Feb/19

12

Osaka Rejects Bajin

At the end of 2018, Naomi Osaka had never won a professional tournament and was ranked outside the top 50 at 68. She was viewed as an introverted, one-dimensional baseline basher who was not considered a sure-fire future Grand Slam champion by tennis observers.

Then Osaka made an intelligent decision – she hired Sasha Bajin as her new coach. Bajin had been the hitting partner for former top players like Serena and Azarenka but Chris Evert revealed that he was in fact a coach influence more so than just a hired hitting partner.

Osaka and Bajin had chemistry and the big results came quickly. Osaka won Indian Wells, her first pro title, after three months of working with Bajin. Then she beat Serena at the Miami Open in straight sets.

During the year of 2018, Osaka emerged out of her shell and began to show an interesting, talkative and fun character, notably different than her shy personality. I remember last year she did an interview after a match on the set and her short, bland answers made her sounds like a young teenager. Perhaps she was just shy and still uncomfortable with all the attention. But that would soon change.

At the end of the summer she shocked the world and won the US Open, outplaying, outhitting and outsmarting the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis, Serena Williams. Overcoming not only the pressure and drama of the situation, but also the psychological chaos that Serena’s misbehavior caused, Osaka evolved into a young woman right before our eyes, handling her new superstardom with remarkable grace, class, humility and maturity.

She continued with Bajin and then won the Australian Open, overcoming a totally different adversity. After blowing three straight championship points at the end of the second set, Osaka was forced by Pliskova into a third set which she settled down for and ultimately won. It was two of the most incredible Grand Slam conquests you will ever see in pro tennis. Osaka clearly was on her way to super champion status, with Bajin who was voted Coach of the Year for his work in 2018.

But suddenly two weeks after Osaka’s Melbourne conquest, she has decided to cut ties with Bajin. Thanking him for his support and work in a Tweet yesterday and wishing him luck. Bajin replied that he appreciated being a part of the ride and wished her luck too.

In other sports, this stunning decision would not be unlike the six time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots suddenly firing long time coach Bill Belichik. But tennis is different than football and the value of the coach for his or her technical, motivational and verbal influence always becomes a question after a while, after the relationship grows.

Did Bajin run out of ideas? Did Bajin lose Osaka’s attention? Did Bajin demand too much money? Did Bajin teach her everything he knows?

The player is the one who has to play the matches, makes the shots, win the points, beat the opponent and win tournaments. They get and deserve all the glory.

Whatever Bajin did or did not do, it has been decided his services are no longer necessary or of enough value to further benefit Osaka.

And that’s the cold reality of professional tennis. The player is the boss and calls all the shots. And all the subordinates on the team have to bite their lips and say Yes sir or yes ma’am.

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42 comments

  • jg · February 12, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Maybe he will become Serena’s coach [again].

  • catherine · February 13, 2019 at 1:40 am

    Sascha was never Serena’s coach. He was her main hitting partner and wanted to be more of a coach – but Patrick had that gig so Sascha moved on.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Catherine, Chris Evert said on ESPN that Sasha was her de facto coach but for some reason they publicly limited him as just the hitting partner. We speculated on the motives for this in the past but let’s not go there again πŸ™‚ Now the guy finally gets officially titled as the coach and the player wins two majors, a premier event and goes from 68 in the world to no. 1. That’s a better coaching accomplishment than anything Mouratoglou ever did.

  • catherine · February 13, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Scoop –
    According to Serena Patrick was and is her coach. I don’t know how Chris would know any different. Whatever you think about Patrick he certainly gave Serena some extra motivation and she has stuck to him ever since they got together. And she is still with him. Can’t see Patrick ever playing second fiddle to a younger and less experienced guy either.

    Serena was a top player when Mourataglou took over, she contacted him, not the other way around, with him she won in Paris which she always thought was beyond her – there’s no comparison with Sascha and Osaka.

    Chris is always coming out with these ‘exclusives’ but she isn’t always to be believed.

