Exclusive : Mouratoglou : “Simona is a champion, the goal is to do at least as well as before”
Simona Halep’s new coach speaks exclusively to Tennis Majors after he revealed his agreement to work with the Romanian player
Patrick Mouratoglou and Simona Halep stunned the world of tennis on Thursday, April 7 when they announced their new partnership. The Frenchman sat down with Tennis Majors to reveal more about their link-up, how it began, and what the situation is with his long-time player Serena Williams.
When did Simona ask you to be her coach, and what did you say?
Mouratoglou : It started with [Simona Halep’s former coach] Darren Cahill. We’re good friends. We worked together on TV so we know each other very well, and Simona was looking for a hitting partner that potentially could do a bit of coaching also. So he asked me if I could find someone for her and I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ And I found someone who actually is still working with us (Arnaud Restifo, editor’s note) and it started like that. So she had a hitting partner on tour with her. After Dubai, Doha, she decided to come to the academy to practise and then she asked me if I could be on the court with her.
So I did a little bit, I did two or three trainings, that’s it. Then she left to [go to] the tournaments she played. She asked me for the situation. I said, ‘For the moment I’m working with Serena. I [have] not [been] working for eight months, but technically I’m working with her, so I’m not available.’
‘Okay, no problem.’
So I went there to the US only to speak to Serena, which I did…
When Simona was in Indian Wells, I decided to go see Serena to discuss the situation and see what was her own situation and what could be mine, if she was still counting on me or not, did she know exactly when she would restart playing, you know, all those things. So I went there to the US only to speak to her, which I did. And after this discussion, I knew that at least short-term I could start working as a coach with somebody else.
I went to see Simona was and we had a discussion there. I did tell her that then I was available and then she said she was interested to work with me. So I told her, ‘Let’s go back to the academy and we’ll start something and we’ll see how things are going.’ And things went, I think, extremely well from the first minute. So then the situation was clear.
So what is the short-term plan?
Mouratoglou : The short-term plan is to do everything so she’s the best player possible. I think she has achieved a lot already. She has been No 1, she has won Grand Slams, so she’s part of the very, very, very few players who have been able to achieve incredible things. So she’s a champion, but I also feel that she has a big margin for improvement in many aspects, and she’s still very hungry.
So I think it’s a fantastic basis to build something and with the goal to do at least as well as before. I think she has a great basis to continue to do extremely well. As I said, she’s very hungry for tennis. She feels like she can give more to tennis and she wants to see how far she can go. And I believe she can go very far, so that’s the idea – very far.
That means No 1 again, and Slam titles?
Mouratoglou : I don’t think we should put any limits. She’s been No 1, she’s won Grand Slams. There is no reason why she couldn’t or she wouldn’t be able to do that again. So there won’t be any limits. The goal is not to say this is what we aim for, because sometimes you go even much further than what you think. The goal is to probably one day stop her career thinking, ‘I’ve done the maximum of what I could have done.’ And I think she has many years to go until she stops, and those many years, we want to make the best out of them. I think she has still such potential to improve in many aspects of her game. So it’s very exciting.
Mouratoglou : I don’t want to be very specific on the aspects but I think in honesty everywhere. When I work with her, with a player, I always want to look at every detail and improve every single detail that I think can be improved, whether it’s on the physical, the mental, the technical, the tactical side.
So we’ve looked through a lot of things already, from the way she competes to her fitness to her game in general to her practices. There are a lot of things I see I feel we can do better. And she’s completely in that mindset. She wants to improve and she wants to become the best she can. And that’s the goal.
From the first second she’s on the court, the focus is just total focus, from the first ball to the last one, which is quite rare.
What kind of athlete is she?
Mouratoglou : First of all, she’s an incredible player. I mean, we all know [that] because she’s achieved so much, but also the quality of her game when you see her play, I think it’s super exciting. I love to watch her play tennis because it’s such great tennis, she has a very complete game. She can do a lot of things. She’s great in defence, she’s great in offense. I don’t see any limit there.
And I love working with her because even though we’re not working for a long time yet, what I’ve seen so far is great. Her work ethic is incredible. From the first second she’s on the court, the focus is just total focus, from the first ball to the last one, which is quite rare.
