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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday March 4, 2021

 
Clara Tauson

Clara Tauson is learning to win on the WTA Tour, and eager to keep adding to her game as she does.

Photo Source: Getty

Even when you watch Clara Tauson on television it’s easy to tell that she’s been gifted gobs power from the tennis gods. The sound the ball makes off her strings and the fact that her opponents often seem a quarter-step too slow tell the viewer that story, but it’s not just the Dane’s power that impresses.

Far from one-dimensional, the 18-year-old loves to swoop forward to test her skills at the net. It is this willingness to walk the path less traveled that makes this former junior World No.1 such an enticing talent.

“I don't like to be too passive, letting the other person decide,” 18-year-old Tauson told Tennis Now on Wednesday after she blitzed veteran Timea Babos, 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first quarterfinal at Lyon (Update: Tauson won three more matches, sweeping to the title without ever dropping a set). “I want to be the one deciding everything. Everything in my life I want to be the one deciding what I do.”

Tauson says it wasn’t her father, a former professional ice hockey player in Denmark and her longtime coach, that trained her to play a care-free style of tennis. It came from her own inner fire.




“So it's always been like this and I always had a love for going to the net and doing drop shots and all that,” Tauson says. “I think it's really fun, so the way I have gotten inside [the court during] my matches this week has been really nice."

It may have been nice for Tauson but for her opponents, not so much. She waltzed past top-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round and has yet to drop a set in Lyon ahead of her semifinal clash with Paula Badosa.


It wasn’t nice for Jennifer Brady last October, either. Tauson took out the American on her Grand Slam debut, saving two match points in the process. Just 17 at the time, and in her first year working with coach Olivier Jeunehomme, Tauson wasn’t expecting much from the clash with Brady, but when it was over she emerged a more confident athlete.

“It was an eye opener for me, because Jen Brady is so good,” she said on Wednesday, still seemingly a bit awestruck over that victory. “I was just trying to believe in myself and go in there thinking I could win the match even though I wasn't supposed to. But you know this is such a mental game so if you believe in yourself it can change everything, and it did for me there, I think."

Growing the game with Jeunehomme

What is also changing the game for Tauson is the decision to travel to work with Jeunehomme at the Justine Henin Academy in Belgium. That partnership started in the fall of 2019, and the Dane says she has matured in a lot of aspects thanks to the Belgian.

“I needed something extra and by far Olivier is very much extra when it gets to learning,” Tauson said. “I'm still a young player, so he knows that I'm young and he knows what I need to improve.”

Jeunehomme, who jump-started his career a few decades ago when he played a role in Justine Henin’s coaching team, has most recently coached Dayana Yastremska. He is extremely excited about the potential of his young charge.




"Even if she is tall and can hit big shots, at the same time she can play a lot of other tennis,” he told Tennis Now in a Whatsapp interview. “She's able to use her slice, she's able to go to the net, and I really try to push her to go more and more to the net. She can change the rhythm, she can use different kind of trajectory, topspin, slice, flat, she can open angles, so for me she’s really an all-court player, but still very young, with a lot of things to learn about how to use all the weapons that she has in her game."

It’s about the big picture

Though playing opportunities were limited significantly due to coronavirus in 2020, the pair were able to make progress in all elements of Tauson’s game. Rather than rush Tauson to success, Jeunehomme wants to take time to help her grow her game while she’s still developing. At 139 in the world entering this week, Tauson will crack a career-high next week for sure (projected 117 with her semifinal run, potentially Top 100 with a title), but it's not the ranking that matters at the moment.

“We have no rush, I insist that she takes the time now and maybe her career will be longer, because she will have a really complete game,” he said. “It's better to maybe, not necessarily to lose, but maybe take one year more, two more years, and then you arrive with your bucket full of tools and you are ready to play a different kind of tennis and to adapt to different things and propose different things to your opponent.”

Tauson certainly has the strokes to build a well-rounded game around. And the menacing pace of her groundstrokes make it a no-brainer for her to spend more time at the net picking off swing volleys and punching volleys. The fact that she enjoys that style of game and is willing to live with the high-risk nature of her tactics, makes it even better.

Tauson is learning to dial up her focus against top-level pros, and she’s aware of the fact that a momentary lapse can really hurt her chances at the WTA level.

"I think inside of me I level my concentration to [top players] but sometimes of course, I'm going to fall out a little,” she said. “I play a high-risk game. I make mistakes and I'm aware of that, so I just try to circle back to just being present and trying to play my game all the time."

Jeunehomme believes it is all about helping Tauson expand her repertoire, so that she finds solutions for the multitude of problems she’ll inevitably face on tour.

“That's my vision for her, to really try and develop a maximum of capacity and a maximum of tools, in the efficient way, and then develop her creativity to be able to choose the right shot at the right moment because for me it's not often that you see somebody that can play with play with forehand, got to the net to change the rhythm, change the trajectory, this is not often you see something like that, so it's very important to take the time to develop all of that," he says.

The mental game is a "focus"

Jeunehomme is an advocate of balance, and is eager to work with Tauson’s family on creating a harmony between the person and the player. Though he says that most of their collective time is spent working to fine tune Tauson’s technique, tactics and fitness, there is time to help her develop the mental side.

The Belgian says he gets support from Tauson’s parents, who were both elite athletes in Denmark, in this department.

"They have a culture of sport and it was very important for me, when I chose to involve myself in the project, because they understand the sport,” he said. “It's the whole family that needs to be involved. Also they are very careful about the balance of Clara. They understand that it's a price to pay but until a certain limit. The health of Clara and the mental balance is very important for them.”


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Tauson says the extra work on the psychological elements of the sport has helped her mellow out on the court - never a bad thing.

"He definitely focused a lot on the psychology, and I really needed that, I think,” she said of her coach. “I'm a very explosive person on court, off court I think I'm really relaxed, but on court, when I care about something, I still get outbursts sometimes, but I think it's gotten much better after starting with him.”

She also appears to have gotten to know her own best practices better as a result of the collaboration.

“Just getting to know myself also, because he teaches me a lot of things about how I work,” she said. “When someone says it from outside you learn more from that I think. Definitely it's been a fun transition going from my dad to him because it's two very different kind of personalities, my dad is like me, explosive when he cares about something, and Olivier is very, very calm, even if I do something stupid (she laughs), he's very calm. He teaches me to learn after every single match, it doesn't matter if I win or lose, we always have a good talk after the matches I think, and that's important."

 

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