner or later give birth to the subject of national pride, unique, incomparable, as really the very first. BMW and Mercedes, fine, but outstanding cars are made elsewhere. Let's go to sports. We're a great soccer power, fine, but the attention of the world and the public disperses the fact that there is a playground full of champions. It's impossible to love and cherish the whole soccer team enough. The true symbol on which it is possible to focus undivided attention, the spotlight and Nietzschean expression of the concept of the superman, hidden somewhere in the subconscious of the great, successful nation, can symbolize only an individual.
---A brilliant, invincible citizen from whom falls the gleam of glory and size of the whole nation, which deserves such a representative of its industriousness and creativity.
----Destiny answered the call, and thus was born the cult of Boris and Steffi, who also have the good fortune that nature almost created them in the image of the mythical Nibelung when it provided them with light hair and blue eyes.
----Let's return to the year 1984.
----According to Sue Heady's figure, in that year German television broadcast thirteen hours of tennis. In 1993, it was already 2,873 hours. The cause?
----Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. In Boris and Steffi, it's as if a new German myth was born, and that myth already then lived on in their own lives.
----French Open 1987. In the final, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf face off. After the first two sets it's one apiece. In the third set Navratilova leads 5-3. Graf holds for 5-4, but Navratilova serves for victory. Graf breaks and ties it up. The course of the match is broken and Navratilova serves behind 6-7. In that moment, her nerves get the best of her and they enable Graf to reach match point. Martina double faults and Graf wins her first Grand Slam tournament.
----It's finished and eyewitnesses to the old times of tennis can quote the poet Josef Hora, "I am both happy and sad, and what was mine is no longer mine."
----The circus immediately unleashed around Steffi was unparalleled, and it seemed that in Steffi the tennis world found its next meter from platinum and iridium. If you want to be a champion, you must be like Steffi.
----"No way!" many people now cry out and proclaim that the prestige of the international platinum-iridium ideal standard [trans. note: being the perfect champion] belongs to Navratilova because no one else had as many consecutive wins as her, and she could have had even more if she hadn't run into Helena Sukova.
----I don't think that it would be so important. The conversation is about the gigantic explosion of media interest, and Steffi the phenom definitively merits the greatest amount of that.
----With her, the process of transforming the tennis world into its current form was obviously completed. What does that mean for WTA players?
----Above all huge media pressure and, associated with it, the need to protect their private lives; to close off as much as possible the outside world to the extent that they don't go crazy from what the media claims about them; and finally to protect themselves from the public exposure of their innermost problems and player secrets, which play a huge role in the moment when they start playing on the court.
----In tennis, it's simply not possible to trust some things with even a good friend among competitors because you never know when you're going to play her. But in a world marked by such massive media interest, journalists oftentimes do the confiding for you; that is, they think things for you or speculate. Thus, it happens in tennis that there's an individual, microcosmic world surrounding each player, and from there also, as some journalists call it, the world of great solitude.
----But that's not a situation that will suit everyone. It wouldn't seem that Helena Sukova is really comfortable in it. On the contrary. One newspaper headline from 1993, in fact, quotes her statement- I really don't like being alone.
----It's actually interesting that whenever she's a part of a team, whether it's a team in the broadest sense of the word like the Federation Cup or Olympic team or mainly about her extraordinary success in doubles, when she's not playing just for herself, Helena Sukova evidently feels better if and only if she's not alone. Few players who are doubles champions can boast such great results in doubles. Why is this?
----For me, doubles was always more comfortable. First, a person's not really just playing for himself; his role is to play as well as communicate with a teammate. But I think the main thing was that I never actually considered doubles as the major thing. For me, singles was important; I mainly directed my ambitions there, and doubles was just an add-on. For me, doubles was subjectively not as valuable. That actually meant that I could play more comfortably. After all, spectator and media attention is predominantly focused on singles. Although journalists write that doubles has been a success, you mostly feel that the word "only", although unwritten, is what they think.
----For me, it was always mainly about winning in singles.

----Let's go back to Steffi Graf. Indeed, if you put aside the relationship of her phenomenon with the world of tennis as such, for Helena Sukova it personally had another meaning. After Evert and Navratilova, their potential successor just might have been Helena Sukova. In truth, other big names set in-Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario- but Steffi first of all. In the crucial moments after Evert and Navratilova, she became the biggest obstacle on the path of excellent Czech tennis players to the title of champion.
----But a picture of the time and environment in which Helena Sukova's path to the white dream, as Frantisek Kreuz aptly and somewhat prophetically called the first book about Helena Sukova, took place would not be complete if we didn't take into consideration the fundamental fact that Jan Kurz discussed; namely, that she was a Czech tennis player and actually a Czechoslovak. Or, more precisely, the Czech Republic and the condition of Czech tennis were not without their effect on her career.

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post #10 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:11 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 9: Except for Spartakiada

(The chapter yields, one might say in short, testimony about the era and behavior.)

----Helena Sukova's mom, Vera, ended her book Do you Want to Win Wimbledon? with these words:

----I know very well what good athletic representation abroad means for socialist Czechoslovakia. Therefore, I want to give all of my skills to the young tennis prospects. I wish for them to take the victorious baton for our country all over the world.

----Maybe one can find people who read Vera Sukova's words from 1980 with a certain smirk and imagine something of the conformity of the era. Okay, maybe there's too much pathos in the statements and maybe even the author knew very well why it was put there, because the daily bread of both the top tennis officials and coaches belonged to some kind of permanent defense of their sport as far as the compatibility of tennis and the idea of a socialist sport was concerned.
----This gazing askance at tennis as a sport with its own exclusive manners, regarded as amusement for the upper class and therefore to be disdained, also found it severely individualistic and therefore not fully in the spirit of the more or less distorted ideas of Pierre de Coubertin, who, although a baron, was in our geographical latitude connected with leftist concepts of sport, such as a massive toughening up of the working classes in teams of nearly Spartan dimensions. It wasn't only a specialty of socialist Czechoslovakia and, by extension, a so-called socialist camp state.
----After all, how long did it take before tennis was accepted with mercy as an Olympic sport, and until now many representatives of different sports see red when handing out Olympic medals to millionaires with racquets in their hands.
----Vera Sukova knew very well that the prestige of her sport is far from proletariat soccer, that pastime of the masses, or macho ice hokey, where we managed to hammer Canada for championships, and the best hockey school was Soviet even though they sometimes lost to us. Likewise, you can hardly blame some class consequences on the queen of sports, track and field, because the ancient tradition was unquestionable and only the strictest idiot could link other sports- winter or summer- with the idea of exclusive entertainment for the exploitative class.
----Tennis simply had the bad luck that it wasn't really able to get rid of its mark as a high society sport, and although the sixties, with Vera Sukova's successes, and the later outstanding results of Jan Kodes made quite a few changes, one scratched one's head whenever the status of tennis in Czechoslovakian sport was evaluated. It continued, and after the emigration of Navratilova and the departure of Lendl to the USA it got intense enough to create bald spots.
----In this situation, Vera Sukova's generation took a huge step towards rehabilitating tennis as a sport which justifiably exists next to its "more mass" and ideologically more tolerable kinds of sports because of the results its outstanding representatives achieved in the international arena. Tennis players eventually gained the title of champions and worthy masters of sport, and the climax of it all was the most grandiose show of socialist physical education, Spartakiada. 10,000 children did exercises in 1980 at Strahov in a racquet pattern, which was inspired by the "formerly individualistic sport."

Let's give the word once more, though, to Helena Sukova.

Look, I don't ask anyone to feel sorry for me since I wasn't allowed to do something in that era. I don't even think about it. I don't think that I could have had, as far as my childhood or my start as a tennis player somewhere outside of the Czech Republic, better conditions for my tennis growth, better people around me, at least as far as my closest surroundings.
----It's different, though, when you enter the international tennis scene. I am profoundly convinced that when it comes to self-confidence, to how you manage to move around in the big world of tennis, then we were at a disadvantage.
----It started with seemingly silly things, like they sent you out into the world, and still sometimes from really humiliating passport and visa formalities, and in the process they furnished such sums of money that it was barely enough for a decent bed and a hamburger. The worst was the feeling that whether you liked it or not, you were confronted with a world where certain things were commonplace and you didn't have them. As soon as players whose results are no different than yours, or are even worse, can afford what you can't, and it's basically the normal standard, nothing exceptional, you can't feel good, much less masterful or self-confident.
----I wouldn't wish on anyone those embarrassing situations when immediately after you finish taking part in a tournament you dash for the check and then race to the bank, lest it close. Because otherwise, you're threatened with debt at the hotel because you don't have any cash. That isn't any indulgence; it's the normal feeling of a person who simply doesn't feel comfortable under those circumstances. Any Czech tennis player from those days will confirm that that just terribly annoyed him. It was degrading, and even more absurd was that almost everyone thought that I was a millionaire, thought of how much money I had stashed away, and I don't know what. It went so far that at the airport they sometimes searched us like smugglers. Once, they literally wanted us to strip naked...
----It also annoyed me terribly when they sent us abroad with coaches or officials abroad who absolutely could not help with anything. I knew very well that next to me was a person who was useless to me, but I couldn't even peep. At least until a certain time.
----A whole separate chapter were the opportunities connected to the sponsors' interest. The fact that I was from Czechoslovakia meant that I automatically had less value for them than, maybe, an American. As far as I know, for example, Jennifer Capriati- whom they said was a wunderkind- made a million dollars even before she could win anything at all. We could play like gods, but no one paid much attention to most of us, and the thing is that our offers weren't by a long shot comparable to those which players from, for example, Western Europe or the USA received.
----Of course, that is also related to media interest. The center of attention for most journalists were their own "horses", whereas in Czechoslovakia our journalists (apart from very few exceptions) were not allowed to go abroad with us.
----All of this, then, has an impact on you, how you feel, how confident you are, how you deal with other people. Sometimes we were overly deferential where it wasn't necessary; we lacked more self-confidence and I think that for an athlete, that has an impact on your psychological growth.
----Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, and Hana Mandlikova ultimately solved that by leaving, which substantially eased their path to reaching athletic heights, and hardly anyone realizes that fact these days...
----To make it clear: nobody stole my childhood or youth, but if I have often been plagued by a lack of self-confidence, even though Honza Kurz claims that I had a surplus of it, I think the roots of why I sometimes lacked it came from that era.


----They call that an approximate advantage or disadvantage. It lies in the fact that your situation is harder or easier simply because it is affected by factors which are totally outside of you and which you don't deserve at all. I have spoken about this with many fellow journalists. Most agreed that our tennis players had damn little of that approximate advantage to enter big-time tennis, or was it rather exactly the other way around? Did Helena Sukova find at least some advantage in being until 1989 a tennis player from socialist Czechoslovakia?

----Maybe anger sometimes helped and I attempted to show them that I wasn't really a nobody, that I was really good at something. Maybe still in the era when I didn't take away too much understanding, small change could perhaps be outside of me in that world, but here income in definitively sizable dollars mean a certain satisfaction from those who didn't favor me very much. But otherwise, I would have to really think back.
----But one thing is certain. I had here a home, a place without which I could not imagine my life, and despite what was going on around me, I was and am fond of our country.

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post #11 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:11 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 10: Desire For Victory

(The chapter yields a short resume, quotes a sports psychologist, returns to a certain long-ago episode in the Jewish Cemetery, and includes a somewhat introspective statement from Helena Sukova.)

