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Conversations: Exclusive With Mashona Washington

Friday, April 24, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's Mashona Washington Conversations
This is the first opportunity that I’ve had to talk with WTA Tour player Mashona Washington, it was a genuine pleasure. At 32 years of age, Mashona is currently analyzing and potentially redefining her career as she looks to the future.

Mashona is one of three tennis professionals in her family. Both brothers MaliVai and Mashiska Washington play/have played on the ATP Tour. She was very congenial and open, making this conversation interesting and fun.

One of my priorities in talking with Mashona was to not approach her as the little sister of well known older brother MaliVai Washington’s little sister, but as a person, woman and athlete in her own right. Interestingly enough, she talked about him and her other siblings on her own, portraying a very close knit relationship with each of them and her parents as well.

We talked about a little bit of everything so there’s no need for too much preamble, but I will say that I think you will find her ‘Conversation’ enjoyable, enlightening and a nice read.

Shelia: Hello Mashona, thank you for consenting to do this interview for Black Tennis Pro’s, I appreciate it.

Let’s start with some current issues in tennis, one of the most prominent being the recent resignation of WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott. Do you think that the WTA benefitted during his tenure?
Mashona: Yeah I think so, but it’s hard to speak specifics because I haven’t actually played full time on the tour since I was injured in ‘06, so I really haven’t been able to experience all of the pluses that he has brought to the tour.

After having been injured, you’re missing the tour meetings and while they send newsletters, I haven’t kept up as well as I should because I wasn’t playing that much, so it didn’t affect me. But he has had a lot of positive contributions, I’m sure.

Shelia: One of the things that Scott has talked about with reference to his decision making process to leave, was the rejection of his proposal to merge the two tours. Have you ever given any consideration to their being a single combined tour?
Mashona: I think that would be a great idea because I’ve found that when our tours in general are combined with the men’s events the quality of our tour - our tournament - is automatically raised because we just get a lot of the amenities men get. They get so much more in terms of ... sometimes I think if they came to one of our tournaments and had to deal with some of the things that we did, like with our - maybe amenities - or just some things that we get, they’d be like, 'oh my god!'

You know, they’re really spoiled. We’re still spoiled, but I had two brothers that played on the men’s tour, so I could go with them and see all of the things that they are offered. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot of great things that are offered to us.

I think it’s a great idea, it makes tournaments more fun. You don’t have to see the same players all the time, or just women. I think it’s a great thing.

Shelia: I think that’s true for the public, at least it is for me. I always enjoy the combined events much more, of course from a different perspective.
Mashona: Most definitely when both the men and women are seen. And then even if they entertained adding at some of the bigger events a couple of rounds of mixed doubles or something like that; make it like a mini Grand Slam, because they only offer mixed doubles at the Grand Slam tournaments.

Shelia: Now, on another issue that has been making noise recently, the new drug testing rules which dictate that players must inform testers of their whereabouts for a period of one hour of everyday for a period of a week - how hard is that?
Mashona: Well, I haven’t really experienced that. When I was outside the top hundred I thought it was interesting that I was probably drug tested once, maybe twice; but as soon as I was in the top hundred, I was drug tested probably like eight or nine times in one year.

Shelia: Interesting....
Mashona: Now, it could be coincidental, yes. Or it could have just been, as they say ‘random.’

Shelia: That’s pretty random - that’s some interesting random....
Mashona: That’s some very interesting random. And now that I’ve been out of the top hundred, I think in the last couple of years I was drug tested once and that was this year in Memphis. I don’t know, but I think they were drug testing everybody there.

But as far as calling every hour on top of the hour or however much they’re doing, I mean, if that’s what it takes - if somebody’s using something illegal. I guess if you’re not using anything, then it’s a little bit of a pain to have to do that, but if you’re not using then you don’t really mind.

Shelia: It certainly seems a bit restrictive, especially if you’re one who values your privacy.
Mashona: It does kind of, in my opinion, borderline a little bit of ... well, I do appreciate my home time. When I’m at home and sitting on my couch, I don’t want to have to worry about reporting to anybody or answering questions. You should be able to be in the relaxation of your own home.

It’s kind of a difficult situation, like say a regular 9 to 5 job, are they calling people at home to bother them to see what they’re doing or to drug test them ... no, it’s drug testing at work and I kind of think that it should go along those lines. I think it can be pushing it a little bit when you can’t even escape your job to come home and relax.

Shelia: Yeah, it does basically seem as if you’re never off the job under these guidelines.
Mashona: No, you’re not. And is it just because you’re an athlete? You should technically be able to be off the clock when you’re at home.

