Reflections Of An Unexpected Grand Slam Champ
Published June 22, 2011 07:37
Heading into the French Open last month, Andrea Hlavackova and her partner, fellow Czech Lucie Hradecka, were individually ranked outside the doubles Top 40. Both in their mid twenties, they had won four WTA titles together, while Hlavackova was coming off a title run at Brussels with Galina Voskoboeva. As usual, though, they were unseeded at the Slam - and there was no talk of them as contenders. But a fortnight later they had written their names into the history books as Grand Slam champions, having cast aside four seeded teams. Here, Hlavackova reflects on the duo's dream run, which propelled them up the rankings in time to secure the No.7 seeding at Wimbledon.
By Andrea Hlavackova
How do I feel? I've been getting that question a lot. It's great to be a Grand Slam champion... day by day it gets better. Right after the win I just felt, wow, awesome, we won a tournament. That's always an amazing feeling. But, of course, the prize money cheque in Paris was different from a normal tournament and the media attention was different. I know this is something that will be added to my name and be remembered.
For sure it's important to believe in yourself as a player, but I'm not sorry to admit I didn't feel I was setting off to the French Open to win the doubles. Or the singles, for that matter! I went to the tournament to play my best and compete as hard as possible.
In singles I had a bad draw: Victoria Azarenka, who played amazing tennis. I played well too, I was feeling good… but she was just better. Then the doubles draw came out and it was tough, too: Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, players we know well, and the No.8 seeds. They've had a great year, and I was, like, oh, I'm so unlucky. But then Lucie and I played an unbelievable match and then I started to think, OK, if we play every match like this we can do well. That said, in nine attempts we'd never been past the round of 16 at a major - there had always been a match where we didn't perform our best. Doubles involves four women and anything can happen!
I think Lucie and I click because of our different styles. She does a lot of the explosive work in our matches, including her big serve, and I can keep things in our hands even when we're not having a perfect day. We both play very aggressive tennis, so when you put us together it is hard for our opponents when everything goes well. We support each other as much as possible, and of course most important for us to play well is to have a good time on the court - to enjoy the tennis we play, and have fun with each other.
That's what happened in Paris - we kept believing in ourselves and enjoyed it match by match. Along the way we beat four seeded teams. For me, personally, the toughest match was against Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, the No.2 seeds, in the quarterfinals. That was tricky… I didn't play that great but Lucie kept things going very well.
The first round I played well, the second round I played great, and after that you just try to keep it up with the nerves. I have to say, every night, before every match, I felt like I was at a regular tournament. Nothing special. Even before the semis, which was probably the best match I played, I felt quite normal. I knew we were playing great players, two-time Grand Slam winners Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. I think I annoyed people because I was so low key. Everybody else was, like, you played on Chatrier!
The day before the final against Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina, I got so many messages of support, I was like, people, stop it - you're making me realize what's coming tomorrow! I didn't check prize money or points the whole tournament but the newspaper did it for me… and when I read that, it sunk in that we were playing for a lot. So I couldn't really sleep at first, but I just tried to keep everything the same. Sushi for dinner, hanging out with my boyfriend, trying to be distracted a little bit. The same warm-up, same procedures.
But still, the match itself was very stressful. The last point, I was looking at the ball bouncing twice before I went down on my knees. Then I just released all the things that were on my mind. Wow, it's over! We did it! We're the ones! Unfortunately we played at the same time as the men's semifinals, so we didn't have a packed stadium… but as soon as we got off court the calls and messages from family and friends and other players started.
I received messages from Czech tennis legends like Cyril Suk and Helena Sukova and I got a personal congrats from Martina Navratilova. I didn't meet Jana Novotna afterwards but she'd been wishing us well for the semis and all the way there. The Fed Cup captain, Petr Pala wrote me, the Czech federation's president called me. The Czech Republic's tennis world is full of people who really did something. To be recognized as one of the 15 Czechs who've won a Grand Slam - quite a lot for a small country - is incredible.
Right after the final they took us for doping control, which of course is needed, but there were lots of people there and it took two-and-a-half hours. After the euphoria I found myself in a quiet room waiting for blood tests and urine tests, sitting there alone. It kind of put me down emotionally. But then I went back to the hotel and for dinner with my family that was there - my dad, sister, her husband - and my boyfriend and some of his family, as well as my coach, Diego Dinomo. Unfortunately we celebrated without Lucie because it was already really late.
The next morning I had breakfast with my trophy. The waiter teased me in a very French way, looking me up and down... I mean, who did I think I was! Then we met up with Lucie and went for a walk under the Eiffel Tower and took pictures with our trophies. It was nice.
I know exactly where my trophy will live when I finally get home. Last year some friends arrived at my birthday party with a big, big present. I was expecting something great… and it turned out to be a light blue wooden shelf, IKEA style. At first I didn't understand, but then I saw written on the edge, For Grand Slam Trophies. It's long enough to take all four but that day it seemed impossible that I would ever use it. Thanks for the motivation, but this is too much! It's a joke! I want to win two rounds, three rounds! I was thinking more like this, and the shelf went under my bed. Those friends are now pretty cocky...
I guess I knew, deep down, that Lucie and I had the ability to win a Grand Slam title. But I also knew more things had to come together at the same time… and in Paris they did. It's something people maybe didn't expect, but I think we deserve it. When the time came, we were ready for it.
Andrea Hlavackova was speaking with wtatennis.com at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham.