BRD Tennis Insider

Irina Begu: “I would like to qualify for the WTA Finals in doubles next year”

Irina Begu (winner of the title at BRD Bucharest Open in singles and doubles last year) has got over the disappointment of her early exit in singles with a good run in the doubles tournament: today she is playing the final together with Andreea Mitu, against Danka Kovinic and Maryna Zanevska. Yesterday, Irina talked to us,  at BRD Insider, Treizecizero.ro’s daily tv show from Arenele BNR. about their hard-fought victory in the semis against another Romanian team, made up of two promising young players: Jaqueline Cristian and Gabriela Ruse.

“I am glad we were the more assertive team in the supertiebreak. We were up a set and 3-0 in the second but we relaxed a little and they took advantage. Overall, it was a good match and I am happy to be in the final again.”

Is it unusual to play against another Romanian team? The public seemed a bit torn, they were not sure who to cheer for. “It’s a bit strange for the public, but it’s a good thing to have as many Romanians getting to the latter stages of the tournament.”

This year, Irina has had very good results in doubles: she won the title in Shenzhen with Simona, made the semi-finals in Australian Open. Is it the consequence of a plan or it just happened? “I am more relaxed when I play doubles and I like playing with Romanians. We have known each other for years, we communicate well. I play well with all of them. Next year I would like to have a constant partner though. I have spoken to my coach and he suggested I should try and qualify for the WTA Finals in doubles. With all the good results I’ve had recently, I’ve made a lot of points, but to qualify I need the same partner. It takes a bit of planning to figure out the scheduling, find someone who plays the same tournaments and is available for doubles all the time. I would like to focus on doubles in practice as well. At least one hour and a half per week practicing volleys and other specific things.”

Is Monica Niculescu on the short list of possible doubles partners? “We’ve always played great together, we make a very good team. The most important thing for her is to stay healthy. I am available.”

Irina talked about her disappointing loss in the first round against Ons Jabeur. “Now I am fine, but I needed a couple of days to process and come to terms with the loss. I don’t often get so frustrated during a match as to break a racquet; I regret it, but with you I can talk about it and explain. First of all switching back to clay from grass was difficult. Last year I didn’t play doubles at Wimbledon and I had time to play a clay tournament in Budapest in the week before Bucharest. Although I lost first round there, it was good to have played that match; then I came home and had another few days to train on clay. This year I only had three days to practice on clay and readjust to the surface – in the match against Jabeur, I couldn’t even slide properly.”

“Jabeur is a tricky opponent, she has a very disruptive game, with a lot of drop shots. She didn’t give me a lot of rhythm, and when I finally started feeling the ball better, I was down one set and 5-1. It was to late. But what I regret the most is the fact that I couldn’t play my best at home. The people have always been very supportive everywhere I played in Romania, both here at BRD Bucharest Open, and in Fed Cup matches.”

Is she concerned about losing points, defending her ranking? “When I was younger, I stressed about it every week. I knew exactly how many points I had to defend. But as time went by, I got more experienced and now I look at it differently: it’s normal to have points to defend, every player defends some points every week, including me. I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s not worth putting additional pressure on myself.”

Is she experienced enough to also figure out the cause when she is going through a less successful period? “This period is somewhat strange because it’s not clear to me why the results are not coming: I practice well, I spend a lot of time on the court, in the gym, many hours week after week. It’s true that grass is not my favourite surface, so I don’t rely too much on the results there. I had some issues with my knee in the past, and I am always a bit stiff and reluctant in my movement on grass. But overall, yes, it’s frustrating not being able to translate all the hard work from the practice court to the official matches.”

When this happens, who does she talk to? “I am an introvert, so the people around me cannot always get me to open up immediately. I need some alone time for things to sink in, especially after a loss. Sometimes I only need half an hour, other times a defeat hurts for a couple of days, like the first-round here. But my support system is my team: my coach, fitness coach, my boyfriend, who also travels with me. I talk to one of them when I am ready.”

“But it’s not a good idea for people to approach me immediately after a tough defeat. It happened here, someone from the press asked me for a live interview immediately after the match, when I was just catching my breath on a bench. I tried to be as tactful as possible, but I refused.”

How does she feel about the next generation of Romanian players? “I know Jaqueline and Gabriela, we have practiced together before. I think they have a bright future ahead. Gabi qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon and had match points against Radwanska in the first round. I like her attitude on the court, she is very positive and competitive, which is great for tennis. When we retire, I hope they can step up and carry the torch.”

All the young players look up at Irina’s generation and are very grateful for their example. “When I was 16 and decided to turn professional, there was no one older on the tour to show us the way. We had Dragomir and Spârlea during the 90’s, but they had retired. I would have loved to practice with Ruxandra Dragomir when I was a junior – like the young players can practice with us now. Also, back then there wasn’t as much information as now: you didn’t know how to schedule your tournaments, how to proceed with your career. I was lucky to be advised by Florența Mihai (top player during the 80s – n.r.), my aunt, who also played professionally and the team I had then. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier, tennis has got a lot of media exposure. And they can ask us when in doubt.”

The availability of so much information led to a lot of players making progress in terms of fitness, recovery and tactics. The women’s tour has great depth, and in the top 100, almost everyone can win against everyone. Does she consider this an extra pressure or an opportunity? ”Definitely an opportunity. From my point of view, tennis is more exciting to watch. A few years ago, at Slams, it was smooth sailing for the top 10 until the quarters. Now, from the first rounds, we have upsets. That’s why top players say the first round is the most difficult; after that you get into a rhythm, and it’s easier.”

How does she feel about social media? “Being an introvert, I have never felt the need to be the centre of attention. Instagram is easier to use, but I have always limited the interaction with the media because I want to use my time to practice and focus on tennis. I like talking to people in real life, but it’s very sad to receive abusive messages on social media after a defeat. I suffer a lot after defeats and when I am accused that I tanked the match, it’s very frustrating. Sometimes my brother acts as my social media manager, and I think you need someone to act as a buffer, because of those bad messages. There are also a lot of people who are supportive and cheer for us and we appreciate it. But what I am trying to say is that we, tennis players, do not owe anything to anyone. We are trying to do our job as well as we can and we are the ones who suffer the most after defeats.”

Does her mother still get messages from “armchair coaches” during her matches? “I have plenty of ‘coaches’ on Facebook (laughs). I find it very funny. I personally don’t know how they find the time to write those long messages. They are very involved! If they are positive, I read their messages and appreciate them.”

Does she follow tennis in her spare time? “All the time. First thing when I come home, I turn on the tv to see what matches are on. You know that American TV channel, the Tennis Channel? If we had a similar one here, that would be the only one I would watch. Even on holiday, I watch tennis matches.”

Can professional tennis players learn new things by watching other players? “Of course. I like to watch other players on the courts around me when I practice. When I take a break, I watch what they are doing.”

Any favourite stops on the WTA tour? “Most WTA tournaments are very well organized nowadays, it’s hard to choose. The Slams are great, Australian Open, US Open. Indian Wells is a great tournament, I recommend it. Simona won it two years ago.”

Speaking of Simona and their friendship, Irina gave us a little context: “We have known each other since we were kids, travelled to tournaments together, shared the room in juniors. We have played so many matches – I remember we won the doubles title at 100k tournament in Bucharest when we were younger. We got even closer last year when we played a few doubles tournaments together. She has always been very supportive and I appreciate it a lot.”

Watch the whole interview here in English (via Treizecizero.ro)

 

 

Photo: Vlad Vișinescu / Treizecizero

 

Editorial Staff | 22 July 2018
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