Kristina Mladenovic was one of the form players in the first half of 2017, reaching four WTA finals; among them was her first career title in St. Petersburg. She also enjoyed her best Grand Slam result with a quarterfinal on home soil at Roland Garros.
Yet a knee injury at Wimbledon robbed her of momentum. Although she continued to compete she became mired in a losing streak that extended to 13 matches when she fell in the opening round round of the Brisbane International earlier this week.
Nevertheless, the Frenchwoman remains on the cusp of the top 10. Feeling physically healthy and positive after a productive pre-season, she’s ready to reclaim the form that saw her become one of the game’s hottest prospects last year.
SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL: How would you assess your first match of the 2018 season in Brisbane?
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC: “It was a very interesting match. It’s always tricky the first week of the year – you don’t know actually anyone, their form to see how it looks … Conditions were pretty tough. We could see some retirements and also some girls who struggled with humidity and got cramps and everything. Unfortunately for me it was a short trip in Brisbane, losing to (Aliaksandra) Sasnovich, but I thought there were lots of positives. It was a long match and physically I felt good, so that was a very positive point coming out of a tough pre-season. And also game-wise I think there were lots of positive things I could take out of this match. It was a close one; I thought she somehow had some more adjustments at the very end of the match.”
Tell us more about your pre-season. What was your focus?
“I tried to copy the previous one I had in 2016 because I thought it was great, it helped me to have a very good few months (early in 2017). I’m based in Dubai … I really love it there for my off-season. It’s a similar climate to here and it helps when you come over to Australia and you don’t feel completely ‘out’. You’re already used to playing outdoors in the heat. And then it’s just one direct flight from Dubai. It was great – I was really satisfied with how I improved. Everyone in my team was pleased with some improvements.”
Is your team the same as last year?
“Slightly some changes. I still stick with my parents – my Mum helps me, she doesn’t have a title like really my tennis coach, but she’s there, she’s really trying to help. I consider as my tennis coach, let’s say, also myself as coach. But the difference was during the off-season I had some outside help from Janko Tipsarevic. He’s not retired yet – he’s doing rehab and planning to comeback on the ATP (tour). He was there for a week and a half … we spent some time on the court. He was not hitting with me, he was there more as a, we can say like as a coach, just to see what he could bring to me, his opinion, his view on my tennis. It’s interesting for me to have also another voice, someone who knows tennis really well – he’s a former top 10 player. It was very interesting. We worked on some things during the pre-season on my game. And hopefully it will pay off.”
So what brings you to Sydney, and what are your goals for the tournament?
“I’ve been coming to Sydney a couple of times, and I always enjoyed the place, they city. Just overall, Australia, I love it. At night you go to bed and you still go on Channel 7 and you watch the tennis all the time (smiles). That’s so good, I still watched Hopman Cup last night. The atmosphere feels goods (in Sydney) and of course tennis-wise it’s very interesting to have such a tough draw, even if it’s before the Australian Open. Somehow if you can get some matches and you for sure get some rhythm, then in Melbourne the draw is bigger so normally maybe the first few rounds are not as difficult as it could be here.”
What can you tell us about your relationship with Dominic Thiem? There’s obviously lots of interest in this among tennis fans, after everyone saw the social media posts. Is it nice to be dating someone who understands life as a pro tennis player?
“It’s true. At the beginning I was never inside of this environment – I’m someone who is very private and don’t like to share my personal life on social media and I’ve never done this before actually (laughter). But I think it’s very nice to be honest. And he’s also a very top player obviously, and we really help each other. We understand each other perfectly, we know what the other is going through, we know the way the other one can feel. Also on tour for travelling it also makes it easier because we have such a crazy busy schedule. So it’s always nice when you have your better half that can easily travel with you and also support you, see your match and understand what you’re doing.”
Did he consider coming to Sydney as well so you could compete here together?
“That is also not the point. We are both very professional so there is rules, let’s say. Even if we are together doesn’t mean we are all the time going to commit to the same tournaments because the other one is playing, of course. It’s very nice, and given that he’s at the top of the game, for me, as the woman, it’s very interesting because I can still practice with him – I have more benefits than he actually has (laughter). We only officalised this on social media very recently.
When did you begin dating?
“(We’ve been together) quite a long time – pretty much beginning of 2017. But yeah, people didn’t really realise. I’m a WTA player so it’s obvious I’m also at tournaments and you could think that we are friends. When I was next to him in London at the ATP Finals, it was obvious then that a WTA player shouldn’t be there (laughter). So we though let’s not play with our fans and be honest. Since we are both (in the spotlight) there is no point to hide it, we have nothing to hide really.”
Do you hit together much? And how do you handle his power?
“We already done that before. Madrid was cool, we could warm up with each other many times and it brought us good luck. So hopefully we can do that more often in future. When we practice without movement, if we play just cross court, he likes it because I can really handle his pace, no problem. Of course if we open up the court and I have to run and play a rally with him, there is absolutely no chance for me (laughter). It’s a challenge for him because he’s not allowed to miss before me so when it happens it puts him in a furious mood (laughter). But it’s obviously very nice.”