It’s funny how some players and coaches gel and how others don’t. And it’s also interesting why some players work well with some coaches at a particular time.
In October last year, Belinda Bencic announced that she had hired Dmitri Tursunov as her new coach. It was a smart move. Tursunov, a top-20 player in his own right, had coached Elena Vesnina, Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit and had a trial with Emma Raducanu.
Having helped Sabalenka and Kontaveit to the top five in the world, Tursunov came with some outstanding credentials. Bencic’s recent win in Adelaide put her back inside the world’s top 10 and the pair seem to be gelling immediately.
“He pushes me a lot, puts me out of my comfort zone”
On Saturday, the Swiss reached the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2016 and on court, she paid tribute to the effect Tursunov has had on her so far. Later, in her press conference, she expanded on his influence and what makes him tick.
“He’s definitely a very tough coach, for sure,” she said. “He definitely doesn’t talk about everything else around the point and just really tells you what you need to hear, and sometimes you really need to hear the uncomfortable stuff.
“That’s really what I’m looking for. I’m trying to improve everything but he just pushes me a lot, so it puts me out of my comfort zone. So I don’t feel like, oh, I’m playing so well in practice, everything is great. Like then I come to the match, and you know in the match you’re also out of your comfort zone, so definitely I’m trying to do what he’s telling me. It’s working so far, so I’m definitely trusting him a lot. I just feel like we have a great year in front of us.”
Tursunov has instant impact again
Bencic has had her fair share of coaches, including Melanie Molitor, the mother and coach of Martina Hingis. Bencic said she could see why Tursunov has made a habit of having an instant impact with the players he has coached.
“I mean, it’s not a big change,” she said. “It’s not like he just takes the magic something and just aims at you and you suddenly gonna play well. You have to be kind of ready to do what he’s demanding of you every time in every practice. For sure I think it starts in practice. It doesn’t just transfer into the matches right away.
“So of course you need a little bit of time. But it’s just really small changes in your game, just to try to be a little bit tougher, try to be more disciplined. It’s actually a big difference. I said even to him, like, in a way I feel so stupid why I didn’t do that like these kind of things before.
“But I think it’s really lucky for me that I can get to work with him. I wish it would have happened sooner maybe now that I know, but I’m really happy that it’s happening now, and I’m gonna for sure work hard and try to do the best.”
Bencic: “I’m used to criticism”
Of course, Bencic had worked with Tursunov as a younger player, maybe it wouldn’t have been the same, maybe not quite so willing to take the advice of someone with such forcefulness in his ideas. Bencic thinks it would have worked earlier, too.
“I think I’m kind of used to that,” she said. “I had Melanie Molitor. I think she’s also very direct and tough. I’m not someone who is like: ‘Oh, like don’t criticize me.’ I’m used to it.
“It’s definitely not something I take personally, towards me as a person,” she said. “I know how to deal with criticism. But all the coaches I had were also helping me in very different ways. For sure like I think everything happens for a reason.
“I think at that point I was just meant to have these kind of coaches so I could like learn several things about myself. For sure, maybe now this is the right point. I don’t know if it would be better if I would have met him before. But I would believe it would, but I think I’m also very happy that it’s happening now.
Bencic and Tursunov are quite similar in character on the court; both are well capable of getting angry, although Tursunov probably trumps Bencic in terms of volatility.
Acing Tursunov in practice “just routine”
Bencic looked solid in her win over Camila Giorgi on Saturday and has now won eight matches in a row. But there is one thing that Bencic is reveling in, even more than her good form, having linked to a video of herself firing an ace past Tursunov in practice.
“Yes, good one,” she said, when reminded of it on Saturday. “I like that you saw it and you mention it so we can talk about that more. Yeah, on acing him, it’s just standard routine, like I do that every practice against him, and he cannot read my serve, and he’s also returning really bad.”
At that, Bencic burst into laughter.