"I have huge respect for Jannik, huge, because also after Australian Open, he didn't change. He still go there every day and make his best to become a better tennis player." Interview with Simone Vagnozzi.

Mar 19, 2024, 12:35:00 AM | by Craig Gabriel

On 28 January Jannik Sinner was on cloud nine - he had just won the Australian Open. A man who helped steer him to that victory is a low key, good person. A visionary and a mentor. It is his coach and fellow Italian Simone Vagnozzi. In this interview Simone looks back on that incredible day and talks about his role and his amazing charge.

Q. Let me start this way. Buongiorno, Come stai, Benvenuti We Are Tennis.  Now you've heard all my Italian.  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  That's perfect.  Thank you.  Thank you.  

Q. I want to start by saying congratulations.  Was January the 28th, 2024, the greatest day of your professional life? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Thank you.  Yes, for sure it's a really good day.  But I think for perspective of a tennis coach, it's for sure, like, big stage and the biggest tournament in the world, for sure, but for the emotion and everything for a tennis coach, it's quite similar to the other day, no? 
I mean, when I'm coaching (Marco) Cecchinato and he made semis, to help him to reach the semis in Roland Garros was like same emotional like winning a slam with Jannik.
It's for sure, like, you know, for all the people and everything to win a Grand Slam, it's unbelievable, but for tennis coach, you know, you have most of this emotion other time, no?

Q. When Jannik Sinner was down two sets to love in the Australian Open final, what were you feeling?  What were your thoughts?  What were your emotions at that stage?  Did you think he'd be able to turn it around the way he did? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  So, since the 5 1, my feeling was it's not easy, not easy the situation.  Then when he go up from 5 1, he went 5 2, and then he had a chance to get back on 5 4 with serve, I had the feeling that something was changed in the match.
So yeah, I was much more positive about the continue of the match.  This game I think change a lot the perspective of the match at 5 1 of the second set. So, after he broke, he went 5 3, 5 4, the dynamic of the match change a little bit, so I was not positive but I saw the light. 

Q. You had a good feeling? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI: I was lucky to have this feeling.  (Laughter.)

Q. Did you cry?  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Not crying some drops but not crying.  No, not crying, no.  Yeah, I was a little bit emotional but not crying.  

Q. What do you think is the biggest difference you have made to Jannik? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  I think when we start two years ago, Jannik was already unbelievable player, nine in the world, so we spoke about really, really, really good player.  I think the coach is really important to bring a vision, no, of the future, no? 
Like, okay, I have Jannik is nine in the world.  Okay, the goal is to be No. 1, to win Grand Slam.  So, to win this tournament you have to beat Novak, you have to beat Daniil, you have to beat Carlos, Rafa.  How you can beat them in a big stage? 
My vision was that Jannik at this time two years ago was, he had some weak point on his game, weak point on his body, so I think I bring the vision to say, okay, you are nine in the world but you have to improve this, this, this and this.  
We start without rush but start to make improvement on his game, no?  On the serve, on the net, coming in more to the net, make more different shot, dropshot, different rotation.
I think now Jannik in two years he's a complete player and he learn how to play tennis.  He know the game better than two years ago.  That's I think the most that I bring to him.  

Q. You just mentioned the word "vision."  You once said that dreams you make as a child stay forever.  What dreams did you have? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  When I was young, my dream was to win Wimbledon, but I was not able because I was not so good at tennis. I reach 160 in the world, top 100 in doubles.
But when I was like 25, 26, I already knew that I feel I was better tennis coach than tennis player.  Really. I was 25, I was still playing, but inside me I was sure that I was better, like, tennis coach than tennis player.
And then now my dream is I think it's not to win slam or to became a coach of No. 1 in the world but all the guys that I can work with them to bring to the best version of themselves.  This I think it's my goal, my dream. 

Q. Okay.  I'm very bad at predictions.  If somebody asks me, Oh, who do you think is going to win this match?  I will almost every time end up picking the wrong player.  But at the end of last year, I was asked to make predictions for 2024, and one of the first predictions I made was Jannik Sinner was going to win a major.  After the final, I made sure everybody who listens to me on radio and television knew that I made that prediction.  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  I like it (laughter).  You can make more.  You can make more about Jannik.  (Laughter.) 

