Liezel Huber on her new partner, her daily routine and the Olympics
In 2011, doubles specialist Liezel Huber found a new partner, and reached no.1
She became rundown near the end of the year with her overloaded schedule
Huber says many things have to fall in place to have a successful Olympics
Last time South African-born tennis player Liezel Huber played in the Olympics, she and doubles partner Lindsay Davenport were knocked out by a Spanish pair in the quarterfinals. However, if Huber, who's been a U.S. citizen since July 2007, is selected to the 2012 Olympic team, she will no doubt be a boon.
The doubles specialist had a stellar year in 2011; she won the 2011 U.S. Open with new partner Lisa Raymond, and regained the number one spot for women's doubles tennis. SI.com talked with Huber about her success these past few months, her daily routine to keep her going and her plans to focus on tennis and only tennis (if) in London.
SI.com: What do you attribute to your success this year?
Liezel Huber: You'll probably laugh if I say experience. But being 35 years old, I take pride in it. I still enjoy competing. I am still a sore loser, and a tough competitor. For me, it's been great finding a permanent partnership and a partner than I can play in the Olympics with, which is an added bonus.
SI.com: How have you and Lisa Raymond (doubles partner) evolved together since you became partners on the court?
Huber: I think when we started out Lisa hadn't had the results yet over the past 18 months. She's in really good shape and hits the ball really well so I think it was just a matter of time. I think the biggest difference for us as a team is just becoming more confident. We believed in each other from the get-go but you ask, "Which one's going to come first -- the confidence or the results?" Well, for us, we needed the results to get the confidence.
SI.com: Why do you think it took so long for you and Lisa to find each other?
Huber: I think that our personalities are quite different and maybe we were scared to play with each other. It's kind of like in dating -- You see somebody that you like but then the timing isn't right. She knew I had good qualities and I knew she did, so our games could match. We needed to find the strength in each other and try and cover up our weaknesses.
SI.com: How closely do you keep in touch off the court?
Huber: Lisa is permanently on her phone. I'm not that great with mine, but she's really great at communication and I'm not so great. But I will tell you that the other day, I messaged her before she could message me! It's a nice friendship. We don't socialize that much off the court but we are friends. Ultimately, it's a business.
SI.com: What's your daily routine like these days?
Huber: I get up at 4:45 in the morning and I'm at my trainer's place and working out at 5:30. I see the difference; I feel a lot stronger. Even in a week, from one week to the next I can feel that I am getting stronger. She works me until failure. Sometimes when you don't want to do it, you envision that opponent on the other side that you don't want to lose to and you manage to squeeze out that last set or exercise.
SI.com: You said you wore down toward the end of 2011, why?
Huber: I just didn't keep up with my programs. I was tired, and I found every excuse. Before you know it, you skip one exercise and by the end of the year you're not doing much of anything. It was a combination of not wanting to burn myself out ... but then I got in bad shape. I know my time is kind of running out so I want to be healthy and in good shape.
SI.com: How much have you thought about London?
Huber: It's a goal, but there are so many things that have to happen before that. We have to be the top ranked Americans. It's ranking-based. It is preference by the federation. You have to be healthy. It's so many things that have to fall into place. It's a two-week tournament and you can lose in the first round. Why forgo [or get distracted by] your schedule for the whole year just for one event?
SI.com: You've said being ranked No. 1 doesn't define you as a player ... do you still feel that way?
Huber: The ranking gives us more validation. I think that initially when I became number one, I said, "Oh it's not going to define me," but then you lose that ranking and you're like, "Oh, I feel bad, oh I'm not so good, I'm not such a good player." This time around, it's not a big deal. My only goal is just for me and my partner to be co-ranked number one.
SI.com: How will this year's Olympics compare to previous ones?
Huber: Of course, this is being hypothetical if I'm chosen [laughs]. The first time I went was just about the whole Olympic experience. Going to see other sports, staying in the village, we met a bunch of athletes, blah blah blah. This time around, we'll be flying straight into London, going straight to Wimbledon. We might even not even go to the opening ceremonies. If my partner wants to go, we'll go. If not, we won't. It's going to be a total tennis experience. Our coach is going with us. If he has to buy a ticket himself, we don't care.
SI.com: They're playing mixed doubles for the first time since 1928 in the Olympics. Do you hope to participate?
Huber: If I'm a good fit and a good candidate, then they should choose me. If they choose someone else who's better than me, then they should choose them. I think it would be a gift to be chosen.
SI.com: Presumably you're as busy as ever with the Huber Ranch in Houston?
Huber: Yes, December is really busy! We had a luncheon for ladies the other day. They did 3 hours of drills with the pros and me, and the same day we had kids also playing. It's a fun time to be there. On Wednesday nights we have drop-in for girls. When we're home, we try and make it really fresh and exciting. It's for the people to enjoy and get excited about tennis.
SI.com: Do you have any plans to take some time off in the next year or travel at all?
Huber: We have a motor home we use. Two weeks ago we went to South Carolina for a wedding. I'm thinking about getting my eighteen-wheeler drive license because I love driving my motor home! But I think that time is so precious for me in this stage of my career. I won't have much time off. Right now, we're young and we can work. I don't even need a vacation.