V: Was there a difference between the courts at the PORSCHE TENNIS GRAND PRIX in 2016 and in 2017?
LS: Yes, it’s different every time really, not just from one year to the next but also between the courts within the tournament complex. Centre Court is always different to the courts in the Schleyer Arena, which differ again from the training courts. As a professional, you notice these things, but this goes with the territory and you have to adjust, be flexible and not worry too much, even if at the beginning of a match or a training session you have to get a feel for the court first.
V: How did the court change from the beginning of the tournament to the end?
LS: In 2016 the court was extremely slippery. It wasn’t easy to play on, especially for a hard-running player like me, and you’re not able to return from the corners of the court very quickly. This year, right from the start, the courts were much less slippery. In fact during the first few days, the courts were bouncy, many balls took a bad bounce and the sand wasn’t firm on the surface. On the outside areas when you tread on small holes in the ground, which are formed as the sand loosens, it can become dangerous for the player and present an injury risk. Courts like this need to be left to settle so the sand can become bedded in. The more a court is played on, the more level the surface becomes during the week.
LS: It’s part and parcel of our job that we have to learn to adjust to the challenge of different playing conditions. There are courts you enjoy playing on and there are some you enjoy less. As a professional, you have to accept it how it is and make the best out of it. Maybe I’m more tolerant and try to make the best out of any given situation, whether it’s the court surface, weather conditions or something else, and use it to my advantage instead of letting it bother me.
In the last two years I quickly adjusted to the surface as the tournament in Stuttgart progressed and I felt more comfortable with every match I played. But it is a particular kind of surface. It’s a sand surface, and as it’s indoors, it’s different from the usual sand courts which we play on outdoors in the summer.
V: How are you finding it on the court since your injury and are you suffering any adverse effects?
LS: Of course, the rehabilitation after such an injury is a long and time-consuming process. To come back from a cruciate ligament rupture, you need to work hard from day one, at first from the psychological point of view, then working more and more on strength and rehabilitation training, and then back on the court to train the movements which are more specific to tennis itself. I’ve been back on the court for some time now and am working on my game. It’s natural that there are psychological barriers at first, as the body isn’t used to the many movements and you have to slowly introduce it back to the strains. But I’m really enjoying getting ever closer to where I was before the injury. During a period of rehabilitation, you really get to know your body (and appreciate it) all over again and the training is considered and cautious. This, in itself, has been a great experience but the best thing is that I can spend more time fine-tuning my game, whilst losing the worry about moving around the court and being able to play with freedom once again. This is when you realize how much enjoyment movement, even strenuous movement around the court, gives you and how much you have missed it.
V: There are only photos of a positive-looking Laura. Is there also a sad Laura?
LS: I really am a very positive person, but of course it’s not always peace, happiness and harmony. There is no such person. In competitive sport the highs and lows can happen very close together. During a long rehabilitation process after such a serious injury there are going to be some dark moments which you have to overcome. But I do think that if you can get over this, it can make you stronger than before. I think that the most difficult times can give you the opportunity to develop as a person, if you use the time wisely. I used the time during my injury to work on myself, and not just on my physical rehabilitation but also on my mental attitude and outlook. I try not to use up my energy worrying about things that I can’t change. I would rather concentrate on the possibilities which are open to me.
V: You’ve long had the talent potential without managing the breakthrough but to see you playing now, you seem like a changed person. A 100 % focussed powerhouse. What’s caused this change?
LS: I wouldn’t quite say it like that. I’ve always played in a concentrated and focussed way and have always had boundless energy, on and off the court. Also the creativity which can bring a difference to my game has always been there. But this didn’t always translate into results, especially not on the large stage, where the media would have noticed. In terms of ability there isn’t a large difference between 50 and 100 in the world rankings, there is so much quality at the top of the game. But media interest is completely different if you are 100 compared to 50 in the world. For a long time, I definitely wasn’t able to just relax and let things happen and to accept that, despite being very ambitious, you can’t force success. On some occasions I also didn’t have that little bit of luck which you sometimes need to gain self confidence and manage to get that breakthrough. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a changed person. I’ve just managed to work really hard on improving myself and have always worked really hard on my game as well as my outlook.