Q. At the end of last year, what did you think he can do in 2024? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  All the team was sure that he was able to fight for a Grand Slam, but, you know, that to win a Grand Slam is not    you have to be ready and somehow lucky, no, that all the situation are in your way, no?  Because it's a long tournament.  It's two weeks.  
Sometimes you can have a small injury.  Sometimes you can have a long match, and that is not good for the rest of the tournament.
The only way that we control it, to be ready at 100%, no, before the slam.  We were sure that Jannik was in this situation, and the goal was to be ready to fight for all the match, no?  To be ready to win with everyone.
But the goal was not to go in Australia and win but just have the chance to win the tournament.  So that is a little bit different, no? When we spoke before, during the preseason, it was, okay, was the goal of 2024, it's to bring the same level that he bring the last three months of the year in all the year.  If you're able to bring this level doing all of 2024, for sure we have the chance to win a major.  

Q. What do you think he has changed in you, if he has changed anything in you?  Are you any different to before? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  For sure.  For sure, I think I'm better tennis coach now than two years ago.  I think he changed that I'm really more quiet now before the match than what I was two years ago.  You know, because Jannik, it's clear that he know that he will give 130% in all the situation. Before the match, I'm really quiet, because I say for sure he will give the best that he has today.  So that's, for me, it's really good.  

Q. Tell me about you.  What motivates you?  What are your interests?  What captures you? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  So I really like this game.  When I played I'm really small guy.  I'm just 1 meter 70.  So when I was playing, I had to always to find a topic, no?  A strategy to win.  It's like a little bit a chess game for me. 
This one is what I really like, no?  Find the weakness of the other player, find what they do during the match, if they serve wide, if they serve a T in some situation, in the most important moment if they are more using the forehand or backhand.  I really like this strategy.  Maybe also too much sometime. 
My motivation, like, tennis coach is what I do before, no?  I feel really good when I connect someone to reach them    so I really satisfaction when I connect someone.
You know, the tennis coach, I don't know, last year I think I travel, like, 280 days, so I was away from my family for 280 days, so you give part of your life, no, to them.  But the satisfaction that you help them, it's really high for me. 

Q. How tough is it then, if you spent 280 days on the road, how tough is it on your family, on your wife, Maddalena? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Yeah, right now I feel really lucky to have a wife that understand the situation, no?  And don't give me, like, a stop, we say, okay.  So she understand me, and she knows that I like this sport, this world.  That's always what I say to her, that at one time if she say stop, and we stop, you know, because I think family is the first thing.  
Right now she's still support me, so this is the moment.  In few years we see what's going on.  If I'll come back home and my key is working, I feel really lucky.  (Laughter.)

Q. That could be the headline, "If my key is still working".  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Yeah, yeah.  This is good.  Yeah, this is good.  We sit there and we always think about sometimes that we are in doghouse, you know?  So, if the key is not working, I have to go to the doghouse.  

Q. I want to also ask you how much are you still learning?  Is it like a learning curve for you?  Also, as part of that, when you were coaching and you look back on the times when you were coaching Cecchinato and others, I mean, when you think now, that was almost, like, being an apprenticeship for what you've achieved now?  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Yes, it's good point.  For sure the experience that you have day by day, for sure you grow like tennis coach.  You make a lot of improvement. The point is that I coach every player different, no?  I try to find the key for everyone is different.
I don't make the same thing with Jannik that I made with a past player.  So you have to find always a key for everyone and what work with someone maybe doesn't work with the other one.
But for sure the experience that you make in difficult situation for sure makes you a better coach, for sure.  

Q. Are you a tough coach?  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  That good question (laughter).  You have to ask the player.  For sure  I have to check the right word in English.  I'm the coach that ask every day 100%. 
So that's, I think it's  a tough coach?  I don't know.  For sure I ask a really high level of practicing and especially mindset during the practice session.
But I'm also an ex tennis player, so I know that sometimes they need, you know, they need rest, they need to make something else.  You know, like with Jannik, I don't know, sometimes he goes to the go kart.
  Sometimes we make practice like different, no, to change a little bit, because if you make the same thing every day and every day and every day, it's really long and tough. I try to feel every day, no, the mindset, try to change.  I'm not the guy that, you know, going to practice and say, Okay, today I have to make 50 minutes of this, 50 minutes of this, 20 minutes of this.
No.  I know what I want to do, but then I manage, no, during the practice.  Maybe I go there and say, Okay, today I want that you serve 200 serves, and then maybe I make 20, because this day is different, you know? 
You have to be a little bit flexible.  So that, I think, is really important for a tennis coach.  But I'm the guy that wants always 100%. 

