April 11, 2011

Towards the summit of Kilimanjaro

Alona Bondarenko

(info about Alona Bondarenko)

Victory in doubles at the Australian Open

Thomas Kieller

Alona Bondarenko: Satisfied by the result.

Slim, agile and in good shape, Alona moves quite lightly on the court. The fluidity of her movements and her approach during a match are really captivating to see. Her playing style is mostly based on long exchanges where she is obviously more at ease when she plays on the back line. Certainly, she can easily diversify her game. Being naturally quick, she can recover with dexterity the well placed shots and the drop shots of her adversaries. Determined and with a glimpse of emotion that she shows sometimes, this elegant player fights for every ball. In the end, she offers to the spectators captivating moments. Besides, the Ukrainian lady native from Kryvyi Rih, a city to the south-east of Kiev, has to her record many awesome results. Indeed, she won the great honours in singles during two tournaments of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), in Luxembourg and in Austria. She has even more success in doubles. Currently, her greatest achievement in career happened in 2008 with her sister Kateryna by winning in a dazzling way the Australian Open. This victory in one of the Grand Slam tournaments has given her a lot of confidence and motivation to go on. On another matter, she participated several times at the Fed Cup and once at the Olympic Games where she represented proudly her country. Now, her aspirations of victories in singles push her towards the higher levels of the rankings. No doubt that Alona will always fight with passion in her matches to reach her objectives in the competitive world of women tennis.

The phone-interview took place on September 14, 2010 at 14:00 when Alona was in her hometown in Kiev, Ukraine.

Progression in singles

Thomas Kieller: You turned pro in 1999; was your progression in the first years (1999 to 2001) in the WTA Tour tough?

Alona Bondarenko: Yes, I think it was tough in these first years because it’s never easy to start and keep the rhythm all the time. I played a lot of tennis and I really practiced hard since I was a small kid and I never stop. Besides, it was difficult because of the competition, and at that time, I did not know much about the players on the tour. So, I had to watch them in order to learn their playing styles and to beat them.

Thomas: And what did you learned from those years?

Alona: You need to concentrate all the time. Stay focused is the key and try to do your best. There is no time to relax or to do anything like that.

Thomas: After a while, you won two WTA tournaments in singles. The first one was the 2006 Fortis Championships in Luxembourg. I supposed it was gratifying to win it after seven years?

Alona (on a happy tone): Of course, I was really happy. All the players congratulated me. It was really great for me.

Thomas: This Luxembourg tournament was categorized as a Tier 2. To win it, you had to face good players such as the French ladies Mary Pierce, Nathalie Dechy and the Italian Francesca Schiavone who you beat in the final 6-3, 6-2. Can you tell me what it takes to win such a tournament, because it must be hard?

Alona: Oh yes it was and I know that I was practicing a lot in order to be ready to go all the way. It’s really hard to play against this type of players like Mary Pierce and Francesca Schiavone because, like you know, they are good at what they do, so you have to play the best tennis you can in order to beat them. I had to be regular in every match and I remember that it was not easy. I was focusing on the match I was in and I was not thinking about the next match or the next day. That’s was my strategy.

Thomas: Your second victory in singles came four years later in Hobart, Australia against Shahar Pe’er from Israel. We can see the level of the opposition is really high in the WTA?

Alona: Yes, the level is great and of course it’s difficult like in any other sport. I have to practice all the time and try to do my job pretty well.

Alona Bondarenko: In top shape.

Always training

Thomas: To improve your game, your ranking and obviously in order to win a tournament, you train on what currently?

Alona: Well, right now, I’m home and I train all the aspect of tennis, because I think it’s not only one thing that I need to improve. However, I focus on my serve which needs to be more effective. Concerning fitness, I’m running all the time and I do some bicycle. Also, I work in a gym which is obviously a part of my training. In brief, I’m working twice as much my tennis if I compare to the fitness aspect. It’s about four hours a day of tennis and physical training.

Thomas: If I understand well, you never stop learning new stuff in order to improve your game?

Alona: In every match, you can find something that you need to learn. I like that because it brings always new things.

Playing in doubles and winning the Australian Open with her sister

Thomas: You played in doubles with several players. With your experience, is the approach completely different from one player to another?

Alona: Yes, there are some differences. When you play often with a person, you know what she will do and you are ready for her shots. When you change partners, you do not know necessarily that person... In order to have a well tuned team, it’s better to know the person with whom you play and it applies to many aspects of the game.

Thomas: You won several ITF and WTA championships in doubles with your older sister Valeria, with Galina Fokina, Anastasiya Yakimova and also with your younger sister Kateryna. Did you see a major different playing style between these four girls?

