After a Wimbledon semifinal in 2014, and an Australian Open doubles crown and a first Premier Title in Doha in 2015, Lucie Safarova returns to Stuttgart high on confidence and out for redemption. After a dramatic three-set loss in 2014 where the Czech pushed Maria Sharapova to the brink of defeat, the World No. 13 is back on clay and was able to withstand a tough challenge from Kateryna Bondarenko in her opening round on Tuesday.
René Denfeld sat down with the easy-going Czech after her first round win and talked to her about expectations for the clay, tennis in the Czech republic and maybe heading to Singapore.
René Denfeld: Not the easiest match and particularly the first set looked tough.
Lucie Safarova: Yeah, long tiebreak but I’m glad I got through in two sets.
RD: When did you get here from Fed Cup? Monday? Sunday night?
Safarova: Yeah, it was Sunday night!
RD: How difficult was it to change surface so quickly from hard court indoors in Ostrava to indoor clay?
Safarova: It was actually yesterday the first day I played on clay — at all. So I think yeah, it’s not easy to change from hard court to clay court because of the sliding and different bounces. At least here, the clay is pretty fast and it’s indoors to indoors. So that helps a little bit. I was playing pretty well today, I think, for my first match on clay. And I’m happy to get the win.
RD: Against some who’s been here for the last three days…
Safarova: It’s always tricky to play qualifiers because they know the surface and everything, and the arena and they are in a flow of matches.
RD: Have you any particular goals set for the clay season or is it just going match by match and trying to get a couple of them under the belt first?
Safarova: I obviously wanna start like that, but I like clay. I grew up on clay — so I’m looking forward for, after this, another big tournament; we’ve got a tournament in Prague as well and it will be nice to play in front of a home crowd after quite a few years.
RD: When was the last one? It must have been 2009 or 2010, right?
Safarova: I’m not sure — we had this ITF tournament 100k but WTA tournament is better and different. But yeah, excited for the clay courts, definitely.
RD: Petra [Kvitova]’s not playing Prague but everyone else [from the Czech Republic] is – how excited do you think the Czech people are to have a WTA event back in their home county?
Safarova: I think they are excited. I think we deserve it; we have so many great players now on the WTA Tour and it’s just nice that the home crowd gets to see us at home at a big event.
RD: And not just Fed Cup — even though you had Fed Cup quite often in home ties recently.
Safarova: We were really lucky, we were playing at home all the time — but you know how it is, sometimes it can be two years without playing at home.
RD: Yeah, sometimes you need to be lucky like that sometimes! You grew up on fast indoor hard courts in winter and slower clay in summer. How do you think that has shaped Czech tennis, and your game in particular? And maybe helped you to adapt to surfaces quicker?
Safarova: I think we can adapt and play well on more surfaces. The results show that even grass court are really good for us, and I think we are used to playing fast. I think that’s kind of a similarity we have. A lot of lefties, too.
RD: But also righties like [Karolina] Pliskova or [Barbora] Strycova – what is that camaraderie and competition like with all the other players?
Safarova: You know what? We are all such good friends and we don’t really — at least from my side — I don’t really feel competition. Obviously you wanna win when you play, and you wanna beat the best, and you have your dreams and goals. But at the end of the day, it’s always just sports and tennis, and I enjoy more to spend time with them on tour and go to dinners — because it’s very lonely when you don’t have anyone around.
RD: Petra [Kvitova] just said something similar and she said, “We never really get bored during Fed Cup week; we always have fun!”
Safarova: Yeah! we always have fun, we always get coffee. We enjoy it and have a really good team together and that is the most important.
RD: We’re here in Stuttgart and Fed Cup has become a really big deal in Germany; a lot of people take notice of the results even if they don’t follow tennis that closely — is that similar in the Czech Republic?
Safarova: I guess it’s similar. I mean, I guess they follow the big tournaments, the Slams and the big WTA tournaments and then Fed Cup because it’s of the country and they get the chance to see us and to play in it.
RD: A lot of players this week said that Fed Cup gives them that pride of playing for their country, and there’s just something about having your flag next to your name — it’s something you’ve got every week but during Fed Cup, there is something special about it, right?
Safarova: It’s more special ’cause it’s a team competition, and you get all those great players from the countries together for one event. So that’s the different side to it, and as you said we represent the country every week, every tournament, so we should be proud of that as well.
RD: You’ve obviously had a big win, big tournament in Doha this year but there are also weeks when it’s a little tougher. Is it difficult to find the balance sometimes game and results-wise?
Safarova: You know, it’s not easy when you travel every week. You change the continents, timezones, surfaces, everything; sometimes you just get tired and don’t play your best. The competition is so strong nowadays. Once you are not there 100%, there is someone else who is playing really well and wants to beat you. Especially when you’re in the Top 10 or Top 15. Everyone is pumped to play you and everyone wants to beat you; it’s not easy to in this position — on the other hand, I’m pretty happy with my season as well, ’cause I got some big wins: say Doha, Australian Open doubles…
RD: You’re playing with Bethanie [Mattek-Sands] again this week. It’s one of the first times you’ve played together since the Australian Open.
Safarova: We played Indian Wells but didn’t play too many matches (laughs).
RD: Are you excited to play with her again and are you joining up for the rest of the clay season?
Safarova: Yeah, yes we are!
RD: Is Singapore a goal for the two of you, maybe?
Safarova: It’s there (laughs). We would like to be part of it.
RD: Like so many other players you’ve been here in Stuttgart so many times; is there anything you’re gonna do other than the tennis?
Safarova: A couple of years ago, I was in the city; it’s a pretty nice city, and I like to come here and obviously to go here and drive with the Porsche – that’s always fun (laughs).
RD: Nothing wrong with that!
Safarova: No, but because we play the tournament, we don’t get much time. It’s difficult to do more things – which I would love to do.
Safarova will face Caroline Wozniacki in her second round match on Thursday, a rematch of their first encounter five years ago.