One of the most intriguing coaching-protégé developments came about when French coach Sam Sumyk reunited with his former charge Vera Zvonareva ahead of the Top Seed Open in Lexington, in August. The decision seemed to have come as if from nowhere.
However, according to Sumyk, it had been months in the making. Talking with TennisWorld USA, on the side-lines of the US Open, Sumyk shared, “She (Zvonareva) found out that I was no longer working with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
So, she kind of reached out to me. She asked me if I (would) consider to help her out”. Sumyk pointed out that this discussion between Zvonareva and him happened right at the start of the tennis tour’s suspension and added that even back then, the former world no.
2 was targeting to play the American swing if it took place. The 53-year-old added, “At that time, nobody knew what was going to happen… So, we were like, ‘It’s possible. Yeah, why not?’… Basically, I said, ‘If it happens, yeah, I will do it.’ Then, mentioning that the two had a chat right before the American swing was about to start, Sumyk said he clarified at the outset that this would be a short-term project for him.
“Little bit before the tournament in America started,” he explained, “We just got back in contact, and I said, ‘Hey, listen. I will help you out if you wish. Not a problem. But I can only do it until the US Open.
At the end of the US Open, I can no longer help you out.’” Asked why it was a short-term project, Sumyk said that his was mainly a consulting role since the 35-year-old already a full-time coaching team by her side to help her out.
He also commented that he had taken up a new coaching project but said that he was not in a position to its share details, presently. “It is not the time to talk about it,” Sumyk remarked, adding that committing to the US swing was his way of keeping his promise to the two-time former Major finalist.
“With Vera, I, kind of, gave my word, I wanted to honour that and I am very pleased we could do it. But after that, I (was to) just go on a different project”. Zvonareva and Sumyk’s brief reunion across the three events in the United States produced some noteworthy results.
The Russian did lose out in the first round in Lexington but reached the pre-quarter-finals at the Western & Southern Open in the week preceding the US Open. At the US Open, she did crash out in the first round to Canada’s Leylah Fernandez but not before pushing her younger opponent despite the 6-4, 7-5 score-line.
Sam Sumyk talks ATP-WTA unification, the PTPA
Beyond the results themselves, according to Sumyk, his fleeting re-association with Zvonareva has been quite the fun. “It’s very interesting to do it again. I enjoyed it a lot,” he shared.
Along with this enjoyment, Sumyk’s primary emotion these days is also that of gratefulness – for being to do his job again, after the tour’s restart. To this end, Sumyk emphasised that the bubble environment, as enforced by a tournament, is necessary as much as respecting it needed to be the priority.
“I am grateful for the opportunity this year to do what I enjoy,” he observed. “Now, the situation is not easy for all of us I believe, or most of us… So, if a tournament has to create bubbles and whatever is needed to do, I think we just all have to accept that, be tolerant and do the best we can to help the organisation.
That’s my mentality, at least, right now”. Accepting as Sumyk is of the bubble life in tennisdom, he has also been disappointed with it, on one particular subject. The lack of furtherance of talks about the potential merger of the men’s and women’s tours has been a let-down for the Frenchman.
“We all, everybody was talking so well at the beginning of the pandemic that it’s going to bring people closer; they are going to unify. And it looks like, behind the curtains, behind the door – when the door is closed – it’s not the case,” Sumyk opined sardonically.
“It’s a nice thought to put everybody together and work together. Now, in reality, it’s a different story. When I listen to people, some people say, ‘It’s going to be great (the merger)’, but maybe they don’t believe that, really.
But it’s good to say it’s great”. Such stalling notwithstanding, Sumyk still hopes the men’s and women’s tours will come together. And, it’s for this reason he is willing to give the newly-created Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) a chance to prove itself.
Although at the time of speaking with TennisWorld USA, PTPA’s stand regarding the women’s tour was not clear, Sumyk had still been optimistic in his view. “I think, if this (makes) the tennis community (men and women) more united, if it’s one piece of the puzzle that’s going to help people in the tennis world to be united, well, why not?” he enquired, rhetorically.
“If it does the opposite, I guess that’s a waste”. With the PTPA members eventually announcing the association was in talks with the WTA players, Sam Sumyk’s positivism looks to have been reciprocated, in relatively quicker turn of time. Image Credit: TennisMajors