----Let's continue now in our exploration of Helena Sukova's life story towards those moments which she considers the most important and which had, one might say, a fatal effect on her career and primarily on the realization, or more precisely on the non-realization, of her Wimbledon dream. But even before we do so, let's try to summarize what we have actually learned so far about the sports career of Helena Sukova as concerns the time and place of the action.
----First of all, without a doubt, it took place in a period when tennis was changing at a colossal speed. This concerns both the approach to the game and its style as well as the demands of preparation related to that. At the same time, a new form of tennis was born as a social phenomenon with all its related consequences. Of those, it's possible to regard the leading ones as, primarily, the enormous growth of media interest, the influx of money, and the birth of tennis as mass entertainment.
----And finally, the inner world of the sport of tennis changed, especially with regards to how training and the game itself became the product of a perfectly prepared professional team, inside of which takes places the daily professional and, in fact, private life of a tennis player in general. With the associated fragmentation of the community of high-level tennis players, it gradually destroyed the traditional concept of relationships within the world of big-time tennis, and rivalries which affected the overall cultural of relationships utterly dominated.
----It had an impact on which mental gear affecting the performance of a player was required by this new form of tennis. A strong, highly motivated individual fully concentrated just on professional performance who subordinated and sacrificed everything had greater odds. At the same time, a kind of psychological preparation which perceived the rival as an enemy and created the image of an adversary which must be destroyed started to be promoted, for he basically did the same thing.
----And finally, Steffi Graf became a kind of universal standard of a champion because the media has a tendency to measure the results of other tennis players against her, though it is commonly believed that in her preparation she achieved the desired perfection so much that it seems that Steffi can only be beaten by her age or injury, which to some extent has turned out to be true.
----After all, it was precisely Steffi who, in the final of the 1993 US Open, deprived Helena Sukova of her last chance to finally fulfill one of her last big tennis dreams; namely, to win a Grand Slam singles title, after she was denied the opportunity for the first time in 1984 in the final of the Australian Open by Evert.
----If some experts claim that Helena Sukova's bad fortune was that her career ran parallel to Navratilova's peak, possibly Evert's, and immediately after them Graf's appearance, they don't claim anything other than that that time coincidence practically made it impossible for Helena Sukova to carry out most of what she resolved to do.
----That might be true, but only to a certain extent. Helena Sukova herself claims that in many key moments of her career she decided, leaving aside such fatal effects like getting injured or primarily her own ability under those circumstances, to win.
----In connection with champions, one often speaks of a specially developed desire for victory as the basis for high motivation. Sports psychologist Paul Morgan of Newcastle asserts:

----We know that some people have an innate desire to be better than others. In recent years, however, we've discovered that those missing that attribute can develop it. It's possible to learn it. The desire for victory which, for instance, Bjorn Borg excelled in doesn't have to be your own, but when you learn to impose it you can be a better athlete than Borg... The main thing that separates the best from the average is their focus on the goal. They're totally clear about what they want to achieve and they know exactly how to achieve it. Most of them even write down their goal and constantly remind themselves of it. It works as an incantation, as a mantra, a constant confirmation of the chosen path. Such people entrench themselves with the unshakeable idea of where they want to be and how to get there. They don't, then, deviate one step from their planned route.

----Let's digress. In the first book about Helena Sukova from the pen of Frantisek Kreuz, the following peculiar episode is mentioned.
----Once, I was maybe nine, our school visited the Old Jewish Cemetery. It was already the afternoon, the tombstones were slowly disappearing into dusk, and the teacher told us that she was taking us to the most mysterious gravestone. We walked among the graves and she related that the cemetery was established in the first half of the fifteenth century. In some places there are up to twelve layers of cemetery, and the whole world goes there to look. Suddenly, we stood in front of a big grave.
----"Here is buried Jehuda ben Becalel, Rabbi Low, whose name is linked to the legend of the golem, which he helped to create." Then, our teacher mentioned the myth according to which everyone's wishes written down there on paper are granted.
----I always had dreams, but I was afraid I wouldn't have enough strength to fulfill them. It always seemed to me that I would have weak hands for everything, little strength, and maybe even little determination. Simply such a natural childish fear. And so I reached into my pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, and started to write.
----"Just one wish," the teacher said again, but I had already by that time written three. To win Wimbledon, to have nothing but A's in school, and to accompany Mom on her then-upcoming trip to Russia, where she was going with our team members in the role of state coach. My world of wishes was way too small for just one [tr. note: the logic of that sentence escapes me].
----I carefully folded the paper and threw it into a crack. I was then coming back from the Jewish cemetery and said to myself that I had done the first important thing for my life and my sporting desire. And I really then got straight A's on my report card, but I could only dream on about Wimbledon, just like the trip with Mom. However, when I received my report card, I spared a thought for that time at Rabbi Low's grave and told myself that that mysterious man with the golem owed me.


----As fate would have it, Rabbi Low's debt would apparently forever, at least concerning Wimbledon singles, remain outstanding.
----Children's wishes can hardly be considered the unshakeable idea of where I want to be and how to get there. Many such wishes used to often be forgotten before there could come a time for realization anyway. In Helena Sukova's case, it didn't happen, and when it comes to the desire for victory it appears that eventually it grew to such proportions that it became in its own way a barrier to realizing itself. As she said, ...I think that I didn't win Wimbledon precisely because I longed for it so terribly.
----But the desire for victory obviously isn't enough by itself. Helena Sukova apparently aways had it in abundance. What was missing at that time for it to reach fulfillment? Maybe exactly what her former coaches had in mind. How did Jan Kurz put it?
----....the era favored those tough, uncompromising types of players. What does Helena Sukova think about that...?

----...Well, maybe! I'll give you an example.
----It was said about Kodes that he was a person who killed on the court and emptied his soul. He simply gave everything when playing tennis. Somewhere a journalist wrote that Kodes played absolute tennis. Tennis without respect, tennis without compromise. But he's like that in everything. Some people hate him because he doesn't know how to treat others. Internally, he means well. He's convinced that his way is correct, and he doesn't take advice from anyone. His behavior may be terrible, perhaps entirely unbearable, but I admire him because even when he acts ruthlessly, he is always sincere, without some ulterior motive. He lives for tennis, he decided that, and he doesn't make compromises. He was a fighter who might have been brutal when pursuing his goals, able to go, so to speak, over dead bodies, but that's exactly why he won that Wimbledon. I'm just not very much like that.


In photos of Kodes one often sees that characteristic shape of contorted effort. In your photos, it's as if you're emotionless or you're smiling. Do you think that's a demonstration of the difference between you?

I get that from Mom. Mom also smiled. That doesn't mean, though, that she was emotionless. I think that just like me, she always hid everything inside herself. But it's true about that personality. I remember that Hana Mandlikova was sometimes bordering on insane from the fact that in disagreements, I always try to look for the amicable path, and in doing so I still smile. She said, "You get that from your mom," because she knew her well. When Mom coached her, she often wanted for her to be nice to smile. I get that, then, from Mom. It seemed correct to me to not behave like a fool. I don't like any kind of excessiveness.
---Of course I had times when I spoke vulgarly on court, but I was very careful that it was where people around me couldn't understand. Of course I'm stupid- for example, inside Sparta Tennis Club I've broken a lot of racquets, but frankly, if I hadn't had enough of them, I might have thought twice about it. Also, when I began playing with a different racquet and there were few of them, I immediately stopped. So my excesses were performed so little, because if it were really a proper anger I wouldn't have shown any regard for what I was holding in my hand. Now I almost carry my racquet on a silver platter because they don't produce my model anymore and last year the producers of Mizuno racquets mustered up the last ten. I don't even know where they managed to find them.
----In short, you're angry and bang on the table. But that's not the type of stubbornness which could be used to win a tournament. It more likely hurts you. When I started to play doubles with Martina Hingis, she sometimes acted frightfully on the court. I told her- the way you throw your racquet when things aren't going well not only shows the opponents your inner state, but you subconsciously help them and supply them with so much necessary psychological strength. And that's a pity. But when someone says it to you like that, it's of little use. You have to experience it yourself. The skill of controlling oneself is definitely more effective than some frantic flying around the court and making a scene, although I must say that in this respect, there were isolated occurrences.
----When I thought the officials robbed me, I got so teed off that for maybe three games I wasn't capable of thinking normally. Over time, I learned that it's better to say, "Okay, now stop the panic and the aggravation and play on."


Were you ever deprived of victory because of that difficulty, maybe at Wimbledon?

I think not. Or I don't remember it.

It's impossible to prevent it?

It is possible. When one is able to concentrate and only think about playing, and not reflect on anything else. Over time, I managed to mostly keep my emotions, at least in that respect, at bay.

Your more successful opponents were, from that point of view, better? They didn't have those problems?

Everyone had them; some more, some less. Some knew how to cope with them better; some worse. Some didn't think about them too much. Every person is different.
----Some were so strong that they managed to bottle them up inside and pursue victory without any big problems. That's why Martina Navratilova managed to win even though she's very emotional. Evert managed to not only bottle up everything inside, but throughout her whole career she knew how to maintaining the image of someone without nerves, perfectly self-assured, and in fact she actually isn't by a long shot. As a matter of fact, she provided excellent acting performances. She won lots of tournaments on account of giving the impression that she was indestructible, that nothing could hurt her, that no matter what happened she would stand there like a concrete statue and everything would reflect off of her. That influenced loads of players. Up to a certain time even me.
---Navratilova and Evert impressed me as personalities. The fact that they were celebrities just radiated from them, not only when they held a racquet but in general, as people. When they said something, it was apt and it mattered. They always had an opinion and they always managed to justify it and promote it. Simply leading characters.
----Maybe something more or less in that direction was lacking in me. I will try to give you an example from my childhood. Once, when I was the class president at school, I didn't want to turn in some slackers, so the teacher came and wrote me a note in my record book for not doing my duties. I took it at the time as a great injustice, but all the same, I didn't tell him their names. But it's not about that. The thing is that I didn't manage to say anything in my defense. Even though I felt I had to say something, I didn't. As to the ability to pursue your goals wherever that path might let you, without hesitation, to fight no matter the circumstances; I guess I wasn't really raised to do that. I don't have it in me. I'm not like Kodes, because he pursues his goals to the end. When I see, though, that things are going wrong, that there's no chance, then I don't know how to go beyond that blindly.


Even still, you won Wimbledon in doubles...

But if the opportunity presented itself and I were asked the question of whether I would trade those seven titles in doubles and mixed to one in singles, I guess my answer would just seem to be for singles after all. But I've already talked about that. I always gladly played doubles because it's something different, it's fun, it's such a team competition, you don't have that pressure on you, so you play more without inhibitions. In short, I'm not alone in those matches. It's different. In singles, sometimes I feared playing alone for my sake only. Somewhere there was always a boundary when I started to think maybe too much in advance. Fine, now I'm winning, but am I going to hang on? Is something going to happen again...?
----I also had problems with that in my doubles partnerships. When I felt good in a doubles partnership, then I suddenly feared that it wasn't going to last eternally, that the nice times would end. Those concerns then manifested themselves naturally; a person actually brings them about himself...
----Honza Kurz talks about the fact that I had the power of anticipation. He has in mind that I was good at guessing how the opponent would react, where to place the ball, where I should "go" for the return. That ability to see in advance, though, has a certain pitfall. For good control over the rallies on court, it's an excellent gift. But for life, I'm not so sure, and if one has a tendency to constantly doubt oneself like me... Although it's said that it's usually a characteristic of intellectuals who, precisely because they are constantly examining things from front to back and top to bottom, spend a long time reflecting and hesitating, until some idiot comes along who, exactly because he's an idiot, has no second thoughts and simply does what they couldn't. I'm not sure if I'm an intellectual or not, but I've told myself many times that maybe I would have played better if I'd had the ability of unwavering boldness.
----It's like in hockey. There are players who think up tricks and various complex ways to fool the goalie. Although it's nice to look at, it often doesn't have any effect. Then comes the mindless Ironman, he slaps the puck, and it's a goal.
----I'm not saying the players who achieved more success than me were mindless robots. But in certain situations it's like they could turn off all the parts of the brain where doubts, various expectations, and the combination of what ifs are born... It's a useful ability, to be able to close your mind off for awhile, and to send everything that could mess up your stroke at that moment to hell. I think that sometimes even I was successful at it. But maybe Martina or Chris or Steffi knew how to do it better. For tennis as it has progressed in recent decades, it has actually been an indispensable qualification. The point of being on the court is no longer to just play and participate as it once was, but to win.
----Now I know that much more important than thinking about the outcome of the match is to always concentrate on the next ball. At that moment, it's the most important thing. You have to train your brain for that, to learn to prohibit yourself from any kind of thought before the next ball you play.
----Unfortunately, no one had tried to instill that in me before Jara Jirik. Perhaps, however, it was already too late. Too much time had already elapsed in my tennis career, and the main thing is that it was at the time when I almost started to get used to sporadic failure. Thereafter, it was harder. And if, as I think, it was already starting to work, for one thing, there was rather little time left for me to be able to put it to good use, and for another, speaking about the 1993 season, fate intervened and the injury to my right knee after an enormously successful US Open sent me back down again.

