SWISS PRECISION

Ken Hoffman sets up tennis star with 15 questions

Tennis star Belinda Bencic takes a swing at Hoffman's queries. Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Belinda Bencic is in top form, finally, working her way back to the Top 10 of women's tennis after injuries sidelined her for much of 2016 and 2017. The Swiss star won a tournament last week in Las Vegas and she’s the No. 1 seed at this week's Oracle Challenger Series at Rice University.

Talk about a fan-friendly event — parking and entry are free — with big name players from both the men’s and women’s tour in action. Bencic set to play Allie Kiick of the U.S. on November 13.

Bencic, who reached No. 7 in the world as an 18-year-old in 2016, has a remarkable record against the sport’s brightest names. She boasts a winning record against former No. 1’s Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber. She’s beaten No. 1’s Garbine Muguruza and both Serena and Venus Williams. In 2015, she won the Rogers Cup in Canada, defeating four Top 10 players, Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Serena and Simona Halep along the way.

Bencic, still only 21, debuted with the Swiss Federation Cup team in 2012, and won the French Open and Wimbledon girls title that year. Two years later, she made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, beating two Top 10 players. Oh, and for the past two years, she’s represented Switzerland in the international Hopman Cup tournament in Australia. Her partner in mixed doubles? Some guy named Federer.

As Houston's leading tennis journalist, I had to ask Bencic the tough questions. We sat down after her practice session Monday, November 12. Usually, I limit my questions to 10, but since tennis is the greatest sport ever... she gets 15.

Ken Hoffman: Can you settle the Great Tennis Debate? Is a tennis ball yellow or green? Houston barbecue artiste Yonny Demeris constantly tells me the ball is green. I think he needs to wear goggles when he's near the restaurant's smoker. I say yellow. So?

Belinda Bencic: It’s yellow. Green? No, it’s bright yellow. (Note: If you look at a can of tennis balls, the label says “optic yellow.”)

KH: How do you explain your success against Top 10 players?

BB: I’m not sure why. Everybody is intimidated the first time they play the top players, of course. I was very young my first times. I was 16 when I played Petra Kvitova. I was 17 when I played Serena the first time. I lost both matches. But the next time I played them, I knew what to expect. So I was able to focus on what I had to do.

I definitely love the big crowd and the atmosphere of big matches. I don’t have a problem with being intimidated. Also, you’re much freer when you play the top players. If you lose, nothing happens. If you win, wow, it’s amazing. So I go on the court with a much easier attitude when I play them.

KH: Tennis has a new rule: now, players have to get their own towels from back of the court. Ball kids are no longer running back and forth with towels, they can concentrate on retrieving balls. I think fans will like the new rule because they don’t have to watch some players dry off after every point. It's kind of ridiculous. How do you feel about the new rule?

BB: There are two sides to the story. Sometimes players go to the towels because they want a break. But there are times when you play in Cincinnati and it’s 89 percent humidity, and you need a towel. I’m sweating a lot in Cincinnati. I won’t mind getting my own towel. But it’s a difficult situation now because there’s another rule that we have only 25 seconds between points.

Between points, you need time to breathe, to take the towel, to take the balls and start the point. We get fined if we take longer than 25 seconds. It has to be clear, after a long rally, the referee can’t say you have 25 seconds. The referee can let you have a little extra time. I think the 25-second rule is okay, but the rule has to have a brain.

KH: I play tennis for fun. You play tennis for work. Is tennis fun for you?

BB: It is fun, but not every day. Sometimes there are days when you don’t want to play. A person like you, when you don’t want to play, you just don’t play. But we have to go to work every day. I definitely appreciate that I do something I like, so I’m having fun in my job.

I think most of the people in the world are not happy with their job, so I’m very happy to be a tennis player. But everybody has their days when they just don’t want to go to work.

KH: Tennis is weird. It’s the only sport I can think of where opponents dress in the same locker room and warm up with each other. You don’t see LeBron James and Stephen Curry doing layup drills together before a game. How do you stop your opponent from eavesdropping on your coach talking with you?