    Sascha was/is ambitious. He wasn’t going to get anywhere as part of Serena’s team so he left. Sascha may be a good coach, obviously is, but there’s a flaw most likely. I’d be interested to see who hires him next.

    (Read the comment on the earlier thread which Osaka’s mother posted on IG)

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Catherine, Serena was a GREAT player before Mouratoglou hopped on her coattails. Osaka was NOT a great player before Bajin entered her life/career.

  • catherine · February 13, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Scoop – that was my point. Serena was already established as a player and Naomi’s just starting out. More chance for a coach to make his/her name and reputation.

    And Serena was looking for a coach – she chose Patrick for a reason. It was her decision. Whoever she picked as her coach could have been accused of jumping on her bandwagon – may not have been the scenario.

  • jg · February 13, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    I bet Sasha did more coaching than Patrick, just like Patrick says he’s Tsitipas’ coach, when the players father is doing all the coaching.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Serena and Patrick were a dating couple in the beginning weren’t they? Or was that what she wanted to project after Dimitrov fled her?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    jg there is major speculation Patrick is an opportunist.

  • catherine · February 13, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Scoop – you seem to have a major dislike for Patrick M. He’s half Greek so takes an interest in Tsitipas – has he ever described himself as T’s coach ?

    jg – We really have no idea how much coaching Sascha did with Serena. It’s possible she could relax with him more when she wasn’t in a tournament.

    Serena and Patrick were together for a while – she’s discussed that and Patrick did not deny it in his autobiography. So no mystery. Serena admitted it was difficult at first to carry on as coach and pupil when they had parted romantically.

    A lot of coaches are opportunists. Goes with the territory.

  • catherine · February 13, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Actual tennis – no big surprises in Doha – Hsieh out and a virus eliminating Ka Pliskova. Simona not looking too fresh but bt Tsurenko SS. Kerber bt Kontaveit – 6-1 and 4-1 and then Angie seemed to stop playing for a while – squeaked through the tiebreak. A viewer’s comment: ‘why do you make life so hard for yourself ?’ Mentally she’s not right yet. Not after AO.

    It’s cold and empty in the desert evening. No atmosphere.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    Catherine, I do not dislike the man at all, he’s become a popular figure in tennis, just suspicious of if he’s really a good coach as I presented the facts that his work with players previous to Serena was ordinary at best https://www.tennis-prose.com/articles/scoop/did-mouratoglou-…the-womens-final/

    None of his players accomplished anything nor did they vault up the rankings under his direction. Osaka undeniably became a superstar elite player under Bajin. Tsitsipas is coached by his father and the father Apostolous deserves most of the credit.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 13, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    I think Patrick M. is a brilliant coach. He’s gotten Serena to a much higher level and seems like a very positive coach who can hit the well himself and is a very good communicator. Look, the fact of the matter is Osaka probably didn’t think that much of Bajin if he fired him. Why rock the boat if you really think you have a good thing? Obviously, she thinks it wasn’t such a good thing. Only time will tell if she’s right or not.

  • Hartt · February 13, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Denis Shapovalov just played a brilliant match against Berdy, winning in SS. Tomas did not play badly for the most part, but there wasn’t much he could do against Denis today. The youngster had a good balance between patience and aggression, not trying to go for winners too early. This showed up in the stats, he had 33 winners to 23 UFEs.

    My commies, Lester and Palmer, could not say enough good things about Denis’ “brilliant display.”

    Milos did not have his best tennis today and lost to Stan in SS. Denis will play Stan next. If he can get close to this level it should be a compelling match.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    I have never seen patrick hitting with serena. The one practice I watched in miami she was hitting with robby poole. before serena came to the court patrick was hitting with a fat guy who is part of team serena, he sits in the back rows. Have no idea what his role is. He was still there in australia this year i noticed. Dan, what is serena doing differently under patrick’s instructions? She’s playing the same exact way as she always has, to my eyes.

