Georgian tennis player Nikoloz Basilashvili has always prided himself as a perfectionist and an artist. He normally strives to string the most punishing shot combination and play the perfect game. However, his coach Jan de Witt, has confessed that he is not a big fan of perfection. De Witt has worked with the likes of Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils, prior to taking on Basilashvili as a ward.
Although de Witt himself is well-known for his precision, he maintained that his wards cannot afford such a luxury. He stressed on opting for simple solutions rather than over-complicating the situation. He mused that since Basilashvili tries to attain perfection, he often struggles to win. The 27-year-old Georgian now faces a battle of ignoring every fibre of his being urging him to trust his natural instinct.
“I’m understanding how tennis really works,” he admitted. “It’s not just about hitting tennis balls or fitness, it’s working on the mental side of the game as well. It’s very important in this sport to know how to handle the nerves in important moments. I am still getting that experience.”
Nikoloz Basilashvili continued, “Until 22 or 23, I was wild. I was not professional in my approach. I knew I wanted to play well, but I wasn’t capable of playing at this level. I had no game plan to get here. I knew I was missing something. I was around [World No.] 50-100 for a long time, for two to three years. I needed somebody to trust 100 per cent.”
For a long time Nikolos was limited in his craft, owing to financial constraints and having to improve his own game alone. Basilashvili first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of five and since then, has never looked back.
Speaking to the ATP website, he revealed, “There were moments when my father and I would sleep in our car for a couple of weeks. It’s been an interesting journey. I was training in bad conditions and I couldn’t even find a sponsor, so I got Russian citizenship.”
He continued, “There was a time when we slept in a car for a month on the junior tour and we also slept in tents at tournaments. When I was 20, 21, I almost started tennis again really from scratch, as mentally I was down. All these kinds of things really make you realise that the bad times weren’t for nothing. It’s made me stronger and hungry to play tennis at a high level.”
Over the past year, his ranking has rocketed from 89 to a career-high No. 18. The 27-year old credited De Witt for the vast improvement in his game. In the wake of a successful one-week trial, Basilashvili laid bare his hard-working nature.
De Witt reminisced that Nikoloz’ dedication was enough to convince him to continue working with him. He now knew that Basilashvili would do whatever to takes to raise his level ten-fold.
The Georgian’s improvement began to show physically after racking up two ATP 500 trophies at Hamburg and Beijing.
Nikoloz Basilashvili confessed, “I’d been in finals before, I’d played in Kitzbuhel [in July 2016] and Memphis [in February 2017]. But to win a title is different, especially a [ATP] 500. It gives you a lot of confidence, which is one of the most important things in tennis — knowing when you step on the court you can win this match.”
He continued, “With a plan, being more professional and trusting my coach completely, I got direction. I needed to win an ATP Tour title as validation of my work — that I was moving in the right direction — and when I did in Hamburg and Beijing, it relaxed me and left me really motivated.”
In terms of skill, he boasts of a big forehand and a solid backhand. Coupled with that it the ability to cover all areas of the court. However, his quest for perfection was a giant stumbling block and he knew it.
“If I could talk to my 21-year-old self, I would not change my game style, but more my mental approach,” he said when talking about giving advice to his younger self. “I’m not looking for results, but to give 100 per cent on and off the court. I want to maximise what I have, so when I do retire I know I left no stone unturned.”