I just read this interview Victoria Azarenka did with Christopher Clarey of the New York Times about the changes in her tennis life. I'll post most of it and comment later since I'm literally on my way out of the door.
No Bitterness From Victoria Azarenka After Surprise Split With Coach
FEB. 18, 2015
It ended abruptly for Victoria Azarenka and her longtime coach Sam Sumyk, at least from Azarenka’s perspective.
During their five years together, Azarenka won two Grand Slam singles titles, rose to No. 1 and then dropped in the rankings last season while struggling with injuries and personal issues.
But Azarenka showed distinct signs of resurgence last month at the Australian Open, and she said she was surprised when Sumyk informed her of his decision to terminate the partnership the day after her fourth-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova.
“I never will forget what we achieved together and always will be grateful, but yeah, it was a bit surprising for me,” Azarenka said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Doha, Qatar. “To me, it’s just sad. There’s no other emotion. There’s no anger. There’s no anything else but just sadness, because it’s like a breakup in a way.”
The week after the Australian Open ended, Sumyk was already coaching Eugenie Bouchard, the 20-year-old Canadian who reached the Wimbledon final last year and is now ranked No. 7.
On Tuesday, Azarenka, now at No. 50 after playing sparingly in 2014, confirmed that she was training in Doha with Wim Fissette, the Belgian who has coached Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep.
“Vika is one of the best players in the world, and hopefully I can make her even a better player than she is right now,” Fissette said of Azarenka in an email. “I felt from the first conversation with her that she really is very motivated to get back to the top of women’s tennis, and I feel that now being with her in Doha.”
Sumyk said his decision to leave Azarenka, who is Belarussian, for Bouchard was not driven by money.
“No, my deal with Vika was very good,” he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Tuesday. “I would like to tell you, ‘O.K., I don’t like money.’ No. Like everybody, I’ve got to pay my taxes, but pleasure is my No. 1 priority.”
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 he had also told Azarenka she could benefit from hearing a fresh voice. “I’m not going to go into why I said that,” he said. “That’s between us, but that’s what I told her.”
Azarenka needed a crash course in coaching candidates after Sumyk’s unexpected departure. Fissette coached Clijsters during her successful comeback to the tour from 2009 to 2011, and then helped Halep get to the French Open final and reach No. 2 last year. Halep’s decision to split with Fissette after the season was unexpected, and she attributed it to wanting to work with a fellow Romanian.
Fissette was a candidate to coach the young American Madison Keys, but Keys elected to work with Lindsay Davenport and Davenport’s husband, Jon Leach, and went on to reach the Australian Open semifinals last month.
Azarenka said her agent Meilen Tu had made the initial contact with Fissette before Azarenka followed up.
“I know he had great experience with other players, and for me, what’s important is the personality more than the titles,” she said. “I don’t look for a coach to be a one week or one month. I look for somebody now I can have a good long-term relationship with.”
Fissette said Azarenka would spend some time training at his academy in Belgium. “As I just started an academy in January, we had to find a good compromise, and I believe we did,” he said. “I’ll be with her at most of the tournaments.”
Sumyk, a Frenchman, is married to Tu, a former American touring professional. They live in Newport Beach, Calif., where Azarenka also owns a home. But Azarenka said that Sumyk’s decision would not affect the player-agent relationship.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term, but I’m happy with my situation right now,” Azarenka said.
“I think it’s their business to kind of block it out, business and family,” she said of Tu and Sumyk. “But if we would have ended things with Sam in a bad way, I think it would have been weird. But I feel we ended it on good terms. I mean it’s difficult to call it good, because it feels sad. But in a way, it was a good ending, so there’s no weirdness.”
In an interview before the season, Azarenka called Sumyk her “life teacher” and talked extensively about his role in helping her understand not just her game but herself.
Last year, she said she struggled with depression after breaking up with her boyfriend, the musician Stefan Gordy, also known as Redfoo.
Now she has to cope with more change in her inner circle as she prepares to play in Doha next week.
“It was tough, because of the relationship we have,” she said of Sumyk. “It’s more than just a player and a coach, so that’s a tough part. But the professional decision I have to respect that, and I do.”
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.
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.”
Azarenka was reticent to discuss Sumyk’s decision to work with Bouchard. But she did make it clear that her tweet on Feb. 12 — “Level of excitement right now on a scale 1 to 10 is about a 100” — had nothing to do with Bouchard losing her first match under Sumyk that day to Mona Barthel. Instead, Azarenka said the tweet had everything to do with her finally getting to see the film “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“I read the books and everything and watched the trailer 100 times with my friends, so when we finally got the tickets, I was so excited, so I tweeted that,” she said. “And after the movie, I come out and see like on the Twitter: ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe she said that.’ ”
Azarenka said she did not even know Bouchard was playing that day. “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.”
Azarenka said she believed the atmosphere on the women’s tour had become much more collegial and that she intended to keep it that way.
“I think we had enough drama in the women’s game, and I think the guys show us in a way really a great example: that you can be competitive but you still can be friendly,” she said. “So for me, I’m not going to try to think of this situation like it’s a drama.”