Biofile: The Radek Stepanek Interview
By Scoop Malinowski
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Radek Stepanek has spent the first two months of this season climbing back into the top 20. He spends his offseason going downhill fast.
The 30-year-old Czech is an avid downhill skier who scaled a personal summit on the court by reaching a career-high rank of No. 8 shortly after surging into the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July of 2006. Stepanek was on a high, but a neck and back injuries sidelined him for much of the second half of that season and threatened his career.
Stepanek bounced back to win the 2007 Los Angeles tittle and is off to the best start of his career this year. Stepanek, who has celebrated some of his biggest wins in recent weeks with his distinctive worm dance on court has wiggled back into the top 20 and is intent on heading even higher.
He has reached the final in three of his five tournament starts this season, dispatching Fernando Verdasco, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 to open the season by winning the Brisbane title, then scoring successive victories over defending champion Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish to capture his second title of the season at the SAP Open in San Jose earlier this month.
The fifth-seeded Czech knocked off Juan Martin del Potro in last week's Memphis quarterfinals and extended his winning streak to nine matches before bowing to Roddick, 7-5, 7-5, in a high-quality final. Stepanek can be a maddening player to face because of his ability to alter the pace and abruptly change tactics in the course of a point and he threw a variety of different looks at Roddick before bowing. Stepanek has posted a 16-3 record in rising to No. 16 in the rankings. He will lead the Czech Republic when it hosts a formidable French team featuring Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Michael Llodra in next weekend's Davis Cup first-round tie in Ostrava.
The son of a policeman father and librarian mother, who was born in Karvina, a mining town in the northern Czech Republic near the Polish border, Stepanek has has remained true to his Czech roots. One of Stepanek's best friends is fellow Czech Jiri Novak, he has won two doubles titles with countryman Martin Damm, he dates compatriot Nicole Vaidisova, cites Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl as one of his tennis heroes, he has been coached by compatriot Tomas Krupa and credits Petr Korda with providing the insight that helped him make significant strides on the ATP Tour in 2002.
Relying on a strong serve (Stepanek is currently sixth on the ATP Tour's ace leader list with 133 aces), Stepanek is an all surface threat, who is particularly potent playing on fast indoor surfaces. His 11-3 record on carpet last season was the second-best record on the surface.
Stepanek captured his first career tournament title on hard court in Rotterdam in February, 2006, reached the Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg final on red clay in May and advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals on grass in July of that year. He owns career wins over Gustavo Kuerten, Goran Ivanisevic, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Fabrice Santoro, Novak Djokovic, Nicolas Kiefer, Rainer Schuettler, Max Mirnyi, Xavier Malisse, Fernando Verdasco, Marcos Baghdatis, Jose Acasuso, Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Ljubicic.
Tennis Week contributing writer Scoop Malinowski caught up with Stepanek for this Biofile interview.
6-foot-1 Weight: 167 pounds.
November 27, 1978 in Karvina, Czech Republic.
"For me it was — for every Czech player it was — Ivan Lendl. He did a lot for our sport in Czech Republic. Even he moved to the U.S. to be the best player in the world. And Martina Navratilova did the same thing. Followed by Petr Korda who won a Slam tournament. So those are the heroes for Czech tennis."
"I like to watch hockey, NHL, play football. But I'm more careful that I'm not getting injured during those other sports. I love skiing."
"All (James) Bond movies."
"Best group in the world — U2 [smiles]."
Early Tennis Memory:
"I started when I was three-years-old because my father was playing some club matches in Czech Republic. And I had the choice: to go with my mother to library or with my father to the tennis courts. And I chose with my father to the tennis courts. And while was waiting for him, I was carrying the racquets, not even hitting the ball. (Mom worked at library?) Yes. And she still (does)."
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:
"I'm just trying to relax and don't think too much about it until the time comes."
"Tennis player [laughs]."
"Skoda blue Czech car."
Greatest Sports Moment:
"2004 Paris Bercy finals (lost to Safin)."
Most Painful Moment:
"So far, I didn't have a painful moment. And I hope that it will never come [smiles]."
Closest Tennis Friends:
"Closest friends — the Czech guys. We are all one group. So all the Czech boys."
"Called English Henman humor [smiles]. And we just make the fun in our Czech group, so."
"I play many times against Nadal. All the top guys are different. So all of them are difficult to play on the Tour."
Favorite Players To Watch:
"I like to watch Roger because it seems everything very easy. And I like to watch Roddick's matches."
Favorite Vacation Spot:
"I'm happy when I'm a few days back in Czech Republic. But with my girlfriend, we went twice Maldives."
Funny Tennis Memory:
"Watching the old matches that they show at Wimbledon when it's raining, all the fights between between McEnroe and Connors and all those old guys, it's very funny."
Embarrassing Tennis Memory:
"Not really. I'm enjoying the tennis life, everything that belongs to it."
"For me it's Miami — it's a nice place, nice weather, it's well organized. Vienna, because it's 50 kilo from border of Czech Republic. Very close and I can bring my family which is perfect. And U.S. Open. I like the atmosphere of New York City — playing, practicing, whatever. And you can get lost in the city which is perfect."
In November of 2001, Radek (at the time ranked 547 in the world) approached countryman Petr Korda to ask how he could improve his game and Korda told him, "I will help you but you will listen to everything, and I guarantee to you that by the end of the year you will be ranked in the top 70." By the end of 2002, Stepanek was ranked number 63 in the world.
People Qualities Most Admired:
"Optimistic with a sense of humor. And I don't like when somebody lies. So the truth."