Interview by Vishnu Reddy, Dec 9 2018
Part II of this interview focuses on Bastien’s time as a coach with Karman in 2016/17. It captures the journey from about 750 rank to about 250 rank from a coach’s perspective. Bastien also shares detail on one of his upcoming projects – one of Europe’s biggest academies and also detail for the Indian players.
When did you first see Karman and your initial involvement. Your initial assessment of the strengths / areas that can be further improved.
We first met in in April 2016 when she arrived in France to prepare for the clay season (15K + junior French Open). I’ve been immediately in charge of her as full-time coach and I remember how easy it was to see Karman’s huge potential. She had very strong natural weapons that could be incredibly efficient in women’s modern tennis. She was like a rough diamond, by working the right way, she could shine like no one else.
Any specifics that you focused on, as the immediate priority
We started by putting priorities on her fitness strengths. She needed to become fitter, stronger and faster in order to take advantage of her tennis potential. About tennis, as she had tournaments on clay coming up in 2 weeks, we just worked on few adjustments (footwork & tactic) to make her feel comfortable to play on clay, but no big change as we had no time to do it.
But later, we had done a lot to work. A lot of work has been done on backhand (the biggest change we have made so far) and on the serve. We spent a lot of time every day working on her strengths which is forehand and serve. Making her forehand even more dangerous was crucial to maintain her level of confidence while working on her weaknesses. We changed her preparation, we developed better trajectories to gain more security and consistency, setting a better technique of moving around the court to be able to cover bigger space with her forehand. Also, few precise technical details but I won’t to tell you…
You have coached Karman at a key stage of her tennis career. How much has she evolved as a player since then?
We started together when she arrived in France at 17 years old and about 700-750 WTA. We’ve worked together for almost 2 years and she was on her way to enter the Top 250 when she came back in India. She had some ups and downs after being back home but it’s completely normal when you get about 500 WTA spots in 18 months. She just needed some time to deal with her new ranking and the level of better tournaments. It’s been a year now she’s training in Delhi and I’m happy to see things getting better and better. It’s still a long road ahead but we can trust Karman for giving everything she has in order to succeed. She’s one of the most determined and dedicated players I have ever worked with.
Karman’s game appears to have been worked upon with long-term goals in mind. Polishing her weapons, sticking to the aggressive style even if it means some of the winnable matches are lost in the short term. Was that a conscious approach?
Completely conscious! Karman and her family don’t put pressure about immediate results. They are looking for improvement and learning process. They keep confidence and belief in their project and whatever happens, they always stay positive. I remember a talk I had with Rajan (mother) during 2017 season. Why sign up for 5 clay court tournaments in a row, when we knew she had zero chance to play the French Open this year, when she could have kept playing on hard where she’s the most comfortable, and getting points obviously?
Coach Bastien with Karman Kaur Thandi and her mother Rajan ji
I explained to her honestly that I didn’t think Karman would win a lot of matches on clay, but I was 100% sure about the benefits of playing matches on this surface for the next two months. She has been forced to develop more intelligence on the court, using different weapons and strategies, facing different situations, learning how to go from defense to offense in the same point, learning how to win a match without getting free points with winners like on hard court, thinking 2 or 3 shots ahead to build up points smartly…
Tennis on clay is a completely different sport with longer rallies, longer matches and harder fights. It brings a lot out of the player’s mind and body to handle a match correctly. Rajan not only agreed with me but she was also excited to see how Karman could manage all of this. I mean how many parents would have trusted me the way she did, I don’t know?!
Finally, after 5 tournaments in 2 months on clay, Karman had won only 4 matches but has learned and changed a lot. Then from May to December she has won 33 matches on hard court including 2 ITF 25K finals and 4 semifinals, moving from #550 to #280 WTA. This example is a typical example about how Thandi’s are open minded.
Lot of Indian Tennis experts call out on how Karman’s game is top-50 material once she stitches everything together. What is your assessment of the future based on where she is at right now?
Agree. Karman has everything in her hands. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy nor she doesn’t need to improve here or there. But definitely she has the strokes, she has the will to win and the guts to fight. She’s athletic, hard working, very quick learner and she’s surrounded by good people. Mahesh Bhupathi, who helps her a lot, has also a very positive impact on Karman’s confidence. Now on her way to the top 150, she will have to gain more consistency in her results by improving her daily level. Not look at playing amazing once in a while but reach this average level that will make her win week after week after week… But you know I’m confident, it will also come with experience.
Your experience in India – At the ITF Pune, WTA Mumbai.
I’ve spent 6 weeks in India and I really enjoyed my time over there. Because of Karman, Rajan (mother) and Simran (brother) I’ve learned a lot from the culture (and about Indian food oh my god…too good!!!). They are such nice persons – smart, generous and with great values. I remember the first time they brought me home, after 1 minute we were already all sitting with drinks and food like if I was part of the family. I really loved my time with them, it has worth a lot. About tennis, I’ve been surprised about the passion Indians have for the game. Between matches, no matter if the court was free for 15 minutes or 15 seconds, kids were jumping on the court to hit balls! Tournaments organizers and staff have been always nice and helpful with me, or maybe it’s because I was an Indian player’s coach.
On your current interactions / involvement with Karman.
We talk very often to each other. We are still close, we’ll always be I think. As long as I remember we only have good memories from working together. With my wife, we try to watch her matches on internet as much as possible. We still text each other very often after matches. Sometimes, just some congrats, sometimes we talk more about tactics. For example, the week she was in Guangzhou we talked a lot before playing Kovinic and Kuznetsova because I know them well so I wanted to help. In fact, I always try to be there showing my support when she’s about to go through key stages.