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post #12 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:13 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 11: An Untrained Tennis Player

(The chapter yields an interview with coach Jaromir Jirik about, among other things, how they met, goes on about how to damage a tennis player's self-confidence, respect for opponents, the inconsistencies of coaches, love and hatred, and the inability to see things from a detached view.)

----MUDr. Jaromir Jirik is, as his title suggests, a general practitioner. The coming lines will explain how a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine at Charles University became a tennis coach and eventually Helena Sukova's closest friend.
----For those who don't follow the tennis world all the way to the depths of the privacy of its players, I will only present the quote which might sufficiently approximate the role of Dr. Jirik in the sporting and personal life of Helena Sukova. In Kreuz's biography, Helena Sukova says of MUDr. Jirik:

... after all, I had just found a relationship which helps me a lot. Previously, I had been on my own about a lot of things; not that my parents wouldn't have perhaps wanted to advise me, but I wanted to be independent and live the way I wanted. Now, of course, when we go to a tournament together, tennis is immediately more fun for me- and I really didn't have these feelings before- that I'm not just playing for myself, but for the joy I can bring myself and someone else.

----Should that statement not be meaningful enough as far as the relationship between them is concerned, I'll add in the simplest terms possible what a fellow journalist advised: Simply write that they love each other.
----So I wrote it even with the risk that MUDr. Jirik's statement would be called into question by pointing to the danger of very little objectivity in his standpoint. With that, of course, nothing can be done. For those who long for books full of objectivity, I suggest logarithmic tables or any kind of chemistry textbook, especially the passage about the position of platinum and iridium in Mendel's Table of chemical elements.
----Helena Sukova, how could it be otherwise, met MUDr. Jaromir Jirik under somewhat adventurous, what you could almost say for her tennis career peculiar circumstances.

----It was at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. I was part of the medical team for the Olympians. Every night we solved our athletes' problems.
----And one night Sukova came around, too. She had some problems with her calf. It sounds a bit exaggerated, but back then all of the doctors who were in charge of the tennis players were really at their wits' end, so they wanted to try me as another option because at the time I had my portable laser with me.
----It's difficult to say if I could have diagnosed it better than them. Probably not, but I approached it from a completely different point of view then they did. Above all, I made time for her, I had a chat with her, she more or less accurately described what hurt her, and then we started to deal with it.


To make time for a patient who's an Olympic team member, that was something exceptional?

Perhaps not, I wouldn't put it like that. Simply, in that environment at the Olympics, there's always quite a lot to do. There were maybe seven or eight of us doctors there, and we were in charge of all the athletes. So the fact that I took the time, I had in mind that we chatted together even about the meaning of life, about what she likes, simply it was such a general case history, which is standard in modern medicine and required, although for us it's still not always the custom.
----Before that, I hadn't known Helena at all. I didn't have any real idea about her or even actually about tennis. I was employed at that time mainly by wrestlers, and to tell the truth, tennis didn't professionally appeal to me in any way, although I did sometimes go and play tennis with friends.


What kind of impression did she make on you during the first personal encounter?

It quite surprised me. I previously had some knowledge of who she was. Rather, I knew her from the sort of general chatting of others. I would say that most of them regarded her as a girl who was brought up with money, who was stuck-up, who felt somehow superior...

Did that have any real basis?

I think not. I haven't thought about that much. I would rather give weight to personal encounters. When one talked about her, then maybe on that level. After all, that was the general view of tennis anyway because big money really moved around there, amounts which other athletes could only dream of. It's no wonder that it evoked jealousy.
----Regarding Helena personally, people spoke of unapproachableness, some thought her to be conceited, but that was also linked to the reputation tennis had. I think that only a few people really knew her. Tennis players are really lonely people, and the majority of what we know about them is just what they're willing to tell journalists. In most cases, they know how to perfectly walk through that. They only say what they want, in most cases almost nothing, and hardly ever long for anyone to know who they really are. They rightfully imagine that it could help their opponents.


Before I started writing this book, some people wrung their hands and claimed it would be work for a killer because Sukova is uncommunicative and inaccessible... Do you think that she really gave that impression to the people around her?

I don't know about earlier. I can only speak about the period from when I met her. On the contrary, she didn't seem that way at all. Unquestionably, her father played a big role in what was claimed about Helena, because he was the head of the tennis federation. Thus, most people thought that he got everything for free, that he sheltered and favored her; it even reached such a stupidity that as president, he had the possibility to ensure she would advance to all of the championships matches. Which is absurd. I think that negative reaction towards her character was mainly caused by those things, but although it was nonsense, it certainly had an influence on her. She took it pretty hard, and I think that to a certain extent it had an effect on her career.
----Even when she began to have her first successes, to get over that constant suspicion that it wasn't the fact that Mom and Dad play tennis but that she knew how and she had to really sacrifice to reach where she did; that was quite an effort. She has often complained to me that it's troubled her for so long, and even today she can sometimes feel that her success wasn't exactly rightfully achieved. She constantly doubted it and she still doubts it.
----It's interesting how intensely such a feeling which doesn't, in fact, have any real foundation can even affect performance. It actually began to be a hindrance, and as I see it, it's one of the reasons why she didn't accomplish her goals. If someone got into his head the devilish idea to destroy the self-confidence of a tennis player, that way would basically work infallibly, at least with the type of personality Helena Sukova has.
----For instance, maybe when she got to the finals against Graf, then at that time she incomprehensibly lost and, to my mind, it was for the reason that she suddenly said to herself in her heart, "What exactly are you doing? You don't belong here." And when that moment starts to predominate and grow in a person, then he gets into a situation where it happens to him the first year in the final, the next year in the semifinal, then in the quarterfinal, and then suddenly he's eliminated in the first round. And a person says, "So, is it true? And what exactly am I doing here?"
----We both struggled a lot with that feeling. Unfortunately, I fear that we lost. Because even though Helena doesn't play singles anymore, I think to this day that if she had managed to show in a match what she presented in practice or what she has in her, I think that she would have definitely been number five. Especially in the group of players there now.


Excuse me, but I still can't shake the feeling that all too often statements like "I hate dirty tricks", "I don't like cheating, etc. are mentioned. That might indicate, on the one hand, a high-principled nature but, on the other hand, a certain exaggeration which most people really don't love.

At the beginning, when we met, I think that she wasn't so much like that; rather, the opposite. She was really good at forgiving others, but unfortunately also herself. I'm not saying that she would give up certain principles; they've simply been in her and will be because she was raised that way. Rather it was about little things which appear to professional tennis players like sill things, because from time immemorial they've belonged to their sport and only on rare occasions can you find a character who rigorously rejects them.
----I may have asserted when I started working with her that if you play an out ball and the referee asks if it was out, then a player should confess whether it was or not, which Helena couldn't understand. "Why should I confess that a ball is good when you lose the point because of that and the opponent in the opposite case would have done the same thing and not said anything?"
----So I tried to explain- "Yeah, although you lose the point, maybe you lose, but you'll be certain that you didn't cheat and at the same time you'll show your opponent your mental superiority, which can often lead to a turnaround in the match." In that, I was rather scrupulous. I think that in tennis, the individual opponents don't have as much respect towards each other as in other sports. I don't know why. They go out onto the court and think of their rivals something in the spirit of "What do you want to do here anyway? I'll do what I want with you any time." A person shouldn't underestimate that, though. Even if she defeats her opponent, she should still respect her. There are very few players who recognize that the other one is better unless they're in a situation in which there is no other choice. If she loses maybe 6-1, 6-1, what, after all, does she have left? But all the same, a postscript then follows that, for example, it rained, we had a big breaks, or I ate poorly. But for her to come and say nothing can be done, that girl plays better and it'll take me a long time before I get to her level or before I learn how she beat me, that rarely happens.
----In that respect, I think I had a great influence on Helena. It started to work. Not the first year, of course. We really had fights when she didn't allow herself to concede balls which were obviously in her favor but unfair. But then, when she gained self-belief again, it changed. She actually changed before my very eyes.
----That progress then continued. Not only on the court, but also outside of tennis and in dealing with people.
----Maybe it didn't exist, they couldn't live like a team where one of them could arrive in the evening and say "What are you doing? Come, I'll treat you to dinner." They're still rivals, even when they play on a team. I thought it was so strange. But still, my God, still we're not going to sit at home all the time, let's invite someone to dinner or go with someone to the movies, or let's go for a walk. Until that time, Helena didn't have many friends or simply people from the tennis surroundings who would come to see her matches and cheer for her. Everyone minded his own business and totally didn't care what the others were doing.
----I felt sorry for it because I was into other sports and we were always a wonderful group, either sitting around at night, playing the guitar, or going out for beer, so I was used to that and I tried to teach that to Helena. In the end, I managed to one, gain her a few friends, and two, change how people viewed her. Before, everyone thought she was inaccessible, introverted, tight-lipped, an interview with her would start and end with one sentence. And ultimately, there were nice evenings when we met maybe even ten girls for dinner. It started to work off the court, but it immediately stopped working on the court.
----The general experience in tennis is that I'm going to be an individual, independent, I'm not going to look left or right, everyone will think I'm such-and-such, so I have the chance to win because I'm unapproachable, no one knows me, and no one knows anything about me. Perhaps I don't even know what to call it. It's such an alienation of one and the other. To not have fun with anyone, to not even greet them, just the attitude of "you can't even begin to compare with me" much less go to dinner with me, you must be crazy.
----And it seemed dreadful to me, because if a person is talented, likes his sport, and trains, then he doesn't need to create such a disguise in order to win, does he?
----But perhaps enough has already been said about that. I just wanted to simply point out that at the moment when Helena Sukova and I met, she could have really had an effect onthe closed-off ideas of inaccessible and arrogant women. But it wasn't a question of character. Unfortunately, such is the look of the lifestyle and relationships between players. Put on a mask and before you know it, it will attach itself to your face. You restrict communication, and before you know it, you're an untalkative bore. When you add to that constant doubts about your own qualities which, naturally, you must constantly hide, then after a while you become a creature with whom ultimately even I wouldn't go to dinner with.


Just a moment, which doubts about their own qualities?

You wouldn't have them if you were achieving your dreams for years and still nothing, no sense of satisfaction nor achievement? Then there is nothing that can satisfy a person like that. He simply doesn't see any reason for exultation, even if he did what few people do. She also could hardly feel anything else. Some would say she is young after all; she'll find another goal. But all her life she only did tennis, and she didn't have time for anything else. We trained maybe nine and a half or ten hours every day. When I met her, her psyche, physiology, abilities, shortcomings, I discovered that as an athlete she was untrained. That although she had tremendous talent and thanks to that talent she indeed achieved what she had, training-wise she was completely unequipped and unprepared.

Where was the flaw?

