September 23, 2023

Open Court


It’s the off-season, so the coaching musical chairs continue

Canadian Genie Bouchard isn’t the only one making changes for 2015.

World No. 3 Simona Halep, who decided after a tremendous season that former Kim Clijsters coach Wim Fissette wasn’t going to work, has settled upon countryman Victor Ionita as her new coach.

Ionita, 31, is a former pro player who reached No. 187 in singles and No. 159 in doubles in the mid OOs. He played a total of four matches at the ATP level, going 1-3.

His previous pupil was another Romanian, Sorana Cirstea. He announced the end of their collaboration less than three weeks ago, a collaboration that began at the start of the 2012 season (but which was often complemented by input and support from adidas’s Darren Cahill).

Cirstea was ranked about 60 when they started. After a semi-final in Guangzhou after the U.S. Open that year, she was at No. 30. In the summer of 2013, Cirstea reached her career best of No. 21 after reaching the Rogers Cup final in Toronto. A year later, having lost in the first round in Montreal (to Safarova), the first round in Cincinnati (to bestie Ivanovic) and the second round at the U.S. Open (a terrific night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Genie Bouchard), she tumbled. She’s currently ranked just outside the top 100.


Among his other qualities, Ionita is reportedly an old pal of Djokovic, back from their days training together in Italy and rooming together at Futures events a decade ago.

It’s fairly unlikely, as some have posited, that this somehow signified Halep will seek to implement a more aggressive gamestyle in 2015. Yes, That’s pretty much Cirstea’s MO – but it long pre-dates Ionita’s arrival, and the fact that he wasn’t really able to get her to evolve beyond the rip-and-roar is more telling about the coach, and the stubbornness of the player (Before taking on Ionita, Cirstea had a brief trial with the far more tactically-oriented Davide Sanguinetti. But that, um, didn’t work out; Ionita had been her hitting partner then, and his position was elevated in the aftermath).

Perhaps this combination with Halep will pay different dividends, although it seems fairly clear from the comments after the end of the successful relationship with Fissette that, above all, she was seeking a fellow Romanian to complete her team.

In the meantime, she has also taken one of the most experienced coaches on the women’s tour off the market – at least for the beginning of the season. Halep has added Thomas Hogstedt (Sharapova, Li Na, Wozniacki among others) as a technical consultant for the opening Australian swing.


The next move isn’t going to result in any Grand Slam titles or anything. But what a merging of fun personalities, and players.

The Magician joins his fellow illustrious former players as an ATP Tour coach, as he works on the mystery that is Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine.



Meanwhile, Nemanja Kontic, who did good work with Ana Ivanovic before she cast him aside after Wimbledon this year, didn’t stay unemployed too long.

Ivanovic practices her serve under the watchful eye of Kontic at Indian Wells this year. The two parted ways after Wimbledon.
Ivanovic practices her serve under the watchful eye of Kontic at Indian Wells this year. The two parted ways after Wimbledon.

The tremendously talented but underachieving young French player Kristina Mladenovic (whose main coach has been her father), has brought him on board for 2015. Mladenovic’s roots are Serbian, and she speaks it. So that seems like a good fit on paper.  

Funniest part about this? As with Saviano, it was the coach who announced a move before the player did. Kontic spilled the beans yesterday on Instagram.

#rolandgarros @kristinamladenovic93 #practice #tennis #coach 2015 #perrotenicolas #adidasteam

A photo posted by Nemanja Kontic (@kontickontara25) on


Meanwhile, Daniela Hantuchova, who will spend the next few weeks in Asia playing in the IPTL, has been working with former Li Na and Justine Henin coach Carlos Rodriguez in Beijing. It’s said not to be a permanent arrangement. Rodriguez won’t be a travelling coach. But it’s surprising how few of the women go and get short-term help, a refresher or a different look, from the best in the business. Kudos to her, at age 31, for still working it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the collaboration between Belgian Xavier Malisse lasted all of … about a week, in Stockholm last month, where Tomic reached the semi-finals.


Going forward, as yet another year passes by and the young Aussie has semi-finalist points to defend in Sydney right at the start, it will be back to Daddy.

Here’s what Tomic told the Brisbane Courier-Mail:

“(Malisse) is a very good guy and I tried with him that one tournament where I played very good and had chances to beat (Bulgaria’s world No.11 Grigor) Dimitrov in the semis. “I thought I would give it one week. I wasn’t used to spending time with coaches and stuff. I saw what he had to offer and in the end I stick with my dad as (a coach) who has worked for me throughout my years.

“I’m working with my dad and have a good fitness team around me.”

We’re confident that’s the right call.


Who doesn’t have a coach? American Sloane Stephens, that’s who.

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