BB: It is strange. Soccer teams don’t see each other before the match. They have their own locker rooms and their own warmup area. In tennis, you’re in the same shower, the same locker room, you may even share the same warmup court. It’s weird, but I’ve been doing it since I was small, so I’m used to it. When I think about how other sports do it, yes, tennis is weird.

As for eavesdropping on your opponents, we try not to talk tactics in front of other players. One physical therapist may work with a lot of players at a tournament. When you walk in the locker room, he may ask, ‘How’s your foot?’ in front of your opponent, so they know you have a foot injury. It’s not ideal, but unfortunately, it’s like that. Before a match, I just block everything out and I don’t talk to my opponent.

KH: Here’s something else that’s weird about tennis. It’s the only sport where opponents are wearing the identical uniform. If you stand back from the TV, and you’re not familiar with the players, it’s difficult to tell them apart.

BB: Everybody has the sponsors. Nike will have a new collection and you have to wear that collection at a tournament. If you’re a top player like Serena or Sharapova, you have your own line and no one else is wearing it. If you’re not at that level, you get what everybody else gets. So many players are wearing the same thing. I’m fortunate because Nike gave me a line that only a few other players are wearing. It’s a line for younger generation players.

KH: You play tournaments around the world. What is your favorite city?

BB: New York! New York has everything, the shopping, just everything. You can go where there’s lot of people, go to the park, yes, the pizza. It’s a very special city, I feel the energy when I’m there. I really want to go to New York City when it’s Christmas.

KH: Do you ever wake up and have no idea what city you’re in?

BB: All the time. I wake up in a new bed and ask myself, ‘Where am I? Oh, I’m in Tyler, Texas or another city for another tournament.'  Thank God I’m not a singer, where every night is a different city. With me, it’s just every week is different.

KH: Switzerland is right in the middle of everything in Europe. How many languages do you speak? When you talk to the crowd, is it difficult to be funny in different languages?

BB: I speak English, German, Swiss German, Slovakian and I understand French a little, but not enough for me to speak it. Back home with my friends, I speak Swiss German. With my parents and family, we speak Slovakian. Humor is hard. Sometimes I try to make a joke and it doesn’t go well. Plus you don’t know local expressions and funny words. But I’m getting more comfortable with English.

KH: This is winter for Houston. It’s about 55 degrees and overcast. What’s the craziest weather you’ve played a match in?

BB: In April, in Prague, we played a match and it was zero degrees Celsius (32 F) and snowing. When my opponent was serving and looking up, I could see her breath and the snow flakes coming down.

KH: You’re not a grunter, but a lot of women players are. Do you think grunting gives a player an unfair advantage?

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ART BY JESUS RODRIGUEZ

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio, Sports and Wrestling. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

Hey Nerds!

It's a brand new week and we're in the business of crushing it, so lets get this Monday going… wait, what? A lot of you are off? That's weird, alright, lets kill it anyway!

GOOD DEED OF THE DAY

Honestly this week, with so much going on in the world and so many places needing help and in light of the world raising a billion dollars in seemingly one day to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral but Puerto Rico still being ruined, the Midwest still being flooded, and there being so many places around town in need of some funds to help people. Just find a good cause this week, find something worth while, find someone to help and just give a little. Give a little of your time and of your money and of your energy to make the world a slightly better place.

AS THE WORLD TURNS

As the world turns episode two hundred featuring the DC Streaming app, now the story about the Swamp Thing show getting cut short has nothing to do with budgets or app performances or streaming numbers. Now the story coming out is that there were creative differences with the showrunners (even though all the actors and writers had no clue what was going on when the show shut down with several of them making social media posts to that fact). If this is truly the case, then the line up for the rest of the streaming service is safe, the animated Young Justice second half of the season is still coming and the animated Harley Quinn and the live action Stargirl are all still on schedule allegedly. Another weird thing about this possibly being true is that this would be the second comic book show firing its show runners in just one month and Disney just bailed on a major budget animated Mouse Guard movie Fox films was literally weeks away from starting production on so in one month several big budget comic book projects are in jeopardy all while Disney is set to launch a streaming service with several big budget star wars and comic book properties and Avengers is set to debut at record breaking numbers. Which to me actually suggests comic book movies as a genre have stabilized and become another normal like comedies and action movies with studios passing and cancelling and investing and casting and moving on for business reasons, they're no longer "event movies" they're now the new normal.

