“Everyone wants to kick your butt.” Sam Sumyk on Eugenie Bouchard interviewed by @sophiedorgan in l’Équipe

Sam Sumyk is the French coach of the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. With his characteristic straight shooting, he talks about the current difficulties of the Wimbledon 2014 finalist.

After having stopped working with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open at the end of January, Sam Sumyk wanted to stay put at his home in Los Angeles and satisfy his passion for surfing. In February he finally caught the Eugenie Bouchard wave and decided to throw himself into the water with the twenty-one year-old Canadian who had become one of the big women stars of last season. The results have as yet not been there this year for the number six player in the world, but the Breton isn’t the type to panic in the storm. After his player’s loss in Rome, he sat down to talk about his new adventure.

You’ve been working with Eugenie Bouchard since February. What gave you the desire to work with her?

She wanted to work with me. She’d been looking for a while and the girl said, “That’s him, the guy from the far end of Bretagne I have a good feeling for.” I know some big coaching names have tried. Sometimes you just have to act and think later. It’s a very personal decision. I didn’t think about her very much. I told myself: “I’ll learn a lot through her. I’ll keep my novice’s spirit.”

You have no regrets?

I can’t regret, because I’m the one who decided to stop with Azarenka and agreed to start with Eugenie. I could have said no, it was in my hands. What I want to do is coach and, every morning, not have the feeling I’m going to work. I’m exactly where I want to be. No one forced me.

But the results are lagging …

You have several choices when going through a storm. You can get depressed, you can attach a weight to your leg and jump of a bridge. Or, if you have character, and I think my player has lots of character, you try and bounce back. I know she’s going in that direction. Everything changed for her after her Wimbledon final.

Everything went very quickly for her.

Too quickly even. She went from “we don’t know who she is” to a Slam final. That’s heavy. All the parameters change. When you have good results and climb in the rankings, you enter the circle of the most hated players on the tour. By that I mean everyone wants to kick your butt. You have to be ready for that. Normally you prepare for it. She’s learning by doing. That’s very different, but I think she has everything it takes to pull through.

What are her qualities?

She has a lot of character, but she’s a bit more tortured at the moment. Very ambitious and perfectionist people are necessarily tortured. Her style of play is a quality. It’s clean hitting. It’s not the most powerful, but she has an enormous work capacity. Her ambition too, obviously, even if it’s weighing her down at the moment. It’s up to me to guide her and us, the team, to make an athlete out of her. She thirsts for knowledge.

But she’s having a crisis of confidence, no?

Yes, that’s obviously a part of it. Confidence, it’s the nerve of war. There’s the confidence that comes with results. There’s also self-confidence, that’s different. If we talk about results, obviously we’re lacking them a bit, but she’s on the right path. With the right attitude.

What’s the right attitude?

Even if it doesn’t assuage all worries, the better prepared you are, the better you’ll approach the tournaments. You have to take care of the things that depend on you. The rest, get rid of them right away. It’s good to create a new dynamic, to break certain habits etc. There’s a team around her that believes in her.

She has a semi to defend at Roland Garros …

It’s still a privilege to defend a semi-final. She’ll do it or she won’t. We don’t care. It won’t make her a worse player in 2015 than in 2014.  A number doesn’t determine if you’re a good player or not. That’s people’s opinions and we couldn’t care less.

But abstracting from all that is complicated, especially for a player so much in the media’s eye like that…

It’s part of the parameters you have to manage. Honestly, if the media didn’t ask her about it at every interview, I think she’d think a bit about it, but no more.

We expect too much from her?

Don’t worry, she expects a lot from herself! And we prefer to think in terms of progress and quality of play. When you’re among the very best you necessarily have points to defend every week. It’s no worse than someone who has to earn a salary every week to feed the family! I think it’s better (smiles).

For her peace of mind, her decision not to shake the hand of her opponent in Fed Cup was perhaps not a very good idea …

It’s not one of the best things she’s done, but it’s her business. She has her opinions and the right to have them. I don’t endorse it, I don’t say it’s good, but there are worse things on the planet …

It can unsettle her.Unless she wants to be the “bad girl” of the tour?

It doesn’t excuse her, but she has the naïvety to think that’s it’s not very serious. One shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not helpful. We haven’t spoken about it. Me, what I’ve noticed is that she was very nice with everyone. She says thank you, hello etc. And, at least, it has the merit of being honest. People sit on honesty in 2015. My job is to make her one of the best players in the world. The rest I leave to others.

Translated by MAN

Wim Fissette: Still Coaching at the Top

An interview conducted by Carole Bouchard and published on DH (Belgium).

After Simona Halep, our compatriot is now taking care of Victoria Azarenka. Wim Fissette quickly recovered from the ending of his collaboration with the Romanian Simona Halep, finalist at Roland Garros last year.  Here he is now in charge of ex-number one in the world Victoria Azarenka, a challenge that is meant to be long-term…

Wim Fissette, how did this new adventure begin?

I received a message from her agent Meilen Tu, but because I’d just started my academy in Belgium and my wife and I were expecting our first child in July, I replied that it was going to be complicated.  She then said we could find a solution and we succeeded.  What’s more, I really appreciated that Vika called me after. We’ve had very good contact from the beginning and she’s been very honest with me. I felt she was someone very ambitious and determined to return to the top. It’s a great opportunity for me and I really think we can get good results together.

Is it complicated coming after Sam Sumyk, since Azarenka had a very strong relationship with him?

She had some great moments with Sam, but 5 years is a lot and both needed new challenges.  I know Vika was sad when he told her he was leaving, but I told her that perhaps it was good for her to try something new, to find new motivation and a different approach.  I spoke a lot with her; I’m not a dictator on court.  We work as a team—I’m not her boss.

What areas are you working on?

My goal is to make a more aggressive player and her goal is to become the most complete player possible.  Her returning is a weapon: it allows her to get on top of rallies straight off.  I also want to better her serve and get her to go to the net more often.  She’s very good defensively, but she’s even better when she attacks, especially when she stays glued to the baseline.  And I’m also trying to boost her confidence because 2014 was a very difficult year for her.

Do you feel any particular pressure?

There’s always pressure—we’ll just do our best.  We can’t do more.  She’s working very hard, and her conditioning is very good, too.  She’s very much a perfectionist: she really wants to progress.  We have a long-term agreement because Vika is like that—there’s no end date, she’s in for the long haul and that suits me.

There are a lot of coaching changes on the women’s tour, reflected by what happened with you and Simona Halep.  How do you explain that?

Some players are perhaps too concerned with short-term results.  And for a coach, it’s not always easy at the start because you need to think short-term because maybe you won’t have the time to build something long-term.  You need to find a balance.  I don’t like coming in and changing too many things right away. For example, I don’t know what the story is with Vika and her serve—how long has she been working on it?  Has she had shoulder problems?  You need to go step by step to get a better overview.  Yes, it’s a bit like what happened with me and Simona Halep…  We had a very good year.  OK, we might sometimes have communicated a little better with each other, but it was difficult sometimes when, like in Singapore, half of her team doesn’t understand English.  But she was progressing and I had the impression that my job wasn’t done, and I could have made an even better player.  But it was her choice and I’m proud of what we accomplished.  On the other hand, we didn’t win a Grand Slam—and that was my goal…

Translated from the French by Mark Nixon.