Earlier on Saturday, TTI brought you a feature on Elena Vesnina but she isn’t the only Russian who went through a reboot in 2016 — her longtime doubles partner Ekaterina Makarova started year in Australia after having not played for the last four months of 2015, trying to manage her schedule in order to ease back into competing both in singles as well as doubles. René Denfeld caught up with Makarova in Madrid after her first round win on Saturday over Annika Beck.
Clay courts and Ekaterina Makarova aren’t necessarily on the best of terms, but in her first round in Madrid, the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist got a fine win under her belt against Germany’s Annika Beck. Makarova was rock solid on her own serve as she landed 72 percent of her first deliveries, won 79 percent of those points and didn’t face a single break point in the second set en route to a 6-3, 6-4 win.
“I’m really happy because last two years I was losing in the first round [here],” Makarova said, post-match. “I’m really happy that I passed this one and she’s a tough opponent especially on clay because she likes the long rallies, so I needed, I suppose, to be more aggressive and finish it with the winner because she is not missing. I’m really happy with the result.”
Makarova start preparing for the clay season after Miami but suffered early losses at the hands of Roberta Vinci in Stuttgart and Aleksandra Krunic in Rabat — although the match against Vinci in Stuttgart was one of the better contests of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix where the Italian just about sneaked out with the win.
“We went to Sochi to prepare for 10 days for clay courts,” Makarova said. “It was a good time and good practicing a couple of weeks there. I came to Stuttgart pretty ready and wanted to play after Miami. It was a good tournament for me; it was such a great match and Vinci was a little bit better — maybe a little bit lucky in the end. After that, maybe I was thinking a little bit too much and in Rabat it wasn’t my best tennis but here I came back; this is nice tournament and I want to show my nice tennis.”
At the end of last year, Makarova found herself struggling with a leg injury that kept her out for the entire Asian swing. The 27-year-old decided to focus on playing singles in January and February in order to ease back into competition, rather than jumping into both singles and double headfirst after a four-month injury layoff.
“After the US Open, I didn’t play anything and I was fighting with my injury — in Australia, I came back but I didn’t play doubles because I wanted to start slowly and then I start to play doubles in Indian Wells, Miami; in Miami, we [with partner Barbora Strycova] were in the quarters and we beat a couple of really of great teams, so I’m ready for coming back with the two events and waiting for that, yeah.”
This week in Madrid, Makarova reunites with Elena Vesnina four years after the pair originally joined up in order to try and get into the London Olympics — the two Russians are back as a team in a doubles draw for the first time since Wombledon 2015.
“She [Vesnina] asked me to play for Olympics before London — Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, so we had only three tournaments to qualify for the Olympics and yes, here we go again.”
Makarova isn’t just aiming for Rio 2016 in doubles but also in singles — but just like Vesnina, she’s aware that the race to Rio in the Russian team is going to be tough with a lot of young players making their mark and eight Russians inside the Top 60.
“Yes, I’m really waiting for [Rio] and for me, Olympics mean a lot and I want to play there and I want to play good there. The young girls who are coming up are also good, so yeah, I think it will be tough to qualify and here we are working on that, too.”
Unlike many other players, the 27-year-old from Moscow hasn’t gone through too many coaching changes in her career — in fact, there’s only been one so far and that was nine years ago. Since 2006, she’s been working with Evgenia Manyukova, who won Roland Garros in 1993 in mixed doubles.
“Well, for me it’s tough to think to have another coach because I had only two coaches in my career — my first coach for 12 years and then my coach now,” she said. “So for me it’s also…I think if I’m working all my career with a [female] coach, I think we understand [each other] and to get the communication with a [male coach] will be really tough. But, I’m not thinking about that and I really enjoy our relationship and work[ing] with my coach. She’s just great!”
Makarova is one of the few players on the women’s tour who is coached by a woman — and has been all her life. Mayukova is a former Top 20 doubles player, and the World No. 30 admits that their success is all about being on the same wavelength and how helpful her coach’s doubles expertise is for her.
“Well, I think it’s all about the character of the person and for someone [sic], it’s maybe more easier to practice with a man and understand his thoughts. For me, sometimes, especially in tennis — in this kind of different feeling when the woman’s on court than when the man’s on court. She’s understanding all that stuff, and for me it’s really important because in important moments, she knows what to say and what I’m feeling. For doubles, she’s the best one, all our wins with Elena, I think, has a lot to do with her. So I think she gave us so many tips and all that stuff, so without her, I think it [would] be tougher.”
For the rest of the clay season, the 27-year-old won’t look too far ahead and instead, goes by a very well-known saying in tennis: one match at a time — particularly on what’s the most challenging surface for her.
“Yes, I don’t want to say anything special or big — it’s not my favorite surface. I just want to go out there and play every game and every point, try to get my rhythm, try to get my best tennis — if I’ll play good tennis, [there] will be the good results. I just want to say everything one at a time!”
In her second round match, Makarova will face the winner of Sunday’s match between Andrea Petkovic and Timea Bacsinszky.