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Dinara Safina: After I quit playing tennis I see myself as a mother

Dinara Safina dropped in at Sports.ru office recently to answer our users’ questions. Of course, it went well beyond that and we spoke for about a hour and a half, during which Dinara seemed to have told us about everything. What injury made her take a break from tennis? Why don’t Russian footballers enjoy their work? How many games you can win against Marat Safin? See all the answers to these questions and many others in our exclusive interview.

It’s been Roland Garros non-stop on the TV for the last ten days. Watching the matches, don’t you have a desire to move beyond the screen?

Yes, it happens from time to time. But as soon as I recall what pain tennis is causing me now, I quickly understand that it’s absolutely out of the question. Any sharp movement means pain.

What’s the nature of this pain? What do doctors say?

I have fissures on two sides of my vertebral apophysis. The crack on the right side is very old, it won’t occlude any more. The crack on the left side appeared last year at the Australian Open. In spite of the fact that it did not occlude, I continued to play – and because of that there was always an inflammation. The inflammation has caused a callus that touches a nerve and the nerve extends to the leg. In short, it’s all very complicated there. At first I could not understand what was happening. I would be warming up and then feel like an electric shock in my foot – once, twice, thrice. After the trainings I also had very strange sensations when I touched my foot. Then I went to Madrid for examination – and there the nerve issue emerged. I was told that I needed time so that it all calm down, the tumor dissipate and the fissure start occluding.

What made you play through pain? After all, you have proved everything to everyone long time ago.

It was the love of what I’m doing. When you want it and like it, you are ready to endure a lot. You quickly get used to adrenaline that sports give you and when you cannot take part in competitions for some reasons you feel its acute shortage. That’s what makes us play through pain and come back after serious injuries.

CSKA Moscow player Vasily Berezutsky says he would already quit playing football, if it wasn’t for the money he is paid.

Perhaps, things are different in football. Tennis is not a team sport, but rather an individual one. In football you have to score a goal to become the center of attention. Then you’re the hero, next day you are praised by fans, all newspapers write about you. But how many goals can you score during a season? Perhaps, not too many, unless you are Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s why a lot of football players don’t quite enjoy that, I think. It’s different in tennis: the audience comes to see not twenty something people, but only two. And when you go out for a serve and you understand that the whole stadium is focused on you alone and is waiting something from you... Believe me, is sends shivers down my spine every time.

Did you ever play in front of empty stands? Were there any problems with motivation in such cases?

Yes, it did happen. There would be your coach, your opponent’s coach, and several other people – eventually, there would be more judges on court than spectators. Then you would start to wonder: what am I doing here? But it’s a job. There’s nothing to be done, it just happens.

Do you see yourself as a coach?

Yes, I’d like to try it. Maybe, such a comparison would be a bit incorrect, but it’s something of like when your mom says: «You will understand it when you have your own children». I mean, being a player, I may not always understand what the coach wants and why it is necessary. As a result something doesn’t go well, you get nervous, and end up blaming the coach. Trying myself on the other side of these relationships seems very interesting to me.

Can you imagine your brother Marat in the capacity of your coach?

We have already worked with him. However, it only lasted a week, we didn’t have more time for that. Of course, it is interesting with Marat. He approaches it with passion, with a huge desire to help, and it makes things quite complicated. Marat is very demanding: let’s play three more balls, five more, ten more... Once he exhausted me so that I could hardly stand on my feet.

It only happens with Marat or always when you work with relatives?

No, not with Marat only. After all, nobody will ever worry about you like your mother, father, and brother do. With an ordinary coach it’s all like: well, you didn’t manage it, OK, you go home, and everything’s fine. While your family would lose their sleep and will be beating their brains about how to help you.

What coaches do you consider to be the best at the moment?

I’m very fond of the coaches of Petra Kvitova and Masha Sharapova. From my experience I can name Larisa Savchenko who works with the Russian national team – working with her is interesting, the training is always a lot of fun. And of course, Zeljko Krajan with whom I’ve been training for a very long time. He’s really a very good coach.

