Stefano Vukov has helped Elena Rybakina to win Wimbledon also helped her to reach a second Grand Slam final, but his behaviour during matches has not impressed the tennis community.
Former Croatia professional player Vukov, who reached a career-high of No 1,122 in the ATP Rankings, has been coaching Rybakina for the past four years.
Rybakina started the 2019 season at No 175 in the WTA Rankings, but she has surged up the rankings since teaming up with Vukov and finds herself in the top 10 following her run to the Australian Open final.
Under Vukov’s tutelage, the Kazakh player won her maiden title at the Bucharest Open in July 2019 and the Hobart International in January 2020.
But their biggest success came at Wimbledon last year when Rybakina became the first player from Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam, defeating Ons Jabeur in three sets in the final.
And they have followed it up with another run to the final at the Australian Open, but Vukov’s conduct during her semi-final win over Victoria Azarenka did not go down well with many commentators.
He was criticised for the way he talked to her with many feeling his overaggressive gestures caused more damage than good.
Vukov though dismissed the criticism ahead of the final as he told foxsports.com.au: “It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal.
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”
Rybakina herself seems happy with her coach – at least publically – but Vukov was again criticised for his antics during the final against Aryna Sabalenka.
Doubles legend and tennis commentator Pam Shriver feels he should find a new coach.
After his behaviour during the semi-final, Shriver initially stated that “As long as coaches speak (and act) respectfully to the players they coach…”
But during the final she changed her tune as she tweeted: “As I watch Rybakina try to win her second major in 7 months, I hope she finds a coach who speaks and treats her with respect at ALL times and does not ever accept anything less.”
When one person commented that “it seems that she is quite happy with him despite some antics”, the American replied: “Happy with not being treated respectfully… hmmm not a good pattern for life.”
In an interview with Tennis Majors during the Australian Open, Vukov explained how the team tries to protect the 23-year-old from “bad media coverage”.
“Elena is a wonderful girl, a big introvert, so we tried our best to protect her from a lot of bad media coverage as well. Not saying all the media is bad, though,” he said.
He also discussed communication with the Wimbledon champion during matches and when asked “what does Elena need from you?”, he replied: “Energy, definitely. She is very stoic and calm, keeps the emotions inside. Even today, Elena told me that she needs the energy from me.
“Also, I remind her sometimes of the small tactical details that we went through. Emotions sometimes block you from thinking, especially in important stages of the match. I am glad that the coaching is allowed now, because some details are easier to see from the outside.”