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Tactics Tuesday or, “The Legend of the GOAT Coach” (Part I)

When Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl this time three years ago, the media and ATP Tour were equally intrigued by this interesting new arrangement. It was, after all, the first time a Top 10 player had hired a multiple Grand Slam champion as a coach great since Jimmy Connors worked with Andy Roddick from 2006-2008. The partnership yielded success for Murray and recognition for Lendl and, over the past 18 months, more and more big names have asked greats of the past to mentor or coach them.

Eugenie Bouchard and Nathalie Tauziat (until October 2013):

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Although 2014 was the breakthrough season for the 20 year old Canadian, the groundwork was had been laid over the last two years. Bouchard climbed from 145 to 31 within 12 months to continue her transition from the more offensive counterpuncher she was in juniors to the baseline-hugging, “take-everything-as-early-as-possible” style she employs now. 1998 Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat had been coaching Bouchard part-time for much of that transition.

Their work together ended when Bouchard asked Nick Saviano to work with her full-time in 2014, which led her to Wimbledon final 16 years after her former coach’s miracle run.

Milos Raonic and Ivan Ljubicic (since June 2013):

Raonic was one of the first men to follow in Murray’s footsteps and employ one a well-known name of the generations past. Choosing Ivan Ljubicic seemed logical, given how both men play tennis. Huge serving, heavy hitting with the forehand, wavering reliability on the backhand side and fairly unremarkable returning.

In personality though, they sit at opposite ends of spectrum.

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What the laid-back Ljubicic occasionally lacked in perfectionism and ardent willingness to train, the eager Raonic has in spades. Where the 23 year old rues opportunities lost, his 35 year old coach sees experience gained.

The former World No. 3 has focused on developing the Canadian’s strengths, rather than paying attention to the kinks in his game. Raonic might not be the most well-rounded player, but the man with the sleeve has made steady progress since the hire. He increased ventures to the net, reached his first Grand Slam semi-final and solidified his place in the Top 10.

However, and particularly throughout the 2nd half of 2014, players with great anticipation and movement – Federer,  Nishikori, Goffin – have often been able to outmaneuver the Canadian, exploiting occasional dips his serving performance. The question now is whether Ljubicic will be able to help turn his strengths into even more overwhelming weapons or whether, at some point in the future, Raonic will be forced to add another dimension to his powerful – but not overly complex – game.

Maria Sharapova and Jimmy Connors (July 2013-August 2013):

When Kim Kardashian’s second marriage lasts longer than your coaching setup, things can’t have gone well. In one of the more baffling hires, the five-time major champion began working with Connors after her 2nd round loss to Michelle Larcher de Brito at Wimbledon last summer. The Russian had been struggling with shoulder issues, and after just one match in August (a loss to Sloane Stephens in Cincinnati) Connors got the boot and Sharapova ended her season prematurely. The 27 year old later stated that Connors came in at the wrong time, that her shoulder issues put her in a difficult state of mind.

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But even beyond that many people wondered what Connors could have brought to Sharapova’s game. As it stands, we’ll never know. Sharapova has since teamed up with Sven Groenefeld and added another Roland Garros title to her resume; maybe it all worked out for the best.

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl (January 2012-March 2014)

Murray worked with Alex Corretja between 2008 and 2011, but the two of them decided to part ways in March 2011 when the Brit was reassessing his coaching situation. Murray came off of the back of another disappointing major final at the Australian Open two months earlier, losing to Novak Djokovic in straight sets and suffered first round exits to Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov Jr. in Indian Well and Miami respectively. After the split with Corretja, Lendl’s name was bandied about in speculating Murray’s appointment, but it wasn’t until the last day of 2011 that the Czech was announced as the current No. 6’s new coach. Despite parting with the Spaniard, Murray played a fairly consistent 2011 season but the sought-after (and almost universally demanded) first major title eluded him, falling in the semi-finals of the remaining three Grand Slams that year.

Corretja himself was hardly a no-name hire – having been ranked as high as No. 2 – but it was Murray’s work with eight-time Grand Slam winner that seemed to kickstart the influx of former greats coaching current Top 10 players. The Brit struggled under the weighed of expectation, particularly in the big matches against Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Lendl was a strategic hire, meant to help him to “show up,” rather than coming out flat-footed the way he did in his first few major finals.

And the results soon came. Though he lost a fourth consecutive Slam-semi to start 2012, a grittier Murray fought tooth and nail in a 5-set loss to Djokovic, the eventual champion. A similar scenario unfolded at Wimbledon – a loss to Federer might have been the most painful yet, but he was banging on the door. Everything fell into place from there. Murray was able to win the Gold medal in home country – in a rematch against Federer, no less. A victory at the US Open a few months later more than cemented the successful partnership.

And then there was last year’s Wimbledon…anyone in need of another BBC Montage?

Lendl might have seemed like an intriguing – though slightly left-field choice – since it was his first coaching job. But it turned out to be a perfect fit; Murray was looking for honest, experienced input. Lendl himself had spent the majority of his early 20s carrying a similar burden on his back to Murray – falling in multiple major finals before claiming one. Lendl didn’t revolutionize the Brit’s game, but he seemed to help his charge with the all-important mental approach.

The partnership with Lendl eventually came to a close in early 2014 for Lendl didn’t feel as though he could devote his entire time to year-round touring.

Enter Amelie Mauresmo…

In Part II we’ll be looking at more big legend hires, their roles in the past year, as well as a preview of some of the new setups for 2015.

About René Denfeld (202 Articles)
Weather is my business. Tennis is my playground. Born in the year of the Golden Slam. Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Tactics Thursday or, “The Legend of the GOAT Coach” (Part II) | The Tennis Island
  2. Tactics Thursday or, “The Legend Of The GOAT Coach” (Part III) | The Tennis Island
  3. The Dramatic Conclusion of “The Legend of the GOAT Coach” | The Tennis Island

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