Elena Rybakina: Stop criticising my coach for shouting at me

Rybakina's coach in the stands - MANAN VATSYAYANA/GETTY
Rybakina's coach in the stands - MANAN VATSYAYANA/GETTY

Elena Rybakina, the Wimbledon champion, has defended her coach Stefano Vukov after he was criticised for being too aggressive during her run to the Australian Open final.

Kazakhstan's Rybakina, who lost in three sets to Aryna Sabalenka on Saturday, felt compelled to speak out after criticism of her coach from Pam Shriver, the American great. 

Coaching was allowed at the Australian Open for the first time this year and Vukov, who has worked with Rybakina since 2019, took full advantage: shouting instructions from the stands and reacting negatively when she struggled, particularly in the semi-final against Victoria Azarenka.

During Saturday's final in Melbourne, Shriver 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."

Rybakina, 23, used Instagram to call out what she described as "misinterpretations" and "fake news".

"After a great AO, I have seen some disturbing comments on social media about the behaviour of my coach Stefano Vukov," Rybakina wrote, alongside a picture of her and Vukov shaking hands. "I want to clarify any misinterpretations. Stefano has believed in me for many years, before anyone else did. We plotted a strategy together in how I could achieve great things and his method shows in my grand slam success so far.

"He is a passionate coach, with a lot of knowledge about tennis. Unlike people that are making these comments, he has great knowledge about me as a person and as an athlete.

"Those who know me well, will know that I would never accept a coach that didn’t respect me and all our hard work. I may be quiet on court and in general, but inside me is a competitive athlete that wants to achieve great things and Stefano has helped me greatly in this way. So please disregard any fake news to the contrary."

Over nearly four years of coaching Rybakina, Vukov has helped her rise from world No 175 at the beginning of 2019 to become one of the best players on the tour, including winning a shock maiden major title at Wimbledon last summer.

Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan with coach Stefano Vukov - GETTY/Tim Clayton
Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan with coach Stefano Vukov - GETTY/Tim Clayton

Shriver, who coached Croatia's Donna Vekic to the quarter-final in Melbourne, has become a strong advocate for better safeguarding for female players, after last year revealing in the Telegraph that she had a "traumatic" relationship with a former coach.

But she was not the only person to criticise Vukov this week, as former British player and pundit Laura Robson also questioned his behaviour.

"We were actually watching the box a lot through the match. I don't know how she deals with the coach. He seems to be so negative," Robson said on Eurosport after Rybakina's semi-final win over Azarenka.

On Friday Vukov, who is a former low-level player from Croatia, responded to the attention around his conduct.

He told Fox Sports Australia: “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.”