Coach Talks – Naomi Osaka’s Coach Wim Fissette
The WTA for the past two years has been bringing in coaches to speak to the media at the Western & Southern Open. Here is a news conference with Naomi Osaka’s coach Wim Fissette.
Western & Southern Open
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
New York, New York, USA
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Can you tell us the story of the last five months, six months in your work with Naomi, how much you guys were together, what you were working on, what you guys have been up to since your last tournament?
WIM FISSETTE: Yeah, so I left home just before Indian Wells started, and I was home for about, what was it, about two months, I guess.
Yeah, I was actually looking for a way to get into the United States, which was not easy. Yeah, as soon as exempt waiver came out that was there for the US Open, that actually helped me, like, get into the United States.
So then we had about little more than ten weeks of practice where I just went home, like, in the middle somewhere for ten days.
So before that, she was kind of maintaining her just conditioning, and she was also hitting with our hitting partner who lives in LA, and, yeah, so we had ten weeks, ten good weeks together.
What did we work on? Actually, the first half of those weeks we focused a bit like some things out of the comfort zone to build her, let’s say, her net game a little bit more, to work on, say, her slice a little bit more, to get her, like — she’s not a player who has played a lot of volleys, who has played a lot of slices, so just to get that comfort zone like a little bit more.
I understand it will take time, but this is like we were hoping to add a few percentages there and she would get a little bit better there.
And then the last like five weeks was really preparing for the matches, getting her serve ready, which is the biggest weapon. Also, yeah, tactically, of course.
Q. We saw her just on social media, following her, she was doing a lot more than she had done before about racial injustice things and various other things she’s passionate about and traveling some to do that. For you, was that a different focus for her than tennis? Was her tennis ever less of a focus because of those works, or was she always focused on tennis as far as you saw?
WIM FISSETTE: 100%. Like honestly I started with her in December, and, like, her focus since we started again has been, like, incredible.
I think just the time off she had, again, she realized how much she loves to play and even how much she loves to practice.
So 100% focused on the tennis. The protests she’s done, that was actually before I started to train again with her, and then when we had a little break, when we had the 10-day break. So that’s also when she did her off-court — she’s very good in planning. The 10 days I wasn’t in Belgium in the middle of the training weeks, she planned those. She went to protest but she did all her photo shots for the sponsor. So she’s very well organized and the team around her does a good job on that.
Yeah, the training week she was 100% committed to.
Q. She mentioned her not entering in Cincinnati directly. I don’t know if you know what happened there.
WIM FISSETTE: I don’t do the entries. I think something happened with — the entry system changed apparently. Normally like the players, they enter automatically. Now it was kind of a different system, and I think it was kind of a misunderstanding there. But the plan was always to play Cincinnati. Yeah, she always wanted to play Cincinnati.
Q. How is Naomi different from the players in which you worked before? Which is the main difference?
WIM FISSETTE: Where is she not different? (Smiling).
I mean, she’s a special person. I can probably speak one hour to answer this question. She’s very different, because, you know, as you also get to know Naomi, she has two different sides, right? She has her Caribbean side and she has a Japanese side.
Naomi is a very relaxed person. Not too stressed about things in life. But then when she comes to the court, she’s very, like, perfectionist. She’s a super champion. It’s like very — it’s very different.
Also how she sees the game, like, let’s say in the matches she played here, the way she’s like handling the situation, like being a break up in like a set and then having all the confidence in her serve, and she has no doubts that she will not serve out the set. She’s very confident in her strength, and she’s very confident in herself, which is obviously a great thing.
But, yeah, I mean, she’s an extraordinary person. I think she’s just real. The way you see her, like this is who she is and the way I get to know her is, like, it’s a beautiful personality.
Q. Do you think that playing without crowd for Naomi is an advantageous good for her, or what do you think about it?
WIM FISSETTE: It’s not good; it’s not bad. I think, like I mentioned before, I think we have to be very grateful for this to happen. Naomi’s last match was Fed Cup in, like, beginning of February, so it’s almost seven months for her last match.
So we are just super happy to compete. Training is nice, but after a while, we need to see, like, where are we now? We can train forever, but matches are still going to be different. And to have the last weeks when we had the goal, okay, in three weeks, in two weeks we’re going to have matches, it’s very different. It gives this extra motivation.
So being here, from what I see, she’s very committed. She enjoys the competition. She’s not bothered at all that there is no crowd. For her, she’s always pretty focused. She doesn’t look at the box too much.
Yeah, she obviously loves to play in front of a big crowd, but at this moment, yeah, she’s just happy to compete.
Q. You mentioned that you were working on the things that she wasn’t necessarily good at. Seems like a lot of Naomi’s previous coaches didn’t really touch her volley technique or help her work on her slice. Just what was that like? I imagine a lot of players would rather work on their strengths than weaknesses in many cases.
