Tamara Zidansek is having the run of her life at Roland Garros, and her coach, Marjan Cuk, is loving every second of it. The 55-year-old Slovenian has worked with Zidansek for eight years and has been alongside her when she was toiling away on the ITF Circuit, and right up to now, as she made tennis history by becoming the first woman representing Slovenia to advance to a Slam semifinal. On Thursday, Zidansek, 23, will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the French Open final.
Cuk spoke Wednesday, and the affable Slovenian had reporters captivated and in stitches. Good humor and a healthy perspective are the clear keys for Team Zidansek.
On Zidansek's road to the biggest match of her career
"Many years we practice, we compete. We came from small Slovenia. We don't have wildcards in big tournaments, so we must really earn this way to come under No.100 WTA. For example, she won 17 ITFs at that time. We start at 10Ks, 15Ks, 25Ks, and so on. Now here we are, Top 100.
"At first, she was not believing that she's part of it. We are from a small country, there is not so much history. But every month, every week was better and better. Now the things come together and here we are now."
On Zidansek's biggest weapons
"You know, everyone is talking about her forehand. I agree, this is a really big weapon.
"But my opinion as a coach is that she has five pistols always. So she can play forehand, we improved a lot backhand, she can do a dropshot, sometimes she goes to the net. Variety of the serve is also quite much better than it was.
"So these are the weapons with which we do a tactic for the next opponent. It's not just one weapon. This is how I like it."
On the importance of laughter and positivity to the Zidansek team
"Last two months particularly, we involved a lot of emotions. She starts to follow. Those emotions give her freedom and she starts to enjoy tennis. She starts to enjoy practicing hard. It's not easy when you go every day do mostly the same thing, you know?
"Our job as a coach or mental coach or physical coach is to be relaxed, to show her it's fun. This is the best thing that we give to her and what she takes.
"Tennis is so important, but it's not the only way, you know? We must spend the whole day. How to do it? Just to talk about tennis? You get tense then. So there are many things.
"We are mostly very positive. We enjoy every moment of life. Why not? We are not turtles that we live 220 years. Let's enjoy it, c'mon."
On Zidansek discovering a cause that is bigger than herself at Roland Garros
"She's a normal girl from small Slovenia. I know now she's playing for herself, for the team and the whole crowd from Slovenia.
"She want to be a psychotherapist, mental coach. We approached her, 'Look, you are studying this [subject], but now you can be a mental coach for whole Slovenia.' If you go to the court and you show the strength and you show the people that I'm here to fight, they will follow you. So you are a mental coach for two million people in Slovenia. That was our way, no?
"She was looking and said, 'Wow, this is the thing. Yes, now I understand a bigger picture, not just a small one.'"
On Slovenia's sporting prowess despite being a small country
"My opinion, we are a little bit, from history, part of Austria-Germany, and we are part of Yugoslavia. We take some things to be serious, to get discipline from the northern countries. From Yugoslavia, they are more relaxed. 'Tomorrow, manana.'
"You are serious, but at the same time, you can dance. So both things. If we can manage this one, I think it's a pretty good combination."