April 27, 2012

Daniela Hantuchová

(info about Daniela Hantuchová)

The pleasure of training

Thomas Kieller

Daniela Hantuchová: In action.

Enthusiast, determined and agile, Daniela is quite impressive on the court. While being in excellent form, the Slovakian woman has a great repertoire of shots. With her tennis techniques that she perfected over the years, she can hit the ball hard with her forehand and backhand. Like she says, swing and timing are key elements for her job! To give a good boost to her game, she relies also on her serve and on her returns where she uses her physiognomy to her advantage. Moreover, because she plays in doubles on a regular basis, she likes to play at the net. Also, the player from Propad has a particularly aggressive style of playing. She always tries to dictate the rhythm of the match and, at the right time, it is in her nature to take risks in order to place the ball skilfully. With this audacious style, she offers colorful and spectacular moments for the spectators. On the other hand, she is proud to have adapted, year after year, to the arrival of the new players on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour. Indeed, the playing style has evolved and has become, in a way, more physical. In spite of all the changes, she had her share of great moments by beating many top level players like Justine Henin, Martina Hingis, Amélie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. To these few names, one could add many others... But what’s the purpose, you understand well the idea! Her summary in the WTA is shining with four titles in singles and nine in doubles. Daniela has integrated the different tennis techniques while playing smartly on the court. She simply has pleasure to practice her sport and to train hard in order to be fit on the court.

The interview took place on September 12, 2011 at 18:45 in the press conference room of the Challenge Bell tennis tournament of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in Quebec City, Canada.

Prelude – Daniela entered the room in a relaxed manner after she attended a VIP session.

Physical training of a tennis player

Thomas Kieller: In tennis, you have to be quite in good shape to play at the top level… During the preseason, do you give a big importance to your physical conditioning?

Daniela Hantuchová: Yes, I think it is the most important part actually. Tennis has become so physical over the years. It has been always one of my strengths meaning to be fit. Fortunately, I did not have many injuries... Thank god! You know to be on the turf for 12 years, it is not easy to be always in shape.

Actually, my main priority was always the fitness because I feel I can play tennis anyway I want to. Also, in order to be competitive out there, I always need to improve my physical form. So, during all the preseasons, I always worked really hard and actually I enjoyed this part a lot. You get to know more about yourself because you are pushed to your limits and sometimes these limits are more than what you thought. It’s a nice feeling to have.

Thomas: Do you train a lot in a gym?

Daniela: Yes, I spend more time in a gym, even more than on a tennis court.

Thomas: You work on what in a gym?

Daniela: Tennis is a very specific sport where you need to have a combination of many factors: strength, speed and aerobic... You need to be able to last long matches, up to three hours... I like when the match gets longer because of all the hours I have put in the gym. Of course, you need to have the strength because of all the players around these days. So, you need to work on all these aspects.

Thomas: Do you put a lot of time for weights?

Daniela (smiles): Yes, I’m doing a lot of strength exercises. I know I don’t look like it but I can lift quite a lot.

Thomas (laughs): That’s good! I know that strength is not the only aspect to be successful in tennis, but it is one of many. If we compare you to Samantha Stosur or Serena Williams, do you think you are a powerful hitter?

Daniela: They have definitely a different technique but I feel that I’m powerful. On the court, I try to use my swing and timing more when I hit the ball because I think it has always been my nature to do so. I try to use strength in a different way then they do.

Thomas: One thing is sure, you move pretty quickly on the court. Is it something you like to do, meaning running?

Daniela: I love running especially when I put my iPod and I go run for a while. However, on the court, it is obviously a different movement and being tall is not the easiest thing to do. Over the years, I always tried to improve this part of the game because I think it was my biggest point where I needed to improve.

Indeed, I have worked so much on that in my previous years and I think my level of endurance is pretty good. Like I said, if the match lasts five hours... great! It is even better for me. So, I do a lot of cardio and it is what I enjoy the most.

Thomas: Oh yeah! Interesting; it’s not every tennis player who enjoys that as much as you. Some of the players I met are doing it from obligation but still they know quite well they have to do it. But you, you like running. Do you do anything else for your cardio such as biking?

Daniela (says with enthusiasm): Yes! Obviously running is more specific for tennis but I have to say that I had some problems with my foot. Sometimes, I try to put less pressure on it. So, I do a lot of biking. Actually, I like spinning classes. It is very good with the music on and with a class full of people. It’s kind of fun because you don’t think too much. You just follow the rhythm of the music. On the other hand, I love running. When I go run by the sea with the music on, there is nothing better.

Thomas: Do you swim also?

Daniela: I used to do a lot of swimming and actually it is one of the things which helped my cardio the most.

Thomas: I don’t know if it’s a cliché... But in general, do the women in the WTA train more on speed, cardio, flexibility with a glimpse of strength?