Alona (explains with enthusiasm): With Kateryna, it has been always better because we know each other very well and we expect what the other will do on the court. With the other girls you mentioned, we did well also but not because we knew each other. We simply play well. In doubles, it’s quite better to know the person with whom you play. The team will perform even better.

Kateryna and Alona Bondarenko: Discussion between sisters.

Thomas: Is there a lot of improvisation when you play in doubles if we compare to the way you play in singles?

Alona: Yes, I think so, but still you have to talk to your partner about everything that you want to do and wish to do on the court.

Thomas: With Kateryna, are you doing specific training for doubles?

Alona: Yes, but only sometimes. In these training sessions, we practice more the volleys. We talk about strategies together and also we speak to our coach about that. However, when we practice in general, we do everything because both of us play in singles and in doubles. In a way, both styles are linked together.

Thomas: When your started playing with Kateryna in the WTA Tour, how did you manage in and out of the court?

Alona: We are trying not to talk about tennis when we are outside the court. It’s our way to stay focused on tennis and in this manner we only concentrate on one thing. During practice or when we play a match, we talk a lot and we encourage each other.

Thomas: And how was your progression with your sister over the years?

Alona: Well, first I have to say that I started with my older sister Valeria and, afterwards when Kateryna grew up, we were traveling together. It came naturally to play with her in doubles. From the time we started, we have improved a lot through the years.

Thomas: By the way, are there a lot of emotions when you play with your sister?

Alona (affirms right away): Of course, there are, like in any sport it’s very emotional and sometimes you cannot keep your emotions inside!

Thomas: So, is it easier to play with a family member concerning the emotions compared to play with someone else?

Alona (laughs): It’s really different because you cannot do or say everything you want with any partner, but with your sister you can do it. We are so close.

Thomas: In 2008, something magical happened for you and Kateryna. You won in doubles the Australian Open, one of the four major tournaments of the Grand Slam. What were the key factors that made you play so well?

Alona (tells with joy): We were practicing a little bit more in doubles and we trained our volleys during the off season. Actually, we did not expect to do that great during the Australian Open. We were just playing our game and, one step after the other, we succeeded.

Thomas: We know that there is a long way to reach the final of a major tournament. Along the path, you made a big upset by stunning the girls seeded number one meaning Cara Black from Zimbabwe and Anke Huber from Germany. Did this victory give you a good push?

Alona: Yes, it gave us a lot of confidence and we played much better after that. It was our biggest victory prior to winning the Australian Open. However, we accepted our victory over Cara and Anke, and right away we focused on the next match. At that point, we were not thinking about winning the whole tournament.

Thomas: Well, when the tournament progressed, did you realize more and more what was happening?

Alona (says happily): Still, we were just thinking about the match we were in. We started to think about winning the tournament only in the final.

Thomas: The last chapter was not easy too. In the final against Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Pe'er, you lost the first set 6-2.1 After all you have done, this poor performance could have broken the moral of the team. So, what was your reaction after this set?

Alona: We were really upset and we knew that we had to play better. We needed to play like we did in the semi-final and the quarter-final. We were talking with each other in order to come back in the match. I remember that Kateryna went to the bathroom to wash her face in order to relax a little bit because she was really nervous. After, everything is history.

Thomas: To share this moment and the whole tournament with your sister was it something extra?

Alona: Yes, I think so, but I have to say that we share all the time our good moments in tennis. We are celebrating every victory. Of course, the Australian Open is our biggest achievement as a team and it’s was really great to share it with her. Nobody in Ukraine won a Grand slam tournament before us. We did it and it was amazing for me and Kateryna.

Thomas: After this incredible result, did you have a nice party to celebrate it?

Alona (laughs): Actually, we had to rush for our plane because our flight to Ukraine was three hours after we finished the final match. Before catching the plane, we had to do the doping control, to pack our luggage and to go to the airport. I can tell you that when we were in Ukraine, we had a good party with our friends and family.

Last words

Thomas: And now, there are many other tournaments in singles and in doubles that obviously you want to win. So, what’s next for you?

Alona: I want to be in the top ten of the WTA ranking in singles; it’s my goal. I’m practicing every day to reach this objective.

Thomas: And what about your team with Kateryna? Both of you will still push hard and give good matches?

Alona: Yes and I think we make a good duo. Also, when two sisters are playing together in one team, I believe it’s quite interesting for the fans of tennis because there are a lot of emotions in our matches.

Thomas: Thanks Alona for sharing your passion of tennis!

1. Alona and Kateryna won the Australian Open in 2008 by the score of 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 against Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and Israeli Shahar Pe'er.