Interview by Vishnu Reddy, Dec 8 2018
Bastien is one of the most prominent coaches in the tennis world. He has been involved with some of the world’s best like Alize Cornet (WR#11), Dayana Yastremska (WR#58), Dasha Lopatetskaya (Junior Prodigy) and so on. Amongst the Indian players, Bastien has been more prominently involved in the journey of our India No.2 Karman Kaur Thandi while also supporting former Commonwealth Youth Games Champion Dhruthi Tatachar and U18 No.1 Siddhant Banthia.
This is a II-part interview with Part-I focusing Bastien’s journey from a young boy to one of most accomplished coaches, his thoughts on two of our brightest talents Dhruthi and Siddhant while also sharing thoughts on topics related to college tennis, technology and much more.
Journey into Tennis. How did it all began? Did you play in the French Circuit / Leagues yourself?
I’ve actually discovered tennis completely by chance when I was about 9/10 years old. I was playing football at that time. My neighbor, who is the same age as me, was playing tennis and asked me once if I wanted to come with him to watch his tennis training. After 10 mins of watching him play, his trainer asked me if I wanted to try hitting some balls. He finally kept me for the entire training session and suggested me to come back with my parents for signing a registration. From this day, the tennis club became like my second home for the next 15 years.
Coach Bastien with his mother in the summer of 1995, a few days after he started playing Tennis
I played French circuit, National team matches, and also few ITF Futures. I was a good player but not “very good”. I was kind of fascinated by my coaches but I’ve never seen myself as a tennis player.
Coach Bastien with the finalist trophy in his first ever tourney. Childhood friend Sam Carre on the complete right.
How did your coaching career begin? Detail on the preparatory work and effort that you had to put in.
I was like 16 years old and very tired about tennis. I was in this situation when you feel you really have to choose what you want to do for living. In France, the society is asking you to answer this question at very early age. It puts a lot of pressure on kids because the one without precise idea about his future is often seen as a lazy person/loser.
Coach Bastien with his first coach Salvatore Mascaro and friend Sam Carre
I wasn’t really a studious guy, school was nothing but boring for me. I just felt, my life had a purpose in sport but didn’t really know which one. I wanted to stop tennis at that time because I was feeling like I will never be good enough to turn pro. It was difficult financially and also, I’ve never really felt this motivation deep inside me to be a tennis player one day. I stopped tennis for 2 years but I kept contact with it by giving some mini-tennis lessons to very young kids. Step by step I taught to older kids, then better and better players and that’s how I fell in love with coaching. My mother has decided me to follow courses from the French tennis federation to be graduated as professional tennis trainer. I was graduated in 2005.
You were the Director of Sartrouville Tennis Club (2005-09) & were the head of Women’s Tennis at Academie de France (2010). Can you take us through your journey here?
The Sartrouville Tennis Club is my childhood club, that’s where it all started so I truly cherish this club and the team out there. After my graduation they quickly gave me the opportunity to be in charge of the management, which I did for 4 years with the help of my childhood friend Sam. We both grew up in this club, so we were putting everything we had to make the club better. But after 4 years of tennis school I had different desire and motivation. I’ve heard about a guy trying to create a team of coaches to launch his own international academy “Académie de France” in Paris. He was basically looking for former pro players, or famous French coaches only but still, I tried my chance and I got the job. No one in the team wanted to be in charge of young female players so I said “No problem, I can do it!”. That’s actually how I’ve started coaching girls, completely by chance finally.
ISP Tennis Academy / Mouratoglou transition (2012-17): How did the offer come about? Your primary responsibilities there?
Autumn 2011, I’ve been contacted by Charles Auffray (ISP Academy’s director) who was looking for a coach in order to develop women’s tennis in his academy. It took some time before we start working together in march 2012 where I’ve started my mission with 9 girls at the academy. In 2014, we were 6 coaches dedicated to women’s tennis, taking care about 45/50 girls. When the Mouratoglou Academy joined us in the South of France, I kept the same responsibilities for the first season but then we created a pro section with the 5 main coaches of the academy including myself. I’ve worked for the Pro Team for 2 years until I left the academy in December 2017.
