When Serena Williams crashed out of last year’s French Open — her first opening-round loss at a major in 47 appearances — she did not turn to her longtime physiotherapist, her agent, or even her parents.
As she departed the grounds, she told her entourage to take separate cars and then climbed into the backseat with her hitting partner, Aleksandar Bajin. There, a distraught Williams let the tears flow. If the Williams family remains a famously close-knit clan, one outsider has become so essential Serena refers to him as kin.
“Outside of my parents, I think he’s probably the most important person on the team,” Williams says of Bajin, who goes by the nickname Sascha. “He’s much more than a hitting partner. He’s my older brother. He’s family.”
As top-ranked Williams kicks off her quest for a sixth title this week at the Sony Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., Bajin will be a crucial, and sometimes underappreciated, part of her campaign.