Mihaela Buzărnescu, always intense on court: „These last few months showed me I belong, that I can play against the best players”
Mihaela Buzărnescu has taken the tennis world by storm. Since last fall, fans have watched the 30-year-old shoot up the rankings, defeat top players (Svitolina and Ostapenko among them) and make the second week of a Slam for the first time in her career at Roland Garros. Her life story is impressive and so is her game. After this tour de force, Mihaela is finally coming home: this week she is playing at BRD Bucharest Open, where the Romanian fans can finally watch and cheer for her. Playing in front of a home crowd has its advantages, but its a very emotional experience. Mihaela was invited at BRD Tennis Insider, the daily show produced by tennis website Treizecizero on a daily basis during the tournament, and she shared her thoughts and expectations.
”My opponent (Zidansek, that day) is a very promising young player, and she is more dangerous on clay than on hardcourt. There were many people watching, I felt them all and wanted to show them how well I can play. I was very nervous because it is the first time I have played here. The pressure is big, I feel a bit tired as well. I was very happy to get the win.”
Everybody wants a Romanian to win the title, as it happend in 3 of the last 4 years since the tournament is organised in Romania. Last year it was Irina Begu (she lost in the first round this time), so now all eyes are on Mihaela and Sorana Cîrstea: ”Of course, it would be nice for a Romanian to win. I hope to do well, I hope Sorana wins her match too.”
Looking back on Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Mihaela says she hasn’t had time to process what happened yet. ”I had very good results, especially not having played at that level before. It gave me a lot of confidence, showed me that I can play against the best players, that I belong. I am happy I managed to adjust very quickly to the level on the WTA tour. I was wondering at first how I would cope. But I went on the court and let everything flow and it went well.”
Does she feel more pressure to win against good players now? ”If you had asked me this last year would I have answered that I just want to play my best tennis. Now, I am more motivated because I know I am good enough to win.”
What does she need to win consistently against the top 10? She was very close against Pliskova at Wimbledon. ”Confidence, clearly. For example, when I am ahead, I must keep in mind that they are more experienced and they can always turn the match around. So I need to stay calm and focused. That was the problem against Pliskova when I was up a set and 4-1, I got frustrated when I lost my serve for 4-2. These are good-quality players and that’s what they do. I should just take things in stride and keep on playing. Even if I lose a game, it not the end of the world.”
Is she an analytical player, who thinks a lot during a match, is she more the go-with-the-flow type? ”It depends. Sometimes I think a lot, sometimes I don’t think about anything, like yesterday when I was down 1-4. I stopped thinking and my game got better.”
What about the communication with her team? ”I like to talk to my coach right after the match, when everything is fresh. We are honest with each other and I like that.”
„I would like to focus on the tennis, because it is not easy handle with all these off-court decisions. I am still learning.”
Alina Tecșor, Romanian Fed Cup team coach and the other guest of the show, said: ”I have always admired the relationship between Mihaela and her father, who was her first coach. I am a parent too and a coach and it is very hard to do them both.” Mihaela: ”It is true, finding the right balance between being a parent and a coach is difficult. But we got on well with my dad from the beginning and I have always appreciated my parents’ efforts. If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have been able to play tennis. It is worth it in the end.”
Asked about the logistics of travelling to tournaments and her team, Mihaela said: ”Before I was travelling alone or with my father. Lately I have been travelling with my new coach and I like it. Of course, It would be nice to travel with a fitness trainer and a physiotherapist, but I don’t know if that will be possible. I am still new at this level, and the other players have been there for a few years, they can afford these expenses more easily. I have started a few partnerships with sponsors, but it is not easy to travel with a big team, although at this level it becomes necessary. I need to make some sacrifices, I will have to rethink my schedule. I would like to focus on the tennis, because it is not easy handle with all these off-court decisions. I am still learning.”
She is already considered a model by younger players and kids. „I am very flattered, I never thought it would happen. The fact that I overcame so many hardships and didn’t give up proves that you can achieve things even if you are older. A lot of players from my generation gave up. They were good, but they struggled financially, and they gave up. It is a shame, because this sport can offer you a lot of positive things. If you start early, it becomes your life, your second life.”
Has she always been this intense and transparent emotionally on court? Alina Tecșor (Fed Cup coach and former captain): ”I saw her win the junior doubles title at the US Open with Raluca Olaru, I was there with them. I remembered that moment when I saw them play doubles together today. I was thinking about their junior years. Micky was top 10 in juniors, playing semis against Radwanska and other top players. She was the same, she hasn’t changed her attitude: she was just as intense and tough on herself.”
Fans have been polarized about her outbursts on court: some are taken aback, others take them as signs of ambition and desire. Alina: „I think people expect tennis to be balanced and smooth but in reality, it is a pretty tough sport. Especially when it comes to emotions, everybody blows off steam differently: some break racquets, others scream and yell. Sport has become much too difficult and the level is very high. Athletes are not robots.”
Now that top 20 is within reach (Mihaela is ranked 25 at the beginning of this tournament), is she thinking about updating her goals? „A lot of people have told me I can go higher, but I am not thinking about it for now. Everything needs to go step by step. I want to see if I can crack top 20, and then I will see. I am close, but the difference in number of points is big.”
Does she dream of playing against a specific player? „Serena. I have always wanted to play against her, since I was a kid and I was watching her on tv. I am happy she is back.”
Favourite match and she has played?
„Last year when I qualified for the US Open was very special, the first time I got on the main draw of a Slam. I realized I can get into top 100, I started to believe it was possible. Before, I was not convinced.”
She has always played doubles and being a lefty is an advantage: „I will keep on playing doubles as long as I am fit and healthy”.
Alina: ”Doubles can serve as a replacement for practice.” Mihaela: ”I would rather play matches, as many as possible. Sometimes, if you stop competing and focus exclusively on practice, you can lose you form.” Alina: ”It is difficult to be match-fit. All these warm-up tournaments must be approached as tune-ups for the main event, the Slam. You need to set appropriate expectations for them, and not get too disappointed if you lose because then you cannot reach your peak at the Grand Slam. It an advantage for her that she likes playing matches, that she is not drained by it.”
„I think people expect tennis to be balanced and smooth but in reality, it is a pretty tough sport. Especially when it comes to emotions, everybody blows off steam differently: some break racquets, others scream and yell. Sport has become much too difficult and the level is very high. Athletes are not robots.” – Alina Tecșor
Is there a difficult match-up for her? „I have played a lot of players with different styles. Any player can be difficult. But when I play somebody with a particular game that I don’t like, I think about previous matches against her or similar players and make the necessary adjustments. But I am not that bothered any more by different styles of play, I can handle them.”
How is she holding up, after such an intense schedule for so many months? ”After this tournament, I will have a few days off and then I will get ready for the American hardcourt swing.”