February 14, 2021
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Tell us how you felt Simona dealt with tonight's challenge.
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: Well, hi, everybody. We knew from the beginning that this one, it's gonna be a tough one, especially after the Roland Garros match. But we also believed that she had a good chance, because conditions are a little bit different here. The court is faster. Weather, it's much better than it was in Paris in October.
And Simona, she's a player that she doesn't like to lose twice, so we knew that she's gonna come hard and want the revenge.
DARREN CAHILL: I couldn't answer that any better. All good.
Q. What is the stiffest challenge that you think Serena will present to Simona?
DARREN CAHILL: Well, there are multiple. She's playing as well as I've seen her play for a long time. She's moving as well as I've seen her move and defend in the last four or five years.
Confident. She's Serena Williams. You know, it's all-encompassing when you play somebody like her, and it's why such a great challenge, because she got a chance couple years ago to play her in a Wimbledon final. That was massive for Simona to get over that hurdle. So she'll go into this match with belief, but the execution is something that depends on the day. And she will have belief that she can execute but she has to go out there and play as confidently as she did in the last two sets of this match, play aggressively, have that ability to try to push Serena off the baseline as much as she can.
And obviously be fortunate or lucky enough or have a good read on the greatest serve the women's game has ever seen, and try to get as many balls back as possible.
Q. Fascinating to hear Simona after the game get asked, How do you approach a match against Serena? What about from a coach's perspective, do you try to do things quite drastically different from previous matchups from what you learn or is it literally as Simona says, you have to produce your best tennis and hope it gets the job done?
DARREN CAHILL: Yeah, I don't think it's that simple. I think that everybody presents different challenges, and you can't go out there and play everybody the same way. Simona doesn't have that type of game. She's not the type of player that can power through any particular opponent.
The way she played Iga tonight was completely different to the way she played her at the French Open. As Arti said, one of the great things about Simo is she's actually a real student of the game. She thought about that match from the French Open, thought about what let her down, what she could do better, and went out there tonight and try to execute a better game plan. Was able to do that. That game plan won't necessarily get it done against Serena.
So coaching has become an incredibly important part of tennis I think over the years, and especially the last five or six years with the analytics, with the help that we've got to become better coaches, with the stuff that we can provide the players as far as technical advice, patterns, tendencies on big points, all that sort of stuff, the shot spin rates. It's all there for us. It just depends on how much we wish to use.
The players these days, they want more and more of it so they can find ways to make their life a little bit easier on the court.
We will sit down, Arti and myself over the next couple of days, and we don't talk too much to Simona about it until maybe the warmup of the day she plays. I send her a little bit of video she can watch over the next 48 hours. I'm not sure how much of it she actually watches. You might be able to ask that in 20 minutes or so.
But definitely we have to work a game plan to beat Serena because if you go in there, into the match against Serena just hoping your best is going to get it done, more likely than not it won't.
Q. You probably haven't had a chance to dive into Serena yet because you have been focusing on different opponents along the way. Have you noticed at all, if you have watched her, have there been any changes dramatically you've noticed of how she's playing? There's been a little bit of talk about she's returning differently.
DARREN CAHILL: She's moving well. That's the thing that stands out more than anything is that she's able to defend more balls at the moment. She's moving as well as I've seen her move for a long, long time. If you can stay in more points and get more balls back, stay alive, then she's got the power to turn those points around.
I don't know the win and loss rate of her match today, but quite often it's only a handful of points between winning a match and losing a match. If you can turn around six to eight or ten of those points over the course of a three-set match, it's a massive difference.
Even in that game, that last game when Simona was serving for the match tonight, those first two points, Simona with her legs was able to turn around two losing situations to have a 30-Love instead of a Love-30. It makes all the difference.
So to me that's the big thing that stands out, just watching Serena. I thought that match between her and Aryna today was exceptional tennis.
Q. Not that long ago I asked Simo if she --
DARREN CAHILL: You're not allowed to call her "Simo" too, by the way. That's only her close friends. "Simona" to you. (Laughter.)
Q. I asked her if she knew if she had ever played the perfect match, and she said yes and then explained the perfect match she played was the Wimbledon final against Serena. So can that come across to this, or is it just conditions are too different?