  • Jg · February 13, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    And Chris Everett would know, Serena practices when in Florida at the Everett Academy ( or used to) so she would see them, I’m sure Patrick was rarely there as he has his own academy. Regardless, Serena has been winning ever since she started so maybe credit her father. But I think the hitting coach is influential and may have better insight.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    Right jg, I don’t think Evert would waste her words or intentionally carelessly misinform ESPN viewers by saying that Bajin really was her coach but he was belittled publicly as being a mere hitting partner. Evert knows. Osaka tried the same thing in her AO victory speech, thanking Bajin for hitting with her. That probably was a hint that she was phasing him out. Bajin did an AO press conference but he really didn’t say much of how he helps her other than working on angles, working hard, trying to get better each day. I mean what can a coach tell a WTA player that she hasn’t already heard? Hit harder? Open up the court then Go to her backhand? Body serve? One of the worst, most insecure jobs in the world might be getting hired to coach a WTA player. Jimmy Connors could vouch for that.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 13, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Sharapova has pulled out of IW with a bad shoulder. She couldn’t give it a week to see if it heals?

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 1:59 am

    It’s a presumption to imagine we understand what goes on between people we don’t know – tennis players or anyone else. I notice Martina hasn’t made any comment on the Osaka business, or none that I’ve seen. I trust Martina more than Chris.

    Scoop – so much of coaching on the women’s side is mental. Not so important how you hit the ball. The best coaches seem to be more shrinks thsn technicians.

    Eg – Kerber played poorly yesterday, passive and inhibited. She needed 8 match points to beat Kontaveit.
    My feeling is that she has not recovered from the thrashing Collins gave her in Melbourne. Is Schuettler the coach to reset her psychologically ? If he isn’t I can’t see him staying around long either.

    Not so long ago we were all praising Tursonov for his work with Sabalenka and his insights – so it’ll be interesting to watch Aryna’s progress and how long T’s reputation can survive if she hits a slump.

    As you say Scoop, a pretty insecure job.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 2:04 am

    Hartt – very good play from Denis. I even forgave him for wearing his cap backwards πŸ™‚

    Look forward to Wawrinka match.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 14, 2019 at 3:21 am

    I think most of all what Patrick has given Serena is belief. She was flagging if I recall correctly before she started working with her. Look, coaches matter. I know Spadea said to me that Roddick wasn’t the same after he and BG split up. Spadea used to practice with Roddick when BG was coaching him and he said he got Roddick to work harder. It’s remarkable how far Patrick has taken Serena. Maybe if Venus had had Patrick as her coach she would’ve won another slam or two.

    I don’t think it’s so much the tips or coaching a player receives before a match–during it if hand signals are used–that matter so much. I think it’s the way a player trains under a coach. I don’t think it can be underestimated the training setup established by a coach for a player. Look at Bollettiieri, was he so great a coach, probably not, but as Becker says, he got you to believe you could do things you didn’t even quite believe. That’s what Patrick has done and continues to do for Serena.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 5:27 am

    Dan – I think you’re right. Serena called Patrick after she lost in the first round in Paris and presumably felt she needed help, she was at a dead end. She’d lost her belief.

    They obviously had rapport, thought the same way on the tennis court and it worked. Also, that they could go through the emotional relationship and still continue together as coach/player surely shows how strong the connection is.

    I suspect the reason players drop coaches frequently and often after only a short while is they know instinctively that the bond of trust and way to building self-belief either isn’t there or has been broken.

  • Hartt · February 14, 2019 at 7:35 am

    Catherine, as you can imagine I was thrilled with how well Denis played. I have been giving him a pass on the backwards baseball cap because he is still a teenager. But he turns 20 in April and won’t have that excuse then. πŸ™‚

  • Dan Markowitz · February 14, 2019 at 8:17 am

    Look at Stevie Johnson. He just lost his 10th match in a row dating back to the US Open when he lost a five-setter to Thiem. Last night at the graveyard they call the NY Open, he lost again to Brayden Schnur. No offense to Schnur, but he’s no Boris Becker. Johnson since his father died so suddenly a year and a half ago has been a shell of a player that he was climbing the ATP rankings and once being the greatest college tennis player of all time. The college GOAT. I think his father dying, even though he wasn’t his active coach, has had a lot to do with Steve’s rapid decline.

