Catching Up With... Nicole Bradtke

She's a Melbourne lass through and through, but as a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 1988, part of her heart belongs to Paris.

Published May 26, 2010 12:00

Catching Up With... Nicole Bradtke
Nicole Bradtke

In 1988 an 18-year-old Australian called Nicole Provis made headlines by reaching the last four at Roland Garros. Beating Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, Sylvia Hanika and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario to get that far she even held match point in her semi against Natasha Zvereva - who was subsequently double-bageled by Steffi Graf in the shortest Grand Slam final in history. Though the Melburnian wouldn't again push as deep in singles at a major, her smooth groundies and doubles savvy brought plenty of career highlights over the next decade: three Tour singles titles, nine doubles titles, two Grand Slam mixed trophies and Olympic bronze partnering Rachel McQuillan in Barcelona. Having married Australian national basketballer Mark Bradtke in 1994 she called time on her playing career after the 1997 Australian Open

We caught up with Nicole, who serves as coach to the Australian Fed Cup team, after the squad's 5-0 World Group Play-off whitewash of Ukraine in Kharkiv at the end of April.

With an 18-9 record yourself, Fed Cup was obviously important to you as a player; did you ever dream you'd have this role with the national team?
No, I didn't. And then five years ago I got a call from David Taylor when he was appointed captain, asking me if I would like to do it, and I jumped at the chance. My second child was probably 18 months old at the time and so it was great timing - I was ready to get back in and do things. I love it.

What else keeps you busy?
I have two boys, Austin and Jensen, who are nearly 10 and nearly six. They're very much into sport, playing tennis like me and basketball like their dad. Mark and I run an indoor sports centre in Melbourne, and I do my own private coaching, as well as work with the federation when it comes up. Obviously I can't travel all the time because I have a family, but I can still do a couple of weeks in blocks here and there. It's a very different lifestyle, a completely different phase of life, but I thoroughly enjoy it.

Was retirement from the Tour a scary prospect for you?
No, I'd had a great time but I think I was ready. On the whole I'd been lucky as far as major injuries go, but my shoulder had become a problem and I was staring at surgery and six months out. I'd started when I was 15, and unlike some of the Aussies who based themselves in the US, I always kept my base in Melbourne, apart from a period near the end when Mark was playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. So I'd spent a lot of time in planes. Sure, there are still things I miss, but I do commentary now for the Australian Open and travel with Fed Cup, which keeps me in touch with the girls.

What do you consider you greatest strengths as a player?
Coming from Australia and being able to play on clay. I was lucky that I grew up in Melbourne, where we played on what we call en tout cas. It is very similar to clay, so I knew how to slide. A lot of the other states in Australia just didn't have that. So when I came over to Europe it wasn't foreign for me. I had the consistency level that was needed to fit right in with the way the European tennis was played.

You made the semis at Roland Garros early in your career. Was it a surprise - and did you think there was more of that to come?
It was a surprise. I'd done really well in the clay lead-ups in both singles and doubles, but the draw opened up for me - Arantxa had beaten Chris Evert - and I made the most of it. In terms of my career, I think I was a pretty well-rounded player - I got to the round of 16 at Wimbledon, reached the fourth round at the Australian Open a few times. Probably my worst Grand Slam was the US Open. I got to No.24 in the rankings, but in my day they didn't seed the Top 32 and after 1988 I had some woeful draws at the French - Steffi, Mary Pierce...

Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think about the match point?
I'm philosophical about it. I hit a great forehand return, but Zvereva found the line with her next shot and it spun off. You can't really beat yourself up about that. Yes, I had a match point but it just wasn't meant to be. It was an exciting time, though. My dad was with me on that trip and mum was at home and everyone there was sitting up all night to watch on TV. I was on a roll and it was all over the news posters they put outside the milkbars - mum was going around snapping them up! I've still got them to this day, with my picture on the front. I can sympathise, because my brother-in-law is Todd Woodbridge, and I know from sitting up to watch him in big doubles finals, you get completely absorbed and it is exhausting!