Shelia: When I read what some of the other players had to say about this new rule I felt for you all, I wouldn’t want to be so subjected.
Mashona: Sometimes it can be the last thing that you want to deal with. When I come off the road - my first three or four days - depending on how long I’m on the road, say six, seven, eight weeks, then the first two or three days - two days for sure - I’m like, in the bed. I don’t take any phone calls, I just want to be a vegetable. I want to just walk my dog in the park and that’s it. I don’t want to do anything.

Like I said, on the other hand, if that’s what it takes, I mean if you don’t have anything to hide, its just the way it is to catch the ones that are doing something.

The only unfortunate part is, you have like one person and it’s like the ‘lucky loser’ rule or the rule for the qualifiers. Because of a past issue, now it’s no longer the highest ranked player who gets in the draw. Now, there’s a draw and anybody who loses can get in.

Shelia: So, there’s no specific criteria within those who have lost during qualifying of who will become a lucky loser?
Mashona: Okay, so you have qualifying, and you have four people that qualify, let’s say it’s a 64/32 player draw, you’re going to have four qualifiers - then each of the four players that lost in the final round of qualifying; then say there’s somebody in the main draw that withdraws, leaving a lucky loser spot, then one of those four can get in - a lucky loser.

So, in essence, it used to be where the highest ranked loser in the final round of qualifying would take that lucky loser spot, but because a couple of players on the men’s tour, they kind of did the math and they were saying ‘hey, I already know I’m going to get in and if you want to get in too, give me a little bit of your prize money and we can call it a day. I’ll throw the match so you can get in, I already know I’m going to get in....’ And so they would kind of cheat a little bit - get people in and get a little extra money.

So they changed the rule that if you lose in the final round of qualifying, then it’s pure luck of the draw. They take the four that lost and pull their names out of a hat. I don’t really think it’s that fair - you’re the highest ranked player, you should get in. They do that on the ITF and USTA events, they’re not doing that on the tour. Well, I think they did that at Wimbledon last year, maybe they’re using it at their discretion. I just don’t think that it’s very fair.

It happened to me when I thought I was going to get in because I was the highest ranked player, they were like, ‘the rule has changed, and I was like, what? I was crushed, I couldn’t believe it.

Shelia: I’m sure. That could really cause animosity among some players.
Mashona: Yes, there were some players that could not believe it, they were just livid.

Shelia: Let’s switch gears and talk about you and tennis, when you began playing, when you knew that this was something that you could do well and when you knew that this could be a career for you.
Mashona: (laughing) I still don’t know if this is a career for me. When did I start playing ... I started playing initially just because I had my older brothers and sisters that played and it was just kind of a natural thing because we all went to the courts and I started playing and playing and I got better and began entering junior tennis tournaments. And I started winning because I was practicing all the time and I started getting the trophies and was like wow I really love the trophies. I got to travel to national tournaments and they were in Boca Raton or Miami, Florida. Growing up in Michigan it was awesome to go to Boca in the summertime.

That was one of the things that my dad told me ... I remember that my older brothers and sisters would travel to tournaments and I’d be like, I want to go, I want to go. And my dad would say “well the only way you can go is to start playing tennis.” I started playing from then on, so he kind of tricked me.

I don’t know exactly at what point I made that transition, I just think that I was playing pretty well in juniors and I just decided to give it a whirl. I enjoyed the travel and I enjoyed working hard, so I just decided to give it a go.

Shelia: How many siblings do you have?
Mashona: I have two older brothers and two older sisters.

Shelia: Do all of them play tennis?
Mashona: At one time, yes.

Shelia: Wow, that must have been a daunting proposition, you being the youngest; or did it make it more fun?
Mashona: Well it was fine because by the time I was really playing seriously/competitively, actually my oldest sister had stopped playing at that point. Mal was still playing, he was in college and in the early years of his professional career, so he was already off and gone; I had a middle sister who had health issues, so she wasn’t able to continue to play; so then it was just my brother who is a year-and-a-half older than I am, Mashiska, so we practiced a lot together; and every now and then we’d practice with Mal.

We were far apart ... I remember one tournament, it was actually the U.S. Open, I was playing playing qualifying and my brother Mal was playing out in Long Island when they had the Long Island Tournament and my dad was driving back and forth. I can remember a few times that he had to do that.

Shelia: So your dad was coaching all of you?
Mashona: No, Mal had his coach; at that particular tournament he just happened to be driving back and forth all over New York to see us play.

