He’s called Le Coach. Patrick Mouratoglou, who is based in France and is of Greek origin, has a chance to become the coach of both the men’s and women’s Australian Open champions. His students, Serena and Stefanos Tsitsipas, could prevail. And Mouratoglou is more then a coach. An entrepreneur, an author and a commentator, he opens up and tells his truth. Here’s what he said after Serena beat Simona Halep last night.
Q. Is this the best you have seen Serena since she’s come back?
PATRICK MOURATOGLOU: Generally speaking, [in] the tournament, yes. She’s fitter than she was, because even though she made a lot of effort to come back in shape, I don’t think she had enough time. Having a baby is a big thing.
So for a top-level athlete to come back and be 100%…there was not enough time. Now she’s ready physically, [ready] emotionally, too, because it’s a big change to have a baby and you need to get used to a new life…Her level is good. She needed a big fight, and it happened today and it’s a great thing. Especially when it ends like that.
Q. What do you think she brought in the 2-3 and 3-all game in the third set?
MOURATOGLOU: She was being herself. That’s her trademark, to be able to play those moments better than the opponent. One of her main qualities is to be a top competitor…[That] means being able to turn matches around, to feel the big moments and on those moments, raise [your] level…She knew she should not get broken at that time, and she found a way. And then the match changed.
Q. Serena’s an incredible champion, an incredible woman, and a cultural icon. What have you learned from her?
MOURATOGLOU: When you start this job, you have an idea of what a champion is in terms of mindset, and she just comes from that 100%. She doesn’t think like other players. I’ve worked with thousands of players, from young players to pros, and there is only one Serena in terms of mindset. And that explains why there is only one Serena with this career…
You become who you are, how you think, and a champion – There are a few things that champions do or think that are different than other people. I always tell this story. Roland Garros was always a difficult tournament for her and when we started 2012 she had lost in the first round. And after she started to win Grand Slams again she told me she was struggling to win Roland Garros. Last time she won [had been] in 2002, and we made a plan, and she worked incredibly hard to win in 2013. After the trophy ceremony…she told me, ‘Come with me, I’m stretching.’ After two minutes she turned to me and said, ‘Now we have to win Wimbledon.’ She already forgot…[that she] was chasing something for 11 years…She was already focusing on the next goal. That’s different. There are guys who win one tournament and they celebrate for 15 years (laughter).
Q. That’s a great story. Do you believe she’ll win this tournament?
MOURATOGLOU: Of course I believe she will win. If I don’t believe she will win I should coach somebody else. First of all, I always think she can win, and she will win. I should be in that state of mind. Because she’s Serena. And my job is to make sure she’s ready and I feel she’s ready. Yes, she can win, and I hope she will win. That’s 100% the goal.
Q. If she will win or she can win?
MOURATOGLOU: I think she will win. I don’t know she will win because I don’t know the history of what’s going to happen…I don’t read in the future so I cannot say…but I think she will win, yes.
Q. Do you worry at all that what happened at the US Open might irreparably damage your relationship? Did you worry you might get thrown under the bus for what happened?
MOURATOGLOU: No, I didn’t worry about that at all. For many reasons…I hope that every time a coach gets a code violation for coaching he doesn’t get fired – otherwise there will be guys fired every two days.
Second, I hope that our seven years’ relationship is a bit stronger than a chair umpire. Third, if she did something – that would be an emotional decision, and she doesn’t do that. She’s much too smart. And even though I would have made a big mistake, which I don’t think I did…she does mistakes too. We are all human…It’s not a reason for making a decision that would have an impact on your future. She’s smart enough to think like that. Is he the right person for me to get what I want or not? If not, okay. But she doesn’t need a chair umpire to know that.
Q. Is she more motivated? Did she gain extra motivation by not winning in New York and what happened there?
MOURATOGLOU: I don’t think she’s more motivated. She was very motivated last year, but it was just too early…She was ready to reach a final but there is a big difference between reaching a final and winning…I didn’t want to say it when she lost, because it sounds like an excuse. But you cannot buy time…To get back in shape after a baby, a few months are not enough. She still could have won because she’s doing things other people don’t, but the story said it was too early. That’s it.
You need your body to work perfectly well to compete at the highest level, and I think the transformation of the body for a woman when she has a baby is huge, and to get back to what it was before, you need time and you need a lot of exercise…For many months, you can’t do what you want to do, because the body is not able to do it…So you can’t practice. For example, before Roland Garros, I didn’t want to make her move on the court because I thought it was dangerous for her. I didn’t want her to get hurt. So she was practicing staying on one side, and then she has to compete at Roland Garros. And then there is the emotional part and the transformation…She’s a professional tennis player and she becomes a mother and it’s a big transformation and I don’t think that it’s something that you deal with easily. You need to also adapt to your new life.
Q. There are a lot of cameras behind the scenes here, capturing moments in the halls. Players sometimes don’t seem to be aware they are on camera….
MOURATOGLOU: We have to really worry about seducing the young generations with our sport. Our sport is very, very conservative, which is good, because we respect the history of the game – that’s great – but also we have to live in our times, and be able to make the moves so tomorrow our sport will still be one of the biggest sports in the world…Fans need to know the players, so the behind-the-scenes [cameras] are so important, because…watching a good tennis match is enough for us. But the people who are not tennis fans… we have to attract them. So…all the behind-the-scenes [coverage] shows the personalities of the players. To let the players express themselves in matches even though they break racquets is not killing anyone – it’s just behaving emotionally. People are human and it’s good emotions – they have bad emotions.