Daniela: It’s like I said, you have to have a balance between all these aspects. I would rather say that a tennis player is not here to lift weights like bodybuilders or any sport like that. We need to have the swing and good free motion. For me, personally, I focus more on the balance and not over doing it on one aspect, but every player is different. So, it is tough to say.

Thomas: During the season, you are always on the move from a city to another. Is it hard to train under these conditions?

Daniela: This is the greatest inconvenient for my training... I want to improve even though I’m travelling a lot during the season. In other words, I’m trying to be in the same shape or even better which is very difficult to do with the tournaments. It’s why it is important to take the time between the seasons. During the off weeks, you can focus more on training.

Thomas: For example, here in Quebec City, do you train or do you just focus on the tournament?

Daniela: I was already in the gym yesterday and today. I’m the kind of player who likes to do it. I don’t know about the other players. It’s tough to do because it was a long summer with two months already on the road. Obviously, after the major tournaments (the Slams), the adrenaline drops down a little bit. So, it is much harder to push yourself. I try to fight through it and still do the things I have to do.

Thomas: Of course, it’s the end of the season... On another matter, when you are on the road, do you have appropriate facilities to be able to do a good training?

Daniela: Yes, I’m always looking for the best in every city in order to do my training.

Thomas: And to travel a lot like you do, does it affect your fitness?

Daniela (laughs): Yes, the jet lag is the toughest part for training especially when there is a big difference in time zones. Sometimes, I’m supposed to work out but I feel like it is in the middle of the night because of the jet lag. It’s not easy but it’s the job.

Thomas: So, as a tennis player, you have to be able to adapt pretty quickly to the new environment.

Daniela: Yes, normally I have two to three days to be ready for the first match. Personally, I’m always trying to do my best.

Thomas: Does your season end with the Quebec City tournament?

Daniela: Not at all! I still have tournaments in Beijing (China), Linz (Austria), Luxembourg and Bali (Indonesia). I have another two months to go and, afterwards, the free season starts where I have two weeks off.

Thomas (smiles): You have only two weeks off and this is called your free season or your preseason... Wow! It’s not a lot.

Daniela (says on a happy note): Yeah!

Technical aspect of playing tennis

Thomas: The physical training is one part of tennis but there is also the technical part of it. During the season, how much time do you spend on a court to hit balls?

Daniela: That depends... it is tough to say. During a tournament, it is very little. During the off weeks, you try to focus on it as much as you can. It is very personal. Also, the time I spend concerning this has changed over the years because I hit a lot of balls earlier in my career. So, I don’t spend so much time for this as I used to do.

Thomas: You are a professional tennis player since 1999 which is around 12 years. With your main coach Matej Liptak, you are focusing on what right now?

Daniela: On being more efficient on what I’m trying to do on the court. These days, I make sure that every minute is well invested on the court. I guess I can still improve my net game in order to do more during matches. It is my main focus now. At the same time, I try to be smarter when I play. I got the experience now and I try to use my strengths in a different way. In brief, at the end of the day, I’m still trying to improve everything. So, I guess that approach did not change since 12 years.

Thomas: So, it is more about strategy and on the technical aspect it is more about your volleys, but like you said, you still train on everything...

Daniela (says while smiling): Well, technically wise, there is not much I want to improve. After 12 years I should know how to hit balls by now. It is more about the strategy and be smarter with the training.

Thomas (smiles): Of course!

Daniela: However, you never say that’s it. I’m trying to improve everything because I think that even Roger Federer thinks he does not do it all and that’s what makes him better. He keeps improving. You see the same approach with Rafael Nadal who is always trying to improve his serve and everything else. So, it is always what you have to look for when you are a professional athlete, meaning how to make yourself better and to see what your limits are.

Motivation elements as a professional tennis player

Thomas: You have achieved a lot in your career by winning four WTA single titles, nine WTA double titles and of course you have played a lot of tennis around the world. That’s great! We know it’s tough to keep always the same rhythm and to continually train. What are your motivations to go on?

Daniela (says on the spot): I still feel I did not achieve what I want. That’s what keeps me going every day and I can say my motivation is still very high! Concerning the objectives and the goals that I set up for myself at the very beginning of my career, I still did not get there yet. So, it is pretty easy what keeps me going on.

Thomas: And what is your greatest motivation that you want to achieve?

Daniela: To become number one.

Thomas: And, you enjoy every match on the court?

Daniela: Yes, I do. Of course, sometimes it’s tough. It is not easy and especially with all the travelling and after all these years but I think it is a huge privilege to do what I’m doing. I always dreamed to be a tennis player and I think I’m very lucky and I will not change it for anything else.

Thomas: And, you seem to enjoy training a lot.

Daniela (smiles): Yes, the training is actually the part I enjoy the most.

Thomas: Good! Thank you Daniela for sharing your knowledge and experiences concerning training.

Daniela: Thanks. My pleasure!