Pere Riba is already back in the coaching circle just weeks after leaving Coco Gauff’s camp for personal reasons. The Spaniard has returned to his old charge Qinwen Zheng, who he worked with before joining Gauff’s team over the summer. It comes after Zheng was left furious when coach Wim Fissette ditched her to return to Naomi Osaka ahead of the Japanese star’s comeback from pregnancy.
The WTA coaching carousel is in full swing as the off-season continues, with stars chopping and changing their teams in time for 2024. And Riba has become the latest mentor to get involved as he confirmed that he would be working with Zheng again following their split in spring.
The Spaniard joined Gauff’s camp during the grass season and, together with Brad Gilbert, provided instant results as the 19-year-old won Washington and Cincinnati before lifting her maiden Grand Slam trophy at the US Open. But they split at the end of October, with Riba confirming it was due to personal issues on his side that prevented him from continuing on the circuit.
But he has already resolved his off-court matters and returned to the tour, though not with Gauff. “My personal situation changed, I had been free for more than a month and that’s when Qinwen appeared. I only went back to work once I settled on my personal issues,” Riba told Punto de Break as he confirmed his reunion with Zheng.
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There is no bad blood between Gauff and Riba though, as the 35-year-old explained that they weren’t able to figure out an agreement for the 2024 season when his problems arose. He added: “We have always talked about things very honestly, we are both very clear in that regard. She is a great person, very mature, she is someone who understands these types of situations perfectly. There is no type of conflict, I get along great with her and I still want things to go spectacularly well for her.”
As for his reunion with Zheng, the Spanish coach is hoping to pick up where they left off. “I have always had a very good relationship with Qinwen, when we stopped working after Roland Garros we maintained our friendship, we have continued to have that contact, for me she is like a little sister,” he said of the world No 15.
“After finishing the 2023 season and becoming free, she contacted me a week ago and everything fell into place to continue with the process. We have to continue improving, she still has many things to polish. Honestly, I don’t want many things to change with respect to what we have been doing during these two years, the good thing is that she already knows how I work and I also know what she is capable of.”
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Zheng fell victim to the brutal nature of the coaching carousel when Wim Fissette dumped her following the US Open, where she reached her first Major quarter-final. A renowned trainer, Fissette linked up with the Chinese sensation after she split with Riba earlier this year but, according to Zheng, he broke their contract to go back to Naomi Osaka.
The four-time Major winner is making her comeback in January after giving birth to her first child earlier this year and previously worked with Fissette before taking a break to give birth. But when Zheng learned that the Belgian was ending their partnership early, she was left in tears and blasted the “immoral” decision.
The 21-year-old explained: “Right after the [quarter-final] match, he said to me that he felt like he had no connection with me. He never said that to me before. I cried after hearing that. There were no fights, no arguments in our collaboration. I thought that was an unethical end to that collaboration. I understand that Osaka can provide a better offer to him. I understand from his perspective this might be a better position. He has a family to support. I understand his decision, but it doesn’t mean I will forgive him for making such a decision.”
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