Q. What is the best part of the job, and what's the toughest part of the job?  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  The best part is to enjoy the journey with a good team close to you, no?  I think this makes to have really close relationship with your team.  I think now we have really, really good team.  We are all in the same page.
That really good, and I think everyone have a lot of respect for each other.  So that's really good.  We enjoy.  We enjoy our journey in this moment. I think that the difficult is what I said before, no?  Stay away from the family for long time.  This one, I think it's, for a tennis coach, is the most difficult things. 

Q. Darren Cahill speaks very highly of you.  Darren and I have known each other for more than 30 years.  He's always spoken very highly of you and a lot of respect.  That, I guess, is what is so important of what you were just saying about how great and how good a team Team Sinner is.  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  I'm really thankful with Darren, because I think on this atmosphere that we have on the team, I think that 99% of the work was full in.  You know, because he came on the team. He had unbelievable name. He's one of the biggest coach on tour. He came, like, a normal, a normal person. He put himself in the same level of everyone in the team.  So that I think was really good for everyone, you know? This one I have unbelievable respect for how humble is Darren.
And what you ask me before about my level of coach right now, I think after two years with close to Darren, I think I'm better coach because also this.  You know, I was two years close to him.  I learn a lot of him, his body language, of how he speaks with the player and everyone.  So that fits really  it's really important to me.  It still is important, but these two years I think I learn a lot from him. 

Q. He hates talking about himself, and so if I asked you to say one thing that is great about Darren Cahill, what would you say?  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  First of all, he's a really great person. We can start from this point. Then like from a tennis coach world, I say jealous, but I'm not jealous about this because I can learn, but I would like to speak like him, really.
Last time that I make press conference in Australia, I was there and I was looking at him.  I say, I would like to speak like him (laughter).  I would love to speak like him, because with the words, it's so good.  And also when he speak before a match or when we have dinner, he give you a lot with the words. He's unbelievable communicator. Is right, "communicator," in English?  
Yeah, this one I think is the best.  And then he know the game really good and everything, that this one is something that I would like to have like him. 

Q. Well, come speak to me anytime.  I'll help you.  

Q. What can Jannik Sinner achieve? 
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  So right now no one knows what he can achieve. What we speak every day that to win a new Grand Slam or to become a No. 1 in the world, the only way that we can take is still to improve on every part of his game. That is tactics, that is technical, that is fitness, that is the mental strength, the attitude.
So what we are speaking right now on the team is not about to win the next Grand Slam tournament or to become No. 1 but is to be the best as possible. This one is the only way I think for to make the next step again. 
If we look what Novak, Rafa, Roger done in the last 20 years, every time you see them better and better, no?  Roger improve his backhand.  Rafa improve his serve, his backhand, his movement on the hard court and grass.  Novak improve his serve, the volley, the slice. They reach these results just because they improve every day.  That different is what we want to try. 

Q. When he won, when Jannik won, I wrote a headline, "Sinner is a grinner because he's a winner."  You said "A winner is a dreamer who never gave up."  Pretty special thing to say.  
SIMONE VAGNOZZI:  Yes, because I think just with talent you can cannot be in this level.  So in the journey that the tennis player have, you have a lot, a lot of tough day.  You have a lot of day that you wake up tired and you have to go run for 40 minutes, and maybe this day you want to stay on the bed and relax.
Then you go to the court and your coach tell you, Okay, now we make two crosscourt line for 20 times. And maybe you just want to play points, because you want to enjoy. 
I think when you have tough loss, when you have tough moment, it's easy to quit, you know?  And the guy that become a Grand Slam champion, become a No. 1, No. 2 player is the guy that never, never, never stop to win, never stop to fight. I have huge respect for Jannik, huge, because also after Australian Open, he didn't change.  He still go there every day and make his best to become a better tennis player.