Ravi Ubha, who is reporting for TENNIS.com during the Australian Open, caught up with Thomas Drouet, coach of Wang Qiang. On Friday, Wang upset Serena Williams in three sets; the world No. 29 had lost 6-1, 6-0 to the 23-time Grand Slam champion in their previous match, at the 2019 US Open.
What is your reaction to this win?
“She had a bad experience last year at the US Open, so my strategy was to not see Serena as all that she has achieved—and to put Wang on the same level, to give her some belief. It didn’t work well and she put too much pressure on her. So my strategy mentally today was to, she did what she did last time, but that’s the past. She’s worked hard, she’s more powerful, so she has to go there and just play like a normal match. Getting into the rallies and push Serena to play every point, to work, to work. And once she does this, she will get the rhythm.
"So this is what she did, nothing spectacular but she was making every ball, focusing on herself and Serena is human. We could see today she is human even with all that she has achieved. There are some moments she started to miss, but otherwise that was the plan for today.”
How did you manage to, this time, treat like Serena she was any other player?
“There are two aspects. The first aspect is since September—I’m charge of her physical training also, not only her tennis and in my practices—we spent more time in the gym, so she feels more powerful now. For sure when she came to the court she felt that when she was hitting the ball, she was resisting more, then it gives her more confidence. And of course maybe this strategy worked today. She worked very hard, she improved a lot physically, even the serve, we could see she served better. The combination of those two factors helped her today.”
Going into the third set, did you think that Serena’s got this?
“I thought, like everyone, when she couldn’t close it out in the second set, my fear was that she would lose her serve early in the third set. But as we could see, they were both serving very good. When I saw she was winning easy points on her serve and that she was winning quite easy her service games, I was like, ‘OK, now they’re going to be in a battle.’ I told her at the changeover, be aggressive on Serena's second serve, and this is what she did in the last game. She was really stepping in and hitting deep in the middle this is very, very strong mentally to be able to do that.”
You started with Wang at the French Open. How has she improved mentally?
“It started with the work we put on the court. She has a lot more of a strategy plan. Before, I don’t say anything about Peter [McNamara, her former coach who lost a battle with prostate cancer last July], because what he did with her was amazing, but I have to keep improving and I can’t focus on the past. I like to work a lot on the statistics and the tactical plan. And she’s a very smart person. And when we put together her reflection and my strategy, it was very good. And then I wanted her to be more aggressive; all my practices were that she played that way. So now she’s more used to it, to take risks. Before she was quite defensive, waiting for the other player to miss. And as her goal is to win a Grand Slam, it’s not possible to win a Grand Slam just waiting that the other one misses. So yes, she’s more aggressive.”
Do you think she can win a major?
“Now, yes. What I told her today is, welcome to the world of the champion. What she can do, she proved to herself. After she lost 6-1, 6-0 in New York, she arrived and she beat her on the center court at a Grand Slam. Serena wants to win to enter the history, so she’s giving 200%. And we cannot say Serena played a bad match. She’s special for me.”
Up next is Ons Jabeur. What can you do so she forgets about this match and focuses on the next one?
“This is always dangerous when you are an outsider and you beat Serena Williams. Most of the time they finish the tournament and it’s okay. But I already talked to her and said, tomorrow in the morning, we’re going to go to the gym, then we’re going to practice for the next match. We don’t change anything. I told her, don’t forget, your goal is to win a Grand Slam. Serena is in your way, Ons Jabeur is in your way. You beat her two weeks ago, but she is also in the fourth round so there is a reason why. You have to respect, stay humble and stay focused on your goal. Never forget that your goal is to win a Grand Slam. Next round you play Jabeur, it’s not Serena, but we have to respect her, she’s in the fourth round.
"I won’t change anything. I’m someone who is very disciplined. From now she won’t change anything. She’s not going to spend all day talking to everyone. We go to the hotel and we prepare tomorrow gym and practice and go back to the hotel immediately.”
You’ve had success with Marion Bartoli, with Timea Babos, and now with Wang. Where does this win rank for you in terms of your highlights as a coach?
“It’s difficult to say, because when I started to work with [Wang], I always believed she has something special. So for me, of course I have to appreciate and enjoy this moment. But it’s like in the process. Her goal is to win a Grand Slam. So for me the job is not yet finished.