Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tursunov Q&A Part II: Many as talented as Federer

Dmitry Tursunov, shown in 2014, says Roger Federer "has made
a lot of sacrifices to get where he is." Photo by Paul Bauman
   Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian with strong Northern California ties, attained a career-high ranking of No. 20 in the world in 2006. Because of injuries, however, he has plummeted to No. 642.  
   Tursunov has not -- how shall we put this? -- fared well against the Big Four. He is a combined 0-15 against Roger Federer (0-5), Rafael Nadal (0-3), Andy Murray (0-6, including a walkover) and Novak Djokovic (0-1; Tursunov retired while trailing 6-2, 4-3 in 2008).
   Tursunov has won two sets against Federer, none against Nadal and one against Murray. Tursunov last played Federer in 2014, Nadal in 2010 and Murray in 2008.
   Tursunov, who moved from his native Moscow to the San Francisco Bay Area at 12 to train and owns a townhouse in the Sacramento area, is using a protected ranking to play in the U.S. Open. He is scheduled to play British qualifier Cameron Norrie on Monday in the first round. It will be Tursunov's first appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2014, when he lost in the opening round to Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia. Tursunov has reached the third round of the U.S. Open four times.
   During the recent $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., the outspoken Tursunov discussed the Big Four, whether champions are born or made, John McEnroe's provocative comment about Serena Williams, the Margaret Court controversy, equal prize money for men and women, and proposals to speed up tennis matches.
   What do you think of what Roger Federer is doing at his age?
   Almost the same as me, huh (laughs)? It's obviously amazing that he's able to constantly improve. I have nothing but positive comments about that. It's pretty hard to believe, but you wonder at which point he's not going to be relevant and able to produce that level of tennis. It looks like he's not planning to slow down. I remember when he wasn't doing well and the media were bashing him, like, "Roger is done," and they were asking him if it was going to be his last Slam or he was going to stop playing. I'm sure he's gloating a little bit when he wins a tournament: "Oh, I remember you. You asked me if I was going to stop (playing)."
   What was it like to play him?
   I was expecting lightning and fire. He can come up with incredible shots, but if you don't play a lot of top players like that, you expect a lot more (than against others) and get a little frightened, so you think you need to jump the gun first. It helps to play players of that level more often because you get a real sense of what you need to improve on. Watching them on TV is completely different.
   For me, it was a little surprising because not all of this shots were a YouTube moment. Obviously, he's very good at knowing when to turn it up a notch and when to conserve energy. He's very efficient in that sense. With Rafa, you feel like every shot you hit, you need to hit a little deeper, otherwise, he's going to destroy you. Roger gives you a little more leeway; he gives you a little bit more chance to play. But then, of course, break points, deuce points, tiebreaks -- he knows when to run around, when to play a little bit more aggressive.
   Sometimes he looks a little lackadaisical on the court, but during the important points, he really steps it up and makes sure he doesn't miss a lot. He's very disciplined during the right moments. Rafa (who's five years younger) plays like that the entire match. Roger picks and chooses which moments he wants to step it up. I think he conserves energy that way.
   What was it like to play Murray and Djokovic?
   Andy is definitely not as spectacular a player. He kind of puts you to sleep. He looks pretty harmless. He doesn't hit these great shots, but somehow your game magically falls apart when you play him. He's pretty good at breaking your rhythm down, putting the ball where you don't like it, not giving you the same shot twice. He kind of drags you into that little swamp where you drown yourself with unforced errors.
   Rafa physically clubs you to death. Roger is able to come up with great shots to which you can't do anything. When you come off the court (against them), you feel like, I lost to a good player. With Andy, you always feel like, "S---, I gotta figure out why the hell did I lose today. He didn't do anything. He was struggling, he was moaning, he was screaming, he hated every moment out there," yet somehow he finds a way to win. He's very deceptive in that sense.
   Again, I think Djokovic allows you to play, but (I faced him) a long time ago, before he became a mainstream, household name. He doesn't serve aces, he doesn't hit winners left and right, but he defends really well. The two years he had where he was just destroying people and couldn't lose -- when I played him, he didn't seem like a player who was going to be capable of doing that, but I think he was able to maximize his potential and squeeze every ounce out of his game.
