MIAMI -- It was 6:30 in the morning and Yuan Yue was, admittedly, a little jet-lagged after the flight to Austin, Texas.

In desperate need of a coach, she looked across the breakfast table at the complete stranger who had been delivered there by a random, cosmic combination of forces.

“Have you ever coached a professional player?” Yuan asked nervously.

“No,” Jose Hernandez-Fernandez replied, a little embarrassed.

Somehow, he got the job.

That was a Sunday, Feb. 25. Seven days later, the two of them were photographed holding the crystal ATX Open championship trophy, the first Hologic WTA Tour title of Yuan’s career.

After a quarterfinal run at the BNP Paribas Open and a first-round win over Anna Blinkova at the Miami Open, Yuan -- ranked outside the Top 100 at the end of 2023 -- has won 10 of 11 matches and is up to No.37.

On Thursday, Yuan meets No.8 seed Maria Sakkari. And while the 25-year-old from China lost the only match they’ve played, she’s a very different player from that first-round match at last year’s Australian Open.

Her leap of faith in joining forces with Hernandez and their surprising success is less about tactics and training -- and more about belief.

“I am a person who believes in energies and the universe,” Hernandez said in Austin in an interview with Archysport. “An opportunity like this is not normal.”

The Dominican-born coach was a professional player himself, from 2008-2020. His highest ATP Tour ranking was No.179, in 2015, when he was Yuan’s current age. He was coaching a junior player, when he got a note from a Chinese coach he had met 18 months earlier at an ITF event in Kenya.

Steve Bell/Getty Images

Yuan needed a coach. There were several candidates in play, but might he be interested?

She had reached the 2024 Hobart semifinal, but scuffled after that, losing in the first round of the Australian Open and the Thailand Open. The loss to Ashlyn Krueger in the second round of qualifying in Doha was the low point.

“I don’t have coach to help me, I don’t have anyone,” Yuan said. “Training was really bad. All that time when I played Doha, I was there with my parents to celebrate the Chinese New Year -- I could not play good.

“I just wanted to try to find the energy from myself. I felt like I had nothing to lose. I needed to be more brave and push myself more. Sometimes if it feels like you have nothing to lose, you cannot go backwards.”

The next day, Hernandez got another message. Everyone else had opted out; he was the last option for Yuan. Hernandez called the father of his junior player, explained the situation and was freed from his commitment. He immediately packed his bags and flew from Barcelona to Marbella to Madrid -- and finally, to Austin.

Yuan was not deterred by Hernandez’s lack of experience in coaching elite players. Her main concern: Was he a nice person? Her first impression was … yes. She liked the things he was saying, the fact Yuan wasn’t stressing out. She agreed to give the partnership a try.

Yuan holds off Wang Xiyu in Austin, wins first career singles title

“All my respect and gratitude to her for blindly trusting a person like me, for opening her mind and exploring this new opportunity,” Hernandez said in Austin. “I give all the credit to her, especially for her behavior, she was always very receptive.”

Hernandez would be her first coach who wasn’t Chinese, so language was a barrier. They converse in English, the second language for both. Which has led to some awkward moments.

In Austin, during important points, Hernandez would yell, “Trust, trust, trust!”

Yuan would hear, “Cross, cross, cross!”

Later, when he explained it, she said, “Ahh, OK. I understand now.”

That trust is the cornerstone of their relationship.

“Not the first day I am 100 percent trusting him,” she said, “but day by day and after. I have more confidence now. I realize that confidence is very important for a player. For me, for everybody.”

Hernandez-Fernandez is her hitting partner and does the advance scouting that was lacking in Yuan’s approach. At first, she was surprised when his predictions turned out to be true. Now, she goes into matches fully committed to his strategy. More important, she said, is his support.

Before every match, he tells Yuan, “You are stronger than your opponent.”

She’s starting to believe it.

“Sometimes I don’t think me and my opponent have a very big difference between forehand, backhand,” Yuan said. “But sometimes, when the score is very close, you only need to trust yourself more.

“I’m very happy we can make a good team together. Maybe we grow up together.”