    I don’t care if Bernie Tomic is a heel. I like watching him play. He gave Isner a good match even though it ended in straight sets. I’d say Tomic is the closest out there these days to the Magician, Santoro, in the way he cultivates his shots and works points. He just doesn’t quite have the variety of Santoro and also moves like a snail. Tomic is the only player who ever lived who makes Isner look fast.

    I don’t know what they’re charging for tickets at this event, but maybe they should think of playing tennis on one of the two courts at the Nassau Coliseum and staging a regional theater showing of “Hamilton” on the other court. It might draw more fans.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 9:04 am

    There’s no proof of that Dan and Serena hasn’t, to my knowledge, publicly said these things about Patrick’s coaching prowess. She certainly doesn’t ever want his coaching advice during any matches. It’s a fine line from success and failure in tennis coaching. One day you are a coaching genius, a week later you’re out of a job. The example of Osaka and Bajin proves this. Patrick’s coaching didn’t do much for Pavlyuchenkova, Dimitrov, Chardy, Robson, etc.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Serena has never been at a dead end, she is the greatest fighter in WTA history. Losses make her stronger and greater. Maybe she was emotionally devastated after Dimitrov rejected her. No other WTA player could break Serena’s spirit and put her at a mental and confidence dead end. Not humanly possible for any female player to inflict that kind of mental damage on Serena.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Hope the New York Open becomes the Tampa Open in a year or two. It’s obviously not working in NY in February. The crowds at these matches is smaller than some of my tournament matches and that’s preposterous. Maybe the ATP needs to clone John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and get them back on the tour. Imagine if we get an Albot vs Istomin final? They might have to pay people to show up.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Johnson won the Houston title last year. I find it odd he’s not playing doubles with his pal and former partner Querrey, both are with different partners. To my eyes, Johnson looks slower. Two years ago he was quick as a cat and one of the very best movers in the ATP. He doesn’t look as quick now. That could be the problem, lost a fraction of speed and it has major ramifications.

  • jg · February 14, 2019 at 9:45 am

    I remember watching The Memphis Open (which became he New York Open), Memphis was played in a much smaller venue, but was packed and looked like it had great atmosphere, I don’t know how they can sustain the NY Open at the current venue, and maybe in February Tennis is not a great draw in NY, at least in the suburbs, I would have to think NYC would fare much better. Its the demographics–less and less people are driving, so you need public transport to support a sporting event (the exception is Indian Wells but that’s a destination). You also have to wonder about Cincinnati, not a destination and not a major City–they have the crowds now, but who knows what the future holds. Look at the Australian Open, everyone says the love it because you can walk to the facility from downtown, US Open–hop on the subway. Larry Ellison tried to purchase the Citi Open for 20 million, but Mark Ein (who owns the Kastles and World Team Tennis) bought it at a lower price but will be keeping it in DC–as long as he can work out a deal with the Parks Service on upgrades to the facility–if no upgrades the ATP may move it or downgrade it. Even the Citi Open which is in DC but not walking distance to a metro stop, recognized the transport issue and cut a deal with Llyft to provide added transport, and they run constant shuttles from the metro. Unless its very easy to get there, there is no way I would go to the NY Open in February–I would rather see the Knicks who are lousy, but its a no hassle event.