Shelia: Did your dad or your mom play? How did the family become so tennis oriented?
Mashona: No, my dad just kind of picked up the game and my mom never played tennis. My dad learned just by watching, reading and trial and error.

Shelia: Well it obviously worked. Tell me about World Team Tennis, I believe I saw that you were playing again for the Washington Kastles.
Mashona: No, I’m not playing this year.

Shelia: You’re not playing this year - Did you enjoy your previous experience?
Mashona: I did enjoy it, it was such a team atmosphere and it was great to have your teammates to rely on, and the crowds were great. And I was fortunate enough when I played for Houston and Washington to have really good owners of the teams and they really took care of us. Well, in Houston I was at home so I loved being five minutes away from the club. In Washington last year owner Mark Ein did an amazing job and I think that he’ll probably even step it up a notch. Not everybody is going to do exactly what he did, how he took care of us and he ran the team; I think a lot of the teams can step up a little bit more.

One of the things that I enjoy when watching World Team Tennis is that everybody appears to be having so much more fun than on regular tour tournaments.
Mashona: Yeah ... it’s different, a different kind of pressure; you have your teammates that you don’t want to let down, you don’t want to let your fans down because it’s more than when you’re playing individually or with your doubles partner.

It’s a great atmosphere and a great opportunity, I wish that I had done it earlier. I always tell a lot of players ‘enter your name into the draft and see what happens.’ I think everybody should play at least one, maybe two seasons. Although, it’s definitely not for everybody, because as much as I enjoy team tennis, I always find that my game afterwards is not as high as it could be because you don’t get a chance to practice, you’re traveling so much that you don’t have an opportunity to work on your game, so my game suffers a little bit; but I like the team atmosphere and the money is good.

Shelia: So how are the teams put together? Since it’s private ownership I assumed that the owners approached players they were interested in and made a deal.
Mashona: No, they have a draft; I think this year it was March 31. I’m assuming that all of the owners come down to Miami and pick the players that they want to play for them for that season. It’s literally a draft, you have first, second, third and fourth round picks; they can protect their past players, wipe everything out and start over, they can trade players - it’s a regular draft.

Shelia: Well I learned something new today, I had no idea. I really thought the owner just picked whoever they wanted.
Mashona: They pretty much do, the owners have all the say if they want. They talk to whomever their coach is and make their decision. I know one particular team owner who picks a team based on the attitude and how he thinks the teammates can get along together.

Shelia: If I had to spend the summer with a group of people, I can definitely see the value in that.
Mashona: Yeah, because you’re spending a month with these people, you definitely want to get along with them.

Do you plan to play tournaments this summer?
Mashona: Yeah, that was my plan. I’m currently 313 singles, 115 doubles and you’re actually sacrificing a month of tennis when you play team tennis. It’s great if you can afford to do it, ranking wise, because you sacrifice playing three to four tournaments that month. I’m not necessarily getting any help wildcard wise, I’m too old, I guess in their eyes (laughing); so I’m just going to spend the summer in Europe. I’m going to slide around on the clay for four weeks and hopefully I can have a good two or three weeks and move up my ranking.

Shelia: If there’s anything I envy you all, it’s definitely not the exercise or all of the work that you put in, it’s the travel - wonderful.
Mashona: It is, you travel so much. I was at a women’s doubles luncheon in Charleston talking with Jill Craybas, my doubles partner there, Lisa Raymond and Kveta Peschke, and our lives as tennis players are typical - they aren’t normal - but for tennis players they’re normal. Jill was saying, and I totally feel the same way, “when I’ve traveled a long time on the road and you get home, then you’re like, okay I’m home for this two or three days, then once you sleep and you get your rest caught up then start practicing for four or five days a week; then you’re like okay, I need to get on the road again, why am I sitting at home; I’ve been at home for two weeks, what’s wrong with me.” And Jill is one of those players that plays a lot of tournaments a year, she’s in great shape too.

For me, I’m usually three or four weeks on, a week or two off cause I always find value in resting; I’ve always been that way.

Shelia: Yes, with regard to Jill, I see her name in the draws a lot. I often wonder about that with some of the players, do these people ever rest!
Mashona: Sometimes they do the numbers, sometimes if you have to play X amount of tournaments, you can do the math and keep your ranking at a certain level. I’m not one to do math and numbers and all of that; maybe that’s what I need to do, I just play.

