Ekaterina, when were you invited to play the tie against Romania? Did you accept the invitation immediately? And what did you feel when you realized it would be your debut in Fed Cup as a member of the Russian team?
I was offered to play the tie at the beginning of the year, the team captain invited me. I agreed practically at once, I watched my schedule to make sure this tie fits into my calendar. For sure I became a little bit nervous as it is another type of responsibility when you step on court to play for the national team. I have never been as anxious in my life before. You step on court and literally everyone at the stadium supports your opponent and they cheer against you. But you tell yourself you can’t let the team down, no one of them. The team counts on you and everyone does. Especially to play as number one in the team is a huge responsibility. When I was playing games on my return my hands were shaking in the first set.
How did you cope with it?
After the first set I relaxed a little bit.
So you won the first set 6/1 with shaking hands?!
Yes (laughter). As I was told my opponent was also playing for the team for the first time and perhaps she here hands were also shaking.
Could you, please, say a couple of words about your first rubber opponent – the Romanian Elena Gabriela Ruse? What did help you to beat her?
She had a bad start making quite a few errors. Towards the end of the second set she started to play better, to serve better and increased the pace, she was making fewer errors. But I realized she felt uneasy on the court and was nervous. Sometimes she would make too many easy errors and it helped me.
You have said that the Romanian crowd was crazy. They are notorious for the loudest tennis fans. They have been behaving like that since the times of home Davis Cup ties where Ilie Nastase was playing. Sometimes they are not quite fair. How was it this time?
I can’t say they behave themselves unfairly: no one was shouting during the serve and even when someone was trying to, the other fans tried to calm him down. But, of course, no matter how Romania won the point whether it was a winner or a double fault made by a Russian player, all local fans would stand up and cheer for the Romanian team. They were shouting, beating the drums, playing the trumpets and it was really loud.
Some of the Russian players say such type of cheering make them play better and gives extra energy and motivation.
Maybe. It is never easy anyway. When you step on court from the very first second you are under huge pressure. You are warming up for the match and they are already shouting and put pressure on you. The key thing is not to give in to this pressure.
Did the court conditions suit you game style?
Luckily it was a hard court, not a clay court. And I liked it: it was rather slow with a high bounce. The ball didn’t fly forward it stopped in one spot so the main thing was to find the right hitting point for the shot. But in general I think both the court and the arena suited me perfectly.
After you won the first point for the team were you cheering for Veronica Kudermetova during the second singles rubber?
Till the end?
Yes. Well, at the beginning of her match I was doing a press-conference, so I missed the start but I watched the third set.
Whatever happened to Veronica? Did she get tight?
I think, Ana Bogdan played really well.
She said afterwards she played her best match.
She played really well, it is true. I have played against her before and she showed another level of tennis than during this Fed Cup tie. She was absolutely calm in that Fed Cup tie, focused on every shot, she played her 100 %. There were fewer easy unforced errors. And it wasn’t easy for Veronica as well I think because the court was a little bit strange and Bogdan got to every ball: she covered all the court plus Veronica felt the pressure from the stands. I think just two-three balls didn’t work for Veronica and she wasted the she advantage she had at the beginning of the third set and let her opponent win.
And so you entered the tie against Bogdan with the score tied at 1-1, also a very crucial moment. Were you nervous as well?
I was even more nervous! I thought that it’s not possible to worry more, but when we stepped on the court, it turned out that it was possible.
Probably you thought that is the score would be 2-1, that’s it, end of story?
No, I thought that, despite my possible loss, the team will win anyway. But I tried not to think about it and make the score 2-1 in our favor, so that the next team member who would play after me felt less pressure. Of course, my second singles rubberwas also very difficult. As far as I remember, we played for almost 2.5 hours, and there were crazy screams for every ball from the crowd. I remember when I took a toilet break between the second and third sets and went to the bathroom, then I didn’t want to go back to the court, because it was so calm there (laughter). But I had to come back to the court, back to these yelling and shouting cries – to all this, but, Thank God, everything ended up well.
What was the overall strategy and tactics for the rubber against Bogdan?I tried to play to her forehand. Her forehand is not as strong and aggressive as the backhand. But she played so well that it wasn’t important anymore, so I had to adapt to the situation.
How do you get on with the team captain Igor Andreev, who has been working with the team for several years now?
I think we get on pretty well.
What did he tell you during the matches?
He tried to advice me on how to adapt to the situation. When I needed to calm down – he cheered me up and said that everything was going to be fine, that I just need to hold on a little bit more and I would succeed.