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: So actually, I was talking to Darren some days ago about players wanting to reproduce a certain moment in time, and I don't agree with that. You take the experience from those matches, for sure. You take the positives, but it's two years apart almost. It's different surface, different conditions. Both players, they didn't sit those two years in a bubble. So everyone evolved.
So it's tough to reproduce the same patterns or the same play during a match like after two years. So for sure any player on this level has their sets of skills, and they're gonna use it against each other. But I think it's gonna be a new match like, for example, Simona played with Iga five months ago, and it wasn't the same match. So that's what I'm saying.
For sure she's gonna try to do as much as possible that went good in that day, but it's different conditions. We'll expect different types of situations and challenges.
Q. People look at Serena now as the tennis-playing mom who is chasing Margaret Court, and I think people forget that she was once a 14-year-old pro. We have seen throughout the years teenage phenoms that have just not, have crashed and burned. Why do you think she's had this longevity? What is it about her, her game, her temperament?
DARREN CAHILL: I think if you look at all the great champions in our sport, they have good people around them and that gives them balance and that keeps them in the sport. We talk a lot about the attributes to go to great champions and Serena has many obviously. But the one thing that you look at that seems to be consistent and constant throughout her team, and you can go through Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Venus, you know, doesn't matter who it is, that they have good people around them and they are there for a long time.
That gives stability. It means that they are able to get the most out of their careers. I think that's really important, and really important that a lot of the players that go from coach to coach to coach and keep changing, they'll never get to reach the potential they could possibly get to, because they're not trusting the voices that are coming from their coaches. They're looking for the magic pill all the time.
So I've been with Simona now for about five years. Agassi was the same. Agassi was with Brad Gilbert for eight years before I came along, and I was with Andre for five years. And Pete Sampras was with Annacone and Gullikson for years and years as well.
You can go through all the great champions of the game, and they've got those people around them that they trust and believe in, and there's consistency in the messaging that's coming across.
Q. It's interesting you say that, because the other day Naomi Osaka was asked about her relationship with Wim Fissette, and she said she didn't trust him in the beginning. She said now they have got more of a relationship going. But what you're saying is maybe there is a lot of impatience, you see the changes happening a lot more frequently on the women's game.
DARREN CAHILL: I don't see that as a bad thing, because I think it takes a long time for a coach to earn the trust. Wim has already been a really successful coach with many players.
So you can't expect for any coach to step in and go, This is the way you need to do it. This is my way and what I'm telling you is the exact truth. I think a player that doesn't quite trust that is a smart tennis player, because you have to ask the right questions. You have to find out through training and playing matches whether or not the information you're getting is good for you and good for your game.
And so if those two have been able to work out a way that that trust has been built up over a period of time, that, to me, stems into a long, successful relationship.
So that's a smart thing from Naomi.
Q. How does the dynamic work with the two of you coaching Simona? Is there one area you focus on and Darren focuses on? How does it work?
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: Actually, I think one of the best things is that we communicate pretty well. There is nothing that we do that the other one doesn't know about, so we share this information.
We have even been, like, past year we have been, because of the pandemic, we were working a lot in Bucharest, so we had this PlaySight app and Darren was logging in and he could see the practices.
So we always know what the other one does. I think I learn a lot from Darren also, and we kind of share the same philosophy of the game. So actually, he can tell me if I'm doing good (smiling).
DARREN CAHILL: No, look, it's tricky, and it's a great question, because with two coaches, there is no main coach, no assistant coach.
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: I used to do that also with Irina when I worked five years, it was me and Andre (phonetic), so I was used to splitting or sharing or working in a team, which also makes it a little bit easier, because sometimes I see things and I can transfer to Darren. Sometimes Darren sees some things and we try to blend it in. When we have the final message, we send it to Simona.
DARREN CAHILL: I recognize there is a time limit for being a tennis coach with a player. I reckon it's about three or four years of being the one voice that you keep on punching through that message and hoping it gets through and try to make progress.
After three or four years, I think it becomes more of a managing role, to be honest. So the fact we have two voices is really, really helpful. To be honest, Arti has done 90% of the work back in Romania in 2020.
