I remember playing a deciding Fed Cup doubles rubber against South Africa in 1997 alongside Judith Wiesner. Having her on my side gave me so much confidence. I really pulled myself together to play my best tennis. I could feel the rise in my game simply by having her on my side of the net.
She guided me to make the right decisions and play with the right tactics, and it was a big victory for us. Although I would make the Top 10 in the world in doubles, at that stage I wasn’t so strong. She guided me and I thrived because I was so certain that what she was saying was the right thing. It was one of our most important wins.
A combination of things made her such an inspiration for me. She’s 10 years older than me, so when I started on the Tour, she knew everything. She was well established, she had a lot of friends, she knew everything, she was managed by an international agency.
Even before I started, I always looked up to her because she was one of the best Austrian tennis players internationally. She reached No.12 in the world.
I remember seeing her playing live in Austria and then when I started on the WTA Tour at around 14 or 15, she always talked to me. She didn’t have to do that.
A lot of the time, when a younger player comes up from the same country, the older ones feel threatened. With her, she offered to hit with me, and she mentored me as well. I looked up to her as a player, what she had achieved and how she behaved on the court, but also it was great how generous she was passing on her knowledge, helping me out and showing me the Tour world. It made me feel a lot more secure because she had the experience that I didn’t have. I very much appreciate that because she didn’t have to do it.
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Whenever she took the time to talk to me, I was like a sponge. I took in everything she told me. At the time, she could have said: ‘I don’t want this young girl to develop quickly, I want to be at the top of the game and top in Austria for much longer.’ But she just helped me, she was just so gracious.
Her game was different to mine. I was more aggressive than her and I think I was a bit more athletic than her, but I was impressed with how smart she played and how composed she was. She had an amazing fighting spirit. I tended to get nervous and impatient with myself. She always played one point at a time and tried to beat the opponent tactically, there was never yelling or screaming.
She always gave 100% and I thought that was amazing. I thought it was incredible how composed she could be and how she embraced competition so much. I loved that, too, but it was fascinating for me to watch how she did it until the very end.
We played many times in the Fed Cup together. She was an amazing team player. She was like a mother to me in the team. She also became Fed Cup captain and I thought she was phenomenal when she was sitting with me on the bench and coaching me. Again, I’d soak it all up like a sponge and I’d be on my best behavior!
My big goal was to be the best Austrian player, so when she reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals in her last year on Tour, it made me think that I could do it too. She came from a small town and I came from a small town in Austria, and she was able to play her best tennis on the biggest stage. I watched her on TV and I was glad to see that she was able to leave on a bit of a high. It gave me the confidence to achieve something similar.
We’re very good friends. We still have a lot of chats even if we don’t see each other very often, and I still look up to her because I think she’s very knowledgeable. She speaks several languages, her overall knowledge about politics, sports, books, authors – you can talk to her about anything and I always find her a very interesting person – even more so now.
Looking back, I didn’t realize that she was a mentor for me, but she definitely was. I’m still very thankful that she got me under her wings.
Interview by Robin Bairner.