April 22, 2012

Marina Erakovic

(info about Marina Erakovic)

The force of adaptation

Thomas Kieller

Photo – Courtesy of Getty Images

Marina Erakovic: The olympic dream.

Immigrated to New Zealand at the age of six years old with her parents and her older sister, Marina has adapted with no ups and downs to her new environment by learning the local language and the customs of the country. The contrast between Croatia and her host country must have been great, but the child found her way. Like her arrival in this Anglo-Saxon country, she made the leap without holding back in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) where the competition is fierce between the players. A new challenge presented itself towards her and once more another phase of adaptation followed. With her combative nature, she made her mark first in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) by winning a dozen titles in singles and half-dozen in doubles. In the WTA, her successes are actually summed up to four victories in doubles. And yet, the player from Split shows a vast range of qualities on the court. With her serve, she can make her opponent move along the baseline. Endowed with good mobility and good physical conditioning, she moves efficiently. Besides, by slicing her shots, she makes some approaches to the net where she shines with volleys. However, she prefers to dominate the game with her forehand where she is clearly more at ease. It is possible to see that there are few players from New Zealand who made it quite as well in the WTA Tour. Well, the New Zealand women, who grew up in Auckland, already made the top 50 in the world ranking. She is also proud to have represented her country six times at the Fed Cup and once in the Olympic Games, meaning the ones in Beijing, China. The future is promising for her when we remember her great victory in 2011 against Victoria Azarenka. Indeed, the talent and the work habits of Marina are signs of a beautiful career... She is a player on the rise.

The interview took place on September 12, 2011 at 18:25 in the press conference room of the Challenge Bell tennis tournament of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in Quebec City, Canada.

Prelude – Marina in a relaxed manner enters the room. Just thirty minutes earlier, she played with her Swedish partner Sofia Arvidsson and lost in a close match against Jamie Hampton of the United States and Anna Tatishvili of Georgia by the score of 6-4, 6-7, 8-10.


Thomas Kieller: You were born in Split, Croatia which is a Mediterranean city and just on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. Your family decided when you were six years old to move from Croatia to New Zealand. Could you tell me what was the reason that your parents, Ljiljana and Mladen, immigrated to New Zealand?

Marina Erakovic: At the time, it was not very stable in the former Yugoslavia and my parents felt it would be better to move somewhere else for us the children. I have an older sister. They were looking to go abroad because of the circumstances in the former Yugoslavia.

Thomas: Do you know why they chose New Zealand?

Marina: New Zealand was looking for emigrants at that time. Also, we had friends who went there a year before and they told us it was nice. So, we went there.

Thomas: Do you remember the situation in Croatia… you were only six years old?

Marina: Not a lot. Where I lived, there was no fighting and no conflict. However, it was not a happy time and definitely my parents were struggling. I think we made a good decision.

Thomas: In which city did your family make their home?

Marina: In Auckland.

Thomas: How was your integration to this new country?

Marina: Pretty good, I mean. I learned English pretty quickly. They put me into school and after six months, I started to speak. It was my first school because I did not go to school in Croatia. It was quite nice... I made friends there and my older sister was there too. It was definitely a nice environment to grow up in.

Thomas: Which language were you speaking when you arrived, only Croatian?

Marina (laughs): Yes, that’s right I was only speaking Croatian. I came and they just put me into school and of you go; learn some English.

Thomas: There was no problem to learn this language?

Marina: When you are a kid, you start speaking quite easily. It was not a problem at all. Only six months!

Thomas: This is good adaptation. And how did you start playing tennis?

Marina: I actually started because my father and my older sister Julia started playing this sport, a little bit, in Croatia. My dad was in a club and I was coming with them to play. In my case, I started against a wall.

Integration in the WTA

Thomas: You turned pro in 2006 at 16 years old. Again, you needed to fit in a new context. How was your integration to the WTA?

Marina: Actually, I probably played my first challenge at 16 years old, but I did not start playing professionally until I left school. I finished high school and I think I was about 18 years old. I knew I was good at tennis because I had some good results as a junior. I thought that playing professionally was the next step for me. So, I told myself why not give this a shot now! And if one day, I want to go to university, I can do it also.

Thomas: Not everybody starts their career at 18 years old like you did... Is there a structure to welcome players in the WTA?

Marina: There is something like this. However, I did not start in the WTA. First, I started in the ITF where the tournaments are smaller. Because I lived in New Zealand, I played in Australia and elsewhere in Asia. This way, I built my ranking and then afterwards I started playing WTA tournaments. They have like an integration program for the younger players where they take you through all the things and what you need to know and learn. It’s a good program.

Thomas: Can you tell me more about this program?

Marina: Yes, for example, when I was younger, they took us to the physiotherapy room and they showed us meaningful things like how to tape your foot and what to do if you have a blister. They talked about the media and how to talk and deal with things like this. Also, if we need to talk to someone there is a lady for this named Kathy Martin. She is very good and she basically helps with everything... If you need to talk to someone or if it gets harder or if you think about studying and playing tennis, she’s always there. Things like that.

