Aryna Sabalenka is making strong progress under coach Dmitry Tursunov, whose no-nonsense approach helped the Belarusian break into the WTA Top 10. The former ATP player talks to wtatennis.com about his methods.
Mark Hodgkinson
May 22, 2019

PARIS, France - Silences are rarely more awkward than when a tennis player calls her coach on court in the expectation of some guidance and encouragement, and the coach doesn't say a word. 

From the player's perspective, a minute and a half can feel like an hour and a half. And yet Aryna Sabalenka's coach, Dmitry Tursunov, said in an interview with wtatennis.com that he did not regret staying quiet during one of the Belarusian's matches this season. 

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Ordinarily, the Russian has plenty to say - he admits that can mean being "demanding and brash and brutally honest" when required. But the 36-year-old felt as though that an on-court coaching request in Indian Wells in March was a time for silence, resulting in one of the most unusual moments of the tennis year so far. And, from what Tursunov is saying now, it sounds as though he would give Sabalanka the silent treatment again, should he think it necessary. 

"I'm not going to say I did anything wrong," Tursunov said. "A lot of people are having difficulty understanding these on-court coaching moments. A lot of the time, it can be a follow-up to something that preceded the match. So we had a few moments before the match, where Aryna was kind of resistant, and during the match she said: 'Any thoughts?' I said: 'Well, no, no thoughts.' 

"Before the match, Aryna had wanted to do things her way, so when she called me out on court I reminded her of that. Was it awkward? In that situation, I felt as though even if it cost her the match, or a couple of bad weeks, she needed to make a step in a certain direction, which she wasn't." 

Aryna Sabalenka Dmitry Tursunov 2018 Wuhan Getty
Aryna Sabalenka and Dmitry Tursunov in Wuhan (Getty)

In Tursunov's view, it would have been futile saying anything to Sabalenka - who made her top 10 debut in January after victory in the Shenzhen Open.

"Sometimes, what's the point of talking if it's not going to sink in? So why say anything? In that scenario, nothing is going to help. She came out on the court with a certain mindset, and nothing would have helped at that point. Not a single word. She was stubborn that day. She wanted to do it the way she wanted to do it," Tursunov said ahead of the French Open, where on-court coaching isn't permitted. 

"I thought: 'You had the chance to get that information before the match and you didn't want it. You want to show character. Now is the chance for you to show it.' I'm going to stick by my decision. I'm not going to say I did anything wrong." 

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The son of a nuclear research engineer, Tursunov has a good brain (not just a good tennis brain) and considers that when a coach gives in and lets a player dictate, it can hold the athlete back.

"I can be demanding and brash and brutally honest if I feel as though she's not committing to something. I can give in and let the player dictate but I'm there to provide some kind of improvement. If I feel as though giving way to what the player wants to do is detrimental, I'm going to be against my conviction and belief in what's going to help," said Tursunov.  




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"We discuss things and talk about whether we are going in a certain direction or not. Aryna has to make that decision. Once she's on the court, if she's not doing the things that she had said she would, I can say to her: 'Look, we've talked about this and we're not doing what we said we would.' It helps us to get back in line."

In his days on the ATP Tour, Tursunov would occasionally get angry, cussing and pulverising rackets. But he is far calmer as a coach than he was as a player.

"I'm definitely calmer as a coach. You must have seen some of my matches. I've gone through a few stages. When you're coaching, it's not up to you so you really can't get too upset. There are frustrations, but they are different sorts of frustrations. It's out of your control," he said. 

"When I was younger, I would react to a mistake by getting furious. But mistakes are necessarily an indication that something has gone bad. With time, you learn that a mistake isn't fatal. She's probably more emotional than she needs to be in some situations. I tell her that learning to control your emotions is a big part of the game, and that when she gets angry, she's not helping herself. 

"There has to be a certain amount of patience which I think is very difficult for the younger generation. People say that the younger generation want everything to be instant. It's difficult for them to deal with delayed gratification. Or having to go through a certain amount of repetitions. The frustration with not getting everything your way is quite common for the younger generation."

Sabalenka, 21, is now ranked WTA World No.11 and has reached the quarterfinals of this week's Internationaux de Strasbourg.

Read more: Superb Sabalenka sinks Siegemund