Russian world No.15 Maria Kirilenko is playing in her ninth straight Australian Open in 2013 and is looking to cement a spot in the top echelon of women’s tennis.
The 25-year-old was a quarterfinalist at Melbourne Park in 2008 and after ending 2012 in the top 15 – the first time she’s achieved such a feat – she looks to be in good stead to turn a few heads at Australian Open 2013. Kirilenko stopped for a chat with australianopen.com to discuss her leading edge.
Australian Open: A tennis player needs a lot of tools when they play. What do you think is your best asset on the court?
Maria Kirilenko: Well I think over the last couple of years it’s become my forehand. I’ve just found the way I hit the ball is good and I like to use it, so a lot of times I’ll run around the ball and try to take as much as I can with it.
AO: You’ve had a lot of success as a doubles player (Australian Open 2008 runner-up alongside two WTA titles in 2012) – has your doubles game helped you with your singles at all?
Kirilenko: I guess so, I think it’s good to be an all-rounder in singles and doubles, you know, because then you can volley, serve and do everything. Doubles is a completely different game though where you have to think quicker, but in singles your production has to be better. But for me it’s great, I like to play doubles and I enjoy it, it’s good for some extra practice.
AO: Now that you’ve cracked the WTA top 15 for the first time in your career, is there any extra pressure or expectation that plays on your mind?
Kirilenko: I don’t feel pressure at all, to be honest. I’m just happy the way I’m playing and especially happy the way I’m starting to play. I feel that I’ve become a better player and everything has improved from my game, so I’m really pleased about that.
AO: You’ve represented your country in some big moments, most recently at the London Olympics. How was that experience?
Kirilenko: Well it was something different. I remember when I stepped on the court for the first time for the first game it was really emotional and it was a different feeling. I was really proud to represent my country but there was more pressure than if you were going to play just a normal tournament. When I got through the first round (in London) everything was much better and I got used to the pressure so it was great from there. For me it was unbelievable to get the bronze and it was just amazing.
AO: Many players say Australia is a tough place to play, especially at the Australian Open. What are some of the biggest challenges you think this place brings?
Kirilenko: Well first is obviously the heat, and second is the fact it’s the first Grand Slam in the year. It’s always difficult to get back into it because you’ve been on a break for such a long time, and you have to adapt quickly.
AO: What about some of the good things about playing here at Melbourne Park?
Kirilenko: Well it’s a really great tournament. For me it’s great to be in a different continent, so I love to be here. I really like the people too, I like the way they come to the court and support and the way they dress up differently. So, it’s enjoyable to be here. I mean it’s a completely different Grand Slam to the other three, and every one of them is special but this one is one of the most special ones.
Maria Kirilenko plays Yanina Wickmayer on Saturday for a place in the fourth round