Once Sascha Bajin ended his partnership with Kristina Mladenovic in October, just who the German would team up with next sent social media into a frenzy.
Quite understandable, too, given his success coaching the French No. 1—but especially Naomi Osaka, whom Bajin coached during her two Grand Slam titles—and playing an integral role in Serena Williams’ camp for around eight years. Known simply as a hitting partner, Williams once gave him the more meaningful title of “older brother.”
There were subsequent stints with Williams’ good friend, Caroline Wozniacki, and another pal of the 23-time Grand Slam winner, Victoria Azarenka.
Was he about to join forces with Garbine Muguruza or Angelique Kerber, two more Grand Slam winners who parted company with their coaches after Wimbledon?
How about yet another holder of majors, the comeback Kim Clijsters?
The latter link gained ample momentum on Twitter, but according to Bajin, it was as inaccurate as it was intriguing.
“That was so crazy,” he told TENNIS.com on the eve of the Australian Open. “I’ve never even got an email, a text message, not even a beep from that whole camp. I would have no problem saying I was in contact with agents or something—it would be an honor to be chosen by a champion like herbut not even a beep so it shows you how much social media has power.
“Even my mom was like, ‘Hey! You’re gonna start…’ and I was like, ‘No, I didn’t hear anything.’ So it was a bit weird how that whole thing started.”
Interest instead came from other WTA players, along with men’s pros, Bajin said, before he eventually teamed up with a Ukrainian who was left teary eyed after losing to her idol Williams at last year’s Australian Open, Dayana Yastremska.
To some it surely came as a surprise, since Yastremska’s trophy cabinet is relatively bare compared to Bajin’s illustrious past employers.
But anyone who has watched Yastremska knows there aren’t many purer ball strikers in the women's game. That racquet-head speed is something.
No wonder Bajin gushed about her “physical gifts.” And Yastremska, who on Friday reached her first WTA Premier-level final, in Adelaide, is only 19.
“I had some good offers, but if I could have chosen anyone from that whole roster, including the men, I would have chosen Dayana,” he said. “And I’m happy she approached me.
“I think she has one of the biggest potentials on tour. Physically she’s very gifted. She’s a great mover and she has incredible power. Her ground strokes are very powerful and I believe that’s right up my coaching comfort zone if I could call it that way.”
That’s not to say it was easy to split with Mladenovic.
“I’ve never said no before,” said Bajin. “It was always me on the other end receiving it. It was tough. My nieces really liked Kiki, my mother also. I admit it was a selfish decision because I had to think about myself there, honestly.”
Yastremska—whose contract, she said, had ended with Olivier Jeunehomm—was understandably happy Bajin said yes, yet was not awestruck.
Asked what impact it had on her that a coach like Bajin chose her, she said assuredly to TENNIS.com: “He helps me to make success and I help him to make success, so it’s both sides. He trusted in me and I trusted in him, and if we didn’t trust each other we wouldn’t work together.”
For many, Yastremska first appeared on tennis’ radar in the 2016 Wimbledon junior final, when a pair of successful Hawk-Eye challenges on match points delayed defeat to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova.
But while Potapova is still seeking solid footing at the top level, Yastremska’s year-end ranking has climbed every season, up to 22nd in 2019.
Her two titles in 2019—one right after a major and the other right before it—showed her mental toughness.
The first, in Hua Hin in Thailand in February, came after her mom suffered a serious eye injury when a champagne bottle exploded, necessitating surgery.
Then in Strasbourg, on the eve of the French Open, Yastremska outlasted home favorite Caroline Garcia in two hours, 57 minutes in the finale.
“The goal was to get to the Top 20, but unfortunately I couldn’t get there,” said Yastremska, who suspects her 13-year-old sister, Ivanna, will one day join her in the pro ranks. “I would say it was a good season. Good matches, good tournaments, good experiences. Life experience, and it was not easy to be stable and stay up all the time.”
Later in 2019, in a more difficult outing for Yastremska, she fell 6-2, 6-0 to compatriot Elina Svitolina in the third round of the US Open.
A watching Bajin took note, and the match stayed with him.
“I was always hang around the court and watch matches,” said Bajin. “I saw that and I was like, ‘She doesn’t need to lose to her like that. You just are losing to yourself.’ I always like to see the worst matches rather than the good ones. Something good, that is beautiful to watch, but I kind of like to analyze.”
“I basically want her to understand the game a bit more, that more isn’t always better. I really want her to know she doesn’t have to play her best tennis to beat the best, she is physically so gifted. Like hitting such and such in certain situations, to treat the ball a little different when it’s 30-40 than when it’s 40-0.”
Yastremska’s goal this year? Despite not yet reaching a quarterfinal at a major, it is to win a Grand Slam. That, though, dovetails with Bajin’s own thinking. He’s dreaming big.
Felix hasn't looked at the Aus Open draw yet and doesn't wanna know who he is playing, since he is still playing in Adelaide.— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 17, 2020
Yastremska saw the draw, said it's a good draw and that she wants to get to Serena (possible 4th round) so she can play her again.
What odds of Bajin working with the Australian Open champion for two straight seasons?
“We’ll take it one match and one day at a time, but we’re definitely not just showing up to make the quarters or something,” he said. “I’ve never had that mindset with any of my players and I’m not going to start now.”
Dayana Yastremska fact file
Born: Odessa, Ukraine
Favorite tournaments: “Australian Open, French Open, then I think you know the other two.”
Best friends on tour: “(Jelena) Ostapenko, the Kichenok sisters and I have another one, (Katarina) Zavatska, but we don’t talk too often. But when we see each other we have fun.”
How would you describe your life: “When I was younger I had to sacrifice a lot of things but now I’m not regretting it. To live the life I have, it’s really nice. I have to say a big thank you to my parents because if they didn’t push me in the right moment then I don’t think I’d have the life I have right now. We always have some pluses and minuses but I think the more I work now in tennis the better life I’m going to have after.”
Did you know? Yastremska said she is in the midst of setting up her own foundation. One aim is to help children with vision issues, after what happened to her mom.