Your most satisfying tourney as a coach during your tenure with Karman.
Actually, in India. It was the ITF 25K in Pune, she had a wild-card main draw (ranked #600) and had reached quarter final by beating #380 and #270 both in 3 sets. That was a strong feeling because it was one of our first tournament together and we had put a lot of energy in daily training to prepare 3 tournaments in a row in her home country.
On the other hand, the match / tourney that did not go according to plan and hurt you the most.
Hmm… I’ve suffered more by following her matches from home on live score than when I was with her in tournament (laugh). Honestly, this period on clay that I told you about, during 2017 season. Even I knew why we were there, even I knew what I was looking for by coming to Spain, playing on clay and the long terms goals, still it wasn’t easy. It was tough for me to see Karman play against sneaky Spanish players, watching her fight against herself sometimes, trying to find solutions, giving her best but still losing at the end of the day. Fortunately, at the end, all went fine and the experience has taught us a lot, that’s all that counts.
In this age of social media, there are a lot of armchair critics. Based on the comments that I have seen on various sites, it seems like fans want instant results. There is a lot of emphasis on winning and they are ready to criticize when the results are not there. Followers don’t seem to care much about the process and they are too focused on the outcome. How do have your players deal with praise or criticism that comes with being a top player?
We are living an era with new standards. We want everything easy, good and immediately without effort. And in a way, some top players are making tennis look so easy that it can gives wrong idea about how difficult this sport is. It’s probably one of the most complete and demanding sport and of course it takes so much time, work and sacrifice to reach the top level. But you know, fans are not here to judge the process or to have sympathy for this or that. Watching the game and enjoying the show, this is only what they are here for.
Tennis is a very lonely sport with losses every week. How important it is for one to learn to take the highs / lows in the stride.
I would say that there is often a connection between loneliness and results on player’s mental health (and coach’s too sometimes!). It’s not only winning or losing, and not only feeling alone away from home. It’s more about not sharing wins and losses. It’s like any other job, there are some bad sides. The professional tennis life is not only huge stadiums, luxury hotels, interviews and autographs. It’s also dealing with body pain somewhere every single day, with jetlag, in a new environment, trying to get your own marks in countries you don’t know and sometimes don’t feel comfortable with (culture, habits, language, food etc.). That’s why many players are traveling with their mum/dad or boy/girlfriend when they can. You feel better with someone familiar next to you, someone with who you can easily talk about something else than tennis. That’s also why choosing a coach is important and not always easy. Some players could feel very satisfied with a coach while training on court, but not comfortable sharing time with him/her the rest of the day.
Coach Bastien with Dasha Lopatetskaya
To me, this is the real meaning and challenge of “coaching”. Because training is about 3h/4h a day maximum, but the next 10h we spend off the court are sometimes more important for keeping a player confident, motivated and involved. What you do, what you say and how you act in this next 10h are crucial to raise the player’s state of mind.
Personal upcoming projects
We heard you are about to start your own academy. What can you tell us about this?
This is the very first time I’m going to talk about this to a foreign media, but yes, that’s true. I’m very excited to tell you that the French Touch Academy is about to open its doors officially in April 2019 in the city of Cap d’Agde, in the South of France.
It’s the fruit of a longtime cooperation between Charles Auffray, Julien Bercovici and myself. When we all left from the Mouratoglou Academy one year ago, we had this idea to put our best experience, strengths and overall motivation to create our own academy.
We got inspired from all the things we have gone through over the last 10 years working for ISP & Mouratoglou Academies, to imagine something different. We wanted to create a place where we could give the opportunity to all the athletes to be surrounded by a very professional and experienced team without putting a gap between pro tennis players and casual customers. As they both love the game the same way, we had to offer them the same quality in training, the same coaching expertise, and the same dedication to help them to reach out their goals, all that providing a very affordable range of prices.
It is behind this idea that the French Touch Academy was born.
Could you share more details on the support staff who will be supporting you?
I would not give you any name now, but of course we are uniting a high-quality team, all inspired by the French pedagogy and method with the deep will to make every single player a better athlete. Our goal is definitely to make players living an unforgettable experience among us, whether it’s for 1 week, 1 month or 1 year. But more than a tennis center, we have the desire to develop the first Academy of “racket sports” including camps and stays, family packages, high-level training center, ground of events and even a coaching school. Our Academy is based on one of the most famous and historic French tennis centers, located in the heart of sunny south of France at equal distance of Montpellier and Perpignan, along the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the biggest tennis facilities in Europe with more than 30 tennis courts (8 indoors), 4 padel courts, 2 squash, 2 badminton, many accommodation facilities all around, a fitness center, a swimming-pool, a pro-shop, a restaurant and even a cinema room, so we are able to propose very high-quality programs in a very professional setting.
I can’t tell you everything now, but we are looking forward to start this new adventure by welcoming our first campers from 8th of April 2019, so save the date!!
Detail specific to the Indian players.
Indian players are demanding players and my experience, having spent time with many of them has given me an overall great understanding.
Firstly, on a coaching perspective, I know what I have to do and put in place with them. They like to get insights on their technique and our French culture and education is definitely a strength. In addition to our core programs, we offer sessions of individualized training which is the best way to solve technical issues.
Indian players have a solid motivation but physically they usually need a strong physical program to get them to another level. Related to this, awareness of the importance of nutrition is also a key aspect. For these reasons, I strongly recommend long stays, 3 weeks minimum, to make sure we have a real impact on the players progress.
Since we have big experience in US College Placement, a training camp at the French Touch Academy can also be a way to make a diagnostic about the players skills and ability to get access to US colleges. We’ve been placing hundreds of players throughout the years and we know what is required and how to get there with a great scholarship.