Tennis star Sevastova: going home means Latvia
Professional tennis tours will resume no earlier than August, but until then the players have to practice as much as possible. Sevastova, recognized as the best athlete of Latvia for two consecutive years, said that months of training without competition made her miss tournaments and rivals.
Māris Bergs: It is probably pleasant to come home and practice…
It is cool, of course. I remember how I first started practicing here. Unfortunately, my first coach [Edgars Ernestsons] left us this year. But overall, of course, the feeling is nice and I like to practice here.
It is very difficult to come to Latvia during the season. When you return to Liepāja, do you still feel at home, or do you feel it more in Vienna?
No, I couldn’t say I feel home in Vienna, we aren’t there that much. Yes, when everything was closed because of the COVID situation, I was in Vienna because it absolutely didn’t matter where to sit inside. So we sat in the house. But when I say I’m going home, it means I’m going to Latvia, to Liepāja, to the sea. Home is here.
Do you only practice here in the courts of Liepāja Tennis School, or do you change places?
We practice here if it’s not raining. If it is, then we go to the new hall, it’s very cool to practice there, and I like the hall. I like here too, outdoor courts. The circumstances are super!
Going back a few months, how did you spend time during pandemic?
Like everybody, we sat at home. The first few weeks. Then we went up in the mountains, engaged in other sports. When it was possible, we resumed practice, but didn’t know what we’d been practicing for, because in March and April we knew nothing yet. Didn’t want to practice too much, because we didn’t know when we’d resume. So we tried to do something else, some other sports. It wasn’t easy to go out, because everything was closed.
You’ve tried climbing and other sports. Usually tennis players don’t have time to do this. What else did you try?
We were hiking, walking a lot in the mountains. We tried rollerblading too, although we fell quite a bit. We jogged, cycled, did things like that. We did what you could do, because everything was closed.
How long was the pause without tournaments and training at the start of the pandemic?
I was in Indian Wells, we practiced there. We were told the tournament was canceled, so we flew back. I didn’t play for 3-4 weeks, then I started to practice and do something. But it was once a day and not every day.
Did you miss tennis at this time?
I think yes. I’ve missed tournaments. Because we’re practicing quite a lot now. It was May, June, now it’s July, now I feel like playing tournaments, playing matches. I don’t want to practice too much, I want to try it all in a match situation.
What is your training schedule right now?
We play every day, maybe we can take a break on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe take a break one day in the middle of the week. We work on physical condition in the sea and on the beach, and at the gym. Well, of course, on the tennis court too. Usually there are two workouts a day and a break of two days a week.
Many athletes have said at this time that what is happening in the world has changed their values and beliefs. Did this forced pause somehow change the value system for you?
No, I don’t think anything has changed because I had been without tennis before, I didn’t play professional tennis for two years, I had a break. Then I had time to think, it was longer. But of course, you can think and appreciate something, think about what’s been done this year, then start and try to do it better.
You mentioned this pause in your career. At the time, it had other reasons, injuries, but did the current situation have any similarities with that time in 2013 and 2014?
No, it can’t be compared. Only three or four months have passed now. It’s not so long. Some players have injuries and they don’t play for 3-4 months. But now the situation is the same for everyone – no one can play tournaments, no one can win them. We’re all in the same boat, so I think it’s a little different anyway.
When the pandemic began, there are usually the North American tournaments. How hard is it for a professional tennis professional to refocus life and schedule from the usual movement between tournaments and cities to a peaceful life in one place?
It’s hard. You’ve always been going somewhere, whenever, at the beginning of the week or at the end of the week. You’ve been moving all the time with your suitcases and driving somewhere. The hardest thing was that everything was closed in Austria. We couldn’t go anywhere. It was all closed – restaurants, gyms, cinema, everything. There were only shops, but no people there either. It was difficult. Wanted to do something, not sit at home all the time, I think it’s difficult for an athlete.
What do you miss most from a normal professional tennis life? From the life we knew before?
They must be tournaments, the day before the match, the day after the match. Winning matches and losing matches. Seeing and meeting all the players. This whole process. You’re going to that town, practicing, living and playing, but next week it’s all starting again. The whole process is that we’re like squirrels in the wheel, but now we’re squirrels at home (laughs). I think tennis will start sometime this year.