Tell me about your longevity in tennis, do you have a planned timeline or do you think that the remainder of your time in tennis will work itself out.
Mashona: Yeah, I think it’ll work itself out for the most part; but I also realize ... I’m realistic and I think my emphasis has changed. I still enjoy playing singles, I still enjoy getting out there and one of my goals and challenges to myself is to get back into the top hundred. A lot of people say that being ... what am I now, how old am I now ... 32? A lot of people my age are getting older, but hey - I can still run down the same balls just as well, if not better; but like I said, I’m being realistic - my focus is changing to a lot of doubles. And if I’m turning into a doubles player, that’s fine with me, because I know I can make a heck of a lot more money playing doubles than I would in anything else.

Shelia: 9 to 5s paying that kind of money aren’t easy to come by.
Mashona: Yeah, and I’d have to go back to school and get another degree. For example - and this is an exception - Rennae Stubbs, she’s a little bit older, but she’s still out there, she’s top ten. I’ve yet to be top ten in doubles, but she’s showing you right there and she’s making a great living at it.

I still have the ability, I still have the drive, and until the day that I get up and I say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ then that’s when I’m going to stop. I’m not going to let any federation or whoever, the naysayers ... Believe it or not, actually I was at a tournament this year and the coach of another player asked me - actually it was kind of funny - he asked me, “why are you still playing?” and I said well, what do you mean? He said “well, you’re not that young.” I said well am I old, I’m 32 ... since when was 32 old? First of all I love it, second of all I can, and third of all I don’t want to have to get a real job until I have to.

Shelia: That was a bold and interesting question to ask anyone, especially if they’re still out there competing.
Mashona: I don’t know, I think maybe he had dreams of playing and things didn’t work out - I don’t know, it was just the way he asked me. On the other hand, you have other people and run into other players who say ‘if you love it, play.’

It’s such a physically demanding game, but so much more of what can be done for the body is better.
Mashona: Oh yes, from sports drinks to recovery drinks, I drink recovery drinks. I went onsite the other day and ordered some. It’s like the new thing to help relax your muscles and get you going in spirit. I’m real, real big on eating the right foods to give you the optimum energy and even brain power you know? You need that out there on the court. And I think that has a lot to do with my longevity ... I drink tons of water.

Shelia: Well the water is working on your skin. From all of the photos that I’ve seen, you have great skin.
Mashona: That’s genetics! That’s something my mom and dad have.

Shelia: Tell me something about you that we, the viewing audience and tennis fans, don’t know.
Mashona: I am a big, big family person. I talk to my sisters probably everyday, it doesn’t matter where I am in the world. My brothers are the same way. Mal will never tell you this, cause he always tells me that he’s tired of talking to me, but if I don’t call him for like, two or three days he’s like “Why haven’t you called me ...? What, you can’t call a brother?”

I’m very, very close to my family and I love the holidays. I love spending time with my extended family, my cousins and their families. Hopefully one day I’ll get married and have kids too. I’m just really big about my family and close friends. Those are the people that mean the most to me; it’s the old saying, ‘you mess with my family, you mess with me.’ Those are the ones that I really count on, when you’re up, when you’re down ... I just love being with my family and hanging out.

Shelia: Okay, we’re winding down, let’s get some fun facts about you. What do you enjoy doing during your down time? I know that you said you like to chill and get some rest, after that’s accomplished, what do you like to do?
Mashona: Well, I have a Mini Schnauzer named Colby, as you know ...

Shelia: Oh she is soooo cute!
Mashona: We go into the dog park and I always take her to the water because she never wants to go into the water and I’m trying to get her to swim. I really enjoy doing things with her, she’s like my little daughter - I enjoy her having a good time at the park for hours and hours with the other dogs.

Shelia: How old is she?
Mashona: Colby will be two in July.

Shelia: Still really young ...
Mashona: Yes. I wish I could travel with her a little bit more but the airlines have gotten ridiculous with the price of travel, now I can’t really travel with her as much as I would have.

I actually enjoy cooking even though I really don’t have anybody to cook for. When I go to Mal’s house I cook all the time because they don’t really cook there, they eat out a lot. I actually want to take cooking classes one day just to improve. My sisters and my mom cook unbelievably and I’m just, kind of like dragging up the rear here.

I also love football, I love the Texans; there’s the rodeo as well, I always enjoy that. I just try to keep things fun. I also like to go the spa and spend the whole day there doing the whole mani-pedi thing, part of my relaxation.

What are your favorite foods?
Mashona: Well, my mom makes this dish, and this is the only time my mom ever cooks, because after raising five kids my mom just doesn’t ever cook. My mom is so humble and sweet, but she always finds a way to say, “ahhhh, why don’t we just go out and get something?” But she makes this turkey, gravy and rice dish, it’s really good. I love lasagna, I make a really good lasagna and I love a good steak. One of my favorite restaurants in Houston is Pappas, they serve a really good steak.

