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Jarkko Nieminen Q&A: A Winner At Tennis... But Badminton?

Belgrade, Serbia

Nieminen© AFP/Getty ImagesJarkko Nieminen is making his debut at the Serbia Open 2012 this week.

Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen is the third seed on his debut at the Serbia Open 2012 this week and is set to play Croatian qualifier Antonio Veic in his opening match on Thursday in Belgrade.

As part of ATPWorldTour.com’s new Q&A series, Nieminen gives his impressions of Belgrade, remembers his military service days and laments his badminton defeats to wife, Anu.

You’re playing in Belgrade for the first time this week. How have you found the city and the tournament?
I have been mostly on the tennis site because I’ve been trying to prepare for the tournament as well as possible. But I have driven through the city and I had a couple of dinners there. From what I have seen, it’s a very nice city. I heard good things from the tournament, so I wanted to come here. Also, you don’t get to new countries too often nowadays. I have been to so many countries, so it’s a nice experience to come to a country where you haven’t been before. So far, no complaints. I really like it and the weather has been very nice.

How is it for you playing in these hot conditions, coming from Scandinavia?
I don’t mind. For me it takes a few days to get used to it, but now I came from Barcelona and we had some hot days there. I really like playing in hot conditions. I don’t like it if it’s really humid, but if it’s hot and dry like many times in Australia, I really like it. So I just have to prepare well and come early to the tournament.

We’re still in the early stages of the European clay-court swing. What challenges do you face when adapting your game from hard court to clay?
The older you get, somehow I feel it’s easier to change the surfaces. I played some good matches already in the first two weeks, so at least I have got some wins under my belt and I’m feeling pretty good. Hopefully I can keep it up. Also it’s nice to play the whole of the European summer here in Europe. It makes it easier after travelling a lot; first month in Australia then one month in the States. It’s nice to be in Europe and I get to go home for a couple of days between the tournaments some times and it makes it much easier, shorter flights and so on.

Both of your ATP World Tour titles have come at the start of the year, including at this season’s APIA International Sydney, where you ended a six-year title drought. What helps you to be so fast out the blocks?
Usually I start pretty well and I really like playing in Australia and New Zealand. I got my first title in Auckland and played the finals in Sydney and Adelaide. I think one of the reasons is that I rest enough and then I practise really well in the off-season. I know what are the best things for me; what I have to practise and what kind of things I have to do.

At the end of last year I had one of the best off-seasons maybe ever. I stayed healthy all the time, which I didn’t do the year before. I could do all the practices as planned and I really played with a good quality all the time. So I had a pretty good feeling that I could make some good results in the near future. Obviously I didn’t guess that I would win the title in the second week of the year, but it’s obviously a very nice start.

You completed a total of three months military service in 2008 and 2009. Do you have lasting memories from that experience? Did it help you with any aspects of your tennis game?
In Finland everybody has to do it, either six or 11 months. I did the six-month period, but in the end I was there about three months, not in a row. I went there after the Basel tournament and I was there the whole off-season basically. I actually enjoyed the whole time there. It was a kind of mental holiday for me. You just follow the orders. You can leave your brains somewhere else and just do what you are told to do. I really enjoyed that because otherwise you’re travelling a lot and you have to create your own schedule. I felt really good and I played some of my best tennis during that time. We had a good group of people and a nice atmosphere. I tried to do all the things as well as I could and it was a very nice experience.

Did any other athletes do the military service with you?
It was the place where athletes go, one hour from Helsinki by car. The athletes go there so it’s easier to practise all sports there. I always wanted to do it. Usually you do it when you are 18, 19, but after I finished my school I wanted to see how I do at tennis and I’m still on that way, in my 12th year now. It took about eight years before I decided to do it.

When you and your wife, Anu, spoke to DEUCE Magazine in 2008, she declared you could not win a point against her on the badminton court; is that still the case?
Yeah... I haven’t improved since then and I think she has. So it’s no different. We don’t even try to play points.

How often do you play with her?
Not too often. I would like to play more badminton, but unfortunately I don’t have time to do that. A couple of times we played and she can give some tips, the same as if we were playing tennis and I would try to teach her how to play.

You went to watch El Clasico (between Barcelona and Real Madrid) in Barcelona last week. How did you enjoy that experience and who were you supporting?
I’m not a huge fan of any team. But I really enjoy good soccer and it was a great experience to be there in this Barcelona-Madrid game. I was in the middle of the Barcelona fans and I just hoped it would be a good game. I didn’t really go for either of them.

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