Robby Ginepri reached a career-high No. 15 in ‘05, the same year he won three straight five setters to reach the U.S. Open semis. But his eight-year pro career has been filled with as many downs as ups. Having recently returned to the top 50, the re
juvenated Georgian has his sites set on another deep run at a Slam. IT caught up with the Olympian just hours before he boarded a 20-hour flight Down Under, where he was scheduled to kick off his year with Aussie Open warm-up events in Brisbane and Auckland.
INSIDE TENNIS: Do the long flights ever get any easier?
ROBBY GINEPRI: Actually, they do. At first they were pretty tough, but I’m used to it now. I just block it out.
IT: Did you actually get in some down time in the off-season, or was it all-work-no-play?
RG: I went to Hawaii for a week. Then I started training in Palm Springs for a few weeks, hitting with Jose [Higueras].
IT: It will be interesting to see how Jose approaches his new role with USTA Elite Player Development. How did things go when he was splitting time as a coach between yourself and Roger Federer?
RG: He made time for both of us. It worked out.
IT: You’re back inside the top 50. Talk about your mindset going into 2009.
RG: I finished ‘08 pretty strong. I had some wins over top-10 players [Nikolay Davydenko and pal James Blake]. I’m feeling pretty confident going into the year. I just need to stay focused on a day-to-day basis and keep doing what I’ve been doing.
IT: Are you a more mature player at 26?
RG: Definitely. I can see the window shortening. I feel like I’m wiser on the court, like I’m playing better than ever. I’m still eager to practice, which is a good sign. I’ll just keep putting my head down and go with it.
IT: Andre Agassi always talked about feeling that “sense of urgency,” and somehow managed to play his best tennis after the age of 30. Are you feeling that urgency now, that these next few years are important for you?
RG: I’m going to try to focus a little bit more on the bigger tournaments, the Slams and the Masters Series. I might shorten my schedule to give myself the proper rest and motivation. I feel like I’m in my prime right now. This is ‘go time’ for me.
IT: What’s different about the way you prepare, the way you construct points now?
RG: I’m concentrating on footwork and trying to take more time away from my opponents by meeting the ball early. I’m playing more patterned, sticking more with my game plan, taking balls off the court and looking to attack on the next shot. Three or four years ago, I think I was trying to pull the trigger too early, going for winners. Now I’m settling down and playing one point at a time.
IT: You had the tough luck of drawing Novak Djokovic in the first round in Beijing, but I imagine, after missing the cut in 2004, your Olympic experience was rewarding.
RG: It was a great experience all around. Everybody’s there for the same purpose. Everybody has a mutual respect. It was fantastic being around all the greats who you see on TV, having lunch and dinner with them. Meeting Kobe and LeBron at the Opening Ceremonies, getting my picture with them. Meeting President Bush was a great honor. Just being around all the great athletes from around the world and seeing them compete. Everybody worked so hard to get there.
IT: Did you grow up with Olympic dreams?
RG: I just had my eyes on a college scholarship.
IT: Take us back to Portland and the Davis Cup win over Russia. You played an important role with that team. Celebrating with James, Andy, the Bryans and PMac — where does that rank for you?
RG: Just being there and sharing the experience with all the guys was special. We all get along so well. It was a long process for all the guys. We all played some big matches and we all stuck with it and kept pushing each other. We knew that we could take the Davis Cup title and it finally happened.
IT: Your teammates gave you a hard time during the post-match press conference. I can still hear Andy: “Will somebody please ask Robby Ginepri a question? Ask him to multiply something!” Is that just part of your relationship with the guys?
RG: Oh, yeah. We all give each other a bunch of crap here and there and we’re all better for it.
IT: You had a strong start to the year in ‘08, reaching the semis in Delray Beach, San Jose and Las Vegas, but your best showing may have been reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros. We Americans usually cringe at the sight of red clay, but you actually looked quite comfortable out there.
RG: I put in a lot of weeks on the clay before the year even started. Having two great coaches who know the clay-court game really well [Higueras and Diego Moyano] taught me a lot. I had patience on the clay, but knowing how to bring my hard-court game onto the clay was a big change for me. Having never won a match there before and then making the fourth round was unbelievable. I feel comfortable on all surfaces, but I enjoy the clay. It’s easier on the body. You don’t wake up the next day as sore.
IT: For a while there it seemed like everyone was chasing one guy in Federer. Now things have spread out a little bit more with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray at the top. It only seems to get tougher.
RG: It’s exciting. Stepping out on the court with all those guys, they’re making their run to the top and everyone’s trying to catch them. We’re doing our best to get up there with them. It’s great for the game. Nadal finishing at No. 1 is a great achievement. The Wimbledon final was an epic battle.
IT: Did you tune in and watch it on TV?
RG: I watched all of it. I knew it was going to be a good a match, but I didn’t expect anything like that. That was the greatest match I’ve ever seen.
IT: The summer of ‘05 was a pretty special time for you. Talk about your run up to the U.S. Open semis. What was going so right for you?
RG: I had a lot of confidence for the summer hard-court season, winning Indianapolis. I had a couple of good wins over Andy. I had a tough match against Federer in Cincinnati in the semis [a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss]. I was playing great tennis. I was extremely fit. Winning three straight five-setters at the Open was unbelievable, and I was pretty close to squeezing out another against Agassi in the semis. That’s the way tennis is — it’s always up and down. That summer it was all up for me.
IT: Are those types of results still in front of you?
RG: I feel like I can get back to where I was. I don’t feel like I’ve lost that much. It’s definitely more mental for me. I’ve been working on that, trying to stay positive on an everyday basis. It’s about waking up and being motivated to go to work.
IT: Turn the clock back to June ‘01. You were just a wide-eyed kid fresh out of high school and playing a Futures event in Sunnyvale, California. No muscle shirts yet. No goatee. You beat NCAA champ Alex Kim for your first pro title. Does that seem a lifetime ago?
RG: Looking back it almost feels like the juniors. Now I feel like I’m one of the older players, practicing with all these young guys — Donald Young and Jessie Levine. I’m getting up there, but my body still feels like it did when I was 19. I feel like I can go for another 10 years.
IT: Can you relate to the kind of pressure Donald is shouldering? You came out of high school facing a lot of expectations yourself.
RG: It’s extremely tough, the position he’s in right now. He started getting wildcards at the age of 15 and took a lot of losses. He was playing some good tennis when he was No. 1 in the world in the juniors. I think he thought that it might be a little bit easier than it has been, but he’s working hard still and he has a bright future. The key is not to get too down on yourself and keep believing.