What Frances Tiafoe is doing is unbelievable for our sport…The cameras capture a reality. Coaching is part of the game. If you show it, it’s also an incredible adventure for people to see…I’m happy that the Laver Cup exists, because there is not only one way to show a tennis match and we have to realize that everybody loves it, because it has to be entertainment.
Q. Backers of Serena would say, ‘Maybe something’s happening at the US Open, going all the way back to the four bad calls that were made at the  Capriati match which led to Hawk-Eye and the foot-fault call deep into the match with Clijsters, the obstruction call [against Sam Stosur,] and then what happened this year. What are your thoughts? Do you think something happens with Serena at the Open? Is there a kind of double standard? Do you think what happened this year was correct or wrong?
MOURATOGLOU: I don’t want to talk about that…I’m really okay to talk about that, believe me, more than you can think, but I want Serena to be into her tournament. I don’t want all these things [to be] around that everybody tries to bring back. We have a tournament to win. I want her to win it. She wants to win it. So let’s talk about it after the tournament. Believe me, I’m okay to talk about it. I’m happy to.
Q. Why does your relationship with Serena endure…Is there some kind of dynamic about both of your personalities?
MOURATOGLOU: She’s a very loyal person…She’s very responsible. She doesn’t blame others. She loses a match, she doesn’t say it’s my fault. Even though I think it’s my fault, too…She’s strong enough and courageous enough and confident enough to look at herself and say, ‘I failed.’ Not that many people do that. It’s easier to put it on somebody else. We have a very strong relationship. We trust each other. We have been very successful. It counts, too. And it’s refreshing also to see that when there are problems, the first reaction of the player is not to say, ‘Okay, I’ll get rid of the coach, it’s going to be better.’ It’s not going to be better…It’s about the connection and the trust. I completely understand…if the trust is not there…You have to trust your coach 100%, believe what he’s saying and believe he’s the right person.
Q. Unless there is something that I have missed, you have never been pregnant before and you have never…
MOURATOGLOU: You have a good eye.
Q. You have never had a baby.
MOURATOGLOU: Yeah, I had many but not myself.
Q. Right. You have never given birth, I mean. But obviously having a relationship where you guys can talk honestly about what Serena is going through and communicate what’s happening with her and her body and her hormones and all that stuff, I would imagine is really important. So if you don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant and give birth, how do you coach someone who is coming back from having a baby?
MOURATOGLOU: First of all, I always try to understand and try to put myself in the shoes of my player…and I think I should be able to do that. Because that’s the role of the coach. You can’t coach someone if you don’t completely understand the person.
And you should be able to coach somebody who thinks completely different than you, who has a different culture, who has different emotions, and you have to be able to feel those emotions too. That’s how to coach, so I hope I have been able to do that with Serena after – I mean, during her pregnancy I was not coaching her, except at the start…When you are very connected with your player or with whoever in life, you feel the emotions of the person, and you’re able to have the right dialogue at the right time…that’s basically the essence of our work…You have to be able to navigate and say the right thing at the right time to make them do the right thing and have the right attitude. If it was just about telling your player you have to work hard and this and this, I’d do another job, but it’s much more subtle, and it’s so much about the relationship and how to deal with the emotion of the other person.
I understand a lot of things that I didn’t experience, and I think humans are able to…understand other people that are very different and have different emotions. The problem is a lot of people don’t try to, and they think everybody should think like them and feel like them and if you coach like that you’re not a good coach, so I hope I don’t do that.”
JUST ANOTHER SERENA MIRACLE – AN INSIDE TENNIS WATERCOLOR
This was going to be easy.
Yes, Simona Halep is No. 1 in the world. But the conventional wisdom is that Ms. Serena is No. 1 of all time. Williams is bigger and more powerful. Going into their fourth round match, Serena had a no-nonsense 8-1 record over the diminutive Romanian. Halep’s won “only” one Slam, Serena has won 23, and seemed to have a laser focus. In her first three matches she seemed to be shouting, “I will write history!” and equal Margaret Court’s record for Slams won. She didn’t lose a set –and only a measly nine games en route to the fourth round – #dominance.
Yes, Halep beat Venus in three sets in the third round, but only nine players have ever beaten Venus and Serena in the same tourney – Sanchez-Vicario, Graf, Hingis, Clijsters, Davenport, Henin, Clijsters, Jankovic and Pliskova.
Yes, Serena started slow. A delay of game penalty and being broken in the first game at love is not exactly a sprinter’s start out of the gate. But this is Serena. She got into gear and raced to a 6-1 first set win in a flash – 20 minutes. “Serena is swatting Simona away as if she didn’t exist,” said a Melbourne broadcaster.
Didn’t we say this was going to be easy?
But Halep is No. 1 for a reason. She uses her speed, anticipation and groundies as weapons. She was patient. There was no panic. She re-set, raised her level and played to the corners. Suddenly Serena was off-balance and on the backs of her feet. Simona forced her into errors. Williams mocked her own awkward shots.
Now Halep scampered effectively. She was in ascendance. She won the second set 6-4 and seemed on the brink of victory as she leaned in on service returns, ran like the wind, created sharp angles and managed to get three break points in the decisive sixth game of the third set. Laver Arena rocked. It was riveting athletic theater.
And Halep failed. She couldn’t penetrate Serena’s fortress. Williams called on the best serve in WTA history. She showed a steely nerve, weighty angled backhands, held serve and promptly broke Halep.
So much for a shock upset. But it wasn’t easy.
Serena told the crowd, “It was really intense…I really needed to elevate my game…I am such a fighter. I never give up. It’s something that’s innate. It’s a miracle I’m here.”