What did you think when Zvereva was subsequently thrashed by Graf in the final?
Well, everyone was saying to me, 'You would have got a game! You would have got a game!' I got to the finals of the mixed there, so that was something. The French holds a very special place in my heart, though unfortunately I haven't been back since I retired.

Finest moment on court?
Probably one of my best matches was beating Steffi in Germany in Fed Cup in 1993. I had a lot of good wins when I represented Australia in both Fed Cup and Hopman Cup. Lots of things hold special memories, for different reasons. Winning my Tour singles titles, the Australian Women's Hardcourts in Brisbane, having not picked up a racquet for 10 days beforehand because I was so sick with a stomach bug. Dad said to me just go up there and see how you go and I ended up beating Maggie Maleeva in the final. Winning in your home country is wonderful. And winning the Australian and US mixed titles with Mark Woodforde in 1992 is always going to be special.

As a kid, did you have a tennis idol?
I guess I liked Chrissie, and obviously my style was similar to hers', but then I liked the way Martina Navratilova played as well, because I tried to be slightly aggressive. I was fortunate enough to play both of them very early in my career. I look back now and probably admire the way that Steffi played or Monica Seles played, more so than putting them on a pedestal.

What was it like for you to play Chris, given the similarity of your styles and even the way you carried yourself on court?
As it happens I played Chris on clay and she was everything I thought she would be. It was like playing against a brick wall. But the game has changed so much since those days, the way they hit the ball now is just unbelievable.

You played doubles with Rennae Stubbs in Fed Cup - is it surreal to see her still out there in the Australian squad?
Yeah, it is! Stubbsy and I did really, really well together - in hindsight we probably should have played together on the Tour because although we were chalk and cheese we complemented each other quite well. I knew how to take her, and she knew how to take me. She's stood the test of time and continues to bring great value to this team. Apart from being a great doubles player she keeps everybody entertained!

What do you think of Kimiko Date Krumm, who's of a similar age to you?
She hasn't had children! (laughs). That's the one thing that will age you and change you. Of course I take my hat of to her because it's a huge effort and she's going great guns. But as far as being a mother and playing… I think unless you have children very young, it's very difficult to come back.

Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
Monica, without a doubt. When I played Steffi I at least felt I could get into the points, but when Monica was on song it was just a barrage of groundstrokes from both sides. She was a tough cookie mentally as well. From later in my career I'd mention Lindsay Davenport, because she just hit the ball so cleanly off both sides. Both of them timed the ball beautifully.

If you could play in another era…
Now - the money's good! Isn't that terrible? I'm not the first one to say it and I certainly won't be the last. But seriously, everything now is so professional and keeps evolving - it's a credit to the Tour and to the players that tennis is now the strongest sport for women. But how could I complain about playing alongside Steffi, Monica, Arantxa, Gabriela Sabatini, Jana Novotna, Conchita Martínez… it was a very strong era with different types of players. Now, there seems to be less variety, a lot of hitting the living daylights out of the ball and maybe not quite as much finesse in the game. Back in my day, even though they hit the ball very cleanly they probably were a little more creative in the way they played. Just a very strong group... and they stayed up there.

What were you favorite Tour stops, aside from Roland Garros?
The event no longer exists, but one of my first trips to Europe I played at Lugano in Switzerland, which was just a beautiful tournament. Lausanne was another one. Europe, full stop for me - I just loved playing in Europe. And I always loved going to England because by that point I'd been on the continent for seven weeks and there was that element of familiarity. I liked America, but I loved Europe and spent more of my time there.

Who do you enjoy watching among today's players?
I think Flavia Pennetta is nice to watch. I enjoy watching Sam Stosur - not just because she's an Australian but because she plays a different style of game. I love watching Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin play, and among the younger ones coming up, Yanina Wickmayer.

Looking back, do you feel you maximized your potential?
I think you can look at it more objectively once you've stopped playing, and ask yourself why didn't I go there or why didn't I do that. Maybe I should have developed a better serve and found the confidence to volley in singles as I did in doubles. It's all up in the head. But as far as my work ethic goes, I think I was always really fit and gave it 110%. Of course there are always going to matches you wish you'd won, but on the whole I was very satisfied.

Topics: nicole bradtke
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