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Pliskova coach Sascha Bajin: "I want Karolina to play to win, not not to lose"

At Wimbledon, Karolina Pliskova reached a Grand Slam final for the second time in her career. We spoke to her coach Sascha Bajin before the final against Ashleigh Barty.

by Nikolaus Fink
last edit: Jul 10, 2021, 12:44 pm

© Getty Images
Sascha Bajin led Karolina Pliskova into the Wimbledon final

Mr Bajin, Karolina Pliskova did not come to Wimbledon in top form after two defeats in Berlin and Eastbourne. How do you explain her strong performances in London?

It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment for it. I think we did a good job in training in preparation for the tournament. She always felt relatively good in training, but it was difficult for her to show that in a match. In addition, everything in a match does not always depend on you, but also on the opponents. Something happened in the first round against Zidansek (Tamara, note) at 2:5 in the first set. I don't know exactly what happened, but she got up from the bench and somehow looked differently - as if it had somehow "clicked" at that moment. Since then she has played differently and the look in her eyes was different - somehow she flipped the switch at that moment. At least that's what it looked like from the outside. I can't explain it any other way. I am glad it has lasted until now.

Did you talk to her about this key moment?

Yes, I talked to her about it. I told her that she is different since that 2:5. I also told her right after the match that - if she kept her demeanor, mindset and body language like this - we would still be here in two weeks and talk about this moment. From that day on I tried to convince her that she didn't have to do more, but that she was definitely not allowed to do less, and then she would be in the final here. I'm happy that it worked out that way.

Another key moment is likely to have been the comeback in the semifinals. Pliskova felt like the better player in the first set, but it went the way of Aryna Sabalenka. How difficult was it for Karolina to digest this setback and what do you attribute the successful comeback to?

It is of course incredibly difficult to process something like this in a Grand Slam semi-final. It has been shown that she has the mental strength that also characterizes the best players in the decisive moments. I think it comes from all of our collaboration. By that I mean the good moments in training, the positive energy in the team, which also emanates from her husband and the physiotherapist, and the fact that we talk her to her in a positive way. The trust is there. She used to become negative quite quickly. One of the most important things I've talked to her about a lot is that she understands the difference between negativity and frustration. These are two different things. It's okay for her to be upset. That's human. But she must not be negative. If she's upset because she lost the first set, that's okay and a perfectly normal feeling. But you mustn't think that it doesn't make any sense now. That's not okay. Those are two different things. I believe that with all the positive energy in our team, things tend to turn to the "frustrated" side and away from the negative. This allows her to keep fighting, staying in the moment, and playing point by point. She focuses on the good things. For example, that she was the better player against Sabalenka in the first set, that it will work out in the second set and that you can start again in the third set.

You mentioned the mental side of things in the tennisnet interview in December as the main reason why Pliskova has not yet won a Grand Slam. She is now in her second major final. What does she have to do differently than at the US Open 2016? How will your experiences with Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams help her?

I will continue to give her as much confidence as possible. It starts with the warm-up. I will not correct her when she does something wrong, but rather speak positively to her when she does something right. As a coach, I can decide whether to say "Go under the ball" for a weaker shot or to say "That was really good, I want to see that" for a good one. I have to pay a little attention to my choice of words. These are little things. We will end up doing one or two exercises that are good for her. We never stop with serve or return, but with things that she can be aggressive about. These can be attack balls or volleys - things that she does well. She should walk off the court and feel good. Then of course I hope that Ash Barty, who has never been to a Wimbledon final as well, is a bit nervous and that it will be played out on the same level.

In the head to head, Barty leads 5:2, the last three matches also went her way. What does Karolina have to do differently than before?

The last match in Stuttgart (2:6, 6:1 and 7:5 for Barty, note) was so close again. Karolina served to win the match and was two points away from victory. So there is not so much that you have to or can do differently. Maybe a few bits and pieces here, a few bits and pieces there. But I really believe that it will depend on emotional management. She has to stay calm and I want Karolina to play to win and not not to lose. I hope she takes that to heart. I want to see her take the game into her own hands. Having played against each other seven times, she knows a bit what to expect. I'll prepare you for that.

Barty is also known to act with a lot of variation. How does Karolina want to take this joy of play away from her?

I'll give her two or three tactical instructions along the way. I want to see that she implements this. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal any more details.

Finally, a more personal question: For you it is the first Wimbledon final as head coach. Because of the history and importance of the tournament, does that feel a little different to Melbourne or New York?

Of course I care because every Grand Slam final is something special. Of course, Wimbledon is very special, but I also have to say that playing with Naomi against Serena at the US Open had something (laughs). It was also some kind of pressure when Naomi had to win in Australia to become number one in the world. I don't want to say that one final is more important than the other. I've been in the finals so many times here with Serena as a hitting partner. That means - regardless of whether it was as a head coach or a hitting partner - I'm a bit used to it. Maybe I can help Karolina with my inner calm because I've been in the final here quite often. I was a little bit used to success in my past and I think that will benefit me now.

Thank you for the interview.

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