Bacsinszky: „I Had Given Up on Tennis“

24-year-old tennis player Timea Bacsinszky from Lausanne is relaxed and happy when we meet for an interview at the not very glamorous tennis club in Kreuzlingen, and she patiently satisfies the ball kids‘ and fans’ autograph requests. Bacsinszky has just won her semi-final against underdog Petra Krejsova from the Czech Republic and celebrated her 14th victory in a row on the ITF Tour. But the fact that Bacsinszky is again at the center of attention and convinces with her good performances is not a given. Not even a year has gone by since she gave up on tennis and devoted herself to another purpose in life. Read on to discover why she’s picked up the racket again – and how she’s found her way back to success.

Tournament wins in Andrezieux-Boutheon and Tallinn as well as a place in the final in Kreuzlingen: Timea Bacsinszky is currently causing quite a sensation on the ITF Tour. “I’m very happy about how everything is working out at the moment. I’m the one that’s hunted – and although this situation puts pressure on me, it also encourages and inspires me. For the first time in my life, I really enjoy being on a tennis court, and I’m glad that my hard work is paying off“, Bacsinszky says, looking back on the past year.

Getting into a Downward Spiral

“For the first time in my life“ – that’s a statement that Bacsinszky would use regularly during our talk. And not without reason. Just a few months ago, not much suggested that Bacsinszky would really get started again on the WTA Tour. After she won her only WTA title so far in Luxembourg in October 2009 and reached her highest ranking (37th) half a year later, things were mostly going downhill.

Let’s take a look back in time: April 2011. Bacsinszky breaks her foot and is out of the action for half a year. In December, she wins the Swiss championships although she’s not been able to prepare properly for the competition; but this success comes at a high price: „The scar had not yet healed completely and I had started playing tennis too early“. She is therefore again forced to take a break from tennis, followed by a shoulder injury in March. “I couldn’t even drive a car in Indian Wells,“ Bacsinszky says, thinking about those days.

Bacsinszky keeps on playing, finishes the 2012 season and soars from rank 433 to 185 in the world rankings, but she’s not happy. “I was sad all the time and didn’t know why. I had no idea what my future should look like“, she says about her situation back then. During the first few months in 2013, Bacsinszky hardly plays and only practices rarely, instead devoting her time to other career opportunities. In April, she takes up an internship at a hotel to be able to start her studies at the school of hotel management in September. During this time, Bacsinszky, who’s fluent in five languages, works with a psychologist and makes a decision for herself: That’s it with tennis. “Personally, I had finished with this topic.“ But she never announced the end of her career officially, „because I didn’t quite feel ready for that just yet“. A good decision, as was to be seen later.

A Fateful Day in May 2013

One may call what happened only a few days later fate. Bacsinszky says: “At 8 in the morning, I received an e-mail saying I had been accepted to compete in the qualifying tournament for the French Open. I almost couldn’t breathe anymore.“ Bacsinzsky had just spent the night at her mother’s – something she does only very rarely. “I had already moved all my tennis things there because I didn’t want to see them around my own flat anymore. I was beaming with joy when I went downstairs, and my mother didn’t understand what was going on“. It didn’t take her long to decide: I’m going to play this qualifying tournament, even though I hadn’t practiced at all. No sooner said than done. “I called my boss at the hotel and told him that I wouldn’t be coming to work the next few days. And then I took the car and drove to Paris all by myself. At that point I knew: It doesn’t matter whether I win or lose – I want to play tennis again. For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to decide for myself what I wanted to do. That was an incredible day for me.”

From now on, everything started to take its course: After the French Open, Bacsinszky called Dimitri Zavialoff because she really wanted to work with Stanislas Wawrinka’s former coach. “But of course, first I had to clarify whether I was even able to pay him“, she laughs. “We set up a few trial weeks and eventually started our cooperation on 1 July.” The Swiss player now started to practice regularly again, but she still finished her internship at the hotel. “My co-workers at the hotel were following how I was doing and were keeping their fingers crossed for me when I was playing the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon – that was quite special.” Just after Wimbledon, Bacsinszky wins another ITF tournament at Contrexeville although she’s had only a few training sessions.

Bacsinszky during Switzerland’s Fed Cup encounter with France.
Bacsinszky during Switzerland’s Fed Cup encounter with France.

“I Don’t Know My Limits Yet”

By now, Bacsinzsky is again focusing on tennis– she’s feeling really comfortable and is highly motivated: the Top 100 is her short-term goal, but also just the beginning. “I’d like to get better than before. My hightest ranking was 37th of the world, and I was in the Top 50 for three years. But that’s still a long way short of my actual abilities and limits. But what are those limits? That’s what I would like to find out.” Today she plays tennis because that’s what she really enjoys doing. “I have a goal and it is my personal goal. I don’t play tennis because I’m talented and because others expect me to play tennis. In the past, I was sometimes afraid of walking out onto the court and just did everything automatically – I just functioned. But today I try to enjoy each moment consciously“, Bacsinszky says when she tries to describe “her second life”, as she calls it.

It doesn’t matter to her that she now has to fight her way back at smaller tournaments – quite the opposite. “People always think that these tournaments aren’t important – but that’s not true. Of course I could say: ‘I played the tournament in Kreuzlingen, the ball kids and the umpire were bad, the court didn’t suit me, and that’s why I lost’. But if you do that you’re just not being honest to yourself, you’re lacking professionalism.” These statements show that Bacsinszky has the right attitude, and the right motivation anyway. However, it’s difficult to say where this path will take the “new Timea”. “But I’m happy,” she says, smiling, “for the first time in my life.”

Check out Timea Bacsinszky’s official Facebook page and follow her career; she regularly posts updates for her fans.