Bulgaria has waited a long time for a player to fill the shoes of the three Maleeva sisters. Tsvetana Pironkova has proved their best hope yet, having reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2010 and following it up with a run to the quarter-finals last year. She spoke to Wimbledon.com in Eastbourne.
You’ve just beaten the No.3 player in the world and the tournament’s top seed in straight sets. You’d only won one from seven matches against Radwanska previously. That’s a fair effort for your first match of the year on grass.
It’s definitely a good win for me, a good start for the grass court season. It was definitely a tough match even though it probably didn’t seem that way from the outside and I was just trying to play my best every second because I knew if I lose for just one moment then she’d start to play a lot better so I think I did a good job with that.
You beat Venus Williams on your run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon two years ago and again on the way to the quarter-finals there last year. What is it about the grass that brings out the best in your game?
Well I think it’s just that the grass is faster and I like faster courts. When you hit a good serve it really works and also the ground-strokes; if you hit them hard it works, not like the clay.
Clearly your best results have come at Wimbledon. What does the tournament mean to you?
For me it is the greatest tournament, not only because I play good there but because for me it’s like the tennis world there. I mean, it’s the oldest tournament and the venue, it’s just fantastic that when you go in, you enter another world, you know. You go back in time with all the great champions. That’s what I really love about Wimbledon.
You teamed up with Grigor Dimitrov at the Hopman Cup in Perth back in January. Any plans to team up for the Olympics at Wimbledon?
Well yeah of course, if, I’m not sure if he’s qualified already. I’ve qualified for sure; I think he’s right on the edge.
So he’s got to lift his game?
I think he’s playing very good right now (laughs). It would be very, very nice if we could play mixed doubles there because the Olympics is a great tournament. If we can have a chance to win a medal it would be a great, great thing.
What would the reception be like back in Bulgaria if you were to ever go all the way at Wimbledon or even win a medal at the Olympics in London?
Well I imagine that would be a big thing. It was a very big thing when I reached the semi-finals (at Wimbledon). Everybody was talking about it. There were so many people to meet me at the airport and they were so happy.
Was there any rakia (a type of spirit popular in Bulgaria) to celebrate?
(Laughter) No, not really. I don’t really like it. It’s very, very strong, but a lot of people drink it from my country.
How have things changed in your life since your Wimbledon breakthrough two years ago and again last year? Are you easily recognised back home?
Yeah that is the biggest change. For me this is not a very important thing so I try not to pay a lot of attention. (The fame) is not my favourite thing really. It’s not bad; it shows that you have achieved something and people appreciate you, which is of course a good thing. For me personally the change was that I now have more confidence in what I can do, which is a very good thing and I’m more motivated in what I do.