Do you regret terminating your collaboration with him?

At some point it became hard for us to work together. Some misunderstanding began to accumulate after the injury. That’s exactly the thing that I’ve mentioned: he would tell me something and I wouldn’t understand what he wanted from me. It was a hard moment, many people did not understand how I could refuse the coach with whom I had reached my best results. But it just turned out that our collaboration stopped giving any effect – only the unnecessary pressure.

Is there such thing in tennis like luring others’ coaches?

I can’t imagine myself in such a situation. And I’ve never heard about something like that happening. Perhaps, if there really was something of a kind, everybody around me would be talking about that. So, it’s hardly possible, because it’s unethical. Having made this once you will forever become a universally rejected person, enemy No. 1. In tennis we don’t handle each other with kid gloves as it is.

Anastasia Myskina once said that in her times female tennis players treated each other better than they do now. Now they are mostly embittered and only think about tearing their opponent to pieces.

I didn’t quite catch the times when Nastya was playing, but it seems to me it was mostly the same as now. I don’t think something has really changed – both then and now each player wants to win.

Do you have friends among women’s tennis players? Some people whom you can call in the middle of the night and ask for help.

Do you really think such things really happen? In life – yes, maybe, but not in sports. Even in life such people are very rare. Who needs you in the middle of the night? But, of course, there is a couple of people whom I can imagine in such a situation. These are real friends, and all the others are just acquaintances, people whom you know, with whom you can drink coffee or have a chat, but nothing more.

In what activities beyond tennis can you imagine yourself? Maybe, journalism or arts? Or photography – it’s become fashionable now.

I have a camera but if you saw the photos I make... I’m an apology for a photographer, to cut the long story short. As who do I see myself? A mother! That’s the most interesting thing. Not an easy one, but then again you will become Jill of all trades – able to feed, to put to sleep, to nurse, and whatever you like. Well, except that I’d like to be engaged in tennis somehow. Helping kids – mentoring in some cases, recommending a tournament, reaching agreement with an academy. I mean, doing what I like and what I know well. After all, I cannot go into cookery now, for example.

Is it more interesting with children than with professionals?

In fact, both are interesting. It is interesting to grow up a child, help it develop. While with professionals it’s interesting to get the best out of them. There are many female tennis players who ramble on the threshold of the top-100 for years, but can’t make this next step. To help such a player would be also very interesting – taking her from 100th to 90th, then even to 80th and so on.

What did appeal to you in tennis back when you were a child?

It was real fun. At Shiryayevo Pole there were always a lot of children, we had picnics, everyone brought something from home, we all shared something with each other. Well, you know what I’m talking about... And now these are gone. A child comes with his security guard, trains, gets back into the car quickly, and goes home to play with its nannies. Well, what kind of a fun is that?

And how is it all organized in Europe?

Well, it’s all much more relaxed there. They let ten kids onto the court, play all together and have fun. However, the results are also worse there. So we have to find the golden mean between Russia and Europe.

Are you superstitious?

Of course. Not that I look for some particular omens, I rather try not to ‘scare away’ good luck. If I win a match, next time I’ll be doing the same exercises during warm-up or I’ll go to the same restaurant I went the day before. If I lose, I change something.

What cuisine do you prefer?

Italian, Thai, Indian, Chinese. However, Italian is my favorite one – it’s various, tasty, and healthy. I also like Asian cuisine, because I love spicy food.

Do you cook?

Yes, I love it.

Is it more convenient for you to read using any gadgets or from paper?

In general I like the feel of a book in my hands. It’s kind of more pleasant and the eyes don’t get so tired. But usually I have both a book and my iPad, where this book is uploaded.

What other gadgets do you use?

Well, I have an iPhone, a Blackberry, an iPad, a laptop, and so on... Seems like I have everything. But I only use them in cases of necessity, I am not obsessed with them. If you take away my iPhone and iPad, I will easily deal without them.

How long has it been since you went to cinema for the last time?

