The 'Coaching Dossier' takes you inside the lives and personalities that make up the WTA Coaching Circuit. In this edition, get to know Artemon "Arti" Apostu-Efremov, who has coached Irina Camelia-Begu and is the new addition to Simona Halep's coaching team alongside Darren Cahill.
WTA Insider: How did you start playing tennis?
Apostu-Eframov: When I was around 7, my parents thought it would be a good idea that I start a sport. Although I wanted to play football, they thought it's a better idea to start tennis because it's a more, let's say, noble sport. It was just like this.
I started when I was seven and then slowly getting to play more and more and then when I was 10, I was in the first four or five kids in the country. So I kept on playing.
This was in Bucharest in the former communist era. I played at a big club at the time, Dinamo. It was a really nice time because there were so many kids playing tennis and doing sports and everyone was in a big group and we were learning from each other and playing with each other. I think it was really nice we had the time to do this.
WTA Insider: What did you love about tennis?
Apostu-Eframov: I realized that it's like a game of chess where you have to do your own strategy and find a way of winning points. Also resilience, of playing long matches and tough opponents.
And the competition. As a boy, we were loving the competition. We were many kids and we loved to compete against each other. Even when we were playing some complementary sports, when we finished the practice for tennis we were just hanging around playing something else like basketball or football. We were doing all the sports, basically. But tennis was the focus. It was a great time to be on the court to spend the time playing tennis.
I enjoy it since I was seven and I still enjoy it now. I really like to play whenever I get a chance. When we are in tournaments with some other coaches, we play. We hit some balls. Sometimes I play sets with guys who we knew each other since the days we were playing Futures and Challengers.
WTA Insider: Who are some of the coaches you play with at tournaments?
Apostu-Efremov: Anyone who is willing to release some stress and do some sweating and to have room for a beer afterwards, it's a good hit.
WTA Insider: At what point did you begin to think you could play professionally?
Apostu-Efremov: Well, being in that group and being good at it, I think it was a combination. I always followed the players and I was looking at the way they play and I was hoping to be as good as them.
When I like 18, I was in the European Championships. I was second in Romania in the Nationals. I had the chance to get a scholarship in USA for university or keep playing. I decided to give it a try and by the end, when I was 20, I was like 500 in the world. And then it made sense.
Although it was really difficult for us to travel and to have the money to go to tournaments. There was also the political situation. We needed a visa for almost every country so it was a big problem to travel to tournaments. I had travels for like 24 hours with trains or buses and stuff like that. In a way, it was normal back then.
I think it was a dream when I started when I was 10 and then I kept following this dream and it was really nice.
WTA Insider: Do you remember your first coaching job?
Apostu-Efremov: It all came a little bit naturally because around 23 years old, I had a really bad injury on my left leg which kept me out for one and a half years. I started playing again and I was playing some league matches in Germany and France to get some money.
Then like around 26-years-old, I was still playing, but I started traveling with some other younger guys, started helping them. I don't know if it was coaching because I was too young. But in a way it was the beginning with two of my partners - now we work together with some players - Adrian Cruciat and Adrian Gavrila.
This was the beginning of my coaching career. It was a combination of me playing and also helping the other guys. I was doing both until I started coaching girls and then I stopped playing and then dedicated myself to the coaching career.
WTA Insider: What is your coaching philosophy and how has it changed over time?
Apostu-Efremov: I think the coaching philosophy didn't change a lot. What did change was the way of understanding the game, the emotions, what to ask from the players. But the philosophy didn't change.
Hard work always pays off and the hard work and dedication will help you achieve your best. Even if your best is like maybe 200 in the world or No.20. This is your goal as a player. So as a coach, you got to help your player achieve that or maybe even go over this mark.
We started as a group of coaches, as I told you, me and the other two guys. We had the chance of working also with the top players and also with a little bit lower players. We could see the difference of how players at the top solve situations, adapt to situations compared to the players that are lower ranked. This is a valuable experience.
Actually, working with less better-ranked players can teach you how to help the higher-ranked player. It was a good experience. And I think understanding the emotion, and the way the girls handle the pressure. This was the development. But the philosophy stays the same.
WTA Insider: Why do you think the women handle pressure differently?
Apostu-Eframov: Well, I think mainly because the guys can separate a little better the office and the personal life. Even if I was playing with guys and we were maybe treating each other badly on the court because it was a really tough competition and we were competing for scarce resources, afterwards we could still shake hands and that didn't mean that the next week we wouldn't practice together or wouldn't play a football match together.
This doesn't happen on the WTA Tour. Everything is together. What happened on the court affects the personal life for many players, not for all. I think this is the biggest difference from the men's to women's tour.
