WTA Insider: How did you start to play tennis?
Zaniewska: It's a funny story. As I kid I had a lot of energy. I liked to move. My brother was skateboarding. I was the little sister and I was looking up to him, so I wanted to skateboard as well. My mom was like, oh my god, she already plays soccer with all the boys, now this. I was trying to convince her to buy me a skateboard and she was like no way. After a while, I finally convinced her. We were on the way to the shop and we ran into a friend she hasn't seen in like 15 years. My mom asked her what her son was doing, and she said oh, my son plays tennis. So my mom looked at me and said, ah, I'll take you to the tennis court.
So I didn't get my skateboard, which made me very mad at the time, but I did go to the court and that's how I started. She got the number of the coach who was coaching her friend's son and I loved it from the first moment. I was 10 years old.
WTA Insider: What did you like about it?
Zaniewska: Being alone on the court. I'm responsible for everything that's going to happen there. And the fact that I could just chase down the ball all day long.
It was so different because I had a racquet in my hand. I used to swim and play soccer. You have a ball at your feet, but you don't have like any extension. The racquet was like an extension of the arm. I thought this is pretty weird, but cool at the same time.
I think the most important thing for me was the fact that I think I was spending the most energy there. So I was really tired and when I was being tired, it also meant that I was calm later on. So everybody had an easy time at home in the evenings, which I guess everybody appreciated, including myself (laughs).
But I think mostly the fact that it was just me on my own. I enjoyed team sports, but I felt like sometimes I was like, OK, this person doesn't run fast enough or something like that. And here I was. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lost. Everything was in my hands.
WTA Insider: At what point did you start to think you might be able to make a living in tennis?
Zaniewska: This was funny because when I started playing, it was for me to waste my energy and spend some time just doing something else. My mom always told me that you do it for fun and that was also my perspective.
I was practicing 3-4 times a week until I was 14, and when I was 14 I was No.3 in Tennis Europe. So then the federation started being interested in me. I started going to tournaments with the federation. And then it wasn't just for fun anymore because I was doing well.
But for me it was still just for fun. If somebody back then said hey do you want to be a professional tennis player I would say yeah, that would be nice but it also doesn't have to happen. My parents always said education was the most important, so there was always this ultimatum: if I had the best grades in school I could play and if I don't than tennis is over. I always took that very seriously. I do it because I can.
When I was 15 or 16 and started to play junior Grand Slams, that's when you get a taste of it. You're around the top players and I was like wow, this life is really cool. This is something that I want to do myself. And that's when it started shifting. This is the life I want to live.
WTA Insider: As a former player, what do you think you learned from your former coaches that you apply as a coach now?
Zaniewska: As much as they frustrated me then, I'm very grateful for them now because I know how not to do certain things, how they don't work, and how they can make people crazy. As important as the good coaches were for me, the bad coaches were just as important.
How did it influence the way I coach? I think as a player you take and you pick up things that you were learning from your coaches. And then as a coach, you're trying to do the same. But I feel like I wasn't paying so much attention to this when I was a player.
When you're a player you look at it from a different perspective. You look at it as how can I just take what I need as a player and that's it. You don't look at it globally at all. Only at the end of my career, when I already knew that I'm probably not going to play for much longer, I started observing other coaches and I started observing my coaches with me and how they were working with me.
That's when I feel like I was also looking at, OK, what do I really need from a coach? What am I getting and what am I not getting? I became a little bit more aware of everything. I feel like from those last three years of my career, I learned the most. And of course, from all this time that I spent after on tour as well, just working and learning.
I'm still learning. I'm learning because I'm making mistakes and I'm going to be making mistakes I think forever. And that's OK, because this is how I learn the fastest. And I also learned from just observing other players with their coaches or coaches with their players. I think you can learn from everywhere.
WTA Insider: What's your coaching philosophy?
Zaniewska: My coaching philosophy is that the best coaches don't create the best players, they create the best humans. That's really what I want to stick with throughout the whole time that I'm going to be working with players, whether it's on the tour or at an academy.
I think in general we see players sometimes almost as machines. Like this is a tennis player and they are supposed to do a job. This human factor is gone. That's what I missed when I was a player.
I feel like tennis players, especially women, they already put enough pressure on themselves. They really do. Of course, sometimes they need a push. But more often than the push they need the slowdown. They need someone to pull them back and be like, hey, you're doing good. Give yourself a break, it's fine.