   He's obviously a great competitor, but I don't think a lot of people would have looked at him 10 years ago and said, "OK, this guy's going to be No. 1." It doesn't seem like he has a weapon that people are not going to be able to play against. But he maximized himself so much that he ended up having these results.
   Which one of the Big Four impresses you the most?
   Roger is definitely the shotmaker. Rafa is just pure brute strength and will to win. If he wasn't getting paid for playing tennis, it almost feels like he would have been paying to play.
   Andy, I would say, is the least impressive of them all. He has the game that in juniors people hate playing against because everyone feels like he doesn't deserve to win because he forces you to make a lot of unforced errors.
   Djokovic is obviously impressive in that he's able to (do) the splits and still control himself and produce power out of these extreme angles. That's not very common for a tennis player. He literally changed the game to where people do a lot more more stretching. People used to do it, but he took it to a different level. He took nutrition to a different level.
   It's hard to say. They all have their own unique abilities.
   Are champions like Federer and Serena Williams born or made?
   Made. It's obviously easier to believe that Roger is Roger because he was born that way. I'm not saying that everyone has his ability, but there's a lot of guys in the top 100 that are just as talented as him. I don't know where his love for the game or need to win comes from, but he remembers a lot of the matches from the juniors. He remembered that we played against him in doubles in the Orange Bowl. I thought I would remember something like that, but I didn't. I didn't believe him, and looked it up, and he was right.
   Obviously, he cares for the game, he loves it, he loves to improve. He surrounded himself with the right people. He's made a lot of sacrifices to get where he is. ... He's a normal human being, but he has a goal in life, he's very dedicated to it, and he was able to achieve that. It's not like he woke up and everything was given to him. He had to work hard, and he still works hard at it. There's this image of him being a perfect person. People get blinded by that. They think he sleeps on silk linen sheets and eats flowers for breakfast, but he works extremely hard to get those results.
   While promoting his new memoir, "But Seriously," John McEnroe said on National Public Radio in June that Serena Williams would be ranked "like No. 700 in the world" on the men's circuit. You were ranked No. 701 at the time and said in an interview, "I would hope that I would win against Serena." Do you agree with McEnroe's comment?
   I don't know a lot of 600, 700 players. It's hard for me to say. I'm actually curious myself how it would go. A lot of guys could get really nervous playing her because they're expected to win. She could definitely capitalize on that. When you get nervous, you start missing simple shots.
   I completely agree with (McEnroe) that even though it's the same game, it's a completely different level. It's like, who's going to win a fistfight, a girl or a guy? If they're similarly trained, a guy is always going to be stronger and faster. We can talk about it until the cows come home, but there's a reason they don't play these matches. People can refer to the Billie Jean King match, but if you know the history of the guy she played (Bobby Riggs) and what he was like in his off-the-court time, you get a lot of questions about the legitimacy of that match. ...
   From a tennis point of view, there are no questions about it -- (Williams) is not going to beat a top-hundred player for sure, no chance. Seven hundred? I can see how the pressure could get to someone inexperienced, especially if you put the guy on center court at the U.S. Open. He barely plays on center court at a Challenger, then all of a sudden he's put in front of 20, 30 thousand people -- of course he's going to get nervous. Things can happen there, but people who argue with (McEnroe's) statement basically question his knowledge of tennis. That's a silly thing to do. He's not a lunatic; he's not senile. He's an extremely knowledgeable person in his field. I would agree with him, with the small exception that I could see how a person could get nervous and the pressure would play a big role. It happens in Davis Cup all the time.
   But that doesn't take anything away from (Williams) as a player. She's a very good competitor. She serves sometimes faster than some of the guys do, but of course she's not able to produce it all the time, and her second serve is not anything close to ... You take Diego Schwartzman, who's half her size, and she's not going to be able to have the same kick on her serve that he does.
   I've gotten my share of flak on Twitter, believe it or not. I've gotten some interesting comments. It was pretty shocking to see how people who have no idea about tennis feel it's their human right to comment on that and say, "I can't believe you think you could get a set off her." It would be the same thing if I come to a scientist who says, "You can't add an oxygen atom to oxygen," and I would be like, "Oh, how can you say that? You have no idea what you're talking about." If I'm not knowledgeable in that field, I'm not going to run off and open my mouth. But some people feel they have the right to do that because they have access to a keyboard.
   Do you think the Kings-Riggs match was fixed?