WIM FISSETTE: I agree, but also those coaches didn’t have, like, three months’ time to work, right? So normally the preseason is not too long. It’s usually four or five, maximum six weeks.
So to really go out of the comfort zone, it’s not easy, but, yeah, I spoke to Naomi at the beginning of our new preseason, middle of this year, and we said, like, Okay, we have to seize this as an opportunity. When were you going to have like three months to work on your game? This is a huge opportunity. As well physically, off-court, same like on-court.
We can go out of the comfort zone now. We can work on your strengths just before the tournament. We know that’s going to be fine. But now it’s good to go out of the comfort zone.
Yeah. So now it’s obviously good to see the matches. Is she using that a bit, is she coming a bit to the net? You see that it’s still difficult, because she’s never done that, so it has to go step by step.
But, you know, I think we have put a good base doing that time, and we keep building from there.
Q. On her serve, when she was down breakpoint and 2-Love she came up with an ace. What do you think her limit is as a server? She also said she was working on her second serve.
WIM FISSETTE: Her first serve always has been, like, really good. She usually hits the best serves whenever she really needs them. I think it’s a bit of a different focus.
Yeah, she goes for more when she really needs it and it really works. But our focus was more to work on the second serve. We saw that her percentage winning after the second serve wasn’t high enough for the player she is. There were two things, of course, like the quality of the second serve but also like the ball after, after that second serve.
So we worked a lot on the quality of the second serve, and so far I’m very pleased with the result.
Q. You mentioned earlier that she realized during the break how much she loves to play and to practice and everything. Was that something that you think was not really there in the beginning of the year?
WIM FISSETTE: No, I wouldn’t say that. But it’s like it shows — like you get the feeling even more. I’m doing this job for the last 11 years, and there is not one moment that I didn’t like my job.
But being home for, like, let’s say ten weeks, I also had the feeling, God, like, I really miss my job and I miss, like, the coaching and I miss the traveling.
And I think that’s more or less the same with Naomi, because, you know, things become normal. Things are normal until you don’t have those things anymore and then you realize it even more.
So I definitely felt like she was very happy to be on court, even December or January, but such a long break, it even, like, shows it even more.
Q. She spoke a lot about her attitude and how she’s really focusing on that. Today she said at some point in the match her attitude wasn’t great, but then she kind of checked herself. I’m wondering, in your opinion, do you see that’s something that’s changed a lot recently, how much she wants to focus on being calm?
WIM FISSETTE: Yeah. I mean, she said it. She also wants it. But we also know that’s not easy.
That’s the thing, like, by watching also a lot of matches, I feel that a lot of players, like after a long break, you think, okay, from now on I’m going to always have the perfect attitude on court, but it’s very difficult. Something you have to keep working on and, you know, you have to work proactive to find a way to have that positive attitude on the court.
You know, things like go quick after playing a few matches, you will get again that stress, you will get again frustration that things are not working.
You know, like after seven months you start with the feeling, like, Hey, I’m just happy I can play, and I’m so grateful. I’m just going to enjoy everything.
But once you get on the court, you want to win and you want to play perfect and you want to do everything exactly you were thinking to do it and like you did it in practice, but then it’s not happening. And of course you will be again frustrated.
So it’s like having the perfect attitude is a constant battle, and we have to keep working on it every single day. She’s still young, and I think she’s doing very good, but definitely also has a lot to learn.
Q. I wanted to ask, sort of looking down the road a little, there is this very unusual schedule because of all that’s been going on, and very quick break between New York and Roland Garros. I’m just wondering, from a coach’s perspective and for the players, what you think the biggest challenge will be of that transition? And is it almost impossible to prepare properly with such a short amount of time, especially if a player goes deep in the US Open?
WIM FISSETTE: Definitely not ideal, but nothing is ideal in the world right now. So that’s the approach we need to have.
In our particular situation, we did, let’s say, 30, 40% of the preseason we had now, we did on clay. Also, just to see, okay, we had four weeks on hard. Let’s go on clay now. And let’s see how quick she can change, how quick she can adjust her footwork and her tactics. So let’s just see.
I think it gave us a lot of confidence, like, okay, this girl — Naomi grew up also on the green clay in Florida, but still, she’s quite natural on the clay. So we are quite confident in our situation that the transition is going to be fine, yeah?
Of course if you go really deep in the US Open, it’s going to be tricky to be at your best in Rome, but even if you’re not going to be at your best in Rome, then you still have some time to prepare for Paris.
Yeah, I think also in general players are adjusting every single week. You know, different weather and different surface and different balls. So players are kind of used to adjust quickly, but of course after a slam, it’s ideal to have, like, a week off, a week of training, and then go into a tournament and then move to the next one.
Again, we take it the way it is, and we are very grateful for that.