‘S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands - Playing in her second WTA final and on her least favorite surface, Aleksandra Krunic completed an epic comeback against the indefatigable Kirsten Flipkens to claim her maiden title at the Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Krunic’s great performance in the final was only topped by her winner’s speech afterward, leaving the crowd cackling at her one-liners - (“...sometimes tennis coaches have to be like toilets…”) - but also showing her sympathy for her exhausted opponent.
Before the 25-year-old Serbian jetted off for sunny Mallorca, WTATennis.com’s Stephanie Livaudais caught up with the newly-minted titlist to talk victory, her new service motion, fluffy puppies, and how she flushed away the self doubt in Den Bosch.
Q: Congratulations on winning your first WTA title - and what a final! What’s going through your head right now?
A: Well, it was a very demanding final physically. To be honest, I have so much respect for Kirsten [Flipkens] for pulling it off. We all know what kind of week this was for her, a lot of physically demanding days playing three matches. The fact that she didn’t show that she was in pain the whole match is what really made me respect her that much more.
I’m also very proud of myself that I was able to pull it off mentally, because it was tough. It was my second final, and you know, you always have a feeling that you have a chance and it’s right there, but it’s also so far away at the same time. So I’m very happy, probably will be much happier tomorrow when everything kicks in. I’m super tired, but it’s a positive tiredness.
I hope this is one of the many more to come. But it’s just a nice feeling, when you do things and you change things, make some decisions before the tournament to make everything work in your favor - and then you see the result of this. It’s the most gratifying thing.
Q: How pleased are you to do it on grass, which historically hasn’t really been your best surface?
A: Oh yeah, well I hated grass before (laughing). But now that I learned how to move on it and now that I can slide on it, I feel much better. It’s cool to win a tournament on grass! It says that the variety that I have actually works somewhere. And also on grass it’s easier because the bounces are lower, and with my height that’s definitely something that helps.
And you know, it’s also the first tournament of the grass season. We all want to get to Wimbledon and prepare, but it’s always nice to, out of like four tournaments, do well at one and actually win it. It’s good for the confidence.
Q: After you won the match, you went up and hugged your team… and they brought you a puppy! Who is this fluffy guy?
A: It’s actually my coach’s dog, Pow Pow. He’s a service dog, so he’s an anxiety dog. You know, sometimes maybe I should take him on court with me, for my anxiety! He’s very, very sweet. He’s cuddling with me every night.
Q: You had a crazy path to the title, having to save match point against two-time champion CoCo Vandeweghe just to reach the final. How did you reset mentally to be ready for today
A: I tried to think of it as, maybe I wasn’t even supposed to be in the final, in a way, because I just didn’t have a lot of self-belief yesterday. I was just happy I’m there because I almost lost the match.
Yesterday I was match point down, today a set and a break down, so I tried to just appreciate the fact that I’m in the final. If I lose I lose, and of course you want to win it, but I tried to come with the mentality that I should just be happy that I’m here and able to compete for the title. And then whatever happens, happens.
Q: You had an interesting on-court coaching moment in the first set, when Flipkens broke your serve. Your coach kept telling you, “You’re a champion!” and you said, “No, I’m not a champion.” And she replied, “You are a champion - you just have to think like it.”
A: Well, to be honest I didn’t really feel like a champion, and it was tough for me to think this way in that moment. But also, I couldn’t really see clearly because Kirsten was really trying to destroy my game.
And so when that happens, I always think it’s me. Me like, just pushing the ball or something. But actually, it was tough to hit off her slices, so at that moment I was like, “I’m pushing, I can’t hit the ball - what kind of a champion am I?” I yelled a few times at my coach, “I’m not a champion, that’s the problem!”
But you know, I just have to unleash it. I just have to let it out. Of course, I’m still going to go out and compete and bust my butt off. I just need these types of conversations, to let it all out. You just have to flush the toilet. (laughing)
Q: What was going through your mind when Flipkens was a set and a break ahead, serving for the match?
A: In my mind I was like, okay, I’ve been in this situation before and I know how to deal with it - just try to put as many balls in, try to make her take it. Don’t give it to her. And I was always hoping that if I’m able to win just one game more, one game more, it would make her more tired. And then maybe it’s my chance.
And it’s always tough to close the match serving when you’re in a final. So I was hoping that she’s not going to serve her best so I was just waiting for my chances - I knew that if I pushed it to a third that I was going to have more chances to win.
Q: Last year you lost a tough three-setter in the final of Guangzhou - was that experience on your mind at all during this final?
A: I wasn’t really thinking about that during the match, but when I was serving for it I just kept thinking, “Try to take it this time.” Just serve well, first serves, don’t start giving her second serves and getting tight. I wanted to be ready in my legs to get to every slice of hers. I just wanted to take it myself.
In Guangzhou, it was different. It was a different opponent, and she [Zhang Shuai] played amazing. So I was not really thinking about that. But of course, in my mind I kind of wanted to win that revenge final.
Q: Between that final in Guangzhou and this one, what do you feel has improved the most in your game?
A: Well I definitely think I improved on my serve. I changed my serve, now it’s a platform serve which is also better for my arm and everything. So definitely my seve, but also my returns are better on grass - it’s just easier to return on grass. But I think my first shots, like serve and return, are getting much better.
But also mentality - I’m much more consistent. That’s the most important for me. More consistent with the way I fight, more consistent with giving my best.
Q: The strapping on your arm today, is that related to your new serve?
A: Yeah, and I’ve been struggling with this for a few months now - my arm generally just goes into hyperextension, just genetically. And this is not very good for my triceps because when I would serve it would go into hyperextension and start pulling my triceps.
So I was struggling with this for like four months before I went to see a few physios, and I took a week off. I’ve been told that I have to play with tape because it’s going to prevent all the hyperextension. So that’s what I have to do and I did my best to recover, but I still have a lot of work to do on it.
The new serve helps because I can use my legs more, but it just takes time. When you’re on the tour all the time, it’s tough to change things and treat things.
Q: With the Den Bosch title under your belt, how are you feeling for the rest of the grass season - and Wimbledon?
A: I feel very positive, but I’m still going to treat Wimbledon as just another tournament. And of course a lot depends on the draw. Sometimes you just get someone who is awesome on grass, and there you go. But I definitely feel positive, and already from last year - last year I played good on grass too. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to Mallorca tomorrow, which is always something I look forward to.
It’s just a great week for me, and I think great things are coming for me if I keep working.