Coach Bastien with Dasha Lopatetskaya, Karman Kaur Thandi, Vinciane Remy and Zeynep Oztürk
Players that you were most involved with :
- Alizé Cornet (FRA) – Former World No. 11
- Dayana Yastremska (UKR) – World No. 58
- Natalia Vikhlyantseva (RUS) – Former World No. 54
- Karman Kaur Thandi (IND) – World No. 196
- Vinciane Rémy (FRA) – Upcoming French player
- Dasha Lopatetskaya (UKR) – 15 yr old – Jr US Open Semi Finalist
Coach Bastien with Alizé Cornet and Vinciane Rémy
On your involvement with Indian players
When did you first see the player and your initial involvement. Your assessment of the strengths. Areas that can be further improved.
First time Sidd stepped on my court was in August 2017. We’ve worked together for 3 weeks. I immediately loved this guy, he’s cool, nice and loves the game. I saw a big potential with huge weapons to play aggressive tennis in the next few years. His big forehand can be dangerous from anywhere, his backhand is much better than what he thinks and for sure the variety of his serve and his agility at the net could make some serious damage on the tour one day. At that time the priorities to work on was about 30% technical, 30% tactical and the next 40% was a combination of physical & mental aspects.
What specifically did you work on with the player.
First of all, we talked a lot because I wanted to make sure about his picture of his own game style. You can be the best coach in the world but if you try to bring the player in a different direction than the one he believes in, you’ll be wrong anyway. From that point, I respected his desire to develop his forward game. We have worked a lot on his serve and net game every single day. We’ve made his backhand stronger including variety and consistency, worked on his forehand to put himself in better situation when approaching the net.
Siddhant has been the India Jr No.1, represented India at the elite stage – Grand Slams, higher grade events. What do you think could have been done to move him into the top-30 bucket?
Something you have to know and we have to consider is that Sidd doesn’t feel the pressure. He’s very relaxed before points and always thinking about the game, not about the gain. And when you play the game he plays, taking his chance whenever he can, putting pressure on his opponent again and again from the first to the last point, not feeling pressure helps a lot. An offensive player takes risks, so he’s forced to miss. And usually the more we miss, the more we feel pressure and fear to miss, then the less we attack and the more we let our opponent attack us. This “problem”, Sidd doesn’t have. He will stick to his game no matter what. And in U18 category, it’s tough to spend an entire match under pressure, playing 2 hours against a guy attacking the net without any break and forcing you to defend well, to make the perfect passing shot again and again. Not everyone is ready to deal with that psychological aspect to be able playing each shot deep enough not to be attacked, it’s highly demanding. I would say he’s mentally “tiring” to play, he’s a tough and dangerous opponent.
Siddhant Banthia at the French Open 2018
If you were involved from the beginning, any changes that you would have introduced in the early stages of him as a player.
It’s a very tough question. I don’t want to blame any of his coach, first because they did a great job (his results are proof) and because it’s always easy to talk afterwards. If I go back to the first question about Siddhant, I would probably say I would be very demanding and tough with him because I’ve felt by working with him that he used to be a bit easy on himself. He had (“had” because maybe he has improved since) the tendency to be too easily satisfied. I’m not saying he’s not able to train hard. But I think he could train sometimes harder on few details to make himself even better. Once again, it’s easy to say afterwards and who knows if by training him this way would have worked better? Maybe he wouldn’t be so relaxed when facing key points if he had to be coached with more discipline for example? However, this is actually not the point to know what could have been done better, as the goal in tennis is always to look forward.
Siddhant Banthia at the French Open
From your perspective of managing several top players in the world, how would you manage his career path forward as he graduates from ITF Jrs into likely College Tennis [Reference] (and hopefully then back to Pro Tour)
Well it’s been a while since Sidd and I talked, so I didn’t know that he was going to play college tennis but I’m glad to hear about it. For me, it’s a great opportunity to catch if it comes to you and it’s of course not a path that excludes you from playing on the pro tour later on.
Many pro players coming from college are having a great career right now on the ATP and WTA tours and most of them reach the tour stronger and better prepared after College than before. The American mental approach of the game is a huge help for the other cultures. Of course, I wish I could see him coming back on the tour trying his chance and see what he can accomplish in the future.
When did you first see Dhruthi and your initial involvement. Your assessment of the strengths / areas that can be further improved.