I have famous chocolate chip cookies that only a handful, maybe a couple of players have ever tasted - it’s my own recipe.

Shelia: I didn’t get the baking gene, I can cook very well, but I pretty much crucify anything needing to be baked.
Mashona: It’s all about patience. And once you eat my chocolate chip cookies, then there’s like no other chocolate chip cookie that tastes the same - I’m just going to say that. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but that’s what I’ve been told.

Shelia: I wouldn’t be one to know because I absolutely detest chocolate.

Tell me which is your favorite book, and what you’re reading right now.
Mashona: My favorite book is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I’m currently reading And The Shofar Blew also by Francine Rivers; I just bought this book when I was in Charleston so I haven’t really got into it yet.

Her Redeeming Love, I really enjoyed that book. It was about unconditional love, forgiving and whatever you believe in.

Shelia: Your favorite current and classic movie?
Mashona: My favorite classic movie is Lean On Me; current movie is Facing The Giants.

Shelia: Your favorite type of music?
Mashona: R&B

Shelia: Your favorite current and classic R&B artists?
Mashona: Let’s see, what’s on my Ipod. Well, I don’t know if Sade would be considered classic, but she’s been around for awhile. Current, I like Robin Thicke among other artists.

Shelia: What are you currently listening to on your Ipod?
Mashona: When I was in the gym today I was listening to Mike Jones. He’s in my workout music along with Shakira, L.L. Cool J, Beyonce, Janet Jackson.

Shelia: Favorite video/computer game?
Mashona: For awhile I was playing on Facebook, Word Challenge and Geo Challenge. I don’t know how Lindsay Davenport got like 60,000 points, cause I can’t get over 12,000. I asked her, I said Linday how did you do that? She said, “One day I put Jagger down to sleep for two hours, and I’ve been doing word scramble games all my life.” I said oh, okay, that explains it.

I’m trying to get back into my studying mode, last October I got my degree in business administration and I was a bit burned out from that; then I was going to go straight to get my real estate license, but I’m still burned out ... I just couldn’t study anymore. Playing and studying is really difficult ... not difficult, but just a challenge because I wanted to maintain and get my grades in.

Mal is in real estate and I gained an interest from him because I’m always going around to the different properties that he manages and owns and getting that first hand/hands on from him. He actually was helping me quite a bit, so now I’ll be able to make that transition whenever. Even in playing I can still do some real estate, that’s my plan.

I’m veering from the video games and trying to get back into studying so that I can be productive again in life (laughing).

Shelia: It is so unfortunate how addicting, whether it be video, computer or internet games can be. You really have to make yourself get up and get away from the computer.
Mashona: Yeah, you do. I think it’s just maybe human nature how you want to better your last score ... one more, okay one more, okay one more; and before long you’ve been on there for two hours and you’re like, what in the world did I just spend two hours for.

On the other hand Facebook, it’s been an amazing thing because I’ve actually gotten in touch with friends, so I love it in one sense. I actually haven’t gotten on as much lately, I go on like once a day now; but tennis fans and friends can stay in touch, they can see where I am and I post a lot of pictures, they can see what I’m doing. I could not believe that I’ve actually gotten in touch with people from kindergarten.

Shelia: What’s your favorite sport outside of tennis?
Mashona: Oh my gosh, that’s so hard; I like anything with competition. When I’m watching the Olympics I’m glued to everything. I love sports.

Shelia: Your favorite vacation spot?
Mashona: My couch (laughing) - I was actually talking to Mal, and I was like come on Mal, we have to go on a vacation somewhere. He’s like “who...” I said you, me, Jen (my sister-in-law), let’s just go, he says “Plan it.”

I don’t have a favorite vacation spot because I don’t ever have anybody to go with. I have my friends in Houston but their schedules are so off and different, it just never works out. I’d love to go to Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, a couple of places in Mexico; there’s a handful of states that I haven’t been to.

Shelia: Which of the grand slam tournaments is your favorite?
Mashona: U.S. Open then Wimbledon, French and Australia

Shelia: What has been your favorite place in all of your travels?
Mashona: I like Quebec City in Canada, Old Quebec because of the ambiance. It’s very old and has a stone wall that surrounds the entire City, cobblestone streets and it’s always so cold when you go there; you can walk off of the streets into the restaurants and it’s very French and quaint.

On the other side of the world Tokyo, because I love sushi.

Shelia: Finally, your favorite place to be overall?
Mashona: Probably on my couch at home.

Posted by Shelia

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