I suppose that the earlier coaches weren't as strict as I was. I respect Kurz. How many times have Honza and I had a discussion and he has told me that he wanted for her to practice something more? Supposedly it ended with her saying it wasn't fun for her, that she didn't give a damn. They got into a conflict when it came to training with a greater load. It's possible that he couldn't find a way to make her do it.

Why didn't she want to?

Because she wasn't convinced that she needed to. She thought and saw around her that no one was training. If you step onto the tennis courts today and look at some of the players in the top ten, you will find that before a match they don't loosen up at all. That's hopeless. And until now I have problems with Helena since she'll go to the court, arrive maybe ten minutes before she has to play and she doesn't warm up. I could jump out of my skin. A player of her caliber shouldn't allow that. It's not a lack of diligence, it's foolishness, incomprehensible, it's unprofessional.
----Long ago, when Lendl went on court, he really worked as professional one hundred percent. He had a bag with him in which he had spare shoes, racquets, a snack, shoelaces, simply everything me might need during a match. And he had it ready there so that he wouldn't have to leave his concentration. Look today at which of the players are prepared like that. I would therefore call it rather unprofessional.
----In fact, I think it's the fault of the coaches who worked with Helena before. She didn't want to? And that was their fault if she had a bigger pair than them. When a player is just doing what he wants and the coach is just a figurehead so the player has someone to hit with, then the coach-competitor partnership is poor.
----If Helena didn't believe in the training methods which I demanded of her, then I had to train her. I had to convince her that if even I could manage and I had never played professional tennis, then she would have to handle things even better and farther.
----Helena was motivated. She didn't enjoy anything else; she only wanted to win, and if didn't matter to her if it was this or that tournament. In a nutshell, she wanted to win. But with training, it had been even worse.


Wasn't the fact that in the course of time, as the possibility of accomplishing what she'd resolved to do receded, she lost motivation?

Her big desire, big dream was to win Wimbledon, which she never managed to do, and what she succeeded in doing wasn't much for her; it didn't satisfy her. Whether it was anything. Three finals in '93 at the US Open, two victories and one defeat; no one would have managed that except Martina Navratilova. And it didn't satisfy her. "Well fine, but Wimbledon. I would like that."
----Everything she's achieved, it's as if Wimbledon overlapped. Because I even know that if she'd won Wimbledon, she may have tossed her racquet in a corner and tennis would have been finished.
----It's interesting. I've never met someone in my life who had so much love but also so much hatred inside herself for her sport. It stretches so far that today it's as if that sport doesn't mean anything to her. If she had won Wimbledon, then she would have been capable of immediately stopping, packing up her racquets, shoving them in the closet, two years, or three years, or ten years she wouldn't have remembered them at all. When I finished my sporting career, I still couldn't be without that sport and that persisted with me until today. I personally think that after a certain time, tennis wasn't much fun for her anymore, that it was actually just a kind of runaway train, and today basically only a job.
----Surely even in those circumstances she longed to win Wimbledon, but it wasn't that much fun for her anymore to simply go and play. That's just the difference. For some, perhaps it's fun to go and play soccer, and it doesn't matter if they go and play with boys from the projects or go and play in the Premiere League. When, for example, a Premier League player has a free weekend, he goes to a cottage somewhere, there are guys who are going to play some soccer, so he goes with them because he enjoys it. Whereas Helena in a similar situation would say, "Please, I'm really busy."
----In some ways it's similar to the behavior of a child when he knows how to do something but doesn't do it unless it's certain that he'll get a reward. That reward would be Wimbledon. Without it, everything else lost meaning.
----Helena is really very strong in some moments, a mature personality with experiences which few have. On the other hand, she is in some ways remarkably immature. She doesn't perhaps realize that people cheer for her, like her, that she has lived an extraordinary life. She has, hopefully it's just a temporary thing, a tendency to feel sorry for herself, concentrating on the negatives, that someone sent an anonymous letter and someone said something unpleasant about her in it. Of course, that wouldn't make anybody happy, but she should have already been used to it. The problem is that a person who develops and grows older usually becomes wiser.
----But the isolated environment of tennis creates a strange virtual world where things acquire unusual value, contact with the regular universe with its values is missing, and then it's not abnormal that something like victory at Wimbledon becomes the measure of all values, all thats worth living for. That which any normal mortal would consider a success loses its value here; anything which doesn't correspond to a standard, which a person hides inside a shell, isn't good enough. In fact, nobody probably ever told Helena Sukova how unimportant Wimbledon is for life's happiness. It's hard to argue against the relativity of values which a person has devoted himself to thus far all his life. Then tell that person that he toiled away for something that isn't very important. Who has to say it? Whom would they believe?
----I reckon that Helena's mom really left earlier than she needed to. Because Dad had a head full of worries, he didn't devote himself to her as much as he should have. And Helena went off by herself, went to tournaments, and basically didn't have anyone who would have the courage to tell her those things.


Let's return, though, to your work together. You spoke about Helena changing right before your very eyes...

From the beginning it was nice. I saw how she changed from an unapproachable person into quite a cheerful creature, full of zest for life, pleasure. Except that unfortunately, when we got to the top, because practices were really tough, which meant involvement in three finals at the US Open in 1993, the injury occurred, and when we tried to roll again it wasn't very successful for us.
---Then, the doubts started again and everything came back. Although Helena struggled, it was perfect at the beginning, we pulled together, but it wasn't the same anymore. To me, it gave the impression that she was satisfied with her achievement of those three finals and there she said, "Fine, so that's all." I convinced her that when we started together, she didn't believe anymore that she could get better, and she succeeded. I was always drumming into her that she had what it took to become the world number one, even with Graf and Navratilova around.
----But that year of 1993, actually the peak as well as a tumble, that was too much. The blues came, feelings of a fatal injustice, a distaste for practice, ... So we eased up a little, but then slowly started to increase the intensity again before the Australian Open, and Helena fell in the first round there. Three months of hard work ended on the racquet of some almost unknown young player. Helena lost 6-3, 6-4. She was, like, immobile. She did things she'd never done before in her life. She completely returned to the starting point when we began together. She returned to the stereotype which she had at that time.


If I understood you well, then the basic problem concerning chances to win Wimbledon was that Helena Sukova had from her junior years lacked a coach with a firm hand who would be more intensely interested in shaping her personality than the quality of her shots.

Certainly, she unquestionably needed that. I spoke of the absence of her mom in that worst age. Someone had to be found who could manage to cultivate in Helena the insight necessary for her to be able to play with composure and without exaggerated concerns about defeats. You know, it seems to me that from a very young age, she was coached to be very ethical. It remained in her, and she took and takes everything awfully seriously. I think that her mom, Vera Sukova, would have sooner or later managed to convince her that a loss isn't a disaster and that nothing exactly earth-shattering happens when you don't win, even if you you don't Wimbledon. Her daughter will convince you she knows that well herself. Don't believe her. Somewhere inside she's convinced of the exact opposite.

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post #13 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:14 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 12: Genetics

(The chapter provides a suggestion for a new Frankenstein; meditates over what would have happened if grandfathers and grandmothers hadn't met; discusses the founder of modern genetics and his pea; examines what Cyril Suk the father would have done if he hadn't been a railway engineer; and informs about the birth of one child.

----How was Helena Sukova really, though, raised from a young age? What did she bring in her genes from her parents? Was something in her childhood already encoded from those later difficulties on the path to the Wimbledon dream?
----Our era is obsessed with examining the genetic predisposition for this or that, perhaps because as never before we are witnessing research into whether, with the help of genetic engineering, we could create a human being...
----Perhaps a tennis champion. I have a vision of it like a film where at the beginning, somewhere in the refrigerators of the genetic banks there would be a shelf with the inscription TENNIS. Suddenly, a kind of tennis doctor Frankenstein enters, opens the freezer door, and from a set-up of alembics, flasks, retorts, coolers, and air pumps cooks up the future champion of Wimbledon.
----Under a glass cover would then be something or other bubbling and foaming, gradually taking shape, and then, after massive sparkling, crackling, and thundering, a figure would rise, drowsily looking around the laboratory, and finally Dr. Frankenstein would pass to its stiffly rising hands a tennis racquet. And that artificial tennis player would take that racquet, and with a single stroke the ball, not unlike an impossible-to-reach bomb, would break open the court somewhere in proximity to the net, being returned after the opponent hit it from somewhere between spectators. After that, she would hit Frankenstein in the head (that part I put there only to provide comic relief). Then, maybe it would go on the court in place of pounding Frankenstein and, with a single stroke, fire it past the opponent, past the baseline judge, so that in the end it caused bloodshed amongst spectators and disappeared into the Vltava because there would be a manhunt at Stvanice.
----That blow to the head, however, would be bad luck for the unhappy genetic experimenters yet a huge joy for the sponsors and the area belonging to the tennis federation because that blend of the best tennis genes could easily defeat everything moving on the court, wear out the computer, enter into an exclusive contract with Adidas forever and ever and...
----it would be the end of tennis...
----A terrible idea.
----Luckily, science has still not learned how to do that, although here and there it's flirted with putting genes together, but so far, thank God, it's managed with destitution to copy sheep.
----However, if someone ever reads this book after so many years, it may well happen that he will accuse the author of scientific skepticism, for that very future somebody turned off the television after artificial player X defeated artificial player Y, but only because an error made by the creator of artificial player Y resulted in a flaw in her design. At Wimbledon, then, it will be more about the Designers' Cup like in Formula 1 than about the competition of imperfect humans, which perhaps, at least I hope, we won't live to see.
----As I was saying, thank goodness that you write the year 1999 and we still have something to do with people whose genes were coincidental, since up until birth only a slight change may have meant we were never created at all.
Nevertheless, let's make an attempt to go after the tracing of genes, at least to the level of grandparents, which should give us some information about hereditary requirements for future up-and-coming tennis players.
----Strictly logically, if grandfathers Suk or Puzej hadn't met future grandmothers Novotna or Cemusova, their children Cyril Suk and Vera Puzejova likely wouldn't have met, and their granddaughter Helena likely wouldn't have been born on the 23rd of February, 1965.
----It happened. Tyche, the goddess of fortune and luck, displaying a cornucopia in one hand and a steering wheel in the other, steered the human destinies of the Suks and the Puzejs so that, as far as tennis talent is concerned, their horn nearly emptied itself, mixed the genes of this one and that one into a being which apparently was blessed with good stuff and who might ruin the introduction to a book. However, when it comes to tennis...
----She will excel at tennis.
----Let's look, then, at what was actually given to the child who came into the world one February D.
----Let's start with Mom- which means Vera Sukova, born Puzejova, who, as is well known, was the first Czechoslovak tennis star and nearly a Wimbledon champion...
----We'll say something again later about that nearly because in that nearly, if we're searching for hereditary consequences, there's a definite similarity between mother and daughter.
----It's significant that Vera Puzejova's father, thus Helena's paternal grandfather, was, according to his contemporaries, a rather strict professor of chemistry at the Pilsen Department of Education, a man of strict morals and principles. Family memories recorded the following episode:
----Helena's paternal grandmother, Karolina, recalls:

----The professor [tr. note: Czechs refer to people by using their titles, so it's actually "Mr. Professor"] headed the department of chemistry at the College of Education in Pilsen and Mrs. Helenka [author's note: grandmother] really liked him there. Once, I arrived there with my husband and they had rented a kind of garden, a plot of land, and they grew marvelous strawberries there. We had the children with us, and so when the motorcycle stopped in front of the plot, the children wouldn't move away from it, it's a wonder they didn't climb on it, and they didn't pay attention to the strawberries. The professor called to them because they might have gotten hurt, but they didn't. When he called them for maybe the third time and there was still no response, he went to them and they both got a spanking. Suddenly, Vera appeared with Cyril at the moment of the spanking. Just like you would film it. You know, they themselves weren't nearly as strict with their kids.