Tennis is an individual sport, but have you communicated with other tennis players at this time?
Of course, I was talking to some of the ATP [men’s] tour because I practiced in Austria in the same place as Dominic Thiem. All the best Austrian players, including men, are practicing there. We have WTA [women’s tour] meetings every week on the Internet. There, too, you can hear what the players think about this all. Ostapenko and I practiced here, then we talked about it. Life needs to go on, that’s my point. Yes, with all the social distancing, but got to start somehow. But it’s hard to say anything, because some girls on the tour can’t travel at all, because the borders are closed and you can’t go anywhere. We can’t make it all right, somebody won’t like something, and it’s always like that.
We’re in Liepāja, where you are practicing. When and why did you decide to go back home?
It happened the moment I could fly from Vienna to Riga. Then I thought I’d do it. And also, when there was no longer a 14-day quarantine. It was mid-June, if you were flying from Austria, then you had to sit in quarantine for 14 days in Latvia. And I really didn’t want to do it, so I did my best, complied with the distancing. When I come here, I don’t want to just sit at home, I wanted to go somewhere, see friends, go to sea, not sit at home for two weeks. Everything has worked out, I’m still here and I’ll be here, I’ve got plenty of time. I like Liepāja!
In tournaments, tennis players are often sparring against other players in the same tournament. What about the availability of sparring partners here in Liepāja right now?
There are many good, skillful girls in Liepaja. I played with Patricija Špaka, Elza Tomase, also Aļona. Aļona was here too, for about two weeks when I was here, so we practiced together.
Have you managed to play off any set since February, albeit during training?
Yes, just in the last few weeks I’ve started playing points more. Managed to pick up sets. In Berlin, I’ll finally play some sets and matches (laughs).
This Berlin tournament, why did you decide to go there and play?
My manager, his firm, organizes that tournament in Berlin, it will be on lawn flooring. I was there as a second choice maybe, but some of the girls refused and he offered me that tournament. It was pretty fast, I found out only a short time before. I decided I needed to play some games, not just practice all the time. It’s good to have matches. It may be different without the spectators,but a match is a match, and it can be a good thing to remember.
What are the security rules for going to European tournaments?
Only one coach or one person from the family may be with you. You can’t eat in the courts, you can only do it in the hotel. Be in a bubble – hotel, training, courts, everything. You can’t go anywhere. And testing, of course.
Are you prepared to play in tournaments and live with these demands, such as staying in “bubbles”, daily COVID tests, if all this becomes a long-term process?
I travel mostly to tournaments only with [spouse and coach] Ronnie [Schmidt], it’s not a problem for me. Testing needs to be looked at. I think all of this must be tried carefully from the beginning. We’ll try it all in Palermo and Prague, to see if it’s possible, whether we can stand it the whole tournament, and whether it’s for good or not. You need to try it and look at how safe it is and whether it really works.
The season will be very unusual, of course, but does it set up any athletic goals you’d like to achieve? For example, the title of Latvia’s “first racket” at the end of the year?
I don’t even think really about goals now. Hard to think about them. There are bigger targets in tennis, but I don’t want to talk about them. It’s tough this year, I hope to just start playing and then you can already start looking and thinking, then achieve something.
Last year you did not reach the world top ten, and there were literally a few points until that. Is there any disappointment about that?
Maybe, maybe not, it happened. But I was the eleventh in the world, and I can’t complain about it either. The season was what it was. Of course I could win more, I could lose more, but there were cool and unforgettable moments.
One of the year’s major tournaments at the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed. Is the decision to move the game year later good for you?
I haven’t thought too much about it either, since the Olympics were moved very quickly. I think it was the right decision because, as we see, we don’t play, so let’s wait for next year. Howit will be next year, we don’t know, but hopefully it will be better than this year.
Will qualifying for the Olympics be additional motivation?
Of course I wanted to go to Tokyo, which was also one of my goals this season. I’ve never participated in the Olympics, so I want to leave there. Of course it’s like a goal, I want to play there.