I have been there watching on the PlaySightGo system, but he's the one putting in all the hard yards and getting the improvements in Simona's game. If he needs a little help, advice from me, he'll call up, talk about what's happening, talk about where Simona needs to improve, where she needs a little push. I will jump on the phone and speak to her.
Very much a team effort in what we're going about doing, and we go through the analytics together. Simona doesn't use a lot of them, but she wants a little bit just that she can fall back on, but we have to make sure that's right for her as well.
It's an important role. As I said before, coaching in tennis is a bit of an underrated role, because if you look at the majors, we're not allowed to coach during the matches. The WTA, thankfully we are, and we can make a difference to what's happening in the matches. And that's why I think it would be a great thing to eventually bring it in in some way or another to have more of a presence in this sport, because it's growing, the sport is growing. The competition is growing. The athletes are getting better. The more that we can push the coaching, the better it is for the sport. Just what we are doing here today, talking to you guys, it's better for the sport.
Q. Curious, she seems a little bit chippier than she has in recent tournaments. She's been chatting a lot to you guys in the box, and I'm curious as to why you might think that is.
DARREN CAHILL: You think?
Q. A little bit.
DARREN CAHILL: Could you ask her that question when she comes in? I will appreciate that.
Q. I will ask her. Curious if you guys know.
DARREN CAHILL: No, I think it's the expectations, pressure, the want to do well. She's not a youngster anymore. She's 29 years of age, and she knows that she can see the next generation of players coming through, and she wants to be as good as she can possibly be and try to make it happen.
So I think it's normal for her, normal Romanian blood that keeps on flowing, gets her a little bit angry in matches and gets her focused and puts her focus eventually between the lines.
Yeah, it's always a fine line with her as to whether it helps her tennis or hurts her tennis. Today at some point it actually helped her tennis, because after the first set she really focused into what she was doing.
But as I said, it's always a fine line for her at the moment. You're better off asking that question to her and she can answer that question, but I thought she did an amazing job today to come back and win that match, all things considered with the opponent she was playing, the result of the last time they played, the fact that there was no crowd there, so she had to find the energy within the court from herself.
The tactical changes she made after the first set and the fact that Iga raised her level late in that third set -- that last couple of games, last three games she played I thought were fantastic. I was very proud of the way she finished that match off. That was a great effort.
Q. Either of you, just your thoughts on what's happening on the other half of the draw?
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: Well, it's an open situation. As you see, even today, for example, we had like matches that could be easily a final. So I'm saying also to Simo, Every match is a final since second round. You can be out in second round. You can reach semis or you can win the tournament.
The level of these girls improved a lot. There are favorites, but it depends on the day, as well. So any given day, as you can see, we have great stories like Su-Wei Hsieh, she's in quarters.
So on top of the draw, of course, it's Ash Barty who is the main favorite of the event, No. 1, and she played really good last week. But there are also players who are dangerous and hungry for success like Svitolina or Brady.
So anything can happen. We take it one match at a time, and then we see.
DARREN CAHILL: Isn't that the great thing about the WTA at the moment that hypothetically you can look at her draw and say she played the French Open champion today, to play Serena Williams, then to hypothetically play Naomi Osaka to hypothetically play Barty in the final to win the Australian Open, it's awesome, right?
Unbelievable we can talk about those types of matchups and talk about the personalities and the different cultures and the different styles of games. And what you have in the WTA at the moment is a really strong powerful package.
ARTEMON APOSTU-EFREMOV: Big product.
DARREN CAHILL: Great product. The more we push it, the more we promote it, more we talk about it, nothing but good can come out of that.
Q. Given how important belief is, especially when you're playing someone of the caliber of Serena Williams, to what degree would you use the Wimbledon championship, even though it's two years ago and a different surface in the preparation for this match?
DARREN CAHILL: You know I'd be lying if I said it was never going to come up over the next 48 hours. It's coming up for sure. And some of the video is coming up. Some of the technical stuff is coming up.
I think making your player remember something that was so special both about what she accomplished and the way she played is really important to try to replicate that. You can't rely on that to be exact, but you can certainly put your player in a good place to make your player remember what she did well on that particular day. It's coming up in the next 48 hours, for sure.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports