Patrick Mouratoglou and Simona Halep stunned the tennis world on Thursday, April 7, when they announced their new partnership. The Frenchman sat down with Tennis Majors to reveal more about their connection, how it started and how the situation is with his longtime player Serena Williams.
When did Simona ask you to be her coach, and what did you say?
Mouratoglou: It started with [Simona Halep’s former coach] Darren Cahill. We are good friends. We worked together on TV so we know each other very well and Simona was looking for a striking partner who could potentially train a bit too. So he asked me if I could find someone for her, and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ And I found someone who actually still works with us (Arnaud Restifo, editor’s note), and it started like this. So she had a striking partner on tour. After Dubai, Doha, she decided to come to the academy to practice, and then she asked me if I could be on the field with her.
So I did a little bit, I did two or three workouts, that was it. Then she went to [go to] the tournaments she played. She asked me about the situation. I said, ‘I’m currently working with Serena. I [have] does not [been] working for eight months, but technically I work with her, so I am not unemployed ‘.
‘Okay no problem.’
So I went there to the US just to talk to Serena, which I did …
When Simona was in Indian Wells, I decided to visit Serena to discuss the situation and see what was her own situation and what could be mine, if she was still counting on me or not, she knew exactly when she would start to play again? you know, all those things. So I went there to the United States only to talk to her, which I did. And after this discussion, I knew I could start working as a coach with someone else, at least in the short term.
I went to see Simona was and we had a discussion there. I told her that then I was unemployed and then she said she was interested in working with me. So I said to her, ‘Let’s go back to the academy and we’ll start something and we’ll see how it goes.’ And it went, I think, extremely well from the first minute. So then the situation was clear.
So what is the short-term plan?
Mouratoglou: The short-term plan is to do everything so she is the best possible player. I think she has already achieved a lot. She’s been No. 1, she’s won the Grand Slams, so she’s part of the very, very, very few players who have been able to accomplish incredible things. So she’s a champion, but I also feel she’s a big margin for improvement in many areas, and she’s still very hungry.
So I think it’s a great foundation for building something and with the goal of doing it at least as well as before. I think she has a good foundation to continue to do extremely well. As I said, she is very hungry after tennis. She feels she can give more to tennis and she wants to see how far she can go. And I believe she can go very far, so that’s the idea – very far.
That means No. 1 again, and Slam titles?
Mouratoglou: I do not think we should set any boundaries. She has been No. 1, she has won Grand Slams. There is no reason why she could not or would not be able to do it again. So there will be no boundaries. The goal is not to say that this is what we are aiming for, because sometimes you even go much further than you think. The goal is probably one day to stop his career thinking: ‘I have done the maximum of what I could have done’. And I think she has many years left until she stops, and the many years we want to get the best out of them. I think she still has such potential to improve in many aspects of her game. So it’s very exciting.
Mouratoglou: I do not want to be very specific in terms of aspects, but I think honestly everywhere. When I work with her, with a player, I will always look at every detail and improve every detail that I think can be improved, whether it is on the physical, mental, technical, tactical side.
So we’ve already looked through a lot of things, from the way she competes to her fitness to her games in general to her exercises. There are many things I see, I feel we can do better. And she’s completely into that mindset. She wants to improve and she wants to be the best she can be. And that is the goal.
From the first second she is on the field, focus is only total focus, from the first ball to the last, which is quite rare.
What kind of athlete is she?
Mouratoglou: First of all, she is an incredible player. I mean, we all know that [that] because she has achieved so much, but also the quality of her game, when you see her play, I think it’s super exciting. I love watching her play tennis because it’s so great tennis, she has a very complete game. She knows many things. She’s great on defense, she’s great on offense. I do not see any limit there.
And I love working with her, because even though we are not working for a long time yet, it’s amazing what I’ve seen so far. Her work ethic is incredible. From the first second she is on the field, focus is only total focus, from the first ball to the last, which is quite rare.
I mean, it’s definitely a touch of the master, and I love her attitude because she wants to move on in everything. She is smart and she is exciting – also excited to understand and get new things, but she is an incredible student. She gives 100%. And I think over a small period of time we’ve created a really good relationship where I feel like she’s really trusting me and I feel like we’re already working really well.
When and how did you feel there could be a good connection between player and coach?
Mouratoglou: The connection went honestly super fast; I would say the first two hours we discussed. Sometimes you feel the connection right away. Sometimes it takes a long time. In Simona’s case, it was instantaneous, really. She was very open to me. So it was easy in a way. She made my work easy by being open and giving me the feeling that she is willing to work and fully commit to what we need to do.
How do you rate the first part of her season so far?
Mouratoglou: I think she had a good first part of the season. However, the last two tournaments, Doha, Dubai, were not good because I think it was a period where she was a bit questioning [of] even so she did not play well. But then I think she made a big effort in Indian Wells, reached the semifinals, was injured from the first game and eventually had three different injuries. But she kept fighting and Miami, she could not play because of the injuries. But I think she’s fine so far, but I feel she can do much better.
When Serena would drop her concentration a little bit, that was when Simona would be on top of her right away.
Have you discovered things about her that have surprised you?
Mouratoglou: I have always respected Simona as a player when she played against Serena because I think she is an incredible competitor. She often gave very difficult fights to Serena. I mean, Serena beat her most of the time, except for one very important match, which was the final at Wimbledon in 2019, where she played great tennis. But I respected her play and her intensity.
And I knew, every time Serena played her, that when Serena would drop her concentration a little bit, then Simona would be on top of her right away. So I respected the player a lot. I did not know her. I almost never talked to her.
I felt she was a very emotional person, which I say in a positive way. I think I think it’s a great thing to have to have feelings and accept our feelings because we are human. And I felt she was smart, and I’ve got the confirmation; she is clever, and quite deep in her thoughts. And so it’s always very interesting to discuss with her, I really enjoy talking to her.
What are your thoughts on the status of the WTA Tour at the moment?
Mouratoglou: I think since Serena came back and was not as dominant as before, no one has taken the lead on the women’s tour – Ash Barty, a little at the end before he stopped, but there were many changes, many, many changes. If you look at the top ten and wins and No. 1, there was no one who really stood out and liked to embody the champion, No. 1. But I think there is a lot of quality in the top ten. If you look at Sakkari, of course Swiatek, who are playing incredibly well at the moment, and who won Roland-Garros in 2020, or Naomi Osaka, who seems to be coming back and playing well again – there is a lot of quality. So there are a lot of very dangerous players. I mentioned three, there are others of course, I have probably voted the two best at the moment and maybe the three best by the way. So much quality, but no consistency yet. Maybe Iga will be the first [consistent as No 1]. We will see. But I think it’s exciting for us, because I completely believe that Simona has a big role to play there, and that’s a big challenge. That’s a big challenge.
Yes, I missed training big, big
You have not trained a professional player since last summer. Did you miss it?
Mouratoglou: I missed it big time. Coaching is the passion of my life. It’s the job of my life. And when I visited Serena to discuss before I started with Simona, that was what I told her. I said, ‘Coaching is the passion of my life, and it’s hard for me not to work.’ So yeah, I missed training big, big. Honestly, since I’m back to training with Simona, I can not be happier to train this again. It is an incredible satisfaction for me to do that work. It’s incredible.
And yet you are a very busy man. Did you miss it more than you expected?
Mouratoglou: I missed training even more than I thought. I do a lot of things you know about the academy, you know about UTS and a lot of other projects. But again, you train, you train, you do not really think about how important it is. Of course you give it 100%, which I did with Serena for ten years.
And one day it stops, because for the last eight months I have not trained at all. And you realize that something extremely big is missing in your life. So that period, I think, was very important because I realized what coaching means to me, and that’s definitely the job of my life.