Is it time for a new coach for Garbine Muguruza?

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Ever since her Wimbledon finals appearance back in 2015, Garbine Muguruza has been in the headlines every week. Many critics had predicted Muguruza to be the next big thing in tennis. I am not sure whether if it was their desire for a change from Serena Williams’ domination or they earnestly believed in Muguruza’s talent that compelled them to make this prophecy. Whatever might be the reason, they were right. Muguruza finished her breakthrough 2015 season with a career-high ranking of 3.

Many things changed post-Wimbledon for the charming Spaniard, including her coach. After the dream run at Wimbledon and a forgettable performance at the U.S. Open, the young lady decided to enter into a partnership with Sam Sumyk on ‘trial’.

Sam is the former coach of Victoria Azarenka and under his guidance, Azarenka reached the World No. 1 ranking, won two Australian Open titles, won the 2012 Olympic bronze medal and advanced to the finals of the U.S. Open on two separate occasions. The resume seemed flawless and with Muguruza having a very similar attacking style of play as Azarenka, the partnership was destined to work wonders.

This is what Sam said about Garbine :

“I always enjoy working with very strong characters. That’s what I like. Garbine has extraordinary mental strength.”

The early days of partnership

The Sam-Garbine partnership, or ‘Sambine’ as I like to call it, had a perfect start. Garbine made it to the quarter-finals in Tokyo, won the China Open, and made it to the semi-finals of her debut year-end WTA Finals tournament. One might say that Sam’s presence was not entirely the reason for this success. But at the same time, these were good early signs and it clearly reflected that the mood in the Mugu camp was euphoric. Sam had settled down well and the captain was sailing the ship in the right direction.

The struggle

After the success of 2015, team Muguruza was now ready to chase their ambitious goals for 2016. All eyes were set on Muguruza and expectations were sky high. Coming into the Australian Open, Muguruza could feel the weight of the expectations. Everyone was talking about how Sam had led Victoria Azarenka to 2 Australian Open titles and a similar achievement was expected from Sam’s new player at Down Under. Eventually, the pressure got the better of Muguruza as she bowed out in the round of 32.


What followed was something nobody could fathom. Muguruza could not make it to the quarter-finals of any tournament she competed in for the next 3 months. She entered the second Grand Slam of the year with just one good performance in her bag, the semi-final appearance at the Rome Masters.

Finally, it was working

It was at the French Open that fortunes changed for Muguruza. The turning point for me was when in the first round match Muguruza went down 1 set to love to Anna Karolina. She was on the cusp of being rolled out of the French Open. This is when the real star in her was born. In the second and third set, the fans saw a very different player on the court, a new Muguruza. All of a sudden the hard work put in behind the scenes by Sam Sumyk could be seen. Muguruza had the mental resolve, the patience, and the presence of mind that is very rare so early in a player’s career. That is the difference Sam made.

Muguruza went on to reach the finals and set a blockbuster finale with Serena Williams. If Muguruza had to take one thing from her breakthrough year in 2015, she would undoubtedly opt for the experience of facing Serena Williams in the finals of a Grand Slam. Garbine made excellent use of her experience and also the wealth of experience of her coach. Serving for the first set at 6-5, Garbine saved two break points with two excellent serves. Muguruza did not crack under the pressure and played her game. She went for her shots and painted the sidelines with a multitude of glorious backhand winners one after the other. After an hour and 43 minutes of flawless tennis, Garbine lifted her maiden Grand Slam title. She must have had loads of people to thank for the victory but her coach, Sam Sumyk must have topped the list. Sambine had done it.

And the struggles continues…

After a Grand Slam victory, every player fears a downfall. They have everything to lose and as the expectations hit the ceiling it becomes increasingly difficult to match them. Muguruza produced some sloppy performances post her French Open triumph. She did not make it to the finals of a single tournament after the Grand Slam.

In all the tournaments that followed the French Open, Garbine looked diffident and doubtful. She did not commit to her shots and was shaky on break point opportunities. She never seemed to be in control of the match and struggled to capitalize on her opponent’s errors. The major reason for this, I believe, was the mental pressure that comes with expectations. This is also where the coach must come in and provide an atmosphere of calm and composure for the player. Even though Garbine was clearly struggling in virtually every match, no changes could be seen by the coach, well none at least to a viewer.

Earlier this year, there were a few heated exchanges between Garbine and Sam during the on-court coaching. At one point, Garbine was heard saying “Tell me something, I don’t know.” These are definitely some points where I speculated the possibility of a change of coach.

But the partnership should remain

When I was considering this possibility of a change of coach I sidelined the fact that under Sam Sumyk, Garbine has enjoyed the best success of her career. She has become much more mature as a player and has repeatedly put herself in places where she could win matches against top players. The ranking might have taken a toll but the mental factor will come into play at the big stages just like it did at the French Open.

Under Sam, Garbine’s game has improved substantially. Her backhand is doing more damage than before because of the confidence Sam has instilled in her. Spaniards are known to play a defensive game and wear out their opponents but Garbine under Sam is playing a very attacking game. This attacking instinct is very important for a top level player and Sam knows it.

Under Sam’s guidance this year, Garbine has won 38.1% points while returning firstserve at a respectable 54.7%. Garbine also converted 49.7% of her break points. These statistics showcase how the experience of Sam has helped Garbine.

After her French Open victory, Garbine was asked what advice did Sam give her coming into the finals. This is what she said:

“Well, I always say that Sam is a great professional because he has been at the top level, and that’s not easy to find on people because not all the people reach the top level. But I think experience. I think it’s the voice of experience telling me sometimes, Hey, I think this is better. Been there; I felt it. Well, he’s not have been there, but with the team and with their players. It’s great to hear something that is real because it has reasons behind that. I’m like, Oh, great. I’ll try to do it. So experience.“

Sam is preparing Garbine for her future success. Sambine is looking at the bigger picture and I have no doubt in my mind that this partnership will win at least a couple of more Grand Slams.



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