Coach Talks – Elise Mertens’ Coach Robbe Ceyssens
The WTA for the past two years has been bringing in coaches for news conferences at the Western & Southern Open. Here is a news conference with Elise Mertens’ coach Robbe Ceyssen.
Western & Southern Open
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
New York, New York, USA
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Just wanted to kind of check in in terms of how you feel that Elise has handled the restart? Obviously the results have been fantastic, but just what have been the particular challenges for her, whether it be in Palermo or Prague or here in New York?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: We worked really hard during the break, so we knew what level she was playing in practice. But obviously we didn’t know how it was going to translate in matches.
But Elise is someone who likes to play matches, and when she gets a lot of matches under her belt, she’s feeling good and confidence is going up.
She got those matches in Prague. That was on clay. And then the transition to here was actually pretty quick, because we needed to, yeah, adapt in, like, three days or four days, and that was a tough one in the beginning, because, yeah, it’s completely different.
But she managed it well. As soon as the first match ended, confidence went up again. Yeah, she’s still going, yeah.
Q. It seems as though she’s playing decidedly more aggressively, you know, whether it was in Prague or even here. I’m wondering, from your perspective as a coach, how much of that is the work that you guys put in during the shutdown? How much of it is just being mentally and physically fresh to be able to play that way? What’s the key?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: Yeah, exactly. I think everything starts with the first serve, and as soon as the first serve is with good quality, the next shot is really important, as well. So we practiced a lot on that.
When she can execute, I feel it’s really going well what we did in the break, what we practiced in the break.
It’s a lot about physically being fresh to play that game and also mentally being there and try to go for your shots, because Elise is naturally a little bit more of a defensive player. But we are trying to push her into the court when she can, yeah, going forward.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the sort of level of uncertainty there is going into tournaments like this or the US Open after such a great amount of time away, both in terms of what you, as a coach, feel about your own player and also knowing what to expect from each opponent, given that nobody has been competing for such a long time.
ROBBE CEYSSENS: Yeah, exactly. There were a few exhibitions, so there are players who played a little bit of matches but maybe in a different format.
But it was, yeah, tough for us to see where we were after the break, what level. I was telling the previous journalist that we worked really hard in the break, and we know Elise’s level in practice was pretty good, but in matches it’s pretty different.
And what other players, they worked really hard, as well, maybe not. We don’t know. We are trying to focus on Elise’s game.
Yeah, it was tough to see where she was, but, yeah, she has a lot of matches now. So I feel like I think now she’s won most matches after the break. So, yeah, I feel like that’s an advantage now before going into the US Open.
Q. Following up on that, where do you see the biggest difference for her in terms of getting the match play? And now that she has had a chance to compete after that long break, is there a particular area of growth or a way in which you know sort of that, okay, yeah, she’s ready for something like the US Open?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: Yeah. I feel like we improved her serve and her return and the shot after the serve. Those are things, every point starts with that, so that needs to be really good and on a high level.
We were, yeah, curious to see how that went into matches. But I feel now the seeded players are maybe finding their rhythm a little bit. You can also see it in this tournament that the seeded players — well, not all of them, but a few seeded players, they lost their matches early. So they are struggling to find rhythm, as well. They maybe haven’t got the tournament in Prague, so maybe this one was the first tournament.
We also had our first tournament in Palermo, and there Elise was struggling a little bit to find her rhythm there. So as soon as the seeded players get their matches in, I’m sure they will raise their level and, yeah, they will be there, yeah.
Q. A lot of the players have been talking about how the mental challenge at the moment is a lot bigger than other things, just because everything is so different, whether it’s because of the bubble, no fans, everything. I’m wondering, in your perspective, what has been the biggest mental challenge? What are you telling your player to kind of overcome all of these things?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: Actually, the biggest thing for us is because of the ranking system changed a little bit, so you keep your points of last year. If you lose early, for example, first or second round, but the year before you played quarters, your result of quarters keeps there.
So for Elise that’s a big thing to play free like she’s doing on practice. So for us, that’s a big thing.
And then without spectators, no one is watching, you can just do your own thing and give everything you have there on the court. So for us, that’s the main thing that maybe helps us. Maybe it’s a little bit in our advantage.
But we’ll see. Maybe the rest of the players just need to adapt to that a little bit.
Q. How did you guys start working together? What are the pros and cons of being in a relationship with someone that you’re working with so closely?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: Sorry, the first question was how…
Q. How did you guys start working together?
ROBBE CEYSSENS: First, I was, like, a hitting partner on the Kim Clijsters Academy, so I worked there and teached a few groups. I was hitting with her, because I was competing in some lower ITF tournaments. That’s how it started.
Her coach Dan was ill, and then I went on a trip with her and that went really well. And from then on, it started a little bit that I was traveling a little bit more with her.
How I’m working with her? I’m trying to implement things throughout statistics. Let’s say she’s doing a little bit less on the second-serve returns, so then we will see where the others are serving and what does it, yeah, what’s Elise not doing that well to not win a lot of points on that one.
So I feel like statistics are doing a great job, and we try to use that in our advantage, and try to also get some videos of Elise in certain situations where the players are putting her in and when she’s struggling a little bit, we try to work on that.
So those are the main things, I think, yeah.