Tennis

Sascha Bajin taking on new challenge after split with No. 1 Naomi Osaka

AFP-JIJI

Sascha Bajin believes the challenge of trying to help Kristina Mladenovic return to the top-10 is one of the main reasons why he chose to team up with the Frenchwoman as her coach.

Following a surprise split with Naomi Osaka earlier this year that ended a 13-month partnership that saw them claim two Grand Slam titles together and Osaka rise to No. 1, Bajin is back as the mentor of Mladenovic, who is down to No. 64 in the rankings due to a series of disappointing results.

Bajin, who spent eight years working with Serena Williams as her hitting partner and has also worked with Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki, became highly-sought after following his successful stint with Osaka.

“If after being eight years with Serena Williams I don’t know how to help someone with a backhand then all hope should be lost for me,” the 34-year-old Bajin told AFP at the Madrid Open on Saturday after Mladenovic secured qualification for the main draw.

He believes his previous experiences will come in handy in his new quest with Mladenovic.

“I believe that maybe because she knows that I’ve been with people and have won Grand Slams before, I do feel that I can transmit that feeling and energy somehow to my players.

“I do believe that once you’ve climbed a mountain, it’s easier to pull someone with you than if you’ve never been there yourself and you have to push someone.”

Mladenovic got in touch with Bajin as soon as she heard the news of the German’s split with Osaka and offered him the job.

It was one of multiple offers that were on the table for Bajin, but he chose to work with Mladenovic, with whom he shares Serbian origins.

“I looked at all the options obviously but I feel that Kiki was the one I could help the most out of her current situation,” he added.

“Kiki’s just a completely different player that I’ve been with and it is very intriguing.”

Mladenovic peaked at No. 10 in the world at the end of the 2017 season but finished 2018 ranked No. 44 and started 2019 with four consecutive defeats.

Now outside the top-60, the former Australian and French Open doubles champion decided to join forces with Bajin after spending 2½ years without a coach in her corner.

“I contacted him personally when I saw that he finished with Naomi,” she told reporters in Madrid.

“I feel very lucky and privileged, I’m flattered that from all the offers he had from better ranked players on paper than I am at the moment he believes in me and he chose me and I’m super-excited.”

Mladenovic’s results have already taken a positive turn since hiring Bajin, having reached the quarterfinals in Istanbul last week, and claiming two hard-fought wins during qualifying in Madrid.

The real reason behind the split between Osaka and Bajin is yet to be revealed but the young Japanese star told reporters in Dubai in February: “I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness.”

Mladenovic, /runner-up at the Madrid Open in 2017, faces the Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova in the first round on Sunday.