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Exclusive Interview with Cara Black at Eastbourne

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cara_black.jpgCara Black has been one of this decade's topmost exponents of the doubles game. She has w on 63 titles over her career and 9 slams in women's & mixed doubles. Amazingly she has completed the career mixed doubles Slam and is one French Open away from achieving the same in the women's doubles. Indian tennis fans would recognise the name since she has been a regular partner with Leander Paes over the last few years. Cara hails from Harare, Zimbabwe and the Black family's competence in doubles is well known as her brothers - Wayne & Byron were regulars on the men's doubles circuit through the 90's and up to mid 2000's.

She is currently defending her title in Birmingham and I caught up with her after her semi-final win, to speak to her about the match, her career, the shape the game's taken over the year's she's been part of it and of course about what it is like to play with Leander Paes. Cara graciously agreed to the interview and responded wonderfully to everything we threw at her.

TSC: Congratulations on the win today. Good game. You got off to a good start in each set and wrapped it up comfortably.
CB: Ya it was great. Started playing with Lisa - a grass court specialist, great player for a lot of years & both of us with our experience up there ... Yeah, we were just having a lot of fun. It was a good match, tough match today - both Abi & Nat - they played really good tennis, didn't give us a lot of free points. We really had to create our own opportunities and work hard

TSC: But it all ended up pretty well and you ‘re in the final here ....
CB: Yeah, which was nice. [smiles]

We then got on to discussing more about the player and the person that is Cara Black.

TSC: So, what makes the Blacks such masters of the doubles game?
CB: [Laughing] Ummm... You know my dad, he worked a lot on our volleys when we were younger. He always encouraged us to serve & volley. We grew up in Harare which is 5000 feet above sea-level & we grew up on grass as well so there weren't very many rallies. So we had to serve & volley and if we wanted to try and win a point, you know, just get to the net as quick as possible. So I think that had a lot to do with it, just our upbringing. Yeah, I think that's done a lot, the number of volleys, things like that - a lot of drills.
I think we've always just enjoyed the concept of doubles. My dad used to play tennis, he loved playing doubles and always encouraged us to play both.

TSC: Hmm. You mentioned that you grew up on grass. Is that your favourite surface?
CB: Yeah, I think so...Ya, I do enjoy it. My dad built 4 grass tennis courts at our home in Zimbabwe & one hard court, so there wasn't really much choice [Laughing].

TSC: 4 Wimbledon crowns are certainly testimony to that.
CB: Yeah [Laughing]

TSC: You've had a long, excellent career with 9 titles [slams], mixed & doubles. How have you enjoyed the experience of playing so much and winning so much?
CB: Definitely! It's been a dream, this whole run. You know if you had said that to me as a kid, I would never have believed you. So you know, it's been really fun. I think having my brothers lead the way as well has really helped me. Also having them on the tour, you know, leading the same life as me and understanding how tough it is and what you go through. It's a lot of contribution from my family. Yeah, I'm really pleased, it's been a great ride. Yeah I don't know how long it will continue, but I'm enjoying it.

TSC: What has been the change, you've been playing tennis for over a decade now. How have things changed over the period of time you've been playing? Both in your own game as well as the game overall.
CB: Yeah, I mean, the game's different; its become a lot more powerful; the girls are so fast now these days and they hit the ball so hard so yeah, I've definitely had to make a lot of adjustments myself to my game as well. Umm, I think the biggest thing is definitely the power. You know, the girls are hitting the ball so hard these days and also the technology, the new racquets & bringing out better racquets all the time. So yeah there's been a lot of changes and you know, you gotta make the adjustments, to stay up you know.

TSC: You still play with a lot of craft, you know the old school tennis. For example, today I remember, the lob you hit in the first game of a return. Its not something you normally see a player do today.
CB: Yeah, I think my game is pretty different, obviously to a lot of the girls because I don't have the power they do, you know, and so I've got to come up with, yeah some of the crafty stuff to get me out of trouble. Yeah I've always mixed up my game a lot, you know when I used to play singles as well I was - slice a bit, mix up the pace, hit higher balls, spin that type of thing. And, yeah I enjoy playing that type of way as well. I mean I don't have an option, I don't have the power anyway behind my shots. And then I'm looking to coming to the net a lot, you know mixing up, serving & volleying, yeah - a bit of variety

TSC: One of the most formidable doubles teams in recent times has been - you & Liezel Huber - but apart from that you've had to play the Williams' sisters. What is it like playing them?
CB: Really tough, yeah. They're an unbelievable team and they've been playing together for so long and obviously that sibling connection there is very special as well. But as I was saying before, you know, the power - they are incredible, they are so powerful and you know their serves are coming down at 130MPH, so you really got to be ready and try and make as many balls back as you can. But yeah, they've definitely been one of our toughest opponents, and yeah, No Wonder !!

TSC: Question about your partners - how do you go about choosing a partner to play with you?
CB: You just gotta, you know, personalitywise, playingwise, more you know how your game connects with each other. Like I think I have chosen a lot of my partners who are bigger and stronger than I am, so they are the power at the back and I am you know, the finesse at the net - my quickness & everything, my hands... So yes you just got to see who complements your game the best and you know I think, for me that's such a good combo.

lee_black2.jpgTSC: In the mixed it was easy initially, you had a brother to play with. After that of course you've been partner with Leander Paes for quite a long time. What's it been like with Leander?
CB: Oh incredible! You know, it's a lot of fun playing with Leander. I think we've had a really good record, you know, in the slams and he's one unbelievable player and person. Its been an honour you know, he's really ... we get on so well, its been a lot of fun out there. And that has been one of the big keys really, that's he's kept it so fun and relaxed. With all his experience as well it's been great. I can't believe sometimes he's 37, you know, he looks like he's 25 and going strong. But yeah it's been great and since my brother retired I've been looking to have a consistent partner in the mixed cause I think it really helps. You only play 4 times a year, but its nice you know, to have that connection and we've built up a great friendship as well so, and that, helps I think...

TSC: Sure. He says that clay is his favourite surface & you say grass - so I'm sure that mix & match adds ...
CB: Yeah, yeah. Definitely!

TSC: Final question - What do you like to do off-court? What keeps you interested apart from tennis?
CB: I like to do a lot of reading. You know just girl things - go shopping, movies. When we go back to Zimbabwe, I like going out into the bush, you know, safaris & things like that. I love the wildlife. Different things - You know we're always in big cities, playing & training, living in hotels, its nice to get out into the bush and not have any connection to the world. Yeah I really love that, its one of my hobbies when I get a chance. And yeah, I love playing other sports, you know, soccer, my dad built a soccer pitch at our house as well so we grew up playing a lot of that everyday with a whole bunch of friends who'd come around. Such a big passion ...

TSC: So who's going to win the World Cup?
CB: [Laughing] Got to go for South Africa. [Laughing]

We ended the discussion on that light note and wrapped it up wishing her the best for the immediate future.

TSC: Well thanks a lot Cara. Its been great speaking to you. All the best for this tournament and for Wimbledon.
CB: Oh you're welcome. Thanks very much.


File Photograph Copyright: Richard Thorpe

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