Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. She had such a great start to the season. You played here last year. What were you trying to do differently coming into this match?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: Yeah, it felt a lot like a déjà vu because was exactly same court last year. To be honest, even though she didn’t have yet her two slams under her belt, if I’m not wrong, straight after she won Indian Wells. I could see from that point already last year she had amazing talent, potential, and good form.
She just overpowered me. I think I was not ready. I was not returning well. Serve was not stable. Yeah, my main focus today was really to return well. I think I did that really good. Even though her first-serve percentage was not at her highest, I still think the few first serves she served pretty big, like over 180. I managed to just block, react, make her play this extra ball.
Also on the second serve of hers, she also has quite a good speed. If I’m not wrong, I didn’t miss so many. I was actually putting a great pressure with my forehand. I think that’s what made her doubt. From my opinion, that’s her biggest weapon: she’s serving big.
On my side I also tried to be more composed on the serve. I know it was lots of breaks, but I have to give credit to her. I think she was ripping those second serve of mine amazingly because the speed was still quite okay, 120, 130 for a kick serve. For a girl, it wasn’t bad.
I just kept on going. I was really good on my legs, low. I tried to always give her this extra ball. It stays quite low and fast here.
Yeah, compared to last year, I managed to force her to overpower a little bit more. Obviously in tennis, it’s about statistic, winners and unforced errors. I’m happy I was better today.
Q. Your serve looks different, like when you were a junior.
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: Good comment. It’s actually completely different. I made a huge technical change this off-season. I changed my grip. I changed my swing. It’s a big change.
I’m very happy about it, how it’s going. I thought that was the great decision. It’s the right direction. I think it has to become a weapon of mine. I think it looks also nicer. That’s what people are saying. That’s a positive sign.
I’m happy because at this age, it’s not easy to change something technically. After few months, the big win for me is technically doesn’t move any more. You always scared when you start matches if the old swing will automatically come back. But that’s a great point for me.
I know there’s still a long way I have to keep working on it, that it becomes really stable on the statistics.
Q. What does this win mean to you?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: It means a lot, honestly. I know I’m capable of beating great players. I did that in the past exactly on this court, beating Kaia, Pliskova. I had also great wins against great players. You know that. I’m not going to name one after another.
For sure it means a lot. At the moment, there’s a reason why she’s the best player in the world. I’m really proud how I stay composed. At the end it’s not easy to close it out. It’s not easy to play with that pressure.
It’s true I didn’t have many wins under my belt. I worked a lot to change some things, to maybe go a step back to just improve and come back where I was, which is top 10. It’s my goal.
But I’m not really focused on the paper, but more like what I produce on the court. Even if the outcome wasn’t positive today, I would have been happy about the game because I feel my tennis good again.
It’s just a journey. There are ups and downs, but I’m definitely happy because that’s a big performance. I know I’ve beat in the past Wozniacki, Halep, but I’m not sure if I ever beat the current world No. 1. It’s a nice thing, for sure.
Q. Can you explain what you changed about your serve? Less slice grip?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: I changed my swing. I used to go up. Now I go full swing from down. I also change my grip, which was kind of extreme maybe. Raonic serves like this. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Raonic’s serve. I thought maybe I should make some changes.
It’s like more natural, like different. Like I said, I still think there’s still lots of room for improvement. But I see positive signs. I see that my team and people with who I practice, they say it’s better also with my toss. Maybe before you could read more easily my serve. Now the toss is a bit more the same for any kind of target. So I’m happy about it.
I’m not yet 100% satisfied about it. But today, it was a good test to see where my serve is at. I think it’s in the right direction.
Q. Did you come up with it yourself, because you’re basically coaching yourself?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: I have my mom that is mostly with me.
Q. Does she tell you?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: Yeah, we just sit down at the end of last year and said, Okay, what’s the problem? I felt so many matches against quality players, like baseline, the game in general, I was fine, I was battling, I was good. So often I was struggling on my serve, having many double-faults, low first-serve percentage. They were attacking my second. So many matches I felt like I lost because of my serve. That was not acceptable for me because I believe it has to become a weapon of mine.
Yeah, it was just this. Even last year I had few periods where I played well, some periods where I reached the final. Wimbledon, I was third round, Serena. I realized why I played good, because the serve was working good during those tournaments. I’m like, That’s not good enough. Has to work more consistently.
That’s the reason why I took that decision to work on it and focus on it.
Q. Naomi split with her coach obviously after the Australian Open. Do you see a problem for her now because she had to defend this decision? Is there any special pressure now for her?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: Well, I don’t know. I think the best to ask is her. If she made that decision, it means that she thought was good for her. It’s true that I think the tennis planet, it was surprise about this split. I don’t remember seeing this in the past. I just could read what she was saying.
Apparently she was unhappy already quite some time. I mean, she’s the one that knows the best what she wants. I cannot comment. Everybody has its own feeling and decision. I don’t judge anyone of the two of them.
Q. You and Timea have had success in doubles. How much has that match practice kept you motivated even when the singles wasn’t turning out what you hoped it would be?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: As always, it never became a priority, doubles, because it was always my singles. Through the years we actually play only big events. I’m very happy we are teaming up again with Timea. She’s my best friend. It makes things way more easy.
This year I lost to Donna first round Australian Open. She was in good form, she play a great match. Okay, great. Now let’s actually use the doubles to work on my serve to see where I am at in the matches.
Even in doubles, you go through to deep in the finals, you’re challenging yourself, you want to win. So this pressure, I use that occasion under pressure to try to stabilize this serve and all these things.
I definitely am sure it always helps my singles game, you know, to at least keep me up with the focus of competition. If the singles doesn’t go well, you still have this competition mentality, this focus to make those points. It’s a bit different than practice.
I’m also enjoying it, to be honest. I’m very lucky to have her by my side. It makes it fun. We work with each other. We push each other. When we have tough weeks, we’re like, Let’s go the next day practice. It makes the journey much nicer.