Last time Martina Guiggi was in Azerbaijan, it was back in 2006. Four years later she is back in Baku, but this time she is here as the captain of the 3-time Italian champions. But even with her status as one of the top players in European volleyball, she is the definition of graciousness.
Martina, it is been four years since your last visit to Baku. What are the biggest changes you have noticed?
Things have certainly changed a lot since my last visit. Baku looks magnificent, and I enjoyed roaming streets at nights. It wasn’t this beautiful four years ago. And the way everything lights up at night really sets up a romantic mood. I heard the city has a lot of other big projects coming, so I can only imagine how beautifully the city will look in the future. It is going to be the second Dubai.
This is your second visit to Baku with Scavolini, but this time you are here as the team captain. So your career seems to be on a good track...
First time we were here for the game against Azerrail. And as it happens, this time I'm here as the team captain of Scavolini. So I guess I’m on a good track careerwise (smiling).
This must be a tough job, to be the captain of the Italian champions.
It is true. This job comes with a huge responsibility. I'm still a young player, but I work hard to perform captain's duties the best I can. Also, this is my seventh season with Scavolini and it also means something.
Why are you still with Scavolini after so many years?
The main reason is because things are really getting better every year at Scavolini. From the first day I joined Scavolini, I felt the desire at the club to improve and to become the best; and it is evident that we have achieved a lot over these years. Plus, the city of Pesaro is very beautiful and I have gotten used to it. But I won't deny that as time passes by I get the feeling that I want changes.
You also achieved a lot with the Italian national team. Why haven't we seen you this year at the World Championship?
Unfortunately, I could not go to Japan because of the injury that has been bothering me for a long time now. It would have been very unprofessional of me to join the national team unfit and taking someone else's spot in the team. So, the coaching staff and I decided that I should have concentrated on recovery, so I could be helpful for my club. But of course, I would love to return to the national team one day. Being a part of the national team is a special feeling.
You have come to Azerbaijan to play against national champions Rabita. Did you have any prior information about the opponent?
We knew that Rabita has added many top level players to its roster. We watched videos of Rabita's games and we knew that we have a very tough game ahead of us. Rabita has great players like Mammadova, Glass, Zhukova and several very good Serbian players.
Why do you think you lost the game against Rabita?
I think the main reason is the great game that Rabita displayed. Plus we were playing without one of our key players, Destinee Hooker. But I have to admit, we just could not read Rabita’s attacks. It was a very fast game and the way Rabita was using high and low balls was completely messing up our concentration. It is really very tough to defend against such a great offense.
Do you know any Azerbaijani volleyball players?
As I mentioned earlier, Natalya Mammadova is a top class player. Her style reminds me of Russian Gamova. I also know Oksana Parkhomenko from Dinamo Moscow and her sister Yelena, who used to play for the Italian team Megius Padova, and I also know Korotenko, the libero. I also heard that you have a young player who everyone calls "the second Mammadova." She must be really good (smiling).
And do you know anything about Azerbaijani championship?
I know that there have been a lot of changes in Azerbaijan in terms of volleyball. Your clubs has attracted world-class players and we really amazed at that. The volleyball has now gone up to the completely new level here.
f you were to receive an offer from Azerbaijan, would you accept it?
Well, never say never! And why should I decline the offer anyway? A new offer also means new perspectives. The championship here is very comfortable – all games are played in the same city at the same sports hall. It is very convenient for both athletes and fans. And from what I heard, the compensation is also pretty good. As I said, I was part of the Scavolini team for seven years now, and I think it may be the time for some changes. This could be my last season in Italy.
Why is it that only this season Italian players has started to move abroad to play outside of Italy?
Now countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and others offer very good contracts and it didn't escape the attention of players in the Italian league. For someone who played in Italy it might be difficult to move away, but at the same time, one can also gain a lot of experience playing abroad.
o you have best friends among volleyball players?
I try to be very friendly with all my teammates because we all work for the common goal and it is necessary to have a good atmosphere in the team to achieve that. But of course, there are players with whom I have close relationships – it is Francesca Ferretti at Scavolini and Giulia Rondon in the national team. I enjoy spending time with them and they are great people with big heart.
Martina, you have lots of fans from around the world who admire your talent, name you as their favorite player and even put your photos as an avatar! Is there anything you wanted to tell them?
Really? I didn't know that! But I want to tell my fans that I love them all and I will do everything I can to make them proud. It is very important for an athlete to know that there are people who support you. This way you not only enjoy your game more, but you also bring joy to people who cheer for you. So, I want to say again that I love you all!