The Case of Lucas Pouille

From the print edition of l’Équipe April 15 2015 by Julien Reboullet @djub22 page 19.

Out of action in March, mediocre practice Monday, winner over Dominic Thiem Tuesday: the twenty-one-year-old Frenchman is on the right road. He challenges Rafael Nadal today.

If ever Lucas Pouille were to provoke a Big Bang event in Monaco by becoming the first Frenchman since Olivier Mutis in 2004 to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay, it would be a completely crazy exploit out of the deep, deep blue. A story of reversing a tendency at the speed of light.

As recently as Monday, the young twenty-one-year-old, just arrived from the indoor Saint Brieuc Challenger tournament – where he lost in the semis to Nicolas Mahut – and who hadn’t played a match on clay in eight months, wasn’t attracting much attention in the stands of the Monte Carlo Country Club after a poor practice session. “It’s simple. He played 1-1 against the number 300 or so ranked Frenchmen,” smiled Emmanuel Planque, his coach, yesterday noon. Smiling because his player had just left the court a winner over Dominic Thiem [6-4, 6-4]. Yes, Thiem, the Austrien who had just played a quarter-final in Miami and is ranked 44 in the world.

That kind of reversal in the space of twenty-four hours deserved the kisses exchanged between player and coach just before they got back to the dressing room. One would almost swear the two pairs of eyes shone just a bit. “I felt the emotion in Lucas,” admitted Planque.

“Interning” with Federer

The success will almost propel his student into the top 100 Monday [he’s now 108, his best ever ranking] A big first for the Northerner. “That barrier preoccupied him, as much because it gives him direct entry into the Slams as  for its symbolism. We brand our players to much in France by telling them, ‘you’ll be a pro when you’re in the top 100.’ Being a pro is more than ranking. It’s an attitude, a relationship to your profession.” Pouille has never been caught out on that score. The baby-faced, blue-eyed boy speaks in a quiet voice in front of the microphones. He’s serious, poised, thoughtful. He knows where he wants to go. And getting from a three-digit ranking to a two-digit is far from being an end in itself. Getting to one digit would closer.

2012(January) – Reaches his best junior ranking of 23
2013(May) – Wins his first round match against the American Alex Kuznetzov, loses in the second round to Grigor Dimitrov
2014(October) – Defeats Nieminen, Karlovic and Fognini to reach the round of 16 at Bercy, where he loses to Federer
2015(January) – First ATP 250 semi-final (Auckland) then an excellent first round at the Australian Open, losing to Monfils 7-6,6-3,4-6,1-6,4-6

The Planque-Pouille duo’s path has almost been like laying bricks. Step by step with precision and caution [see box]. Example: at the end of February, there was an inflamed tendon in the player’s right shoulder. “We treated it with the utmost care and seriousness. Pouille didn’t even wiggle an ear in March. And the tendonitis disappeared.

And if he becomes the 71st Frenchman to get into the top 100 in the forty-two years the ATP rankings have existed, he’s owe a bit … to the Swiss. At the end of 2013 and 2014 Pouille camped out for a week in Lausanne to prepare with Stan Wawrinka. Last February, just before his shoulder problem, he was in Dubai spending a week training with Roger Federer. “Hitting with them is amazing, even though you can’t really quantify what it brings,” says Planque. “You have to realise that there’s a bit of an incestuous side to the CNE (National training centre at Roland Garros). It’s difficult to get into from outside. So it’s important to look elsewhere. And with these guys who have won a Slam, there’s a difference in their concept of playing, in the way they train. What was most noticeable? The extreme precision of Federer and the team around him. It was six hours a day! Two hours of tennis in the morning, two in the afternoon and then two hours of physical training.” Pouille adds: “Realising that I could win a set here and a set there against players of that level, it could help me. If I train with them, it’s also to see how they work.” An experience that can also help demystify (a bit) the fact that he’ll be facing Nadal today? “In any case, he can’t be a spectator,” says Planque. “He’ll have to be extremely aggressive. Show Nadal with his attitude and his tactics and his intensity that he’ll need to work hard.”

And what if …

Translated by MAN

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Timea Bacsinszky: Flying high and getting noticed

Translation of this piece http://www.srf.ch/sport/tennis/wta-tour/timea-bacsinszky-ein-hoehenflug-mit-ankuendigung by Svenja Mastroberardino

Timea Bacsinszky is the high-flyer of the WTA. In Monterrey, the Vaud Canton native celebrated her second tournament title of this season – https://twitter.com/svenja_mastro — and proved that hard work and commitment pay off in the long run.

Once again Timea Bacsinszky needed to give a victory interview. Overcome by emotion, the player from Lausanne couldn’t hold back a few tears: “It’s unbelievable, I have no words,” she said, visibly moved.

12 wins in a row, titles number 2 and 3 – Mexico was truly a good place for the 25-year-old. Bacsinszky is really the player of the moment on the WTA tour. With an impressive 18 wins on the balance sheet against only 2 defeats, she is clearly the most successful player right now. Only the Czech Karoline Plíšková can match her for wins in 2015 (against 6 losses). In the last 4 tournaments she’s played in, Bacsinszky has reached the final 3 times – and that’s a record.

Fed Cup captain Gündthardt is impressed

Two tournament titles in a row with quality play. SRF tennis expert and Fed Cup captain Heinz Günthardt had only praise: “Over such a time span you’ll always have matches when you’re not at your best. For Timea  to still find a way to win says a lot about her.”

Günthardt never had any doubts about Bacsinszky’s abilities, but the way she would explode upwards in the rankings was something no one dared expect (from 285 at the end of 2013 to 26 on Monday). “She is an immensely talented tennis player. Earlier she lacked consistency – during training too, partly due to injuries but also because of problems with motivation.”

A model pro even in training

A statement Beni Linder can attest to. Swiss Tennis’ head fitness coach has worked with the sensitive Romande [someone from the French-speaking parts of Switzerland]. “The Timea of today can’t be compared with the old Timea. Now she’s completely professional about her job, whereas before she struggled with others but especially with herself.” Driven by her ambitious father, she often lacked the joy of sport. This can now be just a catalyst: “There is so much joy in Timea. That’s what gives her so much energy.” said Linder.

In the last 12 days Bacsinszky has played 10 matches and spent almost 22 hours on the court – some of them well into the night. But there were no signs of fatigue or physical exhaustion. “The physical effort it has taken to get to this level shouldn’t be underrated,” said Günthardt. “Timea has run a lot of metres and spent a lot of time in the weight room. That can’t be stressed enough.”

Linder added: “Her performance is a product of continuous daily work. Timea winning a tournament didn’t come as a surprise for us. But we didn’t expect it to lead to such a continuously high level.” This from the fitness coach who is in regular contact with Bacsinszky’s coach Dimitri Zavialoff.

Next exploit at a Grand Slam?

She wanted to see what her limits were, Bacsinszky has said repeatedly after being “near quitting”. Where does Günthardt think they lie? “If she keeps this up, she can get into the top 10. To do this, she needs to play where the points are — at the Grand Slams. She has the level in any case.” The next chapter in this story is waiting to be written.

Translated by Mark Nixon with corrections by Svenja Mastroberardino

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