Photo: Martin Sidorjak
When the Canadian women zone into their matches at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers, so does coach Sylvain Bruneau.
Head of Tennis Canada’s Women’s Pro and Transition Tennis, he doesn’t get overly anxious or stressed sitting on the sidelines watching them play but admits his focus does have an intensity. His approach is to focus on being as mentally present as possible with the athlete.
“For me I kind of play the match with my player,” said Bruneau. “I don’t really like to be talked to too much. I’m in my (own) world. I’m not very good at socializing and talking about the match with people around me. I’m just tuning in with the match—every single point. I think I’ve seen too much turnaround in tennis where I never relax. So even if my player is up and things are really looking good, I never think this one is in the bag.”
While for most, the tournament began on Saturday, for Sylvain it started a week prior, meeting with Canadian athletes to practice and arrange for a pre qualifying tournament. The Monday prior to travelling to the NBO22, Tennis Canada held a training camp in Montreal which was attended by many of the junior girls he has been working to develop.
As part of the team at Tennis Canada during the #NBO22, Bruneau’s phone is ringing steadily throughout each day. Between taking care of practices, warmups, setting up training, and the wild cards, there’s never a dull moment at NBO22. He can get calls from coaches, athletes and tournament organizers about anything from court allocation to scheduling.
Over the past few weeks Bruneau has had the opportunity to attend a lot of the practices with the up and coming Canadian players such as Victoria Mboko, Marina Stakusic and Kayla Cross. He looks forward this week to watching Rebecca Marino, Katherine Sebov, Carol Zhao and top stars Leylah Annie Fernandez, and Bianca Andreescu, who he has not been able to see play live in over a year. While for some sports, practices taper off as you get closer to competition, in tennis, Bruneau explains, even during the tournament there’s always work to be done.
“You try to maximize every single day,” said Bruneau. “With tennis you prepare and show up, and you find out who is your match. You might want to (adjust) your practice based on knowing your opponent and their patterns, tactics, weakness, and weapons. Every day as you win matches—hopefully—you might change or tweak things around.”
Whether or not an athlete is ready for a tournament, as a coach you’re never really sure, said Bruneau. You do however have a sense when they are prepared to perform. Sometimes a player feels great and prepared, and the match plays out in a completely different way than planned. Other times a player is not coping well going into a tournament and might have a slow start in the match and then things take a favourable trajectory. It’s about being as prepared as possible and being able to take things as they come.
While there are many coaches who enjoy taking already great athletes and making them greater, Bruneau’s passion is for player development. He revels in training young up and coming players as much as he loves working with the superstars. For him, even at a big tournament like this, he tries to split attention fairly between the Canadian women, working with them and their coaches to make sure everyone feels confident and prepared to perform optimally.
“I like the part of taking a player and developing their biomechanics, their mental and their game style to shape things with them and send them on a trajectory. For me coaching is also shaping up their strokes and being very specific. I always go back after matches and work on specific things. I always try to improve the players I work with and look for subtle changes that can make a difference.”
Working with Tennis Canada for well over 20 years, Bruneau has played a pivotal role in the country’s emergence over the past decade as a tennis nation. Bruneau, who coached Bianca Andreescu to a US Open title in 2019, believes that champions are born but they are also made through coaching. Performing under pressure and training long hours takes a lot of mental toughness and some athletes seem to be better predisposed, he says. Coaches themselves must also have a winning mentality. For Bruneau at NBO22, it’s about constantly raising the bar to see the athlete become the best they can.
“Sometimes the players need someone to help them believe in themselves,” said Bruneau. “They’re going to go out there and do it but they need a little bit of help to discover that in themselves.”