   It's hard for me to imagine that he would lose in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) to her.
   Even though he was 55 and she was 29?
   He smoked Margaret Court (6-2, 6-1) a few months before that. I wouldn't be the right person to answer that question, but I have my doubts. He's pretty famous for putting money on himself to win singles, doubles and mixed (at Wimbledon in 1939), and he did. He was a gambler. Anything is possible. (The King-Riggs match) made history and a lot of headlines and made a lot of things different nowadays. I guess we'll never know -- let's put it that way -- but I feel something was not right in that match. (King has vehemently denied that Riggs, who died in 1995, threw the 1973 match.)
   Speaking of Margaret Court ...
   (Laughs) Hey, everyone's got an opinion. Her opinion is her opinion. It's her beliefs. Do I agree with them? Not really, but that's democracy. Everyone can speak their mind.
   Have you ever played in Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open?
   Yeah, a couple times.
   That was before the controversy erupted about her remarks on gays, wasn't it?
   She's been going in that direction for a long time. It's not something extremely new. She just might have been a little bit more outspoken (lately).
   Should the name of the arena be changed?
   I think the arena is named for her tennis results, not necessarily about whether she believes in the rights of gay people. I'm not sure how that influences the naming of the arena, but I can see how that could happen more for political reasons just because the federation would get enough flak to where, OK, you know what, let's get rid of her name because we're going to have to answer too many media questions.
   Honestly, I don't know what's right or what's wrong. I envy people who believe they know the answer to every single problem on the planet. You really have to be taking crazy pills to believe you know the answer to everything. ... She quite possibly might end up an outcast, but I feel like a lot of times society needs a scapegoat. They need a hero and a bad guy. It's human nature. ...
   Some say she should not be making these statements, but what statements should she make? Should she now filter everything she says? You can't please everyone all the time anyway. You say you like vanilla ice cream? Someone condemns you because you don't like chocolate. You say you like chocolate, the vanilla people condemn you. You can't win. ...
   People in general are never happy, and they like to complain a lot. They like to point a finger at somebody else because then they don't have to point it at themselves. If you don't agree with Margaret Court, just turn it off. Don't listen to her, walk away, block her on social media, but it doesn't happen that way.
   Would you boycott Margaret Court Arena if the name isn't changed before the next Australian Open in January?
   I'd have to figure out what the boycott is for. Because she's against gay people? Should I boycott her because she cuts her hair short and I don't like women who cut their hair short? We can boycott people for having an opinion, but aren't we fighting for a society that welcomes people with opinions? Then we punish them if we don't agree with their opinion? It's a little hypocritical, I think. ...
   It's kind of interesting how a lot of people are willing to boycott her for that, but how many people would allow a gay man to babysit their son? Or a gay woman to babysit their daughter? How many of them are giving exactly the same opportunity to homosexuals that they would give to (heterosexuals)? It's very nice to stone her to death because the spotlight's on her, but when the spotlight turns to us, how many of us are making the right decisions, and how many of us don't have racist or (homophobic) or other thoughts that we would condemn other people for?
   I wouldn't boycott, simply because I think it's complete stupidity. If they want to take her name away from the arena, take it away. It's their choice. They named it after her, they take it away. They put her on a pedestal, they take her down. I don't think she was fighting extremely hard to put her name on a stadium, and if she did, it's her ego trip. But again, society likes to make someone into a hero, and then when they trip or fall, we like to kick 'em while they're down and point a finger at them and say, "Now you're a bad person." She hasn't changed. It's not like she was pro-homosexual before and now she's anti-homosexual. If people feel like that's the biggest problem in their life, let them deal with it, but I don't feel that's the biggest issue.
   Some people are upset because she believes marriage is only between a man and a woman.
   Yeah, but she's not the only one. The majority of the planet has the same outlook that she does. ...
   Do women deserve equal prize money even though they don't play three-out-of-five sets at Grand Slam tournaments?
   Someone decided they do deserve it. It's a tough argument. A lot of people say they don't deserve it because they look at the ticket sales. If you ask any tournament director, they would confirm that men's tennis sells more than women's tennis. Same thing with the sponsors. Same thing with the TV rights. ...
   I'm not even entirely sure in my head -- do they deserve the money or do they not deserve the money? There's a couple of arguments for and a couple of arguments against. In the end, politically it's such a sensitive issue that a lot of tournaments -- regardless of whether they make money on it or not -- they're going to pay that money because they don't want to answer that question. You speak your opinion, then you get (ostracized) like Margaret Court. ...
