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Joel Drucker: Say It, Then Play It

Each media interview room at the majors has a distinct style. In Australia, the player occupies the bottom of a circular silo, questions descending from on high akin to a tribunal out of a George Orwell novel. At Wimbledon, chairs gently slope up from the player, giving the room an accustomed stately quality. The US Open, home of the world’s largest tennis stadium, also has the biggest interview room. On certain days – most often the finals – each of these rooms swells past capacity, cameras and recorders tumbling over one another. Other times, there are as few as two reporters present.

At Roland Garros, the flavor is scholastic. The interview room is lined with approximately 50 folding wood chairs. At the head sits a table with enough room for one or perhaps two speakers. You might think it’s the spot for a medium-sized upper division economics class in a contemporary university. Certainly matters of finance and opportunity are pondered, juxtaposed with comments about lessons learned.

This is the place where individuals who make their living with their bodies attempt to translate the physical into the verbal. Often, for media and player alike, it is a Kabuki-like process, players uttering familiar platitudes. But occasionally, as a player’s career evolves, he or she ripens into a statesman of the self.

A good chance to witness this brand of introspection usually takes place at the pre-tournament media day, a cavalcade of press conferences – dubbed “pressers” in journalistic short-hand -- that feature familiar contenders along with a few other newsworthy notables. There were 12 such pressers yesterday, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep, as well as local hopeful Kristina Mladenovic and, back from damaged tendons in her left hand following a horrific knife attack, Petra Kvitova.

Djokovic, speaking of his new affiliation with Andre Agassi, said, “He's someone that inspires me a lot. That's one of the things I felt like I needed is new inspiration, someone that knows exactly what I'm going through, you know, on the court, off the court.”

Kvitova gave a thoughtful and concise explanation of her recent struggles. “I'm lucky I'm [a] positive-thinking person,” she said. “So I took the positive one, and I was really trying hard to get my hand back in the proper movement. But, yeah, of course time when the mind was thinking that I would never ever play, it was there, but it was just, you know, few times. Most of the time I try to probably think about something else.

Konta, new to the top ten this year, 0-2 in two prior trips to Roland Garros, waxed on her ascent. “I still had to kind of go around the locker room and just remind myself where everything was,” she said, “because I had only ever experienced it once before.”

Saturday morning came another form of conversation. A three-minute walk east of the rather sedate media interview room area, on practice court 13, Konta was on the court with 2015 Roland Garros singles runner-up Lucie Safarova. Press questions were one thing. The court asked more. Will the player find the best possible form? Is the strength clicking? The weakness holding up? And it’s impossible at this stage to know anything about the nerves that can surface at any stage of the match. As Safarova and Konta continued to practice, it was already toasty, with temperatures for the day expected to exceed 90 degrees. With the first round starting in a day, it was heating up at Roland Garros.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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