There has not been a more interesting off-season in recent memory when it comes coaching changes than in 2013. There have been a slew a moves amongst notable players, which began shortly after the WTA season ended and culminated with Maria Sharapova’s hiring of Sven Groeneveld.
Here is my analysis of the major WTA coaching changes.
The after the ATP season ended, the guys shifted into high gear and in the last week alone, Novak Djokovic announced he had hired Boris Becker, and Roger Federer asked Stefan Edberg to consult with him, at least in the short term. Kei Nishikori is now working with Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic coaching Marin Cilic again.
As Magnus Norman, the former Roland Garros finalist and coach of Stan Wawrinka tweeted: “Lendl,Goran,Chang and now Becker and perhaps Edberg as coaches on the @ATPWorldTour. Should do coach tournament. Sure not top seed anymore’
Before touching on the significance of those partnerships, a few words about our current Coach of the Year polls, which you can vote in here.
On the ATP side the nominees are:
Toni Nadal for Rafael Nadal; Marian Vajda for Novak Djokovic; Ivan Lendl for Andy Murray and Magnus Norman for Stan Wawrinka. On the WTA side, the nominees are: Patrick Mouratoglou for Serena Williams; Sam Sumyk for Victoria Azarenka;
Carlos Rodriguez for Li Na; and Marko Jankovic for Jelena Jankovic.
As of the morning of December 20, Lendl and Norman were leading the men’s poll. Murray became the first man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon and that alone says that his coach did an excellent job in preparing him for the biggest match of his life on the biggest stage in his nation and, to many folks, the most important venue in the sport.
Norman helped Wawrinka become a better all-around player and a much more confident person on court, which is why he was able to finish the year in the top eight for the first time and become a serious threat at the Slams.
Toni Nadal did a fantastic job helping Rafa adjust to Djokovic’s newfound strengths and helping his nephew add a few new elements to his own game while he was out with an injury, which is why Nadal had the best year of any player out there, won two majors and finished No. 1.
While Vajda now wants to take a back seat to Becker after eight year at the helm, it cannot be dismissed that he helped Djokovic regain the confidence he lost after losing to Nadal in the US Open final and go undefeated during the fall.
After Serena had her most consistent year ever and only lost four matches, Mouratoglou has to be given credit for helping her keep her mind on court all season long. She hadn’t shown an ability to do that as a veteran player until this year and now once again she is the dominant figure in her sport.
Sumyk is an underrated coach who has done an excellent job with Azarenka overall. She managed to win the Aussie Open amidst controversy, score two wins over Williams and, while she could have played much better in the third set of the US Open final and of course at the WTA Championships when she was wiped out, she remains Serena’s most threatening rival, and that is partly because her coach has helped her refine her game and keep her head in matches.
Rodriguez has made Li a player to fear on every surface and she trusts him enough to actually make net charging a part of her repertoire, which could be the addition that takes her to another Slam title.
Anyone who watched Jelena Jankovic flounder in 2012 (and before) knows just how far she has fallen and it took a family member – namely her brother Marko – to understand where she was and where she needed to go to regain her former top five form. She finished the year in the top 8 and once again is filled with vim and vigor.
Here are my quick thoughts on the recent ATP coaching moves.
Djokovic hires Becker: Clearly Djokovic wants to work with an ex-No. 1 who has won Slams to perhaps do with him what Lendl did with Murray: give him some key tips as to how to handle himself in Grand Slam finals. He also wants to be able to go on the attack more often, which Becker did pretty consistently. The Serbian will not morph into a serve and volleyer like Becker was, but he can improve his volley and his transition game. Two big questions arise: Becker has never coached full-time and, will Djokovic be patient with him if he has to learn on the job; and given that Becker is a very public person who likes to discuss issues with the media, will Djokovic tolerate that if Becker criticizes him to the world or try to muzzle him?
Federer trains for a week with Edberg: The Swede says he is willing to consider working more with the Swiss than the week together they spent in Dubai. Edberg is Federer’s hero, so he clearly respects him, but what exactly can the Swede do with a great but aging player who is behind the eight ball when it comes to being able to be the rest of the so-called Big 4 again? Serve and volley? Chip and charge? Maybe, but Federer’s prior coach, Paul Annacone preached that and it didn’t turn out to matter much in 2013.
Nishikori and Chang: The American has coached before, doing a stint with Peng Shuai, so he does have some experience. Like Nishikori, Chang was an undersized player during his era, but the former world No. 2 was steadier than Japan’s top player is now, was mentally tougher and frankly was better all around. Nishikori needs to improve his fitness and play more patiently before he takes big rips at the ball. Chang, who was very hard worker, can help him with that.
Ivanisevic and Cilic: These two Croatians have worked with each other in the past. Ivanisevic is a bold, self-confident person who can perhaps convince Cilic to stop doubting himself. He also needs to figure out why his student hasn’t come close to living up to his top-5 potential. From the outside, that looks like a very complex jigsaw puzzle.