Watching a Sebastian Baez training session, there is one thing that stands out above the rest. In the distance, Sebastian Gutierrez’s gaze is always fixed on his player, carefully and expertly analysing.
The coach scrutinises every step, every stroke and creates a picture in his mind. Later, on the bench, he does not mince his words and rarely resorts to superficial flattery. He talks directly and pragmatically, as he seeks to deliver maximum impact from his unfiltered messages.
Under the cover of the Allianz Cloud in Milan, where this week the best 21-and-under-players of the year are gathering to play the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, the Argentine coach continues to steer the work of Baez, one of the emerging stars of the new generation. Having joined forces years ago when Gutierrez was working in the Argentine Tennis Association’s Department of Development, there is an immense mutual trust between the two men.
In Milan, Gutierrez spoke to ATPTour.com about their professional relationship and the road ahead for Baez on tour.
Baez Excited To Test Himself Against Fellow Milan Competitors
How do you build a bond like the one you two enjoy?
The way I work is very much tailored to the person. I think that players, the more balanced they are as people, the better they perform on court. Of course, a player gains trust when their coach shows that they are knowledgeable, in terms of tennis or in terms of solutions they can give in life or on the tennis court. To me, it’s all part of the job. The person, respect, values. Understanding that the other party is giving their all and building from there. You have to understand that as soon as he steps onto the court, from that moment he is the most important person. But there are roles here, and there is no one role that is more important than others. That’s part and parcel of it for me.
Baez considers you his sporting father?
For me, that’s a great responsibility and a great motivation. I think that everything has been built over the last few years. He knows that I’m a very honest and direct person and that I want the best for him. I’ve even prioritised him over myself at certain points in my life. I am proud that Seba is growing up to be a good, well-balanced person, that he knows how to thank not only his coach, but the groundstaff when they work on the court, the racquet stringers… When you live like that, I think you live better and happier. Ultimately, tennis will be an important part of your life, but only a part. When you leave tennis you will continue to become a person who still has to find a way through life.
This year you’ve gone from the Top 300 to the verge of the Top 100. How do you handle progress like that?
We’re still a long way from achieving what we want. Today we’re talking about one thing. A year ago, we were in an apartment in Prague cooking and stringing our own racquets. And we enjoyed that time. I don’t need to string a racquet, I’m doing well and I have a good standard of living. I do it because at that time, that’s what you have to do. Now we have to be here and tomorrow, I don’t know where we’ll have to be.
The only thing we have to be is as happy and balanced as possible and to enjoy what comes to you as much as possible when it comes. Enjoying the present, as people say so much nowadays, is so difficult. We understand that Seba’s career is very long and the road is long. He will have to do things very well for a long time to have a chance of being very good.
How do you manage the attention he is getting?
I think he should be focused on his team, on his people, who are the ones that’ll be with him when he’s doing well or when he needs a hand to lift him up. We know that people can have expectations, but we’re not focused on that. We talk about him focusing on me during matches, not looking elsewhere, valuing the fact that Daniel Orsanic is often on the team, that Mati Caceres is there… That’s the important thing. The opinions of your people. People are happy when you win, but when you lose they might say any nonsense. The more isolated we are from that, the better. And I think he’s doing that, he’s not very alert to what goes on outside. That’s how we manage ourselves.
What are you most proud of as his coach?
That he tries to be better every day. He tries to be a better person every day, tries to do better every day, tries to move better, tries to study tennis more. I think that’s what makes me proudest. That I see an honest, healthy person with a passionate desire to be able to be good. That’s what fulfils me the most.
What do the guys get from a tournament like Milan?
For us, it gives us the chance to play against very good players. We didn’t have the opportunity to play in big tournaments. Seba used to be the No. 1 junior, he reached the final at Roland Garros and I think he has never had a wild card. That means you can’t play against good players and that’s also part of the learning curve. We’re here to play on an indoor hard court. We don’t have this court in Argentina. That he is able to come here and train with these players and see that he’s on the same level as these guys and to keep realising… That’s immensely valuable. To me, that’s the biggest thing we get from it.
I remember when we were playing on the Futures and I hoped he would be able to play in the odd Challenger event because he was good enough. In all of 2020, we were unable to play at a Challenger because we didn’t get in. When he started to play them, he won the fourth one. I’m not saying that by playing two indoor tournaments you’re going to win, but he will test himself, he will keep learning and he’s going to be able to improve on this type of court. That’s a huge bonus.
You put a lot of importance on human values?
I like to mention the people that help us with advice. Juan Martin del Potro is always an important person for us now. Del Potro calls, asks questions and shows interest. That’s also really good for these guys. That the big names guide you and give you pieces of advice, because normally nobody says anything.
You can’t imagine how much it helps your self-esteem. He opens his eyes and has the peace of mind that he is on the right path. It’s also much more natural than you might think. Sometimes you overestimate situations and then you come here, you play with your peers and you see that they’re not so different to you. Having someone like Delpo, who he can consult, who asks questions and says ‘Che you’re going to go to the Next Gen’ allows Seba to feel appreciated.