I follow Sania Mirza very closely and get along very well with her. We often meet at the Grand Slams and discuss the game. She is a great player, says Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
In Paris to train and advice the participants of the Longines Future Tennis Aces Tournament, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, former women's number one and four-time Grand Slams winner, talks to The Week about the future of women's tennis, desire to play doubles with Sania Mirza and more.
What keeps you busy these days?
A lot of things. I have been commentating for television, working on Grand Slams, playing Legends, and bringing up my kids. They are five and seven year old and occupy a lot of my time. I am enjoying my role as a mother. They do like sports and play soccer and tennis.
How do you compare the times when you used to play and now? Is this a more competitive era?
Every generation is different with different players and their styles. Right now Serena Williams is dominating the scene, and if she doesn't win a particular game, anybody can cash in on the opportunity and win. In our era, it was more competitive. I had good competition with Steffi Graff. I had to beat (Monica) Seles, (Jennifer) Capriati,Kim Clijsters, William sisters and (Martina) Navratilova. I played with three generations and it was nice to win a tournament after beating the top players. Today, the top player is Serena and the game is wide open for the rest. It wasn't as easy in my time.
The number of women coaches in tennis is still very few, do you see this trend changing sometime soon?
It all depends on what the player is looking for. They already have the skill and expect the coaches to make them more confident. The opportunities for women coaches is gradually improving. Martina Navratilova was already coaching Agnieszka Radwanska . The former Grand Slam winners, specially women, can bring a lot of quality experience to young players.
What do you have to say about the pay parity issue in tennis?
Women players should be very happy now. I wish we had the pay parity when I was playing. Billet Jean King started the battle. I'm happy that finally the hardwork and sincerity of women players is being acknowledged by way of their salaries too.
A lot of male players, including Novak Djokovic weren't happy about this development.
Everyone has the right to have an opinion and I just wish I played in this era to avail such opportunities. I can't answer for Djokovic but most players have appreciated this change.
Do you think having a lady at the helm of affairs (Stacey Allaster) at the World Tennis Association has helped the cause of women players over the last few years?
The tennis scene is changing for good. Women bosses are certainly helping the cause and Stacey got a lot of exposure to women's tennis. She made tennis an exciting sport entertainment for fans as well as sponsors. We now have a male boss, Steve Simon, who knows how to take the sport to the next level with sponsors and spectators.
How closely do you follow tennis in India?
I follow Sania Mirza very closely and get along very well with her. We often meet at the Grand Slams and discuss the game. She is a great player. I also followed Bhupati and Paes while touring for my games. I wish they invite me to India soon. I would love to play doubles with Mirza. It's wonderful to see her play so well.
How has the women's game changed over the last few years?
The girls are tall and strong; the games are very powerful. They hit very hard and therefore miss the variation in the game. The new players play from he baseline than the nets. In our times, tennis was more entertaining. Today's tennis is different but good to watch.
Apart from the William sisters, who do you see as the future stars of tennis?
If Victoria Azarenka keeps herself free of injuries, she could beat Serena. Simone Halep, a young upcoming player is also one to watch out for. Then there is Carla Suárez Navarro, (Garbine) Muguruza and couple of Czech players like Lucie Safarova and Patra Kvitova.
What do you think of the players at the Longines Future Tennis Aces this year?
The players have a very good level. They are getting a chance to play with former champions here so that's a great opportunity. Hopefully they can use some of my advice as the ambassador of the tournament this year. We may have some of the future tennis champions coming from here.