Pere Riba, he says, is “a humble man” who tries “to learn from everyone.” And until six years ago, he was one of those modest tennis players who travel the intermediate band of the circuit, without making noise, fighting, competing without fainting. He became 65th in the world and was planning a long-distance career, until the day, in April 2018, when a wrong-way driver hit him while he was driving in Florida, where he was exercising. He tried, but a year later he hung up his racket. “An experience like that changes you. When you’re in a routine, you go from place to place without thinking, but when life gives you one of those scares, you start to take things differently,” he says. The player stayed there, but the coach who today smiles and triumphs started there. But not by chance. There is a method behind this.
The fact is that after having guided Coco Gauff to the New York summit in September, he is now leading Qinwen Zheng towards an extraordinary situation. The 21-year-old Chinese will play the Australian Open final today (9:30 a.m., Eurosport) against Aryna Sabalenka and, whatever happens, she will be among the top ten today, Monday. There is talent and shots in this racket. But order was lacking. And there was Riba, with whom he had worked for a year and a half, until they decided to part ways after last year’s Roland Garros. Then came the call from Gauff, an attractive project that ended earlier than expected due to a personal problem. Riba wanted to return to Barcelona and that’s where he met Zheng, although they set up their center of operations in Andorra.
“They are two different players, both spectacular,” he replies. “When I started with Qinwen, she had just finished the junior stage and the process took longer, and when I started with Coco, she was already Top 10. Each player has his maturation process. I think everyone is unique, with their strengths and weaknesses, so you can’t train everyone the same way. That’s my philosophy, but I’m not saying it’s correct,” continues the 35-year-old Catalan, who sees great potential in Zheng. “Honestly, I have a lot of confidence in her. And not now because we “We’re in the final, but it’s been a long time. But obviously a lot of things need to be improved; “She needs to be open to changing certain aspects of her game.”
The coach talks about the ability of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to evolve. “Because in the end, that’s what tennis is, improving day by day, a continuous evolution. And I wish she had that ability. I have never seen a player as hardworking as her in my life, sometimes I have to stop her, and I even get angry because she wants more and more. We train for many hours. This has never happened to me. “He shows that he wants to be at the top,” continues Riba, whose first experience on the bench took place with the American of Uzbek origin Varvara Lepchenko, in 2020.
After Gauff’s success at the US Open, Riba’s name is ringing loud and clear again and in the final episode, the feared Sabalenka, title holder and number two, is once again on the other side of the net. “Qinwen played against her there (6-1 and 6-4 then), and we know it’s going to be tough. Sabalenka is the favorite, we all know her, but Qinwen is improving a lot and has room to grow dramatically since she is very young. I see her focused and calm, and that’s very good. She arrives with very good feelings and is very motivated, so if she plays her game, I think she will have her opportunities,” concludes the coach.
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