After less than one year at the helm of the Yale women’s tennis program, Taka Bertrand departed as head coach this past summer and was replaced, on an interim basis, by assistant coach Matej Zlatkovic.
The Eli team that Bertrand inherited in the fall of 2014 had won the Ivy League title and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament in three of the previous four years. But in her lone season as head coach, Bertrand guided the team to a 9–11 overall record, including a 3–4 conference mark. It was the first time since 2008 that Yale had not finished in the year-end top-50 rankings from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
“The main thing last year is [Bertrand] was not the best fit for Yale,” captain Ree Ree Li ’16 said. “She had come from a scholarship school and I don’t think she fully understood what it takes to be a student athlete at Yale.”
Bertrand came to Yale from St. John’s, where she spent two years as the head coach. The Red Storm found success under Bertrand, improving from just six wins to 11 in her first season and featuring two All-Big East players in those two years.
Zlatkovic said it was “a bit of a surprise” when he was named interim head coach, which was officially announced on June 12, but that he was not informed of the specific circumstances regarding Bertrand’s departure. He also said he was still in the process of finalizing his full coaching staff, though former Queens College head men’s tennis coach Patrick Letson will be on staff as a volunteer assistant coach.
Prior to joining Yale, Zlatkovic served as an assistant coach for the Illinois State’s men’s tennis team from 2011 to 2014. During his time there, Zlatkovic was responsible for coordinating fitness and weight-training sessions as well as providing strategic advice during match play.
“In the beginning of the spring, we’re going to physically work a lot so that we get stronger and faster,” Zlatkovic said. “All of this is going to bring success. We can add in the mental part. [The players] are going to make good decisions in important moments.”
One of Zlatkovic’s major differences between his style and Bertrand’s, according to Li, is that Zlatkovic understands the balance that Yale students strive for between playing a sport and studying hard for school.
Carol Finke ’18 added that even before the official announcement, Zlatkovic had transitioned seamlessly into the head coaching role last spring and proved that he was capable of leading the team.
“[Zlatkovic’s] encouraging style is appreciated by the whole team,” Finke said. “He understands the unique nature of Yale student-athletes and works with each of us so that we can excel on and off the court.”
Li added that Zlatkovic is a great coach in terms of understanding the game, communicating with players and giving advice on tactical skills. Finke agreed that Zlatkovic understands both the mental and the tactical challenges of women’s tennis.
“[Zlatkovic] is a great asset on the court,” Finke said. “His positive approach makes him a great motivator.”
Additionally, Zlatkovic has experience coaching professional tennis players. He served as a traveling coach, tactical adviser and hitting partner for Slovenian professional women’s tennis player Polona Hercog, who was ranked as high as No. 35 in the world in singles. At the Women’s Tennis Association Slovenian Open, Zlatkovic also served as a hitting partner for top professional players such as former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo.
That experience from the professional circuit is very valuable to the Bulldogs, Finke noted.
“I think everyone else is excited [to have Zlatkovic] as well,” Li said. “We all really trust him, and I know a lot of people coming into our team are excited to have him as the new head coach.”
Director of Athletics Tom Beckett could not be reached for comment.
The Elis will play their first game of the fall season on Friday, Sept. 18 at the Harvard Fall Invitational in Cambridge.