    That said, I was a few games to Tomic Isner, I agree with Dan–Tomic is fun to watch, I suspect if he got his act together he could make a run.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Strycova takes 1st set 6-1 v Kerber. You should see Rainer Schuettler’s face. Time for a bathroom break Angie. But not funny.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Scoop – why does Patrick still have a job with Serena ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 10:05 am

    And driving to Hempstead NY on a dark cold February night is just not a good idea to go see tennis matches which you can see on TV on tennis Channel. Venues in tennis are important, everyone loves going to Key Biscayne, Wimbledon, US Open, AO, Monte Carlo, Acapulco, even Cincy is a key tournament which attracts the tennis fans from neighboring states. Tennis is huge in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio and Cincy Open is their only chance to see a big event. It was a good idea to try the NY Open but it was a longshot, shot in the dark. Even John McEnroe doesn’t bother to show up and support it. Wonder why he wasn’t there to support his Academy player Noah Rubin?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Catherine, good question. McEnroe thought she was going to part ways with him after the US Open, he was surprised they are still together. Maybe it boils down to she likes his presence and she is just too old and experienced to start a new coaching relation. At this point Serena knows all she knows about playing and just plays her game. Like Venus, who also doesn’t need a new coach. Patrick is part of the core team and she likes his company and support. Serena is self driven, she works hard, she knows how to play tennis, she still has the hunger to win, not sure what any person could dare to suggest to Serena to do differently. Hey Serena, let’s work on serve and volley today, or let’s work on drop shots and forehand slices. I don’t think Serena would bite on those ideas. She’s the boss and she calls the shots. Patrick knows his place. My guess is he’s a pretty good Yes man.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Angie wins in 3 sets and t/b third set. In the end she played through her fears and demons and came out ahead and maybe that match is going to help her. But she’ll win more easily if she can think aggressively. He (she) who hesitates….etc

    Plenty of drama from Strycova, issues with the shot clock and so on, but that’s usual from Barbora.

    Don’t think Angie had occ – they had ads on my stream. Good if she didn’t.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Catherine, did either player ever try to get to net or was it all baseline rallies?

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Scoop – it was a bit of a mix – Strycova played more of an all court game than Angie, who stuck to her usual style for the first half of the match and then began to attack a little more in the last set – but pretty defensive overall. I wonder if she might do better coming in more and cutting the rallies short but I doubt she’ll change her game at this stage. I think she knows what’s lacking.

    Schuettler sits there stony faced – like Lendl watching Murray – expressionless.

    Angie will play Bertens/Mertens and that might be a baseline-fest.

  • catherine · February 14, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Weird – I saw this match described as a ‘net-charging onslaught’ from Strykova (tennis.com) and the impression was given that she came in at every opportunity. Certainly wasn’t the match I saw, and I watched most of it. Didn’t s/volley hardly at all.

    Maybe we have different interpretations of ‘net-charging’.

  • catherine · February 15, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    Final will be Halep v Mertens – Simona to win. Mertens v Kerber a ragged 3 setter, Angie losing 3rd set 1-6. Not even close. She kept tugging at her plait like it was too tight and giving her a headache. Mentally, not there. Mertens had coach out twice – Angie not once that I saw. Significant? Maybe after Osaka split we’ve got coaches on the brain. Will Naomi turn up next week coachless? Fascinating.

    Doha is Dubai lite.

  • catherine · February 15, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Mertens/Kerber had one of the coldest handshakes I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Angie means to be rude – she’s just completely self-absorbed. Not recognising her opponent at all.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 15, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    Kerber is not one to get all phony at the handshakes, she does it her way, safe to guess she does not like her opponents on the court and doesn’t feel any obligation to pretend to. Appreciate that sincerity.

  • catherine · February 16, 2019 at 2:05 am

    When Angie wins she can be warm and generous but when she loses badly she can’t dissimulate. She’s hurt. So yes, I do appreciate her sincerity. On Twitter she goes quiet when she’s not doing well, rather than put on a false face, the way many do. Maybe that’s why she enjoys photoshoots etc – it’s artificial and she can hide behind the studio scenario. Not a real world.

    Is Schuettler the right coach for her ? Someone online suggested the DTB employ a team of shrinks rather than coaches for the German players. Has a grain of truth πŸ™‚

  • Hartt · February 16, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Catherine, I love the “team of shrinks” for the German players. I think that team would be useful for the French players as well. πŸ™‚

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