Dealing with the media has become an integral part of a tennis player’s life, and some do it better than others. Roger Federer is the king of calm, James Blake is articulate and intelligent, while the Williams sisters give as good as they get, but usually with a smile.
At the other extreme is Andy Roddick, who likes to hit back with replies that are dripping with sarcasm. And then there are the monosyllabic players, like David Nalbandian whose answers are invariably shorter than the questions, and often involve a simple yes or no.
While some are keen to talk about their personal lives, others aren’t. Likewise, some take controversial questions in their stride while others refuse to get involved. And the subject matter ranges from the serious to the daft.
At the Australian Open questions have been lobbed on everything, from Venus Williams’s bottom and Ana Ivanovic’s hairstyle, to more weighty fare like match-fixing and doping.
To prepare them for the rollercoaster ride, every player is required to undergo media training when they first come on tour, with an option for more whenever they want.
Ivanovic enjoys the banter, and has even tried her hand at being the one seeking answers. “I like to hear new, interesting questions. Interviews are obviously an important part of our job, and if we’re just talking about forehands and backhands all the time, it gets pretty boring,” the Serbian world number four said.
And she knows what it’s like on the other end. “I had a tiny bit of experience as an interviewer,” she said. “At the US Open last year, I was a reporter for the night at a sponsor’s party. I interviewed Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Max Mirnyi and Novak Djokovic. I was nervous and it made me realise that it’s not as easy as it looks.”
With hundreds of journalists angling for the right quotes to build their stories, some players dish out answers better than others. Multi-lingual world number one Federer is as skilled in the press conference room as he is on the court.
Patiently, and in good humour, he sits through a barrage of English questions before answering similar queries in Swiss, Swiss-German, and French. He also deals with the issues in Swedish and Italian if need be.