DRY LANDS IS NOT A MYTH

This story is so incredible I have to write about it, I'm about to introduce you to the concept of Seasteading. Seasteading is the idea of building self-sustaining floating mini cities that are built in international waters ideally outside the sphere of influence of any particular nation and then are supposed to be self-governed. They aren't just a sci-fi high society concept as one largish such colony is currently being negotiated and built off the French Polynesian coast and one such test structure was built allegedly 13 miles off the coast of Thailand. Why do I say allegedly? Because the couple that lived on their 6 square meter little ocean shack, were making posts to social media explaining their plan, including being in international waters and free of Thailand's interference which made Thailand so angry they sent police out to arrest them for immigration crimes which could result in life in prison or even a death sentence. The two are now fugitives but don't worry, in a move that gets filed under "never learning a lesson" the guy is still somehow posting to Facebook assuring everyone he's fine. Like I said, this news story is crazy.

A LITTLE OVERWATCH TALK

The Houston Outlaws lost both of their matches this weekend, making them 3-6 for this season and meaning that other than the first phase of Season 1, remember each season is in four phases, The Outlaws haven't posted a winning record. In their second match of this weekend they actually got swept 3-0 and in their final game of that match they at one point were in a position to force overtime and extend match play and perhaps even start a rally and fell short in a game of "escort" where one team has to fight and push a cart through the map and the other team obviously wants to prevent you from succeeding. After getting the cart through most of the map they get to what you would essentially call the redzone if you were mixing sports and made an unnecessary change to their lineup which resulted in them losing all momentum and then losing the game and the match in a sweep. They then on twitter posted a graphic depicting the 0-3 final score of a loss on their own page! I got upset at this, its one thing to make silly mistakes, but it's a whole other thing to celebrate losing, they represent Houston, they better get it figured out.

NOT THAT YOU ASKED

So stay with me, I'm going to rant a little bit here. Yesterday in Sri Lanka there was a terrorist bombing in a church and there aren't a ton of details as I write this as to who is responsible but honestly, I don't care. I'm tired. I'm just absolutely exhausted with all of this, there are different religions in the world and some people believe so strongly that it leads them to violence and before anyone takes this to mean I'm siding with any one group, I'm not. There are bad apples on all sides and no one wants to admit it, White America hates the fact that nearly all domestic terrorists are white guys and they say stuff like "well white people are the majority so it makes sense" ok but it really doesn't make sense. Because as one group accuses another group what no one is doing is just taking blame for their own issues, owning their own screw ups and walking away. Each side of all of these conflicts keep trying to step up the rhetoric and step up the energy and blame the other side but the truth is really a lot simpler than anyone wants to hear. It is all of our faults. Everyone who doesn't correct people when they speak ignorantly of other groups, every time we let someone walk away from a situation angry and blaming everyone but themselves for their own issues. When we say it's everyone else's fault for the world we're living in but we're not doing anything about it then we are the problem. I try to spread good thoughts and words, I try to stay positive and keep positive vibes in the world, I want to be a good example (maybe not a great example, but a good one) to my nephews and niece. Someone my parents will be proud of and someone my friends can count on, and I make mistakes, I have my moments and these last few years have been so rough and so complicated that sometimes you do just want to lash out. But it was a church. It was Easter and the people of Sri Lanka have finally begun to enjoy piece after so long being a war torn and dangerous place, they were women and children. Men and sons, all just looking to worship in peace and spread a little positive energy to the world and as a world and community we've all let them down. Let's try to be better, just a little bit better because the truth about all of this is one day it's going to be us in a church or a mall or a school and then we will have no one to blame again but ourselves.

I'm going to jump out and wish you guys a great Monday and remind everyone to be kind to each other and try a little harder to have a great day! I'm coming back Wednesday and we'll be bringing more good times your way. Feel free to check out my digital short story The Wilson House or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where every shirt is now under $20 or listen to Nerd Thug Radio or support our Patreon Page. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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