Ruzici honoured 40 years after victory

Virginia Ruzici recalls 1978, opines on Simona Halep and reveals her special connection with Venus Williams.

 - Sarah Edworthy

Virginia Ruzici knows the best of times and the worst of times at Roland-Garros. In 1978, the Romanian - who now manages world No.1 Simona Halep - beat her doubles partner, the defending champion Mima Jausovec 6-2 6-2 to lift the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen. Earlier, she and Jausovec had won an epic doubles final defeating Lesley Turner Bowrey and Gail Sheriff Lovera 5-7 6-4 8-6. She also played in the mixed doubles final with Patrice Dominguez, emerging as runner-up. Three finals in one weekend!

“It was my dream. I grew up on clay in Romania and clay was definitely my favourite surface,” she recalled, sitting in the players' lounge on the north side of Court Philippe-Chatrier, looking much as those who were here 40 years ago remember her with her trademark shoulder-length dark wavy hair. “I was a bit lucky that year because Chris Evert wasn’t playing and Chris was the player I could never beat; she was so good on clay. I was fortunate that I had the chance also to produce my best tennis against Mima Jausovec, whom I had also never managed to beat before. It was the biggest moment of my career and the public was fabulous, so passionate and enthusiastic about my game.”

On Tuesday she walked onto Chatrier on Tuesday for a presentation to mark her triumph 40 years ago in what was a dream Roland-Garros for the Romanian. “It was a really nice moment out there, a lovely gesture to be honoured by the Federation,” she said, graciously receiving congratulations from players after her return to the stage on which she achieved the high point of her career.

In 1980 Ruzici reached the final again, losing to Evert. “That is my worst memory and the biggest regret in my career, not because I lost but because I lost so badly,” she said. “I wanted it so badly, but I was blocked, playing Chris. I respected her more than any other player on the tour. She was always a tough opponent. I was an attacking player and she destroyed my game, returning everything back at me.

"For me she was a legend. I couldn’t play junior tournaments so I didn’t get to know players as juniors. Maybe if I did, I wouldn't have had so much respect. Chris remained so, so huge for me that it was always difficult to beat her.”

Roland-Garros 2018 also marks 10 years since Ruzici began working with Halep, whom she watched win the 2008 girls' singles title. Are the numbers aligning for Halep to become the first Romanian player since Ruzici to triumph at Roland-Garros? “Simona has had three finals that were so close she could have won them, but I don’t think she is thinking of anything else other than going match by match," she said.

"The other players left in the draw are all very ambitious, playing very well, anything can happen, but I hope this is her turn. It would be fantastic for us in Romania, but most of all I want it for Simona. She works so hard, she gives her all to tennis – and she had a very hard time digesting the loss here last year.”

Roland-Garros 2018, Simona Halep, 2e tour, 2nd round©Julien Crosnier / FFT

“The expectations in Romania are huge,” Ruzici acknowledged. “I have so much admiration for the way she handles it. You cannot imagine the pressure that she has had since 2014 with people wanting her to win absolutely every match. That is impossible. Not even Serena Williams has won every single match.

"Simona has gone through ups and downs but she has managed to stay in the Top four since 2014; she’s very consistent, and very strong mentally. Some think because she lost the final she was not so strong mentally but you also have to consider that last year she came back from a set and 1-5 down against Svitolina, and this year at the Australian Open, she was down love 40 on her serve and 6-7 down in the third set against Kerber.

"You have to be strong to achieve such comebacks in difficult matches."

Ruzici has another claim to fame in the tennis world. Famously, it was after Richard Williams had seen her on TV picking up a $40,000 cheque after a match that he was inspired to raise top-performing tennis players. He and his wife already had three daughters, but he hid her birth-control pills and the result was Venus and Serena.

“The story came out when Venus won Wimbledon and it is incredible. What is amazing is the fact that Venus and Serena were born!" Ruzici said.

"In those days everyone was looking to Chris and Martina Navratilova, these big champions, and this time it was me. It was a miracle! So I introduced myself to Mr Williams and he introduced me to Venus. Last year, she came up to say hello to me. We had a really good chat. It was very emotional to tell you the truth. Venus gave me a hug and I wished her luck.

"Of course Simona is my favourite player, but for years and years Venus was somehow my favourite. We have a special connection.”