----The Pilsen grandmother, the wife of the professor, was, to put it in today's terms, a housewife. According to the memoirs of Vera Sukova, she was a kind, caring woman who tolerated a lot from her daughter partly because of the goodness of her heart and partly because Vera had inflammation of the parietal pleura as a child. The doctor prescribed, among other things, a lot of movement in the fresh air. If, then, her tendency to play wildly in the garden, climb trees, and in a completely ungirl-like way lean towards boys' games was marked by her special genetic equipment for tennis, God only knows. The fact is that the professor definitely never stood on the courts, and his wife did only a few time. The fact is also that rampaging through gardens, climbing trees, and the completely ungirl-like inclination to share boys' games was inherited, at least according to Grandma Karolina.
----As far as inherited qualities for tennis are concerned, let's say that Helena Sukova's mom got not so much talent for returns, volleys, or lobs as, rather, the ability to focus on a goal, the ambition to succeed, a certain strictness with herself, and, finally, also the ability to create a happy environment for her nearest and dearest.
----As for the case on her father, Cyril Suk's side, ...
----Grandmother Karolina, her mom, was a language teacher, and Dr. Cyril Suk, a railway project architect.
----Based on how I got to know grandmother Karolina, she was one of those teachers who definitely led her students to diligence and manners. Still today, old age cannot erase the impression that she was a figure to not trifle with. After all, this is what she told me about herself:

----We were stricter with Helenka than her parents were because they didn't have much time for her. And when the kids were bigger, they complained to my son that I was very strict with them. In fact, I want for them to behave politely; I always reprimanded them. I didn't want for them to be rascals. Helenka didn't really need a whooping, only here or there, though more often from my husband than me. She also didn't defy her grandmother too much; I was a school teacher and I knew how to handle them.

----Helena's paternal grandfather, Cyril, according to the aforementioned words of his wife, was apparently a man of firm principles with a meticulous nature. How could it be otherwise when the family professional tradition was the railways? If we add to this engineering precision and ability to respect details, it's hard not to expect that his son, thus Helena's father, who retained the family name Cyril, maintained these characteristics and passed them onto the next generation.
----What is, however, the most important thing. Grandmother Karolina and grandfather Cyril played tennis, and that's why their son naturally played it also.
----Alleluia and glory to God in the highest, a present-day amateur theorist of heredity would rejoice, because of what we have after examining the grandparents' generation.
----So above all- two grandfathers, more or less strict- from which we infer an inherited tendency towards perfectionism.
----Further, two grandmothers where grandmother Karolina encourages her son and also her granddaughter to have good morals and polite behavior, and grandmother Helena again tolerates the somewhat boyish activities of her daughter, which is repeated with her granddaughter.
----The paternal grandparents then absolutely have a liking for tennis. From the maternal grandparents, it is not so, but careful- not only did Helena's mother become a tennis player, but so did their second daughter, Milena, suggesting that although the professor never gripped a racquet himself and his spouse only rarely, they may have been rich in talent without knowing it.
----By the way, Helena's father's aunt Milena, married name Hrdinova, became an excellent tennis player, and her husband Vlastimil was a long-time coach and official in Pilsen.
----So that's it. Here we are really dealing with an assortment of inherited traits which, to the untrained eye of a layman in genetics, must produce at least a good tennis player, even without trying.
----I remember that once we learned in school about how the legendary Brno abbot of the Augustinian monastery and founder of genetics Johann Gregor Mendel studied the inherited traits of peas. I think it was crossbreeding different species, perhaps yellow and green. In the second generation he then obtained peas which linked to the characteristics of the original peas. In the third generation, already... I don't remember it much anymore, but I understood that the more hereditary characteristics we have in the previous generation, the more they affect how the peas in the following generation will look...
----Ugh, let's leave that. The origin of a first-class tennis player is apparently a much more complex process than the breeding of legumes. I simply want to say that there's something in heredity because...
----Helena's parents, Cyril and Vera Sukova, both became really outstanding tennis players.
----"Mama was in the final of Wimbledon and really achieved a lot in her era. Dad won the juniors in 1960. He certainly played tennis extremely well, but then he chose the path of a tennis official," says Helena Sukova on this subject in the biography by Frantisek Kreuz.
----Even that, seen through the prism of our genetic essay, didn't have to mean anything if Cyril Suk and Vera Puzejova hadn't met, fallen in love, gotten married and had an offspring they named Helena.
----That fortunate circumstance, the meeting of Helena Sukova's future parents, happened in 1958 on the courts of Prague Motorlet at Stvanice.
----"Back then, Vera Puzejova trained there, and I immensely admired her resolve because she really did things 200%," says Cyril Suk about the period when he met his future wife.
----They got married May 5, 1961 at the New Town Hall after a long-standing relationship carefully kept secret. It was classified because between them was an age difference of eleven years and they weren't sure those around them would really accept that. At the time, Cyril Suk was still a student at the faculty of civil engineering CVUT in Prague, his wife financially supporting the marriage.
----"Vera traveled to tournaments and I studied," recalls Cyril Suk.
----He studied, but he also played tennis. Indeed, although after some time, as his daughter wrote in the book Path to the White Dream, he chose the career of a tennis official, the truth is that in 1960 he won the Czechoslovak juniors, and up until 1970 he played in the First League. That father Suk remained an amateur even when at the top of tennis and he resigned from a professional perspective, it didn't have any effect on his daughter in terms of inherited tennis talent. It probably would have subsisted even if he had become a pianist. Nevertheless, it testifies to his positive nature and the values which he honored and which would obviously influence a future outstanding tennis player.
----Helena Sukova described the life path which Cyril Suk chose with the word official in a nonchalant way appropriate for her age back then, certainly somewhat imprecisely. After graduating from college, Suk's dilemma when he decided on his life's mission wasn't whether to play tennis or be an official. The thing is that he only became a tennis official many years later, actually in 1970, after his return from a one-year stay in the USA, where he played on the tennis team at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Initially, he was elected to the committee in the Sparta division as a sports technical manager, and he then became president of the Czech Tennis Federation in 1973.
----The dilemma in the young decision-making of inz. Suk was mainly, on the one hand, opting for a career as a railway engineer with its relatively certain living and, on the other hand, opting for a career with tennis, an extremely uncertain living because the idea of earning your daily bread from tennis belonged, in 1960, to the domain of science fiction.
----In those years, it naturally didn't just concern domestic tennis players, because the staggering growth of money in the white sport was still waiting for its start-up.
----In a young family with those conditions, they could hardly both do elite sports. Cyril Suk's decision was thus also about the choice of a "solid profession" finally changing the unpleasant situation when the breadwinner was his wife Vera. Also playing a certain role was the fact that he was kind of pulled towards the railways after his ancestors, and maybe, which we're only speculating, he didn't believe very much that tennis stardom really awaited him. Perhaps that was a mistake, but Cyril Suk claims that he's never regretted that decision.
----Resolving the matter of tennis or the railways was, for Cyril Suk, mostly about responsibility, or more precisely about what he considered responsible behavior. Based on the above considerations and interviews with experts, we can think that exactly this inherited character trait had a certain influence even on the future career of his daughter.
----So much for father. As for mother, let's not ramble on about what's obvious. So, just as a reminder, Vera Sukova, nee Puzejova, became in her time really the most successful Czechoslovak tennis player, a superb coach, a world-renowned athlete. And so she carried in her certain traits which her daughter inherited, although many alleged and claim that, mainly concerning stubbornness and the will to win, Helena inherited them only to a certain extent.
----The same is also true for one of Vera Sukova's next greatest assets, namely that she was an uncommonly calm and self-confident personality. It seems that her daughter Helena Sukova was in that respect much more complicated.
----However, if the rejoicing over a well-planned family situation is expressed with a certain skepticism, then not even the assumptions stated above would still mean anything if...
----...if in fact that child, born the 23rd of February, 1965, didn't herself want it. Could it have come to pass, after all, in Helena Sukova's case if she really hadn't wanted it?
----All in all, it was possible, although our genetic contemplations seemingly exclude such a possibility.

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post #14 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:15 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 13: ...so that daughter doesn't play

(The chapter quotes grandma Karolina; repents for a violin thrown into the Vltava; tells about the busyness of parents, Martina Navratilova's dollars, and coochie coochie coo; pronounces the question "What do people say?"; and speaks of nepotism and the loss of Mommy.)

----That Helena Sukova became a top-ranked world tennis player surely had its origins in the fact that tennis had a constant presence in the family. How to not start with tennis when you're waiting for Mom at Sparta's tennis courts and there's better to do than take a kids' paddle and hit against the wall. How to resist the dazzling atmosphere around Mommy, who is, after all, a champion.
----Of course. Even the parents, mostly mom, simply couldn't not have the ambition that their daughter would play. Even in spite of the advice of the doctor who soon after the birth noticed a defect in the spine and declared that tennis couldn't even part of the conversation in Helena's case, Vera Sukova proclaimed that nevertheless, it's not possible that daughter won't play.
----Grandmother Karolina states, then, that:

----Helenka started to play with a small racquet from the age of four. Mainly my husband helped her, and my son, too. I wouldn't say, though, that it was too much fun for her from the beginning. She rather preferred playing soccer with brother Cyrda and the boys, climbing trees, simply shenanigans. She already knew as a small child that tennis was something different, that you had to submit yourself, listen, practice, and she didn't like that much. She wanted to put a racquet in her hand when she felt like it.

----Tennis appealed to Helena up to the moment when she got "grounded", since during a medical exam at school scoliosis was discovered and, hence, the result that one leg was eleven millimeters shorter than the other. For the then barely eight year-old girl, it meant, among other things, a ban on tennis. But from that which you are denied...
----Then, as grandma Karolina says, Helena's stubbornness and the relatively long period without a racquet meant that from a totally unpleasant experience, she started to approach tennis seriously and in earnest.
----Because when you tell that to a somewhat stubborn child who hangs about the court all that day she must not do something, bet on her immediately doing the very opposite. Especially when before that, she hears with her own ears from the mouth of the attending physician that that break from tennis will last at least a year.
----The truth is she will cry because of it, but there's a definite way of working around that ban: putting the racquet in the left hand. After that, she even won a children's tournament at Spart playing left-handed, when with a certain amount of revenge against fate and mostly against opponents on the court, she dreamt about how to really thrash them until she could start again with her right hand.
----Despite this, from a tennis perspective she still had the age of a toddler, and it was never written anywhere that her captivation with the game would survive until the following summer. Children's attractions do tend after a while to have an ephemeral life, and in terms of respect for the inheritance of talent from their ancestors, what they excelled in and thus the desire to educate their successors may cause the exact opposite. Indeed, the very fact that parents are excellent at something can cause the children to flee the field at the earliest opportunity, leaving behind disappointed parental hopes.
----Each of us at least once in our lives has met the unhappy victims of parental ambitions where the family tradition and inherited talent were for the children were a curse rather than a gift.
----What violin, then, was deliberately forgotten in a tram, what paint-brushes and palettes thrown into the Vltava, what unfortunate medical students fled from the dissection room? And I even know the case of a successful lawyer's daughter who got into Zen-Buddhism because the textbook on Roman law aroused in her dilemmas of an almost existential nature.
-----Ultimately, even little Helenka, as she gradually gained wisdom, could have had enough reasons to not love her parents' sport, which, although it didn't happen, could have taken place. At least, she was lacking in the amount of time they dedicated themselves to the sport.
----Grandma Karolina recalls...

