Huh? Is it just me, or is it incredibly weird that each of the women currently holding a Grand Slam moved on from their coach within a year of winning that Slam? Naomi Osaka took it to a new level by ending the relationship less than a month after. Any story on what went wrong?
• Lot of questions about Monday’s announcement that Naomi Osaka is no longer working with Sascha Bajin. It’s understandable. She’s won the past two majors. He was the 2018 WTA Coach of the Year. “Who breaks up while on this kind of run?” one of you asked.
Many of you expressed shock here; but I’d encourage you to plead that down to mild surprise. No doubt, the timing here is strange. But the contours of the player/coach relationship lend themselves to this kind of reassessment after success. During the rough patches—provided the player can afford to make payments—the coach is critical. Coaches provide support and emotional succor and work out kinks in the player’s game. In times of success, the player often wonders, “What do I need him for? I achieved this. I did the hard work. Now I am paying him this fat bonus. And he is taking credit?”
So: “Who breaks up while on this kind of run?” In short, a tennis player does. Angelique Kerber won Wimbledon and announced a coaching change in the fall. Simona Halep was ranked No. 1 for most 2018 but came to Australia without coach. Sloane Stephens has won a major and resided in the top five for the better of the last 18 months, but came to Australia without her usual adjutant, Kamau Murray.
Sometimes these moves are made for financial reasons. These bonuses are considerable and a renegotiating coach may overplay his hand. Sometimes players feel coaches are taking too much credit, conflating the player’s success with their own. But sometimes these moves are simply about timing the market. “Where’s he going to take me from here? Time to sell.”
Hindsight being what it is, I went back and looked at some of Osaka’s remarks. Here she is after the Australian Open final. Read this and tell me if you think this sounds like someone convinced her coach is indispensable.
Q: For the second Grand Slam final of your career, what kind of things did you talk about with Sascha beforehand?
OSAKA: I didn't talk to him (smiling). Q: Is that different?
OSAKA: I don't know. Yeah, no, like, we haven't really been talking, to be honest, like before any of my matches here. He would tell me, like, one thing, then I would be, like, okay. That was it.
Other quick points here:
1. The WTA is making an effort to bolster the profile of coaches. In Australia, coaches even held their own press conferences. As a fan and a media member, I say: great. The more insight and voices and perspective, the better. As a player, I’m not sure I’m thrilled that my coach is being put in this position, potentially revealing the equivalent of trade secrets.
2. Tennis coaching is always fraught, because the player is both the mentee and the employer. The coach is there for leadership; yet the player is paying the salary.
3. The good news for Bajin: tennis practices recycling. The turnover rate might be high, but so is the rehire rate. Bajin surely won’t be unemployed for long.
4. Meanwhile, to me, the real story is Osaka. In releasing Monday’s statement she made a more abstract statement as well. This was a decisive, unexpected move that perhaps suggests she’s more assertive and businesslike than one might have expected. It will be interesting to see how long she stays coachless. And who comes next.
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka revealed on Sunday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that her surprise split with her coach Sascha Bajin was not for financial reasons, adding that it was “hurtful” to hear such rumours circulating.
Osaka’s successful 13-month partnership with Bajin, that saw her win two Grand Slams and rise to the top of the world rankings, came to an end earlier this month when the Japanese star announced via social media that they would no longer be working together.
The 21-year-old did not elaborate on the reasons behind her decision but assured it was not financially-driven.
“Everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn’t. For me, that’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. I travel with everyone on my team, I see them more than my family. I would never do that to them,” Osaka told reporters on Sunday at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel in Dubai.
“I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness. I think everyone knows, in Charleston and stuff, I’ve had moments. I don’t know, that’s my main thing.”
Osaka was referring to the tournament in Charleston last year that came on the heels of her first career title at Indian Wells. Following her loss to Julia Goerges in Charleston, she had said that she woke up the previous day feeling “depressed” and she wasn’t sure why.
The freshly-crowned Australian Open champion did not say much more on the matter but made sure to pay tribute to Bajin and the work he put in during their partnership.
“I’m not going to say anything bad about him because, of course, I’m really grateful for all the things that he’s done. Yeah, I wouldn’t just come here and say anything bad,” she added.
“I feel like, if anything, you would have to be around him to see or ask him.”
The three reigning Grand Slam champions – Osaka, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber, have all parted ways with their coaches, for different reasons, since they’ve won their respective majors. For Osaka, she says her decision was not as sudden as it may seem.
“It was kind of brewing in Australia. I think some people could see that if they saw how we interacted,” she explained. “I would not want to split on really bad terms, I think, because of course he was sort of the one that, like, made me open up more to people. I didn’t want it to be really, like, a hostile thing.”
Making her first appearance as world No.1 in Dubai, Osaka is joined by her father, her fitness trainer Abdul Sillah, her trainer Kristy Stahr – whom she refers to as “Miss Super Star” – and Japanese coach Masashi Yoshikawa.
She says she will start her search for a new coach after Dubai, noting that arriving to Indian Wells, where she is the defending champion, without a coach is “not ideal”.
Asked what she’ll be looking for in a coach moving forward, Osaka responded: “For me, just to have a positive mindset. I don’t want someone that’s in the box saying negative stuff. That would be the worst.
“Yeah, someone that’s kind of direct, not afraid to say things to my face. I’d rather someone say it directly to me than go around my back. That’s one of the biggest things.”
Osaka seemed in a cheerful mood and looked comfortable discussing the topic. She will face Kristina Mladenovic in her opening match in Dubai. She has been spotted hitting with Yoshikawa on centre court and says the back injury that forced her out of Doha has subsided.
“Yoshikawa-san is not really my coach-coach. He’s just been helping me since I was 16. He’s one of the people that knows my game the most. He’s always around at certain tournaments, he’s always helping. I thought it would be a good idea for him to come here since I’m sort of stuck right now. This is the one tournament that I think I need someone around that’s very helpful,” said Osaka, who made the quarter-finals in Dubai last year.
It takes some barefaced cheek to sack somebody who has just led you to consecutive slams, bad-mouth him to the media & then blame the media & fans for you losing because they talk about the thing you created-of course it is the biggest story in the sport you chump-what did you think was going to happen?