The reunion of coach Sam Sumyk and former pupil Vera Zvonareva in the US Open bubble is a fun back-to-the-future story.
But it’s a short-lived one.
Sumyk, the experienced Frenchman who has coached an expansive list of WTA Tour players, already has a new gig lined up this fall.
Open Court has confirmed that when the Tour returns to Europe, he will be working with … Croatia’s Donna Vekic.
In the game of coaching musical chairs that is the WTA Tour, Vekic parted company with Torben Beltz last month, as he returned to work with former charge Angelique Kerber. (Previously, Beltz had gone from Kerber to … Vekic).
Vekic took on Nick Horvat, with whom she worked in 2016-17, after that. Horvat, a fellow Croat, doubles as a scouting agent and racquet rep for Vekic’s racquet sponsor, Yonex.
But that evidently is just a short-term arrangement through the US Open.
Sumyk and Zvonareva go home again
Zvonareva, who has worked with Arnaud Decugis and Stéphane Robert in recent years, will continue to work with them. But the challenging circumstances call for some improvisation.
“I’ve always been in touch with him, and we always get along well. So it’s easy for me to have him here,” Zvonareva told Open Court Monday, after her 6-1, 6-1 victory over fellow qualifier Laura Siegemund in the “Cincy” event.
“With all the travel restrictions and uncertainties on the tour I felt like teaming up with Sam for these events was a good idea. I’m really thankful that he agreed to do those weeks with me,” she added. “I appreciate this input. He has a lot of experience, and I have a lot of experience, so we can share and talk a little about tennis, and it’s nice.”
Good week of matches for Zvonareva
Zvonareva was beaten Tuesday by an in-form Johanna Konta, the No. 8 seed, in the third round The quick courts this year at the National Tennis Center seem to suit the Brit to a tee. But Zvonareva won four singles matches, and is still in the doubles. So it’s still a very productive week.
The Russian, now 35, and Sumyk worked together for a long period – 2006 through 2009 – early in her career. It was during that period that she reached the top 10 for the first time, and won several big Premier events.
Getting the band back together has been like old times – except the protagonists are a little older and a little wiser.
“In your early 20s I think you’re kind of emotional about a lot of things, you want everything to come your way right away. With experience I’m much more patient. I think I’m willing to listen much more. And Sam is also willing to listen much more,” Zvonareva said.
“Maybe when we were both younger, he wanted his way and I wanted my way. We can argue about things. But I think it’s different now. We respect each other, we listen to each other, and try to do the best we can every day.”
Vekic a different challenge
Sumyk has coached a lot of different players, in various phases of their careers.
After Zvonareva, Sumyk moved on to Victoria Azarenka. Actually, they swapped coaches; Antonio Van Grichen, who had been working with Azarenka, redirected to Team Zvonareva.
That was 2010 through the 2015 Australian Open, the best years of Azarenka’s career so far. But it ended suddenly as Sumyk bolted to Genie Bouchard (we broke that story exclusively here).
It was not a match made in heaven and by Wimbledon, it was over.
After that, Sumyk worked with Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, and was in her corner for her titles at the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon.
He was not physically present at Wimbledon, as his wife and former pupil Meilen Tu was giving birth to their first child. Conchita Martinez stood in for him.
Their association ended after last year’s Wimbledon. And Martinez is now Muguruza’s full-time coach.
Sumyk moved on to veteran Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But that did not make it to the six-month mark. Pavlyuchenkova did not give Sumyk rave reviews; clearly, it was not a good fit.
For his part, Sumyk thought Pavlychenkova had been disrespectful.
In Vekic, will be working with a player sort of in the early-middle range of her career. She reached the top 20 last November after a quarter-final effort at the US Open and a final at the Premier tournament in St. Petersburg.
She’s 24, and currently ranked No. 24. And if her 2020 season has been so-so, so far, she also was dealing with the sudden departure of the coach who brought to her best level, and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
A little stability on that end will be a positive development for a player who has yet to even reach her peak.