----When Helena was four months old, Vera had to go to Paris. She was counting on Helenka, her mother, to take care of little Helena. She said, though, no, I'm afraid for such a small child. But I protested Vera, just go, don't be scared. I took over with that even though my son was out all day. So I took care of Helena for 14 days and Vera told me: "You have food prepared in the fridge," and failing that I had the diet written down. And I stared to also cook according to the recipe. Helenka also at that time had an inflammation of the middle ear, so we went for check-ups until everything was all right. She got used to me quickly, she ate well, she was well-behaved, and she slept at night. She got used to everything quickly and Vera came back and said to me that she looked awfully nice. Perhaps she thought that the child was going to be in a wretched state.

----Grandma Karolina's statement might possibly raise suspicion in more sensitive readers that little Helenka suffered from a considerable shortage of parental care. That's obviously nonsense. Cyril and Vera Sukova were basically in the same situation that many working families have been in and are today. But the problem might have really been the absence of traveling mothers, because normally in a family it's the opposite and the fathers take part in business trips or meetings and internships abroad; at least at one time it was that way. Grandmother Karolina speaks of one episode which indicates how much Helenka valued having her mother nearby:

----Helenka had it set in her mind, she was dependent on her mom. I remember one story, I think from 1968. I cooked plum dumplings because I had to look after Helenka for Vera to peacefully train and work at Stvanice. Helena was already three at the time, she was already a beautiful child, and I had to take her with me. Only she didn't want to come at all. She fussed, the poor thing, that she had to be with mom. When we we got to the gate at Stvanice, she broke free from me and ran back to her mom, and me after her. Vera was a little angry, but she didn't do anything with Helenka, who acted up so much that she ended up staying. Back then, she still knew how to get her way. I then ate those plum dumplings for three days.

----Although her own grandmother Karolina doesn't directly say that Helena Sukova's childhood was somehow exceptionally affected, but if we read between the lines of her narrative, we can't rid ourselves of the impression that even her very own grandmother too often mentions episodes when Helena was in her grandparents' care.
----We'll leave the expert attempts to search for some consequences of the time parents spend being busy and the effect on their daughter's forehands or backhands to enthusiastic psychoanalysts, because they have the rights to the search for causation between childhood trauma and its effects on individual adults. It is, however, obvious that too often in Helena Sukova's statements the theme of premature solitude can be heard, later tragically magnified by the death of her mother.
----In Frantisek Kreuze's publication of her memories, Helena Sukova literally says:

----My parents didn't know much about my first tennis tournaments. Mom had plenty of worries as a coach, Dad not only at work but also as a tennis official. From '73, he served as president of the tennis federation, and he held many meetings for that, too. I don't want to claim, though, they couldn't perhaps have known about my results. Mom closely followed the development of my tennis, but I practically went to tournaments alone, or I joined the parents of some of my doubles partners. It had one huge advantage: it saved me from scenes with my parents. Sometimes I literally felt sorry for my friends when they lost and harsh words were fired at them or they were even slapped.

----They didn't know, they followed, practically alone - wouldn't we say that those are words which sound too melodious about her parents when Helena Sukova describes the way her parents influenced her sporting growth? Especially when we compare them with the parental role of some of our platinum-iridium meters?
----For example, it's known of Steffi Graf how huge a role her own father, "Papa Graf", played in her sporting growth. It was he, regardless of the merits of her coaches, who raised a champion. Let's leave said whether it was a sacrifice for him; essentially, Steffi had at her side someone who made her the spotlight of his life.
----Without her stepfather Miroslav, there probably wouldn't have been the phenomenon of Martina Navratilova, who said of him: "If he got a dollar for ever hour he spent with me, he would be a millionaire."
----In a similar link, we can show the parental role in such tennis players as Hana Mandlikova, Monica Seles, and Martina Hingis.
----Let's mention Ivan Lendl again, or rather the confession of his mother: "For ten or eleven years we didn't go on any vacations because we drove Ivan to tournaments. I worked half-time, and practically all of my income went to my son's tennis."
----And while I'm convinced that Helena Sukova's parents would have done the same for their daughter in other circumstances, the cards were dealt in such a way that it was basically impossible. And since it's our opinion that this is a very important moment for another story about Helena Sukova, let's devote deeper attention to it.
----No matter how paradoxical it actually sounds, and we've already met it more than once during stories about Helena Sukova, the fact that both parents devoted themselves to tennis at a high level, even though each did it for a different reason, didn't influence the fate of the later excellent player only positively. The trouble was that as far as the impact on their daughter was concerned, they found themselves in a rather delicate situation. Although father Suk states that his daughter is exaggerating, Helena Sukova on the other contrary judges that the roles of her parents, first her mom as a state coach and later also her father as a senior official, brought certain difficulties and had a significant impact on how she entered the world of tennis.

----Maybe I really am exaggerating, but I simply had such a feeling and it really bothered me. I'll explain it to you.
----Most people say that I'm an ingrate when I state that being the daughter of Vera and Cyril Suk wasn't always pleasant. Certainly, if not for Mom and Dad, I would hardly have accomplished what I eventually did.
----But...
----I'm not sure if it was really in the genes of my grandfathers and grandmothers, but with the influence of my parents, from childhood it was constantly instilled in me- Helenka, you must always be honest, behave honorably, you must earn every success, etc., etc. Nothing against that, I've lived it my whole life and I don't intend to be any different. If, however, I reproach my parents for something, then it's about how the world really is, and that concerns tennis, too. I'm thinking primarily about its behind-the-scenes maneuverings, I didn't learn too much about them from them.
----My folks tried to protect us (my brother and I) from all those influences that they thought could harm us. About such things as envy, disloyalty, cheating, we actually became aware of them at the moment when they started to personally concern us. You could say that the very care to spare us from the dark side of life and sports, including tennis, had us enter life somewhat unarmed, but that was connected with the fact that in tennis, you mature much faster than your peers, who definitely have more time to enter the adult world.
----Of course, in spite of those parental efforts, some things simply cannot be unnoticed, and ultimately every attentive, perceptive child would notice them.
----Because he was in such a position, Dad was feared by many. We're in the Czech Republic, and at that time anyone who held some position was linked to automatically being a feared person. I was witness to everyone trying to be nice with us. And despite the fact that at the age when I started to gain wisdom children are rather prone to believe what they see and not search for subtext, with time I very often began to see hypocrisy. I repeat once more that I'm not speaking about everything, but there was enough of it.
----They coochie coochie coo you, and you feel that it's not due to the fact that you're such a cute, clever, talented girl but because Mom and Dad are around it, or the person concerned needs something from my parents. For instance, the true character of some of tennis officials- not only from Sparta- showed up very soon after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. That, however, was mostly felt by Dad himself.
----I'd rather tell you a concrete example from my surroundings. It concerns one of the players representing our team who coached under Mom's leadership. Sometimes I played doubles with that player, we traveled together to tournaments abroad and I actually thought that we were very good friends. Darn that unpleasant mistake, that eye-opening moment!
----The year was 1989 and I planned a training camp in Nuremberg with my coach. The question was raised which sparring partner to bring with us for variety's sake and to change opponents. My friend, who was still actively playing at the time, was my first thought. It would be fun, we would train together, and she was a person I understood well. Jara called to invite her. However, he didn't want to reveal her answer to me for a long time. When the question "How much are you giving me?" was heard, he managed to suppress his desire to immediately hang up and instead asked her what her demands would be. With that, I guess he heard that for two days she wanted a hundred dollars a day and no accommodation in Nuremberg to be arranged but rather money for gas for the commute from Prague. There weren't any other dealings with her. Only for me, what had been a big friendship to that point ended in such a way...
----I would have been nuts if I hadn't sooner or later learned that some people around me more or less covertly think that I'm a favored child.
----There were a few people around me during the era of junior tournaments who I felt downright didn't wish me well, who rejoiced at my failures. For example, one family from Pilsen. Their daughter was two years older than me. Her father once said to our folks that I would never learn and my brother might. Of course, I always had terribly close matches with that girl. Even though I was two years younger, I played in the same tournaments, we even played in the same junior tournaments abroad and we always played insanely close matches. It was a terrible rivalry. I remember that I made a bigger leap when I was about 18 and my performance compared to my peers, and so "her", somewhat noticeably pulled away. During a league match at her home in Pilsen I sailed through, beating her maybe 6-0, 6-2. It was actually a kind of revenge for all those years of rumors and intrigue. Alright, forgive me, but I couldn't get rid of that mischievous joy.
----Today, I know that you have to let those things go in one ear and out the other. The problem was, and it brings me back to that protective upbringing which eventually led to anxious attempts to constantly confront the world around me on the moral scale which was implanted in me, that I somewhere inside I had to always to contend with suspicion whether that pretend affection towards me wasn't really the result of my parents' positions, and I think that I even exaggerated it because I looked so suspiciously at those who really liked me.
----The result was that from a certain time I was trying to prove I could win even without nepotism which, if I don't take into consideration the advantages every aspiring athlete has, whose parents can be nice examples to follow, really didn't exist even though both parents lived from tennis, I had compared to other advantages [?]. But when you play with the feeling "I must win so that everyone knows I deserve it," then it eventually begin to have an influence. Like you couldn't have any alternative to success. Which is, as far as tennis, a considerably counterproductive feeling because it removes your ability to have a detached view, it's terribly stressful, and it makes every insignificant mistake a fatal moment.
----I think that a lot of that feeling in me later stayed, and when I got used to it, that it was always impossible to win, it happened to me too often that I even forbid myself from making too many mistakes. When you keep saying over and over, "You can't ruin it, you can't ruin it," it usually turns out the opposite.
----The truth, namely, is that my parents managed to protect me from what they feared for a long time even though I think that they exaggerated, because I didn't feel that pressure and suspicion of nepotism to the extent that they tried to hide it in front of me.
----Yet it seemed at home that my parents didn't speak about tennis, or rather about certain things surrounding tennis, in front of me. Certain subjects were taboo, even when it was clear that some of them weren't secrets from me anymore.

----On that point, we're witnesses to a certain discrepancy between the views of a daughter and what her father claims. Cyril Suk actually told me that parents keeping their silence when it comes to not talking about the harsh side of tennis and life in general was far from being motivated by gentle thoughtfulness or an effort to keep the kids in some illusion for as long as possible.

----It had quite prosaic reasons. You must realize that we could hardly solve problems from the adult world in front of the kids when we knew very well how that could endanger the authority of coaches and adults at the club in general. A tennis club, or the society around tennis in general, is an extremely sensitive community. When we didn't want our kids to speak about something in front of people and we didn't want to command them to say this or not say that, we just kept silent about it in front of them. That was the price to pay for being not only parents but also tennis officials, and as such we had to take into account with whom and about what our kids were going to speak. After all, that's perfectly normal. A still one more important thing. When you coach children, it's not done without authority. That also applied to Helena. If you want a teacher to be able to teach at all, then you can't humiliate him in front of the children. Helena exaggerates when she says that we somehow unnaturally protected her against something that might have spoiled an illusion. It was completely normal parental behavior.

----The argument that in matters of authority as coaches the Sukova parents were totally in the right is actually confirmed by Helena Sukova herself.

----I'm not saying that I wasn't headstrong, and I definitely had an inclination to test the authority of my coaches from a young age. When abroad, I obviously didn't dare, but Dad is right when he says that I didn't like subordinating myself, and for instance, when he himself invited me to work, we often fought about it. I was stubborn, and I hated doing what I didn't like. For example, Dad wanted me to move around the court a lot, he always beat that into my head, and you can't say I was thrilled about it. In contrast, Mom put an emphasis on getting me to like the game so that I looked forward to training, which wasn't very hard because I'd fallen in love with tennis from a young age.
----But liking something is one thing and giving everything to it even when a person doesn't exactly want to is another. I've wrestled with it my whole life and I must say that most of my coaches have always had problems with that, including my last one.
----To say I can't help it, I'm simply like that, is obviously nonsense. And I don't intend to blame my genes, either. This quality has actually always discouraged me when I lacked motivation, when neither my coach nor I could manage to find a sufficiently compelling reason to get up again and go train. That ultimately manifested itself more and more in recent years when the losses started to mount. But it definitely started sometime in my childhood.