For me, the most important is that my player is a happy human being, not necessarily successful as a tennis player, because I feel like if she can be a happy human being, the successful tennis player is going to come much easier. It's going to be much more fulfilling for her.
It doesn't matter so much whether they're going to be No.50 or No.5 or No.1. Yeah, great. The further they get, the better. But at the same time, that's not the most important thing in life. I really find that on tour you have to remind this to the girls, like, hey, tennis is not everything that's in life. So that's the coaching philosophy and this is where I come from.
WTA Insider: How do you convince players to be easier on themselves?
Zaniewska: It has been the most challenging for me so far. I think a lot just comes down to conversation and obviously for a conversation there needs to be trust. So first of all, it's trust that's really important to have with your player and for them to feel safe enough so that they can open up and talk about these things. Because these things are not easy for anyone to talk about.
We all want to be successful. We all want to be great and happy and we all want people to perceive us this way. That would be perfect. And in order to actually open up and be vulnerable and to talk about things that maybe don't make people as proud as, you know, having the "perfect" life as a tennis player, it's not that easy. So I think this is the first thing to establish that.
Then it's really about conversation. Accept some conversation and talking about these subjects whenever they arise or encouraging them to talk about the subject as well. Doesn't have to be with me. It can also be with their friends or their family, whoever is close to them. I don't need to know everything about their life. I don't even want to know (laughs).
But for me it's important for them to know that I'm there for them if they need anything. And that doesn't just mean that it's on the tennis court, it means it's off the court as well.
If you look at them as human beings, then these things, they just don't matter as much. Don't be so hard on yourself, it's fine. It's fine if we don't make it this week. It's fine if we don't make it next week. Let's just try our best. That's it. At the end of the day, that's all we can do. We're just human beings. All of us.
WTA Insider: What's a good day for you as a coach?
Zaniewska: I think that's a day where I can go on the court with my player and they put 100% in, no matter what happens outside of the court, no matter how they feel. A hundred percent doesn't mean playing the best tennis. It means putting in 100% effort, doing everything they can with what they can control. Whatever factors are outside their control, they just don't bother.
Sometimes I think that it is better when there are obstacles because if you can overcome them, then you know the work that you do is so much bigger, like you made so many more steps than on a good day. I love those tough days because I feel like on those days they can learn the most and this is also what I try to remind them. Sometimes you can have a s**t week, but imagine how much you can grow. You cannot grow when everything is perfect. You do grow, but you grow a little bit. Here you can grow heaps, so let's use it in this way.
So that's a good day, when they use all that they have in order to become better on that day.
WTA Insider: So what's a bad day?
Zaniewska: I think that there are no bad days. Sometimes there are better and worse days, but we learn on all of them. And that's the most important.
WTA Insider: What's the most important thing you've learned as a coach?
Zaniewska: I learned this as a player, that tennis is not life and it's so important for us to understand that because we can get stuck in this so much. Players can, but coaches can as well. Believe me, I've been in places where, you know, like last year with Petra [Martic] she was doing so well and I was getting twisted in this as well.
I had to think to myself wait a second. You're not here for this. Don't get into this. You've been through this as a player. There's no need to go through this again, you know?
If you have good times, that's great. But there will always come a time when those results are not there. Then what? You're going to feel worse about yourself? Hell no. You don't want that.
Tennis is just a part of life. It's something that I'm so passionate about and I love doing. But it's not everything. There is so much more to it and so many more important things and it's important that I live by those things that are important to me. And yes, tennis is one of them. But like I said, at the end of the day it's just the job. It might be a lifestyle, but it's a job at the end of the day. Maybe not everyone has a problem with that, I don't know. But as far as I can see, especially in women's tennis because this is where I am, it's there. It's happening.
So I would like for people to understand it more, that there is more to life than just this. It's okay to lose. It's okay. It doesn't change anything about you. The only really important thing is that we go out and we love what we do and we try our best every day because then you're on a good way to be a happy human being.
WTA Insider: What do you enjoy the most about being a coach on the WTA Tour?
Zaniewska: What's there not to enjoy? You're at the best tournaments in the world, you're taken care of like you're a princess.
Honestly, I enjoy everything. I don't think that there's anything to complain about because like I said, these are the best tournaments in the world. In our field, we are at the top of the top. The conditions in which we which we train, in which we stay, the conditions when you travel, it's awesome. And then topping that off with the fact that we all love what we do, I think there's no better place to be.
I enjoy everything. Literally everything.