It was quite a long time ago, I’d like to, but I never have enough time. I prefer funny movies. I also like watching films at the cinema because at home they often become a sleeping draught for me. However, I did fall asleep at cinemas few times as well, when I was tired. Last year in Australia we went to see Avatar and I stayed awake right until I had popcorn.

Do you watch TV series?

I watch Desperate Housewives, Prison Break, Lost.

What sports do you like except tennis?

I’d say football, perhaps. Though I don’t have any acquaintances among footballers. Once I’ve seen Arshavin in a hotel and I was quite surprised then: «Wow, that’s Arshavin!».

Maybe it was he who should have thought: «Wow, that’s Dinara Safina!»

Oh, no, I don’t think so.

Do people recognize you often when you’re abroad?

It depends. Recently I was recognized in Italy at a gas station. In general it’s more often at passport control.

Wozniacki likes boxing. Didn’t you have a desire to try it?

I sometimes cut capers with Natasha Ragozina. She has been learning me recently. I liked it, but in many respects because Natasha is a very good person. She said I have a very strong punch.

Didn’t you practice it on Marat?

No, I prefer a bulb for that.

Do you really have any kind of competition with anyone?

No, not at all.

Would you win at least a set or a game against Marat?

Anything but. Maybe I would win one or more plays in each game, but in general – no chance. My coach has once put me to play against his assistant. Told us both to play to the full extent. Well, I ended up walking around the court and collecting balls. His assistant used to be at the end of the top-100 – let alone Marat who was the World No. 1.

Will Wozniacki win a Grand Slam tournament some time?

Of course, it can’t be otherwise.

And what about Murray?

Yes, he will win it too, but his situation is more complicated. It seems to me he has to appear in the right place at the right time. So he must be always ready.

Djokovic or Nadal?

I like them both, I know them both, and they are both nice guys. What I like about Nadal is how he turns the audience on, charges everyone with his emotions, even when something is not going right. But if we take the beauty of the game Djokovic has the advantage.

Does a tennis player have to be an actor?

Perhaps, yes – still it’s the thing the fans come for. But I, however, can’t be very open, during tournaments I’m so focused all the time, maybe even reserved. Perhaps, it’s my mistake, but I just can’t be more relaxed. If someone can, good for him, of course. Both for the player and for tennis in general.

What is your most memorable tournament victory?

Berlin 2008. Then I beat Henin, Serena, and Lena Dementieva in the final. It felt very hard back then, that’s why the victory was so pleasant.

Who is your main rival?

I myself. I have to fight myself very often. I don’t have a rival like Spartak is for CSKA.

Do you often blame your racquet for defeats?

Naturally. It’s not me who should be blamed – it’s all that crooked and slanted racquet, which sends the balls to wrong directions. Of course, it looks awful and I feel very ashamed of myself thereafter. But when you are overwhelmed by emotions, you just don’t realize what you’re doing.

When was the last time you cried?

During the Fed Cup, I was extremely upset them. I’ve never cried so much in my life – I could not open my eyes after that. I’ve been howling for an hour and a half, non-stop, I just went off into hysterics.

Now, when you have a lot of free time, what are you doing?

I put my affairs in order, meet friends, spend my time with mom and dad. Actually it’s an illusion that there’s a lot of time. At least, it flies very fast.

What’s the most unexpected gift which you’ve ever received?

In fact, I usually say in advance what I want to get to eliminate unexpected things. But the most pleasant gift was a small heart that Marat once presented to me. I can’t show it now – it’s at home. I like hearts very much in every possible shape. Do not know why , I just feel good when I see them.

You have posted several successive photos of small cars in your Twitter.

Oh, yes! One of them is Fiat 500. I’m so fond of it! I also have found a pink one in Italy. It’s a dream car literally. I also saw Mini Cooper of the same color, it was also very cute. In general Mini Coopers, especially yellow ones, remind me of toy cars from my childhood – like they were in cartoons. Perhaps, that’s the reason I like them.

So you were a good girl, not a naughty one, in your childhood?

Yes, I was a good girl. And I haven’t changed much since then.

by Kirill Blagov

Images: Sports.ru / Maxim Polyakov


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