They say that he is an imperturbable guy.
He looked really imperturbable. I don’t know what he felt, but he looked absolutely calm.
Did he help you to calm down?
Yes. When I came back all excited, tense, and sat on the bench he told me that everything was fine, that it was going well, and I started to believe in it myself after his words.
Veronica lost her 2nd rubber as well, the score was leveled at 2-2. Obviously you were cheering for the two Russian girls in the decisive doubles match. How was it?
The match started really bad and we were a bit confused. But then the girls found the right rhythm of the match and after being down 0/2 they were up 5/2. They won 5 games in a row. We saw that they played really well and didn’t give any chance to the opponents.
They’ve already played together against the team of Chinese Taipei…
And ghey won.
Did they look like a cohesive duo?
I saw the match and they played really well and confidently.
What about the crowd during the doubles match?
It was the decisive match. When the Romanians took the lead, everybody became crazy and then after the Russians were leading the crowd was silent.
Last point, match-point converted. The Russian are in the Fed Cup Finals. What was your reaction?
We started to jump. Everybody yelled «Great! We did it!» Everybody was happy. All team members.
Did you unfold the Russian flag?
No we did not (laughter). We forgot the flag in the locker room because were were so stressed out.
What did the captain tell you after the team victory? He probably reunited you all together and congratulated? Did you celebrate the win?
We celebrated the win at a restaurant, but when everyone come, everyone did everything they needed, we ended up arriving only at about half past nine at the hotel and then we celebrated with the whole team.
Now when everything is already done, you have made a decisive contribution to the victory, how do you feel? What do you think about your debut in the Russian national team and in general, this was your first team performance?
Of course, I felt so much joy for myself and for the team in the first place. (In Fed Cup) everyone plays for the same goal, we are all as one. The fact that the team reached the finals and the fact that I managed to help it was a great joy for me.
When you started your career, did you think that you would become the leader of the Russian national team and bring your team two points at once in such an important competition?
No, I didn’t think so. When this happened I felt myself serene and calm.
Your dad (Evgeny Alexandrov) was with you in Romania. Was he there for support or as a consultant coach?
I always have him both for support and as a consultant coach. Dad has a lot of roles.
And what did he tell you after the team victory and after you won both singles?
He congratulated me. He said that everything is great, everything is fine, well done.
Was he proud of his daughter?
I hope so (laughter). He is a patient calm person, but he is always very worried. He just congratulated me.
Question about Budapest. Will we see you there at the Fed Cup Finals?
I hope so. If they call on me, you will see me.
And when did you come to the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy tournament? In what mood? And in what physical form?
We arrived last night. And the flight was quite difficult, because we had departured early in the morning and arrived late at night. The saddest thing is that my luggage has not arrived with me. So here I am wearing jeans and sneakers all the time.
And the racquets have not even arrived?
Racquets and sneakers and a bag with a uniform arrived – with the uniform of the Russian national team, though, so I can train in it. But I don’t know if they will let me play here on the court in the national team uniform. And as for the physical form – to be honest, after the Fed Cup tie absolutely everything hurts, my whole body. I hope to have a better day today, my suitcase with clothes will eventually arrive and tomorrow I will be in a better shape than today. It’s hard to fix everything in one day. Fed Cup siphoned off so much mental energy in a matter of just two days, there were so many emotions and so much drama and stress, sometimes individual tournaments don’t take up so much out of you.
Success in a team ties often gives a powerful impetus to a tennis career. Mikhail Youzhny, after he beat the French Mathieu in Davis Cup at «Bercy», climbed up his career ladder. Have you felt any new impulse?
Every victory gives confidence, especially when you bring victory to your team and you helped it to win. So far at the moment I feel a little mentally devastated. I hope this will not disturb, and in St. Petersburg I can play even better than there, in Romania.
When do you play your match here in St. Petesburg&
I think tomorrow. I do not know if it is a singles or a doubles match, or all together. But surely tomorrow.
But do you know that you are facing Dasha Kasatkina?
Yes. As soon as I arrived, I immediately checked the draw.
This is a fundamental opponent for you. Not so long ago you were competing for №1 spot in Russian rankings…
Yes, there we were going up and down, back and forth in the rankings. I would not call her a fundamental opponent, though.
Well, let’s put it this way – an inconvenient opponent, although now her career went down.
She was in the top 10 anyway. She is an experienced player. Her style is not convenient for me. Let’s see how it goes.