I mean, you lose, you lose. Sometimes you realize that you could have done better. You weren't at your best and you have to accept that. You're gonna practice more, better, or present yourself better. Or you can have a really good match. And the other guy is just better than you and you accept it.
I think the girls, many times they don't accept the fact that the other girl can have a really good day and that's it. It doesn't matter if you're No.5 or No.30, you can still have a really good day and play out of this world tennis and you can win a match against a really high-ranked player. And as we can see now, on WTA it happens much more often than it happened, like when I started 10 years ago.
I think this is also a change that happens to the game. The level of competition is way higher and what the best can do on the court developed so much over the last five, six years, and it made women's tennis so attractive at the moment.
WTA Insider: Why do you think it's changed so quickly?
Apostu-Efremov: It's the athleticism of the girls and they really improved on what they can do with the ball. If you look ten years ago, there were only a couple of girls that they would kick the serve. We say it as a joke but it's kind of true: 10 years ago if you knew how to hit a dropshot in the women's game, it was a winner. I mean, it sounds not so good (laughs), but that's the truth.
Now the girls, they move amazing. They hit really, really powerful strikes and then they mix a lot. And you have some variation of the games. There's no standard game anymore. There are big hitters against technical players, or really tall ones against fast ones. It's a joy to watch.
WTA Insider: What's the biggest challenge for you as a coach in this era of the game?
Apostu-Efremov: Well, first of all, the challenge is to make your player a better player and a better person. That's the challenge, no matter the era.
The second challenge is to be able to keep up the pace and be one step ahead of the competition. You always have to adapt. You always have to improve. You always have to find new ways to get your player better and teach them new things, which is tough because the season is long and the offseason is not that long. So you have to somehow make your player do some extra work to get these values during the season. That's the biggest challenge.
WTA Insider: How hard is it to be a traveling coach with a family?
Apostu-Efremov: That's the toughest part of our job. Being away from the family, it's not easy many times, especially on the long swings. For example, the Australian Open with old tournaments before the tournament in the USA, the long runs.
But that's why over the years, for example, when I was working with Irina Camelia-Begu, I was working as a co-coach like we do the same with me and Darren now with Simona. So I was with Adrian Cruciat and we were splitting the travel so we got some home time with our families.
We have small children and you need to be home, otherwise, it's an imbalance in your life and this cannot work. The tournament's got more kid-friendly over the years. Also some tournaments, my wife and the kids can travel. We try to mix a little bit. Not easy, but we tried to spend more time together. But this is the toughest part for me as a coach, being away from home.
WTA Insider: What's a good day for you as a coach?
Apostu-Efremov: The thrills of being on the bench in the tight moments or the great victories. For example, the week in Dubai with Simona Halep was just amazing. It's not only with Simona that I had this. It doesn't matter the level.
Just being there and seeing the player being able to compete and adapt and in the end win the match, that's the biggest joy a coach can have. Because you know all the hard work, it's made for that and this is the pay off for what you're doing.
WTA Insider: What's a bad day?
Apostu-Efremov: If the player gets injured or the player doesn't have the right attitude on the court or in the practice.
But happily, these are also the days you can prove yourself strong. You've got to find a solution to help your player because it's easy to be on the side of a player who's always winning. It's a challenge. And that's where you show your value, when you're with a player that needs improvement or has a bad tournament or bad couple of months and then you can pull her or him out of this hole and put them on the right track.
WTA Insider: What's the difference between coaching a top-ranked player and a lower-ranked player?
Apostu-Efremov: With a lower-ranked player you have to focus a little bit more on the technical aspects or on the tactical ones. You've got to work a little bit more on the court. I think this is the difference. With a higher ranked player like, let's say Simona, it's all about communication and choosing the moment.
A player ranked No.200, whatever you're going to do in that practice, if you're on the court and giving the right message, it's gonna improve her game.
For a higher ranked player, you got to pick some specific stuff, because she's already on a level that she can almost do anything. So you need to find the exact drill or the exact amount or the exact value of the exercise so it has a positive impact on the player. This is the difficult part.
So it's more about fine-tuning than the raw stuff that you do with the lower-ranked player.
WTA Insider: Which do you enjoy more?
Apostu-Efremov: For sure when you are around a really big player, you also learn a lot from the player because they are like machines, tennis machines. So you also get so much useful information. Obviously, probably this is the dream of every coach to be with a top ten player.
It depends how you look at it. Some coaches can only be with the big players because otherwise they don't feel validated. I enjoy the work, no matter the rank of the player, as long as the player wants to progress and wants to develop, and then you can see your work in that player. You can see the development over the months or years. This makes me happy.
But obviously, being in such a valuable team like Simona's, it's a dream for a coach.