L’INTERVIEW WITH LE COACH

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Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

A Street Corner Conversation With Patrick Mouratoglou

PARIS – For a journalist, there are few things that are more sweet than prepping for hours for an important interview and then seeing the hard work pay off. Still, spontaneous happenings on the circuit can be magical.

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Tuesday was a good and a bad day for me at the French Open. I left Roland Garros at 9:30 PM, by far my earliest getaway from the tourney. But it had been a bad day. I had chosen to go to the Andy Murray press conference instead of an event where I perhaps could have spoken with McEnroe and Navratilova.

So, as I left Roland Garros and headed out, and found myself walking along the gracious, almost vacant, Boulevard d’Auteuil, an unhappy naysayer within me shouted criticism: “What a rookie error you made! How could you?”

“Take it easy,” countered a calming voice. Then I looked up and said, “That can’t be. That guy standing up there all by himself 40 yards ahead at the corner of Rue des Pins looks a bit like Patrick (i.e. Patrick Mouratoglou, who has incredibly guided Serena to 10 Grand Slam wins in the last 18 she’s played).”

“Nah, can’t be,” I said. But, amazingly, it was Patrick. His flawless continental look was, as always, in place: great jeans, stylish blue blazer.

We laughed. And why not? The Frenchman and I have a happy history. I interviewed him in the Wimbledon Tea Room. In 2015, in the Australian Open media cafeteria, I argued long and loud that he should insist that Serena at last bury the hatchet and go back to Indian Wells.

Mostly, tournament after tournament, I hunt him down following Serena matches, in search of insights. After all, Mouratoglou is crazy smart. He has a telegenic charisma. His Hollywood good looks appeal, and he’s blessed with a Paul Newman-like twinkle.

He’s the coach with the best promotional skills since Nick Bollettieri. And, unlike super coaches Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker, he’s available. He talks, he laughs and he’s nice.

So we chuckled. “For once, Patrick,” I joked, “I won’t be chasing you after some big match. But I do have my recorder. Can we talk?”

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L’INTERVIEW

BILL SIMONS: Patrick, talk to me about Serena. The other day you said she is probably going to come back.

PATRICK MOURATOGLOU: She will come back.

SIMONS: But my friends say Serena has such a strong, deep maternal quality.

MOURATOGLOU: I cannot say that she will 100% come back. That’s out of my control. But what I can say is that when she called me to tell me about her pregnancy, in the same sentence she told me that she was pregnant, she told me her career is not over. She wants to come back and I will wait for her.

She came to Paris and she wanted to speak with me and the topic was her coming back. We talked about what are we going to work on, when do we start and all those questions.

She texted me the other day saying, “I am going onto a tennis court because I really want to keep contact with the ball.” I mean, she’s really into it. So it would be a surprise if she changes her mind. But please – I’ve said this before – write down that she has no chance to come back, that will just help her to come back.

SIMONS: I’m hoping that just like when Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open and brought her one-year-old daughter Jada out on court in New York, that someday Serena will do the same thing with her child.

MOURATOGLOU: But maybe it will happen earlier.

SIMONS: With all this controversy about the name of Margaret Court Arena, our joke in the press room has been that Serena won’t name her child Billie Jean, Althea, Venus or Oracene – she’ll call her Margaret.

MOURATOGLOU: That’s a good one. Actually, I don’t think many people want to name their kid Margaret at the moment. She’s not getting very good press these days.

SIMONS: The woman’s tournament is now so wide open. There isn’t a Grand Slam winner left in the field.

MOURATOGLOU: Anyone can win now. Of course, Halep is the big favorite. She’s won a lot on clay lately. She has the best record on clay this season. She already has played a final here. Emotion is going to play a big part in the final, because what is happening this year [with so many big name players not here] is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

So some players will think, “Wow, this is maybe the chance of my life.” So this will put extra pressure on them. This reminds me of the [2013] Wimbledon – the year Marion Bartoli won.

SIMONS: A 1000-to-1 shot.

MOURATOGLOU: Everyone was out. Bartoli was the only one who had the mental focus to do it. [Aga] Radwanska didn’t, the others didn’t.

So it is the one who is the strongest mentally who is going to win this tournament. I think someone who has a bit more experience has a better chance, or maybe someone who is really young and is not thinking and has no pressure, if you know what I mean. It’s either-or.

SIMONS: When you have to go, Patrick, just let me know.

MOURATOGLOU: No, I’m waiting for my wife. This is fine.

SIMONS: Tell me about Roger’s incredible comeback. He’s won the three biggest tournaments of the year.

MOURATOGLOU: I can say that all the work he has put in for three years and all the changes he’s made in his game have paid off. It took a lot of time because he made major changes – coming to net more often – he was not used to that. It’s a long process and he has been developing that because he was thinking that his major opponents are guys who are younger, who like long rallies, and in five sets against those guys, he has no other options but to shorten the rallies and to become efficient. So he did. It is the result of three years of work, not three months or six months. So it’s great. Not everyone could do that. It shows that work pays off. And even champions – and this may be the greatest in the history of the men’s game – [are] trying to find solutions to keep on winning.

SIMONS: So if the tennis gods said, “Guess what Patrick, you’re now in charge, you can make any one change in our great game?”

MOURATOGLOU: Only one?

SIMONS: Pardon, Patrick, but don’t be greedy.

MOURATOGLOU: I would change everything that is possible to help the people who are behind the camera to get to know and to get emotionally involved with some of the players they like. Because the success of sport is emotion and if you find a way to have the guy behind the TV [camera] have a relationship with a champion, he will root for him and he will have emotions and love our sport.

It’s something we haven’t been good at over the last 20 years. In the ’80s, the McEnroe and Borg fans were all emotionally involved because they could show their personalities.

Today, personalities are not really shown, because players are bored – they are giving too many interviews. They are trying to protect themselves too much. Because of the code of conduct, players don’t show their emotions on court – they try to hide them. And the surfaces all look the same. That destroys diversity. I want diversity. Diversity in behavior, diversity in styles, diversity of ages. So there are three or four smart decisions to make and if they are made we will have far more diversity. And for our sport it’s more than important.

SIMONS: Patrick, you are such a great coach. You did wonders for Serena at a time when she had issues. One of our great young players is Nick Kyrgios. Some say he has a great heart. But he also has demons. If Nick came to you, what would you say to him?

MOURATOGLOU: I would not talk, I would listen. I would want to hear what he feels inside. What makes him make wrong choices? But I think he is just protecting himself. So I would listen to him so we could build the trust and a relationship so he would actually let me help him.

Because at the moment, he doesn’t let anyone help him. To me it’s about protection. It’s his way for him to protect himself. But, it is not the best way to reach your goals.

SIMONS: Some fears. Of the young guys – say Zverev, Thiem and Kyrgios – who do you see emerging so as to reach the very top?

MOURATOGLOU: I think they will all emerge. Thiem is better on clay to start with, and then will have better results on other surfaces. Zverev and Kyrgios are better on other surfaces. Between those three and some others there will be a change.

SIMONS: Well, thank you, Patrick. This is the very best interview I’ve ever done on a street corner.

 

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