I mean, it’s a mark of the champion, clearly, and I love her attitude because she wants to progress on in everything. She is smart and she’s exciting – excited also to understand and to get new things but she’s an incredible student. She gives 100%. And I think in a small period of time, we’ve created a really good relationship in which I feel she really trusts me, and I feel like we’re working really well already.
When and how did you feel that a good connection could exist between player and coach?
Mouratoglou : The connection honestly went super fast; I would say the first two hours we discussed. Sometimes you feel the connection straight away. Sometimes it takes long. In Simona’s case, it was instantly, really. She was very open with me. So that was easy, in a way. She made my job easy in being open and giving me the feeling that she’s willing to work and fully commit to what we’re going to do.
How do you rate the first part of her season so far?
Mouratoglou : I think she had a decent first part of the season. The last two tournaments, though, Doha, Dubai, were not great because I think it was a period where she was a bit questioning [of] herself, so she didn’t play well. But then I think she did a big effort in Indian Wells, reaching the semis, being injured from the first match and having at the end three different injuries. But she kept fighting and Miami, she couldn’t play because of the injuries. But I think she’s doing well so far, but I feel she can do much better.
When Serena would drop her concentration a little bit, that’s when Simona would be on top of her straight away.
Have you discovered things about her that have surprised you?
Mouratoglou : I’ve always respected Simona as a player, when she was playing against Serena, because I think she’s an incredible competitor. She quite often gave very difficult matches to Serena. I mean, Serena beat her most of the time, except one very important match, which was the final of Wimbledon in 2019, where she played incredible tennis. But I respected her game and her intensity.
And I knew every time Serena was playing her, that when Serena would drop her concentration a little bit, that’s when Simona would be on top of her straight away. So I respected the player a lot. I didn’t know her. I barely spoke to her ever.
I felt she was a very emotional person, which I say in a positive way. I think I think it’s a great thing to have to have emotions and to accept our emotions because we are humans. And I felt she was smart and I’ve had the confirmation; she is smart, and quite deep in her thoughts. And so it’s always very interesting to discuss with her, I really take a lot of pleasure talking to her.
What are your thoughts on the state of play on the WTA Tour at the moment?
Mouratoglou : I think since Serena came back and was not as dominant as before, nobody has taken really the lead on the women’s tour – Ash Barty, a little bit at the end before stopping, but there were a lot of changes, many, many changes. If you look at the top ten and the wins and No 1s, there was not someone really standing out and like embodying the champion, the No 1. But I think there is a lot of quality in the top ten. If you look at Sakkari, of course Swiatek, who’s playing incredible at the moment, and who won Roland-Garros in 2020, or Naomi Osaka who looks like she’s coming back playing well again – there’s a lot of quality. So there are a lot of very dangerous players. I named three, there are others of course, I probably named the two best ones at the moment and maybe the three best ones, by the way. So a lot of quality, but no consistency yet. Maybe Iga will be the first one to be [consistent as No 1]. We’ll see. But I think it’s exciting for us because I completely believe that Simona has a big part to play there, and it’s a great challenge. It’s a great challenge.
Yes, I missed coaching big, big time
You haven't coached a professional player since last summer. Have you missed it?
Mouratoglou : I missed it big time. Coaching is the passion of my life. It’s the job of my life. And when I went to see Serena to discuss before starting with Simona, that’s what I told her. I said, ‘Coaching is the passion of my life and it’s difficult for me not to work.’ So yes, I missed coaching big, big time. Honestly, since I’m back to coaching with Simona, I cannot be happier to coach this again. It’s an incredible satisfaction for me to do that job. It’s incredible.
And yet you're a very busy man. Did you miss it more than you expected?
Mouratoglou : I did miss coaching even more than what I thought. I do a lot of things, you know about the academy, you know about UTS, and a lot of other projects. But again, you’re coaching, you’re coaching, you don’t really think how important that is. You, of course, give 100% to that, which I did with Serena for ten years.
And one day it stops because for the last eight months, I haven’t been coaching at all. And you realise that something extremely big is missing in your life. So that period of time, I think, was very important because I realised what coaching means for me, and it’s definitely the job of my life.