Sam Sumyk on helping Harmony Tan: “We’re going there to beat Serena Williams”

Celebrated coach Sam Sumyk tells Remi Bourrieres how he has been helping out with Harmony Tan and how he is plotting the downfall of Serena Williams at Wimbledon

Sam Sumyk Rome 2022 Zuma/Panoramic

How long have you been working with Harmony Tan, and how did this collaboration start?

It was Harmony who came to get me. She called me herself in the fall of 2021, around September-October. And we really started working together at the end of November/beginning of December. In fact, we had already talked before but I couldn’t and it didn’t happen. Now I was available. But I insist on the fact that it’s a private initiative. It was Harmony who called me, and it’s her who pays me, not the FFT…
<I’m not a member of the TFF.

What attracted you to this project?

First, the fact that she called me, precisely. She offered me the opportunity to do something I’d never done before, which was to coach a French player. Of course, I spent three weeks at the FFT several years ago but that doesn’t count. But I’ve always had this desire to help French tennis. So it’s great to be able to do that. As a coach, it’s a new experience and it’s also an opportunity to progress.

And besides, Harmony has a style of playing that I’ve never coached either. She has a lot of variety, she can do everything. It’s a tennis that’s all about feeling and touch. It’s not as aggressive as the “boom-boom” tennis that we’ve been seeing a lot of from the girls for a long time. The goal is to make it evolve by trying to dictate the game more. The goal is to change all that and try to dictate the game more.

“I’ve always wanted to help French tennis”

Sam Sumyk

How is your collaboration organised?

It’s not the same rhythm as what I’ve experienced before, in the sense that I’m not full-time. We do weeks according to our needs and my availability. This year I did the tournaments in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Bogoto, Indian Wells and Miami, and then the clay court season up to and including the French Open. I don’t do the grass court season, though.

Sam Sumyk with Donna Vekic in Rome in 2020. ©Zuma / Panoramic

The rest of the time, Harmony still works with Nathalie Tauziat?

Yes, of course. I am in regular communication with her. I try to help. Nathalie has been there for several years with Harmony. The work she’s done with her is monstrous, as is the work she’s done with Canadian players like Eugenie Bouchard or Bianca Andreescu.

If Harmony called on you, it was to develop a more specific aspect of her game?

I have no idea. She didn’t tell me about it. She gave me a list of things she wanted, but on a different level.

At Wimbledon, Harmony has hit the jackpot as she will face Serena Williams in the first round. No chance?

On the contrary, I think it’s fantastic to play this kind of match. Playing Serena at Wimbledon is a very rewarding experience, which should be part of a player’s baggage. A lot of people never get that chance. Harmony will. And it’s great to have her before Serena retires. Anyway, there’s no right or wrong draw. There’s a draw, full stop.

Of course, Harmony will be a bit anxious, but that’s normal and even welcome. I hope there will be some excitement too, not just anxiety. I mean, it’s her first Wimbledon, she’s going to play on a big court, against Serena Williams: it’s magical, isn’t it?

Serena can’t be on top (form). It’s not possible.

Sam Sumyk

How do you see this match?

I think both players will be nervous. Serena will be too, given the context (she is making her return to competition after a year’s absence in singles, editor’s note). Generally speaking, Harmony will be given very few chances, but that’s not a concern. What can be a concern is that a lot of people will talk to her about this match, she will receive a lot of messages. It’s up to her to deal with that and to stay very focused. We’ll have to prepare her well for that.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PANORAMIC_060435_0019-scaled.jpg
In 2012, when he was coaching Victoria Azarenka (back), Sam called on the advice of Amélie Mauresmo, here during a training session in Monte Carlo. Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

And Serena, what do you expect from her?

She can’t be at the top level. She can’t be. That doesn’t mean she won’t play well. But it’s not possible for her to be at her best on the first ball she hits in singles for a year. After that, it’s still Serena. We know her serve, which can help her on grass. So Harmony is going to be doing a lot of return serves between now and Monday (laughs)…

Do you take part in the preparation of this match or do you leave it entirely to Nathalie Tauziat?

I’m involved, and we’ve already talked about it a bit, of course. It’s still a bit early for the specific preparation for the match. At the moment, we’ve mainly talked about the draw. Now, with ‘Nath’, we’ll think about it. We’re not just going there with a smile on our faces and the satisfaction of being there. Hey, we’re going there to beat Serena, after all!

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