----Apparently, then, there's some truth on both sides. The situation was as follows:
----Top official father, national team coach mother. Put yourself in their position. After all, why wouldn't they really be able to even subconsciously say- fine, we have a daughter who could be a talent. If we didn't have anything to do with tennis, or at least not to the extent we do in reality, we could hardly find someone who would blame us for intensively focusing on her sporting growth. The situation, however, is such that every small performance-related step up can be interpreted as us privileging our daughter.
----The Suks were really in a situation when they had to very cautiously follow Helena's training, which according to her almost led to the feeling that the more attention she deserved, the less attention she got.
----Let's add to that the tensely vigilant attitude of Vera and Cyril Suk towards what they considered a "sizeable" part of the inheritance of the professor and engineer, and we have a situation where scruples, as for their impact on the sporting development of their daughter, played perhaps a bigger role than really necessary, and perhaps enough that they were rather a kind of moral imperative of their own, and they cared so much about what people will say.
----After all, back then people generally favored their relatives and helped them way too much, especially their children. And it didn't just relate to all kinds of lucrative positions but also sports. Although truth be told, no favoritism by itself has raised a champion so far. It could lead, though, to better training conditions, it could lead to better access to being admitted into first-rate sporting centers and generally the whole carousel of privileges special opportunities which have various barriers, orders and often incomprehensible criteria by which to decide whether you can do this or that. It wasn't a time of equal opportunities and, after all, it isn't even one now.
----Anxious considerations of what people would say, then, were obvious reactions to the fact that most people constantly thought the worst and looked, as people in Brno say, for "crooked wars" even where there weren't any.
----Although Cyril Suk and Vera Sukova therefore loved their sport and no doubt would be glad to bring up an excellent player in the next generation, grandmother Karolina is probably right when she says that in her granddaughter's path to big-time tennis, it was not made easy for her. And by no means was she forced into something.
----Even Helena Sukova herself, and there's no reason not to believe her, states that just as she's a tennis player, she could be a doctor or a lawyer. Because if we speak about parental pressure in her early childhood, and grandmother Karolina confirms it, it was fairly weak due to the parents' jobs and their tolerance towards their children, so the typical demand was "Helena, the main thing is that you'd better study hard." That was a sentence which was pronounced in one way or another not only by her parents but also by both grandfathers and both grandmothers because Helenka seemingly (as far as her early childhood is concerned) raised doubts many times whether the accuracy of her grandfather, the caregiving of her grandmother and her parents' concern quelled the spirit of regrettably eccentric and not too disciplined, and didn't help even the teacher's punishing hand.
----As grandmother Karolina said:

----Yeah, Helenka was quite headstrong, and sometimes it was tough making her do things. When she didn't want to do something she would eventually obey, but she scowled the whole time and you could see that she had not really changed her mind about it. If she hadn't wanted it herself, then she never would have played tennis, even if Vera and Cyril forced her, but they never did that. She decided herself. Maybe they could have paid more attention to her, but they didn't want for someone to think that they favored their children.

----We can choose whether to believe grandmother Karolina or not, but if even Helena Sukova herself declares with some bitterness that the position of her parents in the hierarchy of Czechoslovak tennis was in her case approximately more of a disadvantage than an advantage, there is probably some truth to it. Because if your daughter says that you could have done more for her if you hadn't so strictly insisted on certain moral principles, then that is under the given circumstances evidence of your extraordinary moral integrity, but also a certain indication of what your kids think about your scrupulousness. There shouldn't be any doubt as to the sincerity of her statement, then, if she makes an undoubtedly critical view of her own parents public, for Helena Sukova otherwise greatly holds them dear.
----In any event, if Helena Sukova became what she is, then primarily it's simply and only because of her decisions and simply and only because of her efforts. But explain that to a girl who constantly feels that those around her don't think so. So when we put it another way, the fact that she didn't become what she wanted to be, and I am talking about her one, big, unfulfilled dream, may have the same roots; namely, the fact that perhaps too often and too soon she was alone in making decisions and in dealing with accusations about herself, which eventually climaxed after the death of her mother.
----When I spoke with Cyril Suk about what he saw as the reasons for that one, big, unfulfilled dream, he mentioned the loss of her mother as one of the leading points.

----That actually happened at the worst time. At the moment when Helena and Cyrda needed her the most. Personally and as athletes. That tragedy obviously started a long time before Vera died. In 1980, when Vera got sick, Helena was fifteen and Cyrda was thirteen. Of course, in front of the kids I hid hoe serious their mother's illness was, although once they told me that it was a malignant brain tumor, I know that the prognosis was fatal. To hide the true state of affairs, however, was all I could do for the children. And it was woefully little because of the very fact that the disease, which went in motion terribly fast, made it impossible for Vera to pass onto her daughter and son all of her personal and tennis experiences at the moment when our kids were already sufficiently prepared both physically and mentally for them.
----You wait for years until your daughter and son reach the age when you can finally say to them everything they couldn't understand before, what they couldn't mentally or physically handle, and at the moment when it occurs, fate prevents you from making it happen. It was horrible because Vera's illness robbed the children not only of a mother but of the best coach they could have had. Nothing can ever make up for that loss. However hard I tried, there was simply no strength left in me. Neither was anybody else able to help me through.
----After Vera's death, Helena tried to help her younger brother's sporting development, for example financing his coach and trips to tournaments. Cyril then managed to get to the 180th spot in the rankings in singles, but he then achieved even bigger successes in doubles and mixed doubles. This year (1998) he added to his four Grand Slam titles in mixed (author's note: three of which he won in partnership with sister Helena) a prestigious victory in doubles at the US Open with the Australian Stolle.


----At the end when Vera Sukova died in 1982, her daughter Helena was seventeen years old. In the world of big-time tennis, she made great leaps forward. In early February, she was third in the junior rankings, but even more importantly, fiftieth in the women's rankings, and experts spoke of a big surprise. Already by the end of the month, February 28, before the Avon Futures Championships, the name Helena Sukova showed up in the rankings at number thirty-two.
----The news of her mother's death caught up to Helena Sukova in Lugano at the Swiss Open right after she played against Chris Evert for the first time. Although she didn't win, she can be proud that she led her great opponent 4-1 in the first set.
----At the moment when she left the court, she still wasn't aware that in a minute, when she called her father in Prague, ...

----before the match, I called home to ask about Mom. Dad never told us everything about what was actually going on with her illness. He obviously knew from the beginning, I don't know if completely, but some doctor told him that it was a certain type of tumor with a very bad prognosis. The day before, when I'd called Dad about Mom, what was going on in the hospital, he only said, "Yeah, I was there." He refused to come clean, perhaps because that match against Evert was really important for me. Actually, they managed to delay the news in the media to allow me to calmly play the match.
----Already when I played her, I didn't have Mom anymore. Then Dad said on the phone, "Yeah, Mom died yesterday." On the plane ride home, I then also read it in the newspaper.


----And so definitively ended any hopes that Vera Sukova, outstanding tennis player, Wimbledon finalist, and national coach of the Czechoslovakian women's team, would ever sit in the stands of a stadium as the coach of her own daughter. I say her own on purpose because she took on some of her charges, such as Martina Navratilova and Hana Mandlikova, as her daughters.
----Ultimately, at that time, Helena had already been in the hands of other coaches long enough. Her first national team coach became Jan Kukal. After him came others which, in one way or another, helped or didn't help Helena Sukova with her tennis growth. It will mostly be they who will form the inner circle around budding Czechoslovak tennis players, and sometimes only they will share the good and the bad on the path to making big dreams come true. So- they're in line.

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post #15 of 42 (permalink) Old Oct 29th, 2015, 06:17 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Helena Sukova's book

Chapter 14: About Her Coaches

The chapter explains why the author is not willing to coach Helena Sukova or any other tennis player; goes on about why men coach women; pronounces a criticism of those who don't know how to eat with cutlery; claims that only a gladiator would stand a chance; describes how Kukal knew the ropes; states that someone who always agrees is useless; advises how to fire a coach; and serves testimony to how Dr. Jaromir Jirik was thrown into the water and how he swam.

----To tell the truth, I wouldn't want to coach Helena Sukova.
----Not even because of her, but rather because of myself. After carefully reading a number of books on tennis, including various memoirs, it seems to me that to be a coach of female tennis players, I mean female athletes in general, means (for those fearless men) becoming something between an animal trainer, a psychoanalyst, a Marine Sergeant, someone always willing to listen, a fool who- even though far from being young- is being made by his trainee to run all over the court to the point of exhaustion, in addition to being the interpreter of dreams, equipment carrier, travel agency, economist, chiropractor, singer of lullabies and squeegee of tears, cook and launderer, driver and cinema companion for terrible movies, lightning rod for anger after lost matches, and finally the eternal object of media interest even if he doesn't happen to have any romantic link to his charge.
----I'm not sure which professions from that list Helena Sukova required of her coaches, but when we talked about them I couldn't help but feel that those gentlemen only rarely stacked up perfectly before her critical gaze.
----Helena Sukova herself told me this about her coaches after I asked her the question exactly why the majority of female players have male coaches...

----It's not about whether men are better than women or vice versa. In most cases, a female tennis player needs for her coach to be a charismatic, authoritative personality and, if possible, a good tennis player, although it's not a rule. In addition, employing men and women is essentially the same as elsewhere. Men have fewer worries with them, so they can give to you. Men travel more easily, men don't need to take care of a family like women, and the main thing is that a woman will more likely look up to a guy with respect than to a woman. That’s nothing against feminism, I’m not making it up, it’s just like that. Moreover, even when he’s maybe ending his competitive career, he’s still stronger than his student and proves it by beating her on the court. A guy is just always stronger than a girl.

There isn’t any psychology in that, then? That doesn’t have anything to do with an Oedipal complex?

Set Freud aside. In most cases it is such, at least I think, that for a girl to be a coach, then she must be a respectable character to the person concerned. Maybe for Novotna, Mandlikova can be the coach because Jana still looks up to her with dignity and respect…

Have you also always looked up to your coaches?

Yes. That’s why they could be my coaches. When I stopped appreciating them, when my respect for them was lost, then obviously it couldn’t go any further.

Do you have in mind character flaws or how you yourself changed depending on how your position in tennis changed?

I think both. Simply the moment when you stop taking that person as an authority, which need not be only his fault, then you stop respecting him. And unfortunately, when you are with that person even longer, then it doesn’t have to be only a question of tennis. The problem is that you live terribly close together. What wouldn’t otherwise matter to you can suddenly become significant. It may just be a little something. For example, he doesn’t know how to eat (dine).

(???)

Yeah, don’t laugh, it’s the truth.

You had such a coach?

Unfortunately, there aren’t only a few such people. When someone doesn’t know how to eat properly with silverware… you wouldn’t believe how it puts you in a bad mood when you have a person next to you who eats with his hands, licks his fingers, or eats while speaking and spitting. Such little things. My brother perhaps knows that about me. I never said it to those coaches, I kept it a secret, but it really bothered me.
——Because when we started hiring hitting partners [auth. note: people who hit balls with you on court for practice], it suited me if it was for a week or two since during that period it usually wasn’t enough for the hitting partner to get on my nerves. Maybe I seem like a freak to you, but when you play tennis professionally at such a level, with time it becomes really important for you to have peace around you even in the sense that you make an effort to do away with everything that bothers you, though it may seem to a disinterested observer as something silly.
——For example, we had one Australian as a hitting partner. He wore an earring, but at least he was willing to remove it during our work together. For me, a guy who wears an earring or has long hair isn’t all right. I just feel that way and I can’t help it.


Did someone in turn ever leave you?