Thomas: I heard that there was some shadowing in the WTA, meaning a more experienced player helps you at the beginning of your career. Is it true?

Marina: Yes, but I never had this. It is like a mentor or an older person mentoring. I never had it personally, but I know some players who had it.

Thomas: I want to come back on one point... I understand that you started in the ITF, so you were getting ready for your professional career. However, what was the toughest part when you started to play in the WTA? Was it easy to integrate the WTA?

Marina: Honestly, I think that ITF is much harder because you don’t get physiotherapy treatments. You don’t get free accommodations and food. You have to pay for everything. The venues are much nicer in the WTA and in the ITF it is not so much... I think that ITF tournaments are a lot harder.

Thomas: When you started, did you travel alone or were you travelling with someone from your family?

Marina: When I was younger, I was traveling a lot with my dad to the ITF tournaments. When I was about 19 years old, I started to travel with my coach.

Thomas: And now, are you still travelling all the time with your coach?

Marina: Yes.

Thomas: In the world ranking, you are the only one from New Zealand to be in the top 100. Sacha Jones is 213, Katherine Westbury is 613 and Dianne Hollands is 953. Do you feel some pressure to be successful for your country?

Marina: Not at all. I don’t feel anything like this. I’m very proud to represent New Zealand and I’m glad someone is in the top 100. You know tennis is not the most popular sport back home. So, I try my best to put it on the map for us. I don’t really feel the pressure.

Thomas: And what about your competitors; is there pressure from them? It seems not easy to bond with other players...

Marina: No, it is not easy to bond because you are always in competition. Well, there is always the fact that I might play this person tomorrow and, of course, both of us want to win. So, it is very difficult to make very close friends because it’s always quite competitive. However, the best you can do is to get along with the girls and have a good time. Enjoy yourself and not take yourself too seriously.

Thomas: And do you put pressure on yourself?

Marina: No.

Thomas (laughs): Good! I’m laughing because I was sincerely thinking that it was tougher to live this competitive spirit on the court and off the court. It looks like it’s easy.

Marina: No, I mean I personally don’t put pressure on myself but believe me it is not easy. A lot of people think that tennis is all glamour because there are photos of us and we are on television. Believe me, not really! For example, like today, I was here all day: I trained, I played a match in doubles, I had dinner, I went back to the hotel and I came back here one more time. Another example: if I have three or four tough losses, it hurts because I worked hard for this and I might think why the results are not coming. It’s a very long process and because it is such a long process you have to make the best of it and enjoy yourself. Otherwise, you’re gonna go crazy. Ha ha ha!

Thomas: Right!

Passions and activities to relax

Thomas: When you are not playing tennis, I know you enjoy playing an electric guitar. What do you like about this?

Marina (answers in an exalting manner): I like to play the guitar, it is something I do. It helps me relax and focus on something else. It is something I picked up by myself and I really taught myself. I used to travel with one, but not anymore. I started to do a little bit of online studies. So, I don’t have time for both, but it is obviously something I really enjoy doing... to play the guitar.

Thomas: What type of music do you play?

Marina: Definitely rock... I started with an acoustic and I bought myself an electric. I like both. But when I’m home, I crank up the speakers and I like to play rock.

Thomas: So now, you are focusing on something different...

Marina: I really want to try to do some papers this year at the university and see how that goes.

Thomas: As a tennis player, you have a lot of waiting time. I guess you read a lot... What type of books do you read?

Marina: Yes, I read a lot and I have an electronic reader. So, I don’t have to carry all my books around, but I definitely like to read a lot of books. Now, I’m reading this book called "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. It is pretty addictive. I have to say that it is not super literature, but it’s very good.

Thomas: And what is the subject?

Marina: It is very much science-fiction in a made up world where the protagonists are fighting to survive.

Thomas: And what other hobbies or activities do you do that permit you to relax from your job and, of course, to simply enjoy life?

Marina: When I’m home I like to chill out with my friends... I go to movies a lot, I enjoy music and, of course, I play the guitar. Oh yes, I play a little bit of soccer. I like that sport.

Thomas: Do you need to balance your free time and your tennis career?

Marina: I think so. It’s hard for me because I’m so far away from home. So, I do the best when I’m on the road, but yes I definitively need a balance and in my case I have to step outside the tennis scene and enjoy myself in other parts of life.

Last words

Thomas: So, you have a little bit of everything in your life. Of course, with tennis and also with the university, you have a little bit of stress. On the other hand, you have reading, music and other relaxing activities. After a good book or some good guitar sessions, you come back on the court to win?

Marina: Definitely, I mean this is what I do and I like to do it and I train for it. So, when a match day comes, I do my best to perform great!

Thomas: Thanks Marina. You have the spirit!