Thursday, February 19, 2015


by Savannah

Monica Almeida/The New York Times photo d0a7de80-659d-4f82-ac5f-a27d86b4b08a_zps269aa6d3.jpg
Monica Almeida/New York Times

I gave myself some time to think about the interview Christopher Clarey of the NY Times had with Victoria Azarenka and published in the February 18 sports section. The article establishes the official time line as told by Sam Sumyk to Clarey and gives his (Sumyk's) account of what happened and when.

As many of you recall there was an article in the Sunday Magazine section of the above mentioned NY Times written by the same man, Christopher Clarey

For those who haven't read it or have and need a refresher in light of what's happened here are relevant quotes from Clarey's original article.

...But as her latest unwanted break from the game comes to an end after three and a half months, her coach, Sam Sumyk, says she is finally pain free.

“I think her motivation is pretty good, but I don’t want to get too excited or say too much,” Sumyk said. “Because at the same time last year, I thought 2014 would be a great year for her. All the lights were green. And look what happened.”

What happened in the first month of the season was a painful inflammation in her left foot. Sumyk said she later developed plantar fasciitis in the same foot, followed by tendinitis and a knee problem.

“I pushed, and I pushed last year, which was not smart,” Azarenka said. “Because it was rushed decisions and part of it was I didn’t trust my own intuition sometimes.”

...Azarenka remains a resident of Monaco but is finishing work on a residence in Manhattan Beach, Calif., an affluent Los Angeles suburb where her coach, Sumyk, and her agent, Meilen Tu, who are married, live a Frisbee throw from the ocean...

Azarenka described Sumyk as her life teacher, not just her coach, and she is adamant that there is too big a gap between her image and reality.

The publication date of the interview is given as January 3,2015.

Some life teacher. In the interview published today Sumyk says the following:

Sumyk said the offer from Bouchard came after he had decided to split with Azarenka — a split he said was motivated, in part, by the desire to keep progressing.

“I’m always looking for challenges,” Sumyk said. “I hate comfort. The moment I am in a comfortable situation, it’s the end of me growing up as a coach or as a person, if you want. I want to be the best coach possible.”


Sumyk said that when he returned to Los Angeles from Australia, he received, to his surprise, three coaching offers in two days. He said Bouchard told him plainly that he was the coach she wanted, just as Azarenka had five years earlier.

“I’m very grateful that another great player is thinking about me,” he said.

So everything was good to go, he had no plans to stop coaching Azarenka but he still had three offers waiting for him. Isn't that standard for a good coach? People are always on the lookout for a new coach. Why was Bouchard's request the one that changed his mind? Again from the interview that was published Wednesday.

Does his choice mean that he believes more in Bouchard’s prospects than he does in the 25-year-old Azarenka’s?

“I believe in both pictures,” he said. “I believe Vika is a fantastic player and can be fantastic and even better. I believe Eugenie is in a building process. And I believe she has a lot of great tools also to make it happen. I believe for both of them the future is bright.”

After mentioning that Azarenka was reluctant to talk about the split from Sumyk she is quoted as saying the following:

“In terms of like their situation, I will never comment on that; really it’s none of my business,” she said of Sumyk and Bouchard. “I’m sure we are going to meet again on the court, and there’s going to be a lot of buzz: Oh my God, blah, blah, blah. But I really don’t care about that. I really try to stick to what I’ve got to do and to be focused on my next step, my team.”

What do I think? I think that Azarenka has no pressure on her whatsoever. Neither does Wim Fissette. While I'm not a fan of his (his antics regarding what his then charge Simona Halep should do in the YEC still leave a bad taste in my mouth)I think it says something that a few weeks ago he was talking about not wanting to travel due to the impending birth of a child and his new tennis academy that he's now in Doha working with Vika. A coaching change is always difficult and it will take time for their relationship to gel and hopefully become one that will make Azarenka return to upper echelon of her sport. Her fans were happy about her return to main tour play in Australia and I believe they will be patient.

It's no secret to long time readers that Azarenka has never been a particular favorite of mine. Clarey mentions the medical time out that still haunts her reputation as well it should. No amount of excuses will change what she did.

Still it appears that she was the one done wrong in this situation and the tennis world, and fans, will give her and her new team time to get it together. I feel the same way about this that I felt when Li Na had to find out she'd lost her coach online. I was a business professional and manager for many years and the one thing you learn early is never to burn your bridges. Despite the digital age and the impersonal relationships it has spawned common courtesy as my mother used to call it, still means something.