You know the answer is yes. Some hitting partners quit whereas some endured for the money. But it also happened that some perhaps didn’t want to simply because they didn’t like our terms.

What bothered them?

They're obviously not going to tell you. Like maybe that Australian, he was terribly hardworking, so our partnership lasted over a year. Unfortunately, in addition to his way of eating and his earring, eventually there was a significant deterioration in the quality of his play, so further time together didn’t work out.
——Two years ago, I didn’t have a hitting partner. My brother suggested to me a once-promising Czech player of my age who had gotten married and moved to Australia, so I hadn’t seen him for ten years. I decided to act upon my brother’s advice and arranged our work over the phone. But lo and behold, when he came to Prague, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The excess weight he brought with him unfortunately considerably affected the quality of his play. I believed that in a short time it could correct itself. I told myself that it might get a little better, but he pretty much didn’t take even one fast step. When the trial period had passed and he wanted to get a raise, I him to start to play better because otherwise it would be unfair for him to get as much money as the Australian who ran around like a ferret. He finally said that he changed his mind, that our work together was ending. He left the tournament I was in the middle of playing and didn’t even pay the hotel for the expenses which were entirely his private affairs.


You essentially require a well-mannered gladiator who knows how to eat with utensils, provided it’s possible to master etiquette, is thin and fast as lightning.

Yes.

I fear that it was quite a chore for you to recruit a hitting partner. And what about coaches…?

Besides my parents, I must also remember my coaches who in one way or another accompanied my steps in tennis. Miloslav Houdek at Sparta tennis school; then Vaclav Kozeluh during childhood; Tomas Dvorak, who also coached the elite players in the first league of Prague’s Sparta CKD. I also don’t want to leave out my former physical trainers like Mr. Bouska, Migas, and Machytka.
——My first real coach from the national team was Kukal. When he took me, I was about 16 years old. Of course I already knew him earlier as an excellent player. He was always very enthusiastic about practicing, and I needed that. He gave me more courage to play as I know how; I somehow overcame shyness to get used to that. He also helped me arrange contracts for clothing, racquets… he knew how to deal with that, unfortunately too much, which ultimately led to our breakup. In fact, after some time I found out that the interest of players and coaches, in terms of money, may not always be the same. But the moment I found that behind my back he did such a little bit of cheating, it was the end of our partnership. Not that there were some exorbitant sums that he collected from sponsors behind my back, but how can you closely work every day with someone who’s lost your trust? That simply doesn’t work. It ended when he went to coach in Austria.
—Then I trained with Honza Kurz, who came to Prague from Replace to coach in Sparta’s first league. Actually, it was after Tomas Dvorak emigrated with his whole family to Switzerland and Sparta needed a replacement for him. Honza was kind, fun. I enjoyed training with him, so we later agreed that he would be my personal coach. We worked together for almost five years.
——Still one other person helped me a lot: Dr. Michal Andel, who during the time I was with Jan Kurz looked after my diet. Until then, I wasn’t worried about what I ate. First, he explained to me how important a diet was for top athletes, and he also drove out to some tournaments with us. His advice helped me a lot.


How was it to actually work with Kurz?

——He had rather good tactics, such as often knowing exactly where to direct the ball against one's opponents. Also, I saw in him a little bit of a surrogate father when my own had plenty of other worries and responsibilities. He had patience, as I’m a person to whom you must logically explain why I have to do something. If you don’t explain it to me, I don’t do it. It’s not enough to only tell me this or that, that I must play this way or that. Honza Kurz made an effort to do that.
——I've really only had two coaches who have been able to explain to me not only tennis technique but, mainly, to understand and make sense of its secrets and processes. The first was Mom, who unfortunately left too soon, before she could savor the success of her work. And the second is Jaromir Jirik, who is still my coach. They are qualities or abilities that one gets from God. It’s impossible to teach them or pick them up.


Yet Dr. Jirik didn’t study tennis as his specialty…

That doesn’t mean that when you study something you will understand it. For example, right now in tennis you need talent to penetrate into its secrets. Additionally, the ability to constantly come up with something new and constructive, to react to what’s going well in one moment or, conversely, what’s failing your player, that completes the figure of a good coach. It can be said that a player and coach must grow side by side. If the coach is happy with the level that’s been reached, then he starts stagnating, and eventually his performance goes down.

You have a very developed sense of stagnation, you know that?

You needn’t have a very developed sense for that. The results on the court will tell you themselves. Look, I’m not claiming that a coach can always do something for things that aren’t going well. But he must see that something with his player is going on. He must obviously investigate that, even when a player doesn’t whine about it at a particular moment. He needn’t be afraid to go against his charge’s convictions if he thinks that it will help. A nice person always agreeing with you won’t serve you well. Although I must admit that having a discussion with me perhaps wasn’t always fun.

How did you inform your coaches that they shouldn’t go to the airport or the court the next day?

For one, I didn’t have so many of them that I had to devise some sort of method. Regarding Honza Kurz, it was the end of the 1988 season. I invited him to lunch. I’d written him a letter beforehand which I handed over to him, and in it I explained and broke things down in detail.

He must have really liked that…

Not really. The split was clear, we just had words with each other about a few things. But I’m glad that until today we’ve remained friends.

Are such talks difficult?

Extremely difficult. I know that by thinking things over carefully in advance and writing them down, in most cases the person I’m writing to will understand what I really mean. With just verbal communication, sometimes it happens that I’m not understood exactly as I wished, and there can be senseless and even sometimes very unpleasant misunderstandings. In no way does that mean that I would have a problem telling someone to their face what I think of them. But I was and am very fond of Honza in spite of the all the flaws I didn’t like about him. So that letter made the situation considerably easier for me. With it, I didn’t have to speak so much about unpleasant things.

Did you somehow try to sugar coat that Job-like task so it didn’t hurt so much?

I tried to write what I really felt. But again, I think if someone knows me well, then even if I express myself stupidly, they know what I think.

So in 1988 you split up and we already know what came after that because at the Olympics in Seoul you met Dr. Jirik…

Jari initially helped me a lot mentally. Later, he taught and showed me things which no one had actually said before. Even such seemingly trivial things like to hit your shots where you want them to go, aim towards that place. Later, I cast all of my training his way.
——In the time preceding that, after I’d stopped working with Kurz, I had already hired Dr. Travnicek as a coach. He was formerly a pretty good player at the national level. At the time we were together, though, he didn’t play very well anymore, and on the technical end he wasn’t really able to advise me much. But it was better than traveling to tournaments alone.


When a person always lives in such a miniature community of player and coach without a single friend by one’s side, does he realize that he actually lives, to a certain extent, an abnormal life?

When you don’t know anything else, that doesn’t even come into your head. If someone provoked something in me, some regret that I don’t lead a normal life, it would have to be some kind of almost god. I’ve always found choosing friends very hard. I’m not saying it wasn’t my fault. For me it’s all about trust, that I can rely on the other person, that I know one hundred percent that he doesn’t have any ulterior motives. I found that in Jaromir Jirik. He’s the best friend I have. I know it’s support in which, should things get rough, he’ll help me.

But you know that in regard to your coaches, doctors, and ultimately even your boyfriends, there were lots of comments in particular about, let’s say, [?] tennis circles.

I completely understand that. Many people became intruders in territory where their expertise was lacking. I don’t care. I don’t think that anyone has the right to advise me in these matters. Perhaps because of those evil tongues which flung sticks at our feet [?], Jara even passed the coaching test, so they had to write out an official coaching ID for him. But believe me, no good trainer prepared a paper from you [?]. I dare say that after all those years of experience gained not only working with many coaches but especially being in the world of pro tennis, I can with absolute certainty objectively assess the exceptional quality and professional ability of my current coach.

——Let’s further add to this chapter some observations of a man who’s related to the ending of this interview with Helena Sukova. First, because as the last coach he should have the right to take a stance and second, he gives us a look inside the relationship between coach and player with a really documentary-like graphicness. Finally, because he describes the period when the last chance of winning Wimbledon should be dying out [?].

You never felt like breaking the door? Did you ever do that?

Not until the end, when there was a period of definite apathy and resignation. I was trying to fight, but Helena wasn’t anymore. I told her that it wasn’t fun for me anymore, I wasn’t going to tell her anything anymore while she didn’t value it. Finally, we reconciled and I promised her that I would hang on only as long as it worked [?] because when I get something into my head, I stick with it even if there are failures.
——Many coaches only withstand a lot so long as things are good. Once they are sure that things are going downhill, they run away. That struck me as unfair. Conversely, I told Helena that the less things worked out, the harder I was going to work her, ze na to ma [?]. In fact, she wouldn’t say to me, “That's stupid, don’t tell me that. This is nonsense,” even though many times I was witness to experienced coaches facing such words. I felt sorry for them, as I haven’t had the experiences with tennis that they have.


It didn’t happen, especially in recent years when her performance dropped, that one could find kind souls who said that Helena Sukova should have a coach sort of from that line of work?

Of course. Such kind souls could be found immediately from the beginning, once I got into it. It rather depressed me because I said that those people were actually right. So I studied all the possible books that were available, I went to old coaches not only in the Czech Republic but also abroad, and I had discussions with them in order to adopt their views on tennis, in order to be able to direct myself in that. [auth. note: for curious readers, we will see that he held interviews with, for example, Billie Jean King, Betty Stove, Martina Navratilova, and others.] Besides that, I had my own eyes, and I tried out their rules or, let’s say, the universal prescription of confronting them with what I myself see [?]. Plus, I have gone through many sports myself, and I think that I have a certain talent…

Did you resist when she announced the decision to select you as her coach?

She didn’t ask, she threw me into the water and didn’t ask me at all if I agreed. But I guess I wouldn’t have resisted even if she’d given me the choice. I remember when it happened; I’ll never forget it. When she ended with Kurz, she decided to take Dr. Ladislav Travnicek. I went to him as a doctor and in the evening, for example, we would discuss coaching. I had some ideas, so I discussed them with Travnicek: “Hey, what if you tried this or that? Wouldn’t that work?” Of course we discussed that as a trio, and within nine months she saw that my ideas helped her a bit. They actually improved her in some moments when she didn’t know how advise herself [?].
——One night she came and said, “Hey, I don’t want to stay with Travnicek anymore, you’re going to coach me.” That was the moment that changed my life. I told her she was crazy. She said that it was the same as those nine months I’d been doing, which was eighty percent true, although Lad’a Travnicek was a really nice guy and we had a lot of fun together.


Did you point out to her that tenisovym augurum se to libit nebude [?]?

Of course. She didn’t care at all. It helps me when people pull my leg [?]. But I told her that I couldn’t play with her. I didn’t know how. So you’ll learn how, she said. So great, thanks, you've done it all your life, I haven't, and I have to learn it in two months, or what kind of deadline are you giving me?
——It must have been during the season, perhaps after Australia, when we went to Palm Springs and I went with Helena to train on the court like the other tennis coaches. I recall one moment that was very pleasant for me out of those beginnings. He had planned to train on the center court in the hour following Martina Navratilova and the stands were filled with spectators just like during a match. At that moment Helena said to me, “I, for one, am curious as to where your shots are going to go today [?]”
——Believe me, those beginnings really weren’t easy…


Does Helena currently seem too pessimistic to you?

You know, I really get what bugs her. If I go back to the past, it’s really like the bad plot of a TV series. Whenever it appeared that she was right before her goal, some disaster happened. Never in my life would I want to experience those months after the US Open in 1993. Such an upswing and then a fall, wrongful and cruel… Although I perhaps sometimes too cruelly drummed into Helena’s head that it’s not so important to be standing [?] but rather to rebound once again after a fall, to tell you the truth, one must have a strong temperament to deal with what happened in 1993. Unfortunately, Helena didn’t have that strength anymore.

Last edited by Grafiati; Oct 11th, 2016 at 02:38 PM.
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