Ricardo Sanchez has always been one of the WTA’s more colorful characters. From “Stopwatchgate” in Stuttgart 2008, where he heckled Venus Williams for taking too much time between points, to the Tokyo drama last season, he’s built up quite an infamous reputation. His latest interview, conducted in Spanish, gives Sanchez’s take on working with Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and most recently, Nadia Petrova; Sanchez says he and Petrova decided to mutually part ways for this season and still have a nice relationship.
Some of the best bits:
On the idea that Petrova is difficult to work with and is not popular on tour:
Nadia is a woman from the East and each has a different character. She’s very quiet, but when she opens up to people, she is a spectacular person…Nadia is not a person who opens to the whole world, but when she does, she gives her heart and friendship.
On his failed coaching venture with Wozniacki:
At this moment, a qualified coach for her does not exist, because father and daughter have a very special chemistry…I do not believe Piotr had the capacity to leave his daughter alone with me, so it did not work out.
Had he been able to work with Wozniacki without issue:
This year, she would have certainly remained in the top five and could have won a Grand Slam…Serena, Azarenka, Sharapova, Radwanska and Petrova are playing better than Caroline. They have far more resources and Wozniacki, at the present time, has a more defensive game.
On Maria Sharapova:
For me…she has not improved in the last three years. This year at Roland Garros…everybody lost and instead there was Errani, who is inexperienced in such games. I have great respect for Sharapova and believe she and Serena are very good for tennis.
On his oldest charge, Jankovic:
If Jankovic calls me and tells me: ‘Richi, grab a plane and we’ll go through the circuit the two of us alone,’ tomorrow, I go where she is.
On the drama in Spanish women’s tennis:
Of course I would [like to be Spanish Fed Cup captain.] If you leave me to my work, in three or four years, Spanish women’s tennis would improve.
On possibly coaching on the ATP:
I would not mind, but on the women’s tour I am at the level of the five best coaches in the world…I have spoken with [Verdasco] and his father several times.
Sanchez is quite observant regarding the goings on with the WTA, and despite his loose cannon of a mouth, many of the things he says in this interview are both thoughtful and correct. Nonetheless, Sanchez’s narcissism is one of his biggest personality traits, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to anoint him as ‘one of the top five’, he *is* a good coach. He got Petrova to play her best tennis in arguably six years at the end of 2012 and was largely the driving force behind all of Jankovic’s success – success that she hasn’t found again.
For the past 10 years, Russia has had a large number of players occupying the top spots in the WTA Tour rankings. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Russian women swept the medals with Elena Dementieva winning gold, Dinara Safina taking silver and Vera Zvonareva finishing with bronze. Four years later, the Olympic picture is much different for the Russian team. With Dementieva retired and Safina sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, the Russians no longer hold the vicegrip on the WTA rankings they once did. Russians occupied five of the top ten places in the world rankings in 2008; currently, there are only two in the top 20.
Rules for Olympic team nominations are as follows (courtesy of the ITF):
The main qualifying criteria is the ATP and WTA ranking lists as of June 11, 2012…Players must have also participated in two Fed Cup events from 2009 – 2012, one of which must have taken place in 2011-2012, and have a good standing with their National Olympic Committee. Each NOC can enter 6 men and 6 women athletes, with a maximum of 4 entries in the individual events, and 2 pairs in the doubles events. Any player in the world’s top 56 is eligible, and NOC’s have the option to enter players of a lower rank. Athletes are able to compete in both singles and doubles events. Doubles players within the top 10 rankings on 11 June are eligible provided that the number of players of the same nation doesn’t surpass the total of six.
Leaving #2 Maria Sharapova (W/L: 18-4 Best Result: F Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami) out of the equation, the win-loss records of the next five (singles rankings as of April 2nd) Russian women this year are a mixed bag at best:
#9 Vera Zvonareva W/L: 7-6 Best Result: QF Charleston
#21 Maria Kirilenko W/L: 14-7 Best Result: F Pattaya City
#22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova W/L: 3-8 Best Result: R16 Brisbane
#25 Svetlana Kuznetsova W/L: 11-7 Best Result: R16 Brisbane, Doha
#35 Nadia Petrova W/L 5-6 Best Result: QF Charleston
Shamil Tarpishchev, Russia’s Fed Cup and Olympic team captain, expressed his concerns in a recent column for tennis.sport-express.ru. He specifically addressed team stalwarts Zvonareva and Kuznetsova, who had lost their opening round matches at the Sony Ericsson Open (l. to Muguruza Blanco and Benesova, respectively). Tarpishchev discussed Zvonareva’s bouts with injuries (shoulder and hip) and illness, as well as Kuznetsova’s lack of focus in winning positions.
Based off of these rankings, Russia’s four singles players would be Sharapova, Zvonareva, Kirilenko and Pavlyuchenkova. Pavlyuchenkova’s slump has been particularly alarming; the 21-year-old, who made the quarterfinals of both Roland Garros and the US Open last year, has lost in the first round of all but three events this season. The Russian who has had arguably the 2nd best season behind Sharapova in singles is #39 Ekaterina Makarova, who had a stunning run to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (d. Zvonareva, S. Williams en route, l. to Sharapova) and the fourth round in Miami (d. Pavlyuchenkova en route, l. to Sharapova). Going only by current rankings, she would not make the team, although her form this season should suggest otherwise.
Kirilenko, the 3rd Russian in the singles rankings, is also ranked in the top 10 in doubles. She, along with Elena Vesnina, would be directly qualified to compete with any partner in the doubles competition if the current rankings stand. However, Kuznetsova and Zvonareva partnered to win the Australian Open in doubles and Petrova is paired with Kirilenko to start the season; she is currently ranked 16th in doubles. Kirilenko and Petrova took home their biggest title as a pair in winning the Sony Ericsson Open (d. Kuzntsova/Zvonareva en route, d. Errani/Vinci for title). Vesnina competes in events with India’s Sania Mirza, and there is speculation that Vesnina would be left off the team.
With Roland Garros looming on the horizon, the race to the Olympics will be a big story throughout the European clay season. While the Russians are blessed with enormous depth, there are questions if their best players can round into form in time.