About five weeks before Christmas, sports psychologist Jeff Bond took a call from Nicole Pratt, Tennis Australia’s head of women’s tennis. Pratt’s individual protege for several years had been the much-improved Daria Gavrilova, a young player she described to Bond as talented, with all the shots, and already some big results, but lacking consistency from “a mental/emotional stance”.

She had beaten the likes of Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Lucie Safarova at tour level, only to fizzle under pressure at the grand slams. Pratt has admitted that Russian-born Gavrilova had been known on Tour as “just all over the place and somewhat crazy at times”, and while a ranking rise from 233 to a top-40 hit in one season was heady stuff for the former junior star, there was still considerable work to be done on where her head was.

“There’s a fine balance between desperately wanting to win and keeping control, so sometimes that gets the better of her,” says Bond, who for the past two months has done regular work with Gavrilova, and whose most famous tennis client was another feisty competitor named Pat Cash.

“She’s got that tenacity and that fierce resolve to play the best she can and win, but the beaut thing now compared to when we first started is she knows now when her thinking is not where it should be. I can see it on her face when she’s on the court. She knows what she needs to do; just sometimes in a situation that’s a bit overwhelming.

An appetite for the contest is clearly not lacking, however, as Gavrilova proved in the epic 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 defeat of 28th-seed Kristina Mladenovic she described as “the best win of my whole career”. Two nights earlier, the woman who now calls Middle Park home toppled dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Rod Laver Arena.

Gavrilova’s travelling coach, Craig Tyzzer, believes the benefits of the continuing emphasis on the mental side of her game will be even more apparent later in the year, he and Pratt having already adjusted their approach by realising they were trying “to change things that were probably not going to change”. Everyone has settled in, settled down a little, as a result.

Personally, she is very well-liked. “Really nice kid,” says Tyzzer. “What you see is what you get. She doesn’t change. She gets excited about things, she loves what she does. She’s good value, and I think the public has just seen a bit more of her and are now getting to know what she’s like and what sort of person she is.”

As a player, top 10 or top 20 is her coaches’ goal for 2016, even if her game and weapons are modestly sized, comparatively. “Pound for pound, her serving is really good for her size and her speed worries a lot of the players, she’s super-quick around the court, gets a lot of balls back, makes them play extra balls,” says Tyzzer. “So we don’t see her size as a deterrent or a determinant of how she’s going to play.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Linda Pearce

*** To know more about mental training – or to work with a Certified Mental Trainer here in Australia, contact Dr Damien Lafont / Vida Mind at [email protected]