The first time I’ve seen Dhruthi playing was in November 2016 at the ITF 25K in Pune. I didn’t really watch her matches as I was at the tournament with Karman. She came to France few months later and I started to work with her in March 2017. Dhruthi is an all-around player who can be very dangerous in any part of the game. She can play aggressive taking balls early from both sides, serving and returning well, but also, she’s able to cause big trouble with variations like slices, drop shots, or coming at the net where she’s very comfortable. At that time, the biggest priority was to improve physically, to make her fitter and faster.
Dhruthi Tatachar / Karman Kaur Thandi – Doubles Champions at KUDA ITF
What specifically did you work on with her?
We’ve put the priority on health and fitness. She worked really hard to lose weight and she immediately felt the difference on the court. Also, we’ve worked on some tactical & technical details but it’s not where she had the most to do. With Dhruthi, it’s all about staying healthy and fit to be physically ready to play her best level every single day. By the way it’s very interesting to work with her, she has a game with a lot of options and she’s adorable.
Dhruthi Tatachar – Commonwealth Youth Games – Gold Medalist. Also seen in the picture – Mukund Sasikumar
Are you still in contact? She appears to be on a break.
Yes, we are in contact. She’s injured (elbow) since many weeks now. It’s always complicated when the pain keeps you out of the court for a long period. I really hope she will be back soon to hit some backhand winners down the line as she likes.
For most of the junior players, that are caught between the path of going Pro or taking the College route. What are your thoughts on this, especially with the ITF Transition Tour in place?
As I said before, there is no mistake by choosing one or the other path. Both options are good, when it’s planned for good reasons. Some players feel ready to try their chance on the tour very young, taking the risk to put studies on the side to live their dream. Some others will have different feeling, different goals as well. I have a daughter, she’s still a baby but if she plays tennis and reaches this moment, I really don’t know what I could tell her as the best path to take. It’s a personal choice but what I’m sure about is that going to college is not a path that excludes you from playing professional tennis one day. Sometimes it can make players even more ready to go on the tour than if they would have gone straight from the junior circuit to the pro circuit. There are many examples for both cases. There is no better option, there is only option that fits the most to you.
Coach Bastien with Karman Kaur Thandi
Results on the junior circuit don’t always translate onto the pro tour. What do you suggest junior players to sustain the success that they see at the junior levels?
I would love to give you the key of success from junior circuit to the pro tour but unfortunately, I don’t have it. The only thing we have is statistics, but if we had to check statistics about how many chances has a kid starting tennis to turn pro one day, we probably will not make him start, I guess… What I can truly say, is that I see too many players try playing the tour because “it seems to be the next stage” but they are not ready for it. They are not ready technically, tactically, mentally or neither physically, just not ready to compete at that level! The two biggest gaps I use to see with juniors are technical and/or mental. Both aspects are underrated but will make a limited player once, in reaching a certain level. A strong and solid technical background and a deep desire to succeed is not an option for anyone who wants to make it through the professional tennis world nowadays.
Coach Bastien with Dayana Yastremska in 2012. Warming up in Ukraine using a wall as there were no practice courts!
Coach Bastien with Dayana Yastremska in 2012. Training in Prague before Dayana became the European U14 No.1
Coach Bastien with Dayana Yastremska in 2015. Back to the roots for some training sessions in Paris.
Dayana Yastremska is now ranked #58 in the world
There is a lot of player intelligence these days (rankings, UTR, tennis recruiting). The Junior players win or lose matches before they step onto the court. Is all this player intelligence and data a blessing or a curse? How do you handle all this as a Tennis coach?
The tennis evolution is endless and it is part of the game now to deal with all forms of rankings, statistics etc… I remember playing tournaments myself during 90’s. My friends and I were 10 years old, we had no internet, no statistics but still we were all focused about rankings. In my opinion, the blessing we have now is that we can smartly use statistics to really have an idea on how your opponent is, or what kind of game he’s playing. As a coach, I check statistics about the next opponent about 90% of the time. When you know how to read them, when you know what to look for, it’s so helpful. You can get some precious tips to help your player to adjust a game plan. In fact, I would say that player intelligence is like every other new technology, it’s all about how you use it. As coach or player, that’s our responsibility to use it the right way.