Respected WTA coach Wim Fissette and returning champion Naomi Osaka are reportedly getting the band back together.
Unfortunately – and not for the first time – there is collateral damage.
There is obviously another side to the story. But what should have been a triumphant moment for Zheng Qinwen after winning the gold medal at the Asian Games turned into an upsetting announcement as the 20-year-old rising star told the media that Fissette had dumped her – and their contract – to return to Osaka.
Here’s a subtitled version of that interview.
Breaking news!— yunxiao (@yunxiao11646517) September 29, 2023
Wim Fissette break the contract with Zheng Qinwen, and he will coach Osaka again pic.twitter.com/h6yQ43xdiG
“I really understand his choice. But I think it’s immoral for him to break the contract. But this is his choice, I have to respect it,” she told the media in Hangzhou. “This thing hurt me and my family deeply. So I don’t want to mention him now.”
Coaching musical chairs
Zheng and Fissette hadn’t been working together that long, but we’re told that Fissette had been lobbying for the job most of the year until it finally came to pass.
The 2022 newcomer of the year had been coached by Pere Riba until the grass-court season, when she began with Fissette (and Riba moved on to work with Coco Gauff).
The early returns were positive, and they were already talking at the US Open about an off-season, perhaps at the Nadal Academy.
They had trained there after Wimbledon, after which she went to Palermo and won her first career WTA title on the clay.
Not long after Osaka confirmed she would be returning to action after her maternity break – and just a few days before Zheng returned to her home country, for the first time as a top player with all eyes and pressure upon her – he was out.
Osaka poaches trainer Sillah
As mercenary as the coaching profession is at the highest level, the defection is not unusual for either Osaka or Fissette, who has worked with Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka, Johanna Konta and Osaka, among others.
Early in 2022, before Osaka took a break from the Tour – and then ended up getting pregnant and becoming a mom – she was struggling. And she reached out to her former physical trainer Abdul Sillah.
The problem was, Sillah was working with Canadian Bianca Andreescu – who had made him part of what seemed like an excellent team as she tried to return to her 2019 form.
Not a concern to Osaka, apparently. She wanted Sillah, and she ended up getting him
But it was quite a tale.
Fissette and Osaka started working together before the 2020 season.
But she parted ways with him in the July, 2022 after she’d missed Wimbledon with an Achilles injury. Before her return to action in San Jose – ironically, her first-round match was a win over Zheng Qinwen, and there was much drama going on with the Andreescu-Sillah issue – she said she “felt she needed different energy” and that Fissette was “a very ambitious guy”.
Osaka played just four times after that San Jose tournament – four matches, one a retirement win and the other three losses before she withdrew from the Tokyo tournament.
The added little wrinkle here is that Fissette and Sillah are also reunited in this reconstituted Team Osaka. And, as one source told Open Court, the two are like “oil and water”. In other words, it’s going to be a rocky road there and Osaka may well get caught up in a bit of a power tug-of-war.
As for Fissette, he’s done well negotiating his deals – often creating leverage.
He worked with Kerber for a year through the 2018 season, in which she qualified for the WTA Finals after dropping out of the top 30 the previous year.
But five days before the finals in Singapore, Fissette was out.
A few days later, Open Court broke the news that he was returning to work with Victoria Azarenka, with whom he’d collaborated from Feb. 2015 until she went off the Tour to have her son.
Osaka, of course, has unlimited funds to poach whatever staff she wants to.
But it’s an interesting professional choice for Fissette to go with a player who was already having a tough time before her long break – even though she’s a multiple Grand Slam champion – over a younger player who clearly has so much potential and is just getting started.
This time, though, per Zheng, he broke a contract.
But it’s a mercenary business. Fissette appears to be one of the few coaches out there on the women’s tour who has any leverage. And he’s not reluctant to use it.
Neither is Osaka, apparently.