Q&A with doubles star Liezel Huber
Liezel Huber pairs with Cara Black to form the world's top-ranked doubles team
Huber struggled with her execution as a singles player until giving it up in 2003
Huber and her husband, Tony, run a tennis teaching facility in Houston
As a doubles specialist, Liezel Huber has not played a sanctioned singles match since 2003. Born in Durban, South Africa, she first traveled the country's junior circuit in her family's Humvee before enrolling in a South Carolina tennis academy at age 15. Since then, the 5-foot-11 right-hander has paired with Zimbabwe's Cara Black to win four Grand Slam doubles titles. The duo has stood atop the Sony Ericcson WTA Tour's doubles rankings since November 2007.
In a recent interview with SI.com, the 32-year-old Huber discussed her fiery family competitions as a child, how she came to play with Black and her adventures in becoming an American citizen.
SI.com: What drove you to the doubles side?
Huber: It's a combination of two things. Every time I got done with a singles match, I was crying. It was frustrating because I knew what I had to do but just couldn't do it. I felt I wasn't disciplined enough. I didn't enjoy that. One day in 2003, I played in Madrid and I played really hard. The day before I won 7-6 in the third, then the next day I came back and lost in such a bad way. Here we went again, crying, talking to my husband and then we'd get in an argument. I decided that it's not worth it. He said I can walk away and focus on doubles.
The tough thing was that I didn't want to regret not getting [singles] right. In 2004, when I just played doubles, I felt kind of self-conscious and not worthy: "Geez, I'm just a doubles player. I better have better results because this is all I am doing. I better earn more money and my ranking can't just be No. 18 or 20. I'd go to a tournament and they'd ask, "You're just doubles?" You couldn't get your credentials because, "Oh, you're just doubles." People didn't want to practice with you. They'd say, "Oh, you're just practicing doubles." All these things were really rough that first year.
My husband was traveling with me full-time. I couldn't just follow a bad doubles result by doing better in singles or the other way around. There were some weeks when I would lose early, and the question was, What do I do the rest of the week? Now I can try to be an expert at doubles. I can talk to somebody during the match and I have a partner who is encouraging back. If we're tired one week and don't want to play the next, we can do our schedules easily. It's pain-free now.
SI.com: By birth, you have a natural doubles partner. Did you play with your twin sister, Monita, when you were younger?
Huber: We limited it to school tennis and also in our province. I was definitely too hard on her, to the point that she didn't want to play anymore. That was for the best. She's a bit shorter than me at 5-foot-8. We're not similar at all. I think I was just too dominating, telling her what to do and when to do it. I have a brother who plays, too. We all had to be separated, yes. Normally the arguments just lasted for a day and then we're back out there. If one of us didn't hit the ball the way other one wanted it, there were problems. Then we'd wind up only having the wall to hit on. Things are different now. My brother came to our Miami tournament a few weeks back and hit a little bit. We laugh now, but at the time I think it was a crisis. The only other option is to take lessons and that was too expensive. All a part of growing pains.
SI.com: How prevalent was tennis when you were growing up in South Africa?
Huber: I think I grew up in a great time. Tennis wasn't such a luxury yet. You didn't have to pay for court time. You could jump on courts when adults were done, play until dark and then play with adults in weekend tournaments. We were pretty well-mannered and people appreciated that. I got to travel throughout South Africa playing the junior tournaments. My family and I would load up the Humvee and stay with family or friends. I was talking with my mother about it this week. We have such great memories.
SI.com: What did you think when you first met Cara Black?
Huber: She's small! She was 12 years old. She's 5-4, but she's a gutsy player. I always thought she was so lucky because she grew up in a family where all of them were really good at tennis. They had grass courts at their house. Nobody in Africa had anything like that. I always thought that was pretty cool. She was on the junior team. I wasn't on any team but I was playing the international junior tournaments also.