I think Azarenka will be fine. The old folks had two expressions that apply to this situation. "Suffering is seasoning" is one. The other is the one I used in my response to Jo. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".

Azarenka has been the total professional here. That says something about her character and the people around her. I'm not going to become her biggest fan but I wish her well. That is all anyone can do at this point.


glxy55 said...

Sorry, but I seem to be missing something. It is unclear to me exactly when Sumyk decided to end his coaching relationship with Azarenka, but nothing in the article makes it clear that he had not made that decision prior to receiving the offer from Bouchard, as you suggest. I could use clarification on that point.
Regardless, Azarenka's belated public response and her sadness are clear evidence that she did not see this coming. From my seat on the sidelines, it seems that Sumyk was thinking only of Sumyk. Even if conceding his reasons for leaving (growth) are true, the following thoughts have gone through my mind:
1) If principles and a desire for personal growth are core to who he is exactly how does blatant disloyalty and betrayal contribute to that growth? Someone deeply motivated by personal growth, particularly selfless growth, would readily recognize the failure of character in departing the way that he did.
2) Given Azarenka's current rank and the challenge she faces returning to the top of the game, why isn't that challenge enough for someone that you care about, presuming you care about them?
3) As a growth-oriented person (suggesting character-centered), why had Sumyk not sat down with Victoria months ago and communicated his intentions? Based on this discussion, through mutual respect, the two could have worked out a planned timeline when he would leave...say within six months. There would have been no blindsiding, no betrayal, enough time for Azarenka to find a replacement, and opportunity to avoid the psychological blow.
I'm not a fan of Azarenka's, but what Sumyk did, how he did it, just feels wrong. It's easy to feel the hurt of betrayal in this situation. Sure, Sumyk's choice was his to make, but the circumstances under which he made it, and the manner in which he made it, makes it pretty clear that Sam is about Sam. Some "life teacher" he turned out to be.

Savannah said...

"Sorry, but I seem to be missing something. It is unclear to me exactly when Sumyk decided to end his coaching relationship with Azarenka, but nothing in the article makes it clear that he had not made that decision prior to receiving the offer from Bouchard, as you suggest. I could use clarification on that point."

Welcome glxy55.

I think the time is definitely, deliberately fudged. There was talk that Sumyk and Azarenka had officially split in December, prior to the AO as you know. Then people started asking why, if that was the case, was Sumyk actively coaching Azarenka in Melbourne?

Sumyk seems to be trying to appear less of a cad by saying it was when he got back from Melbourne that there were offers waiting for him - offers from three players with the implication that one of these requests was from Bouchard and that her direct appeal is what convinced him.

Don't forget that the original story was that Bouchard's trainer heard in December that Sumyk was leaving Azarenka and that he put Sumyk in touch with Bouchard. Remember that selfie with Bouchard, Sumyk and the trainer? That story seems to have gone by the wayside along with the December timeframe. If that storyline was followed it appears that Sumyk went to Australia knowing he was going to kick Vika to the curb in favor of Bouchard. I think that's why this new timeline has been created.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven and I guess the PR people came up with this story to make Sumyk seem less of a cad. I'm using that word to avoid using a word that begins with "d" and ends with "che".
As you say the betrayal level is high in this situation.

glxy55 said...

Savannah, Thanks for the response and the information. Actually, I wasn't aware of the background on this (the reports in December of Sumyk leaving). I guess that suggests there had been some prior dialogue between these two -- Sumyk and Azarenka; but still how this went down smells no less foul.
Yes, Sumyk definitely comes off the cad. In fact, I now feel inclined to use his name as a synonym for the word that begins with "d" and ends with "che". But, I won't. I will be thinking it though.

jo shum said...

Yep really good point about not sitting down and preparing for the split. Why not, if they are more family than coach-player relationship. And why hit vika right after the day she lost? If not that a prior agreement has been strike and that he had to move as he couldn't delay more. It's very fishy on the timing. If he is thinking of vika, why not give her some time to find replacement while he had 3 offers anyway. Consider how hot he is, there are bound to have players who are willing to wait.

Sometimes I think we make the coaches a lot more than they are. Sure, Sam made wonders to vika's game. But she is the one who is doing it all on the court, it is she who performs and always has the talent to shine. Before vika, nothing says much about Sam.

With this episode, it clearly put bad marks on him and on genie for me.