Interview with Sam Sumyk

By Peter Figura

Summer 2018

Sam Sumyk is a French tennis coach. He currently coaches WTA world number three and two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza. Previously he has worked with former world #1, Victoria Azarenka, former world #2, Vera Zvonareva and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Q.For the past ten years you were working with top players on the WTA Tour (Victoria Azarenka – two Australian Open Titles, Garbine Muguruza – French Open Championship and Wimbledon title – both players were also ranked number 1 in the World, and also Eugene Bouchard), so what is your opinion about women’s tennis right now?

A.I think it is important to realize that we are living in a very special time in women’s tennis. What I mean is that, if you look at the way Serena and Venus are playing now, we have the answer to how the women’s game will look in the future. I am not saying they are unbeatable. They are beatable, but they are showing us the way the way tennis is going to be played in the future. The skills they have, the technique they have, I am not talking about the style, I am talking about the technique. Physically, mental aspect, every ingredient of the game. They are showing us, and they are just too good. And we are just having the luxury of being in the same era.

Q.What can be improved in the level of tennis on the WTA Tour, let’s say in the next five years?

A.I would like to know the answer to your question myself (laughing – PF). But there is always something we can improve on. Athleticism of the players is definitely better. But if Venus and Serena were 25 years old they would be on top of the game for 15 years or so with what they have. It’s a compliment for them. And that’s what I strongly believe in looking at their games now.

Q.Do you think, from your perspective, that this situation might stagnate the game because everybody is trying to be the same, just to copy their style etc.?

A.Well, I don’t think so because the way I see this is that everybody is trying to beat them, not just to be the same.

Q.With such dominance of Venus and Serena is there still a potential for growth in women’s tennis?

A.Yes, for sure! One of the reasons they are so good is that they lead the pack, and force everyone to be better and better. It’s not about aging either. Yes, they are getting older, but you have to admit that what they do in their age is remarkable. They are still considered to be the toughest opponents to beat, and there is a reason for that. Their game is more than natural, it is modern. It’s simply incredible. And still keeps evolving. It is simply amazing.

Q.Do you believe they still can improve their game?

A.Absolutely! I always believe in that there is a room for improvement. Age is just a number. There is always something you can do to make it tiny bit better. And I’ve never changed my mind about that.

Q.Would you say that the women’s game is getting more interesting? There were many opinions that the AO and Roland Garros women’s finals were actually more interesting than men’s.

A.I really don’t know. I don’t compare men and women tennis. Girls are incredible in what they do, on the tennis court, and men are incredible what they do on the tennis court too. But I don’t compare. Never!

Q.What has to happen in tennis so more players will catch up with the level of Venus or Serena? How can the existing players really elevate the level of their game?

A.Woman’s tennis needs rivalry. That’s what I would love to see. I am working with Garbine (Muguruza – PF), and we are in the third year of our working relationship. I would love to see her playing 25 times against Serena, 25 times against Kerber or Halep (of course not within one year). Those types of rivalries, and I do not mean that this applies only to Garbine, could be any other top player, and other players, Halep and Pliskova, could be just any of the top players would have a rivalry the way we see in the men’s game. If Federer or Nadal were alone at the top it would be boring, the beauty and the greatness of those guys is because they play each other so many times, so many great matches one way or the other. There is rivalry, Djokovic, Murray, Stan (Wawrinka – PF) and now (Sasha – PF) Zverev. There are matches that are electric before those guys step on the court. In woman’s tennis we don’t have that. We have great players but no rivalries.

Q.What’s your opinion about sudden ranking drop that we so often see in the woman’s game? You have a player ranked in Top 10, and suddenly the ranking drops 5-60 spots. Why?

A.I am really not sure and I never thought that much about it as being an issue. It just happens that they go down in rankings. We are talking about 1-2 individuals. It happens everywhere and does not have to be in tennis only. I think it has something to do with motivation, desire, passion, whatever it is. Professional tennis nowadays is so demanding. To be top athlete is so hard that it is very rare to have someone who actually really enjoys doing this for 15-20 years like we see with Federer for example. Or Nadal or Serena. People say they are committed, they are exceptional, but I think that pleasure for some lasts a few years and then they are burned out. Because it is a lot of suffering, believe me. Suffering can only last certain period of time. It can only be good for short period of time. But if you really enjoy that, if what you are doing gives you pleasure, you can be good and stay in the game for a really long time.

Q.Let’s talk about Eugenie (Bouchard – PF) do you see what happened, and more importantly do you see the way out...

A.I always believed that if you once played well, you can be a good player again. And we all know that 2015 for her was an incredible year. Since then it’s different. She is young, and based on what I just said, why she has a hard time to play good tennis again. It’s difficult for me to talk about it because you have to be inside the team (her team). Like we say in team sports – you have to be inside the locker room, to know all the parameters. And I don’t know those anymore. I knew when I was there, but since then I don’t know anymore, so I cannot make a judgement. And I would not do that, but I strongly believe that once you played good you can do it again. I cannot see the reason not to be able to play at the highest level.

Q.But you saw the beginning of the decline...when you were there...

A.Maybe that lack of enjoyment we’ve just talked about? I am not sure. That would be a question addressed to her. I saw a lot of issues when I was there. But an issue is an issue as long as you want it to be an issue. You can work on it and fix it. Everything is fixable.

Q.Were those some small issues or something major?

A.It was a combination of many things and maybe I wasn’t easy on her, and maybe when I was responsible for her game I didn’t find the way to get out of that situation. That’s it. I didn’t find the way to make her play better. And that was at the time when she was going through the tough times. In retrospect it was my responsibility, but I could not find the way. It was still a good experience for me, but sadly didn’t work.

Q.What’s the toughest part of your job?

A.The one I have the most problems with is when people give their opinions and they have no idea what they are talking about, or what the issue is. You give an opinion and have no idea what’s going on, your judgement is based on nothing, but you still give an opinion. If you like to make a judgement, you have to know what you are talking about.

Q.How is your working relationship with Garbine (Muguruza – PF)?

A.On this job nothing is difficult for me.


A.No, because I just enjoy it. There are rough moments of course. There are things that we have to deal with, we lose matches, emotions, tennis – there are more frustrations than joy, and you have to realize that and accept it. So yes, we are frustrated every week (smiling) but I don’t see bad things because I have a freedom I always wanted to have.