She was one of our main features of the 2015 coverage at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and turned out to be the breakout story of Roland Garros the same year: Lucie Šafářová. The 29-year-old sat down with René Denfeld during the tournament last year, so it seemed only right to catch up with the lefty for a chat after what has been a year full of highs and lows.
It’s been a roller coaster 12 months for 2015 French Open runner-up Lucie Šafářová. After a career banner week in Paris where she made the first Grand Slam singles final of her career — losing to Serena Williams — and won another doubles title with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the lefty’s season took a turn for the unfortunate in late summer when she fell in the first round of the US Open against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, while playing through an abdominal injury.
A short while later, Šafářová found herself in the hospital with a bacterial infection — which ruled her out of the WTA Asian autumn — and while the Czech returned to play events in Linz, Moscow and the WTA Finals in Singapore, it was clear that the World No. 15 had lost much of the form that saw her blast through the red clay in Paris. As so often: when it rains, it pours — and after struggling through abdominal issues and a bacterial infection, Šafářová was diagnosed with reactive arthritis at the end of last year — which forced her to miss the Australian summer.
The Czech returned to competition in Doha but suffered a string of first round losses and finally won her first set since coming back at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix last week — before capturing her first win of the season over Mariana Duque Mariño at her home tournament in Prague early Tuesday.
Before she left the Porsche Arena last week, however, Šafářová sat down to dish on the most trying year of her career:
TTI: Tough match today — but overall, another good week in doubles? [Šafářová and Sabine Lisicki reached the semifinals before losing to top seeds Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza.]
Lucie Šafářová: Yeah, I mean, it was the first time I played together with Sabine, so that’s always tricky because the thing about doubles is about partnership, so — but we played well, so we had fun out there. I think was even a good match today — we had some chances, [and] didn’t really use them but overall good week.
TTI: Your singles earlier this week was a really tough match against Karolina Pliskova — someone you know very well and and you’ve played often and had tough matches with in the past.
Šafářová: Yeah, it wasn’t the easiest draw because Karolina is playing well now and especially like knowing her so well — it’s never easy to play a friend. I mean, from my point of view it was a tough, good match. I got my first set finally and I lasted for two and a half hours which is a great step forward for me and I think it was again a match where I felt like my old self — obviously, it’s tough because it’s another loss but I’m pretty positive, I mean, taking it step by step and so far I’m moving forward, so I hope that the results will show it soon.
TTI: You had a tough time coming back in singles, especially because you were out for such a long time, you played Singapore but it was a long break.
Šafářová: Yeah, basically it was six months, especially it was not…I didn’t have an injury that you could do any fitness, so in that long time, you lose all your fitness and I was starting from zero. Obviously, I’m trying to catch on because the season is going quick, and you try to jump right away into it, but I’m still lacking matches — first, with that, comes confidence and everything together so I’m just being patient, concentrated on trainings, be[ing] positive and hoping that the results come — but first of all, I’m happy that I’m healthy, that I can play and that’s what I appreciate.
TTI: How often were you even able to pick up a racket between November and February?
Šafářová: Yeah, I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t doing — I couldn’t even go for a run or anything like that. It was pretty tough; it was interesting experience because I have never been in this situation where I couldn’t do any sport or activities, so that was not pleasant but still right now I appreciate even more to be able to be out there and play.
TTI: Even though singles was tough, you’ve had really good results in doubles — winning Miami with Bethanie, doing well in Charleston and now here in Stuttgart. Is it also important for you to stay long at tournaments where you’ve got practice partners, all the facilities and just be around the tour for a lot of time?
Šafářová: Yeah, obviously, even though it’s doubles, it’s still matches and that’s what I’m lacking. We are having so much fun with Bethanie and we are such a good team, so I really enjoy that and I’m really happy that we are doing so well and I think that’s the first big step — I’m doing well in doubles and obviously doubles is half the court, so it’s not so exhausting for your body, and now I need to do another step to be able to play well in singles.
TTI: For the last year, it’s been very much up and down. We sat here this time last year and you said you were taking it match by match for the clay season and ended up making the final at the French Open — and now we’re back in Stuttgart again after a 12 months for you with great highs but also extremely difficult phases. To come full circle: what do you expect from the next few weeks — if you have any expectations, that is?
Šafářová: I mean, right now I’m just focusing on improving each day — my fitness and my tennis in general and to go back to my old level, which I’ve pretty much felt here already, so that’s great. I’m playing Prague, Madrid, Rome and then Paris, so I have plenty of time still to catch on with matches and routine and everything — I’m not expecting huge results from myself, just be out there for each match and try to win each match.
TTI: Rob Steckley hasn’t come over to Stuttgart — who have you been here with in Stuttgart?
Šafářová: Rob is coming to Prague, so I’ve been here with friends!
TTI: Over the past few years, you’ve done more and more fun stuff on social media, but you also wrote a rather personal letter recently on Facebook to explain your situation and the troubles of the past few months —
Šafářová: I try to engage with fans because I know that they are many people who are cheering for me and who are there for me, which is the best thing…I can have. That’s why I try to share my life, lifestyle and obviously with Rob, doing all the fun things, fun little videos — yeah, I just wanted to explain myself [and] what I’ve been through because many people don’t know and then maybe they can better understand what I feel and what I’m going through.
TTI: Next up: Prague — are you happy to go home, play in front of your home crowd and catch up with family and friends?
Šafářová: I’m happy we have the tournament there again, which is great because so many players — so many great players — from the Czech Republic, and we haven’t had an event for so long. I’m happy to go there — obviously have a lot of friends coming, family is gonna be there, so I hope I can win some matches there.”
Šafářová certainly got off to a winning start against Duque Mariño in Prague on Tuesday, as she came from a set down to capture her first singles victory in over six months — 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
TTI would like to thank Lucie for being kind enough to take the time for a chat — even after a loss.