It remains one of the more enduring mysteries in women’s tennis.
With Wim Fissette’s track record, why do his coaching stints with his various players often only last one season?
But because of that record, the 38-year-old rarely is unemployed for long.
In mid-October, Angelique Kerber’s representatives announced her professional relationship with Fissette was immediately – and abruptly – over.
That meant Fissette wasn’t with Kerber for the season-ending championships in Singapore, the crown jewel atop a renaissance season.
But here’s where it gets interesting. According to information confirmed to tennis.life by three separate sources, Fissette already had a new job before it ended with Kerber.
We’re told he is returning to the player he coached in 2015 and 2016: Victoria Azarenka.
And given that, the sudden break with Kerber now makes a lot more sense.
Getting the band back together
Tennis.Life also was told that another alumni of Team Azarenka will be returning in 2019: physio/osteo/massage therapist Fabrice Gautier.
Gauthier started with Azarenka at the beginning of 2014. He was there at the end of the Sam Sumyk era and for all of Fissette’s first stint.
And he, too, was out of a job when Azarenka left on maternity leave in the summer of 2016.
Gautier has been based in Los Angeles for 15 years.
Tennis.Life reached out to Fissette in mid-October when we first got wind of this potential new collaboration. He has not responded to a request for comment. We’ve also reached to Gautier and to Azarenka’s agent for official confirmation.
Meanwhile, Azarenka has been on a total social-media fast since mid-September. Absolutely flying under the radar.
On Tuesday afternoon, Nick Bollettieri posted a pic of himself with Azarenka and Fissette on Twitter. So tennis.life readers were way ahead of the game.
Azarenka on the down low
She retired during the first set of her quarterfinal match against Camila Giorgi in Tokyo in with the always-popular “gastrointestinal illness.”
And then she abruptly ended her season.
So we don’t know if the Belorussian is training, preparing for 2019, spending quality time with her son – or all three.
She has to enter any of the early-season 2019 tournaments. But she was announced for the Auckland tournament the first week of the season a month ago.
It appears she will be well set up, with a team around her that she’s comfortable with, for the first time since returning to the tour.
And Fissette will continue to work at the top of the women’s game – this time with a challenge to help Azarenka get back there.
Less than a year with Kerber
Kerber signed Fissette after she parted ways with longtime coach Torben Beltz in Nov. 2017.
She had struggled to duplicate the tremendous season she had in 2016. But it would have been a challenge for most players to manage the weight of those expectations.
Kerber ended 2016 as No. 1. By the end of 2017, she was down to No. 21.
The turnaround under Fissette was impressive, perhaps abetted in part by Kerber’s return to being the hunter, rather than the hunted. Being the underdog always seemed to be a more comfortable head space for her.
At 30, she added Wimbledon to her Grand Slam resumé this year, and went 46-19 overall as she earned nearly $5.7 million in prize money.
The German finished a solid No. 2 in the year-end rankings behind another player Fissette worked with, Simona Halep of Romania.
But then, the coach was out.
It’s possible that, with a new job offer in hand, Fissette used the leverage to attempt to strike a better deal with Kerber in the wake of their success.
Given the lack of security in the coaching ranks, you can’t blame a guy for trying to maximize.
It appears the German star saw things differently. And they didn’t even finish the season.
Jo Konta: one year and done
In 2017, it was a similar story for Fissette as he took on Great Britain’s Jo Konta.
After starting the 2016 season ranked No. 47, Konta finished it in the top 10. And then she parted ways with coach Esteban Carril.
There was a fair bit to defend in 2017. And at the beginning, the new Konta-Fissette partnership, reportedly with a bigger share of Fissette’s salary based upon a percentage of her earnings than is the standard, paid big dividends.
She won the Sydney tuneup then went out to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Then she roared through the draw and won the biggest title of her career in Miami.
After a final in Nottingham and a semifinal in Eastbourne, she had her best Wimbledon result ever.
But then, Konta lost in the first round in her last four tournaments, including the US Open. And she ended her season after Beijing with a foot issue. She said later that she felt burned out both physically and mentally in that post-Wimbledon period.
But she finished better than she started, at No. 9.
Still, Fissette was gone.
“We just both felt that it was the natural end of the relationship. I think we both brought out the best in each other for that period and we got the most out of each other for that period. We just felt it was time to move on,” Konta told The Independent.
(The Brit quickly hired American Michael Joyce. Last month, he too, was gone after a season. Konta has reportedly hired former Stan Wawrinka coach Dimitri Zavioloff after a short trial this fall).
2015-2016: Victoria Azarenka
In early 2015, former No. 1 Azarenka was dealt a bit of a blow as Sumyk, her longtime coach, jumped ship to work with Genie Bouchard.
But she bounced back quickly, as Fissette was available and ready to jump right in.
It seemed to be a good partnership even though the season had already begun, so there was little time prep or develop any chemistry.
But in July, 2016, Azarenka announced she was pregnant with son Leo.
So that was that.
2014: Simona Halep
Four years ago, Fissette took on 22-year-old Simona Halep.
The Romanian had made a leap in 2013 after back-to-back seasons hovering around the half-century mark in the standings.
She ended 2013 ranked No. 11. And then she hired Fissette.
By year’s end, she was No. 3 in the world. She gave Maria Sharapova everything she could handle, taking her to 6-4 in the third set in Halep’s first Grand Slam final in Paris.
Were she not hobbled by an leg injury at Wimbledon, she might well have defeated Bouchard in the semis and taken her chances with Petra Kvitova in the finals.
Halep also qualified for he WTA Tour finals in Singapore that year, her first career appearance. (Halep has not come out of the round-robin portion in three trips since. And she had to withdraw his year because of a herniated disc).
And yet, after the season, Fissette was gone.
Halep cited a desire to have a native Romanian with whom she would be more simpatico. She hired Victor Ionita, who had had good success with Sorana Cirstea. And she had help from another well-travelled coach, Thomas Hogstedt, during the Australian swing.
In recent years, Halep has risen to the top of the charts with the Aussie Darren Cahill at her side.
2013: Sabine Lisicki
Fissette began working with Germany’s Sabine Lisicki at the French Open that year. She also continued to work with her father Richard, a physician.
A month later, Lisicki reached the Wimbledon final.
To be fair, it wasn’t out of the blue; Lisicki has posted her finest Grand Slam results at the All-England Club. She has only gone past the third round twice in 27 Grand Slam main-draw appearances at other majors – both at the US Open.
But by the US Open, they were done.
“Wim and I had different concepts and decided to go our separate ways,” she told the German press agency DPA.
Through those years, Fissette also had stints with promising youngsters Irina Kromacheva (a year) and Indy de Vroome (four months).
The early years: Kim Clijsters
Fissette got his start in 2005, as a hitting partner for the Belgian Kim Clijsters.
That ended in the spring of 2007, when Clijsters left the Tour and had her first child, daughter Jada.
She had one career major – the 2005 US Open – a that point.
Clijsters returned in 2009 and this time, she had Fissette on board as her coach.
She got back to No. 1 in the rankings in Feb. 2011 and won three major titles in 2 1/2 years.
After she had to withdraw from the 2011 US Open, where she was the two-time defending champion, Fissette left. He didn’t feeling at ease in a collaborative coaching setup after Clijsters’s old coach, Carl Maes, rejoined the team.
We’re told that one didn’t end well.
Clijsters played her final season with Maes, at the helm.