Tennis Hot Stove league, coaching changes version



sharapova groeneveld

Tennis does not really have a version of the Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove league where fans sit around discussing potential trades and free agent signings but in regards to coaching changes, the sport does to some degree and the week of November 18 was about as busy as it gets on the WTA side.

First Sloane Stephens hired Roger Federer and Pete Sampras’ ex-coach Paul Annacone; then Laura Robson took on the team of Jesse Witten and Nick Saviano; then Maria Sharapova hired Sven Groeneveld; and then Ana Ivanovic announced that she has decided to officially appoint and Nemanja Kontic as her coach and Zlatko Novkovic as fitness trainer.

Let’s take a look at  each hiring:

Stephens hires Annacone: Federer cut ties with Annacone back in October and given how much respect people have in the industry for the American, he was certainly going to be a hot candidate for a number of posts, but there are no major openings amongst male players so at least on a trial basis he decided to take a chance with Stephens, the extremely talented yet enigmatic 20-year-old who finished the season ranked No. 12 but had mediocre  results outside of the Grand Slams. Stephens clearly has top 5 potential as she’s very fast, has weapons off both wings and an improving serve. She also competes well at the majors. What she needs to do is mature, stop going on mental walkabouts on and figure out what are comfortable point patterns for her. Annacone can teach her all of that, but at this stage on her career will he want to put up with her pouting during her bad mood days? Perhaps that’s the biggest question, as she is moody and let that affect her on court.

Here’s the link to my news story

Robson hires Witten and Saviano:  Robson apparently lost out on getting Thomas Hogstedt to coach her after the Swede chose Caroline Wozniacki instead. Its unclear whether she wanted to bring Groeneveld on board – whom she has worked with through adidas Player Development before – but she did take a stab at Aussie left-hander Marc Woodforde but the two couldn’t work something out. Her camp says it was financial and he says it wasn’t. Whatever the case, she then hired the recently retired Jesse Witten as her hitting partner and then went to ‘consultant’ Saviano and struck a deal where she would train at his academy and receive (I guess) over the phone advice on the road, because he’s been hired to travel with and coach Genie Bouchard, who is Robson’s best friend on tour but who doesn’t want to share coaches.

Robson is very talented and with improvements to her fitness, her serve and return she could be a major force in 2014. She did hire noted fitness trainer Mark Wellington to travel with her full-time and Witten is said to be an excellent hitter, but she’s only 19 and who is going to help her design strategies when Saviano is not available? She may have to hire someone else after the Australian Open. In fact, it’s probable that she will.

Here’s the link to my news story

Sharapova hires Groeneveld: That’s the second major hiring of a northern European that Sharapova has pulled off , following her appointment of Thomas Hogstedt in 2011.  The Dutchman Groeneveld is very nice guy with a world of experience who does an adept job of getting along with dozens of different and sometimes trying personalities in the sport. Sharapova can be demanding, but she is loyal and has always been a hard worker. The two should  get along fine. The major question with her is whether her chronically sore shoulder will hold up. If it does and he can somehow teach her a few things about how to read the other top players’ first serves (primarily Serena’s) then she’ll be right back in Grand Slam contention.

Here’s the link to my news story

Ivanovic names Kontic as her coach: The Serbian appears to get along very well with her young new team and for a player who has gone through a number of coaches over the years, that’s important. Really, at this stage is her career she is going to play how she wants to play. She could be a little quicker, add some more pop to her backhand and commit more to the net, but so much of her fortunes are based on self belief and constructing the right types of points. She’s an emotional person who needs to keep a cool head in order to make the right decisions. She, and not her team, is in control of that.

Also during the week, after a marathon process Chris Kermode was officially announced as the ATP’s new CEO. Federer had some nice things to say about him and given how influential the Swiss is, that’s critical.

The WTA handed out its annual awards, which in the case of Simona Halep beating out Stephens for the Most Improved Player of the Year was at least to me, the wrong choice, Yes No. 11 Halep won six titles and Stephens won none, but the American reached the second week of every Slam at the age of 20 while the 23-year-old Halep only reached the second week once, at the US Open, when she blew a huge a chance to get to the semis when she fell to Flavia Pennetta.  I suppose you could say that the choosing between the two is ‘pick’em’ but to me the player who shows up at the year’s most important events and beats the likes of Serena Williams in the Aussie Open quarters is the one who has shown the most improvement. Yes, Halep had some big wins and improved a ton,  but let’s see her walk on to a center court at Slam and take down one of the best players in history before we believe she’s mental giant. Stephens has a lot of work to do but she’s a really gamer at the majors which Halep is not as of yet. It will be very interesting to see who ends 2014 with better results. If Annacone sticks around and Stephens listens, my money would be on the American. With that said, in good health I do expect the Romanian to make a run at the top 5 in 2014. Here is hoping they face off a number of times next year.

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