   Should men continue to play three out of five sets in the Slams or go to two out of three?
   At my age, I'm happy to just spin the racket for the match (laughs). As a sport, tennis needs to adapt to the spectators. In the end, spectators and TV pay the bills. Tennis is only going to exist as long as spectators are watching it. If we want to watch a purely technical display, we can watch golf. If we want to watch a strength display, we can watch (weightlifting) in the Olympics.
   In order to make the sport more popular, we definitely need to look into that. What good is the tradition of the sport if people are falling asleep, they don't want to turn it on or they're not showing up for the match? ... Tennis will not be able to generate income if it doesn't stay relevant.
   Society tends to like things faster. And, of course, we love watching people get hurt. That's why we watch UFC, that's why we watch (boxing), that's why we watch NASCAR, that's why we watch American football. ... We love reality TV; we love watching people get rejected. We want to see people suffer because that makes us feel better. ...
   Do I believe tennis matches need to be shorter? Some matches definitely are too long, but it's not as easy as answering yes or no. You need to evaluate what do the spectators think, what does TV think? ...
   Some tournaments are experimenting with Fast4 ( first player to four games wins the set, tiebreakers at 3-3, no-ad scoring, lets are played). What do you think of it?
   I've played it. It was pretty strange. It's a little uncomfortable at first, but so was playing tiebreaks. In the end, I think players will conform to whatever rule there is. You just have to make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. You're doing it to make the sport more interesting. You have to see how people react. Do they find it more interesting? I think it probably would be a little bit more interesting because there's going to be more of these turning points.
   I definitely think from a spectator point of view, (tennis currently) is a little bit restricting, the whole experience. You can't sit, you can't sneeze, you can't stand up, you can't fart, you can't do anything. The first three games, you can't go on the court. If you missed your opportunity and the match started,  then you're standing there with a beer like an idiot waiting for 15 minutes. From a player perspective, when you're (changing sides after the first game), it would be OK to let people in. Even though it's not a changeover, even though we don't sit down, I think the ushers need to help people get a little faster to their seats. ...
   I think they're going to try some of these new things at the NextGen Finals (in November in Milan for the top 21-and-under men), and I think it would be good to test the reaction.
   I think (tennis is going) in the right direction. I think it should be fine. The players are going to complain: "The bird is flying. The plane is flying. This is wrong; this is wrong." But in the end, if it's a rule, it's a rule.
   Will tennis eventually go to two out of three sets for men at the Slams and Fast4 on the ATP World Tour?
   (The Slams) definitely would be the last ones to (change) because they want to get their money's worth. Can you imagine how much flak they're going to get from traditionalists, from purists? Even people who don't know anything about tennis will have something to say about that. They'll log on to Twitter and write "I can't believe you're doing this." They'll forget about it in three seconds, but they wrote their opinion.
   A lot of business decisions are not made for the right reasons. They're made to minimize the backlash. ... A lot of times, people just say, "It's working right now. Why change anything? Why try to make it better? If it's not broke, don't fix it."
   They're putting on roofs (at Grand Slam tournaments) because (rain) hurts their (pocketbooks). If all of a sudden their (pocketbooks) are going to get hurt by the length of matches, they're going to do something about it.
   If you could change one thing in tennis, what would it be?
   Unify the balls. The surfaces are different, and you can't change the conditions. Here (in Aptos), it's cooler, so the ball is not going to fly as fast. But when you're playing here with one type of ball, then tomorrow you're playing with another type of ball, it's an unnecessary change.
   If Wilson wins the bid to sponsor an event, fine. Stamp "Wilson" on that ball, and we're playing with Wilson. The next tournament is going to be Penn, so you use the same ball and just put a different stamp on it.
   I don't see why players need to play with a different ball every week. I played Washington (on the ATP Tour) one year and then flew to a Challenger in Binghamton (N.Y.). The balls were completely different. One was lighter and faster, and the other was heavy like a brick. In the end, you're the one who's getting injured. I really don't see a logical reason why it's done.
   Coming Sunday: Tursunov discusses Russia's doping problem in Olympic sports, its alleged interference in last year's U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, politics, favorite cultures and global warming.

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