Putintseva Taming Mental Demons

With the help of a former teenage prodigy, Yulia Putintseva is taming her fiery on-court persona as she looks to make her mark at the top of the game.

Published May 23, 2013 12:00

Putintseva Taming Mental Demons
Yulia Putintseva

BRUSSELS, Belgium - There is a school of thought in the tennis world that claims displaying too much emotion on court is a sign of weakness. Yulia Putintseva, it is fair to say, is not a subscriber to that particular viewpoint.

A few minutes courtside during one of Putintseva's matches and the crowd is treated to a seemingly never-ending show of fist pumps, intense glares and multilingual 'come ons' - poker faced she is not.

Not that this approach has done the 18-year-old any harm. Wearing her heart on her sleeve has already taken Putintseva to the top of the juniors - where she reached the finals of the Australian and US Opens - and in 2013 it has seen her start to make a splash in the senior ranks.

Although the results have been mixed - prior her run through qualifying this week in Brussels, her record for the year stood at 12-12 - Putintseva has held her own against several of the game's leading lights, including reputation-enhancing defeats against Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska. And these performances have helped fuel a burning self-belief that her game can stand up to the rigors of life at the top.

"I turned 18 very recently, and I think right now I need to improve mental stuff more than tennis, because I think I have really good tennis but in the head I'm still a junior player," Putintseva said. "Of course, improving my technique is something that never ends, but working on my mental strength is the most important thing to help me make that next step.

"I need to really focus on what I'm doing and not what's going around me during tournaments."

The spring showers this week in Brussels have left Putintseva with plenty of time to work on her mental fortitude, which will be given a stern examination during Thursday afternoon's one set shoot-out with Roberta Vinci.

"The biggest change between the juniors and the pros is the concentration," she said. "It's hard to stay concentrated and to stay at the same level all of the match.

"Juniors are not consistent. They have a lot of ups and downs. They can play unbelievable level for three games but then after drop to a level of like No.1000 in the world."

Luckily, she has a couple of WTA lodestars to look up to.

Born in Russia, but now representing Kazakhstan, for the past few years Putintseva has been training at the world-renowned Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France, where she can count 15-time Grand Slam champion Williams among her stablemates.

"When I first saw her training in Mauritius in the off-season it was just amazing," she said. "I was practicing on the next court to her and was like, 'Wow, I wish I could play the same level one day.'

"I think Serena is playing a different level to everyone else. She's serving so good and returning the ball amazingly. She can hit fast, she can just keep the ball in play, and for me she's just the best player at the moment."

Helping Putintseva's attempts to emulate her more-esteemed Mouratoglou attendee - and to conquer her mental demons - is another all-time great, Martina Hingis.

"I first met Martina before in the US Open junior final in 2010. She was working with the same agency that I have, Octagon, and she was just so friendly and spoke to me about everything," Putintseva added. "After she started to work in Mouratoglou, I had a chance to work with her a bit more.

"When I go back to the academy, she is always there, and when I need help I just ask her. I get help with technical things, like to see the ball better, and to turn the shoulders better, but she is also helping me to try and stay calm.

"Because she was No.1, she has great experience and there is so much I can learn for her. It's amazing to be around someone like her every day."

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