Slams place major pressure on players

Former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova said it took her two or three weeks to regroup physically and mentally after reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2008.
Former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova said it took her two or three weeks to regroup physically and mentally after reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2008.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Progressing deep into the second week needs immense mental strength, says Hantuchova

As the first of 38 maiden Grand Slam women's singles semi-finalists over the past decade, Daniela Hantuchova knows all about the nerves that come with reaching the last four of a major.

Only 10 have progressed to the title decider and, the Slovakian, who retired last year, was not one of them despite leading 6-0, 2-0 against Ana Ivanovic at the 2008 Australian Open.

Ten years have since passed, but the memory of that day remains clear in her mind, as it took her "a very long time to get over".

"I was so super nervous... it's a completely different experience from any other tournament and I remember talking to my coach three or four times about the match because I wanted to make sure I was as prepared as possible," the ninth seed in 2008 told The Straits Times.

"Things probably went too good too fast and I was not mentally ready to actually believe that I could be in the final."

A 39th woman will play in her first Grand Slam semi-final next week at the Australian Open as nobody in world No. 4 Elina Svitolina's section of the draw has gone so far after Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Ekaterina Makarova and Peng Shuai crashed out in the first round.

And Hantuchova's advice for the semi-final debutante is: "Just enjoy the moment and appreciate that you're among the top four best players on this incredible occasion... and don't think too much about the results."

SELF-DOUBT

Things probably went too good too fast and I was not mentally ready to actually believe that I could be in the final.

DANIELA HANTUCHOVA, reflecting on her loss to Ana Ivanovic in their 2008 Australian Open semi-final, despite leading 6-0, 2-0.

CHANNEL YOUR INNER STRENGTH

Enjoy the moment and appreciate that you're among the top four best players on this incredible occasion... and don't think too much about the results.

HANTUCHOVA, offering advice to the semi-final debutante who will progress from Elina Svitolina's section of the draw in Melbourne this year.

The former world No. 5 is in town as a pundit for the Fox Sports Asia commentary team, which recently announced an extension of its long-term broadcast partnership with Tennis Australia for the Australian Open.

Reflecting on how she was overwhelmed by the enormity of the occasion 10 years ago in her 29th Major appearance, she said: "I was putting so much pressure on myself trying to be perfect, which we know doesn't exist.

"Just too much focus on the results instead of enjoying being on the centre court and not worrying as much about the results.

"Of course it's hard to do because you put so much effort and so much work in but (I wish I had) just been able to appreciate it a little bit more."

Elaborating on the difficulty of making deep runs at Grand Slam events, the 34-year-old noted that the immense mental strength required is "nothing like any other tournament".

She added: "I won Indian Wells twice (in 2002 and 2007) but being in the semis in Melbourne was totally different - it took me about two to three weeks to recover because it takes so much energy and effort that people don't see.

"You have to compete not only physically but also mentally."

Melbourne Park was also the site of one of her greatest victories when she defeated defending champion Serena Williams 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) in the third round in 2006.

It was Hantuchova's only win in 10 meetings with the American.

"That was a fantastic experience for me and one that I will remember but there were many other occasions where she proved to me why she's No. 1," said Hantuchova of the 23-time Major singles champion.

"Her serve really always got her out of trouble.

"If I close my eyes, I can still remember all the aces that she used to hit on the break points. She was just a privilege to play against because she brings out the best in you when you play against her - that's what you've got to do (to have a chance)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Slams place major pressure on players'. Print Edition | Subscribe