Catching Up With... Judith Wiesner-Floimair
Published July 24, 2010 12:00
BAD GASTEIN, Austria - Peaking at No.12 in the world, Judith Wiesner spent a decade as one of the Tour's most classy supporting acts. Early highlights included a run to the final at the Lipton Championships in 1990, while in 1996, her best season, she reached the quarters at both Wimbledon and the US Open. Wiesner reached the fourth round at a further seven majors - covering all four at least once - won five Tour singles titles from 13 finals and three doubles titles, and built what is still Austria's best Fed Cup record. In 1991 she won the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award, as voted by her peers, and for several years she was an elected player representative to the Tour Council. Perhaps it wasn't such a surprise, then, that after a post-tennis stint as a competitive golfer she served on the city council of Salzburg.
We caught up with Judith during the Nürnberger Gastein Ladies, where she holds a special post as "tournament ambassador".
How did your role with the tournament come about?
JWF: I'm very patriotic and I love my region. When I was playing, I used to advocate staging Fed Cup here. So when the possibility of holding a tournament in the area popped up a few years ago with my friend Peter-Michael Reichel (who is a member of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's Board of Directors) and his daughter Sandra, I helped put them in touch with the people that decide about that stuff. 'Ambassador' sounds big but it's really promoting the whole thing and helping to make it work, and I'm so happy to be able to do it. Now in Austria we have the indoor event at Linz and this one in summer, which is great.
You were involved with the Player Council during your time on the Tour; did you think at the time that you might get involved in politics after your playing days were over?
JWF: As a player I always felt I wanted to be involved in the decision making. I'm interested in how things work. But if I think back, it's too bad we didn't have more time to really get stuck into it at meetings - it was hard to sit down on the Sunday afternoon before a Grand Slam… it was more like, 'OK, get it over with! In any case, I'm interested in that kind of stuff. At the city level the politics are still at close quarters to the people, much more so than at the regional or state level. It's about caring for the issues that are important to the people. In that sense it wasn't so far away from the Tour politics.
What was it like, being in politics in the 'real world'?
JWF: I was on the council for five years, until 2004. I was my party's speaker. It was really an exciting experience and I learnt so many things. On the other hand, it gets to you… I'm not the kind of personality that likes to argue all the time. But even though I hadn't done anything with them before and I didn't have to start from a very low position and work my way up, I received a really warm welcome from the party I was with and am still friends with them. After five years I thought, OK either I stay with this for longer or I quit. I decided I didn't want to do it for longer because it does get to you, opponents trying to pull you down. Plus the free time you have is zero, and I like to have some free time!
Did you retire from playing the Tour on your own terms? Were you ready?
JWF: I think so. I'd had a great year in '96, which happened to be the year I turned 30, and I thought I'd go for it again in '97. But the first three months really went badly - I just felt really tired and sick all the time. I got a heat thing in Melbourne and I got sick at Key Biscayne… stuff like that. I think my body was giving me signals, so I decided midway through the year it would be my last. I retired after Filderstadt in the October. After I stopped, I didn't find myself watching TV and thinking that I wanted to be back on court.
What were your strengths as a player?
JWF: I had a lot of comeback matches, winning from being down, so I think my fighting spirit was OK. I could mix the game up, I anticipated the game very well… and that was compensation for other weaknesses. But in my time we didn't hit the ball as hard as they do now… you had to think about how you were going to win a point.
What is your best memory from your tennis career?
JWF: It's difficult to pinpoint one thing, but reaching the final at the Lipton for sure. One reason I remember it though is because I didn't have a hitting partner there and there was a two day break before the final. I couldn't really practice and I lost very easily to Monica. Still, I beat three Top 10 players at that tournament, so that was huge for me. Reaching the two Grand Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open was also big. I also enjoyed playing the team matches in Fed Cup; I had a good record in that. And although it's a different level, I have fond memories of playing for my home club for 13 years and never losing a match.
You played during an amazing era… who was your toughest opponent?
JWF: Steffi Graf, for sure, was the best player of that time. I think I had a very good rivalry with Steffi and enjoyed our matches. I mean, I never beat her, but I knew what she was doing! Whereas against someone like Martina Navratilova… I could have never gotten a set off her. It's strange, I played Gaby Sabatini only once or twice, but I played Jana Novotna a lot. I got to play Chris Evert and was still around when Venus was just coming through.
Did you have a tennis idol when you were a kid?
JWF: When I was growing up there wasn't much tennis on TV. So I remember only the finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Of course I loved Bjorn Borg and when I was little my room was little was filled with pictures of him.
Did you have a favorite tournament when you were on Tour?
JWF: I loved Key Biscayne, and then when Indian Wells started that was an absolute favorite. And Filderstadt.
If you could play one of today's players, at your peak and with comparable equipment, who would it be?
JWF: Do you mean if I wanted to have a chance, or for it to be interesting? (Laughs). I'd choose Justine Henin. I think the way she's playing is more interesting than someone who's going to hit you off the court.
You also became a tournament golf player - how did that come about?
JWF: I started to play golf around 1992, just to get my mind off tennis a little bit. I don't know whether I'd have chosen to be a golf professional instead of a tennis professional if I'd learned it as a kid, but it was really interesting to me. When my tennis career finished I really got into golf because it so much fun. But then I started politics and there was no more time for golf.
What do you like to do in your spare time now?
JWF: I hike in the mountains with my husband (Roland Floimair, who is speaker of the Salzburg state government), and go cycling to stay in shape, and skiing in winter. It's important to keep moving! I don't like to play tennis anymore but I really like to be outdoors.
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you choose?
JWF: Probably Barack Obama.
Among the current players Andrea Petkovic is vocal about politics - have you discussed your experiences with her?
JWF: Last year when she was here she spoke about it in an interview, but we haven't talked about it. She's really very clever and intelligent and knows how to express herself, so I think she has all the strengths you need. Of course there are downsides that she should be aware of; it gets very personal. But I like the way she is ambitious about it, because I think one bad thing about democracy is that too many intelligent people see the negative aspects of politics and think, 'Oh my God, never…' It's important that people who represent something get involved, because it's how our daily lives are influenced. And why have things decided by other people if you can have a say in it?
What are your thoughts on the state of Austrian tennis?
JWF: We have Sybille Bammer, who is possibly not at her best tight now but is still a top player. She's had great results in the past, so maybe that will happen again for her. The biggest hope of Austrian tennis, Tamira Paszek, is on a bit of a downward slope at the moment, but she's trying to come back and we certainly hope for it because she was also very good as a promoter for women's tennis in Austria. Everyone likes her. We also have Patricia Mayr and Yvonne Meusburger, who both did well here this week, and several players who have potential to be in the Top 100 like Christine Kandler, who is 15 and looks very promising. Although Austria is a small country there's always been somebody close to the top during the last 20 years and I'm confident there will be again.
You've known the Tour first hand both as a player and on the organizational side… what are your views on how it has evolved over the past couple of decades?
JFW: I'd be happier if it was easier for the really big names to choose smaller events on the calendar like Bad Gastein. Obviously prize money has gone up a lot and this is terrific. Another thing that is very encouraging is the attitude of the players and the professional way they work with the tournaments… I don't think that worked as well when I was playing. It's a very good sign that everybody knows that as long as we help each other, we're going to grow.