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Tactics Thursday or, “The Legend of the GOAT Coach” (Part II)

In Part II of this Tactics Tuesday trilogy, TTI continues its evaluation of current players hiring former greats as coaches.

Andy Murray and Amelie Mauresmo (since June 2014)

In Part I, we left off at Andy Murray’s work with Ivan Lendl, which came to an end earlier this year. Undergoing back surgery in late 2013, it took a while for the former World No. 2 to regain his footing on tour. The split with Lendl made for a challenging scenario in the run up to the clay and grass seasons.

Speculation arose regarding Murray’s coaching picks; during his semifinal-run at the French Open, the Brit seemed to think somewhat outside the box, declaring how he’d be perfectly happy to appoint a female coach. Just a few days after his loss to Rafael Nadal in Paris, it was announced that Amelie Mauresmo would become the new coach of the 2013 Wimbledon champion.

Having been one of the ATP’s most vocal supporters of the women’s game – as well as having been coached by his mother Judy as a child – the choice of a female coach did not seem particularly “out of the box” to him. Within the greater state of the ATP, however, it was certainly a novum to have a woman coach a Top 10 player. A few questionable statements aside (Virginia Wade) – some of them blatantly sexist – the choice of Mauresmo has been well-received, particularly among most of the non-British press. Within the UK, however, Murray’s third round loss at Queen’s and his defeat at the hands of Dimitrov in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon stirred up questions about Murray’s form – and Mauresmo.

Never one to swim with the stream of convention, Murray stuck with Mauresmo for the remainder of 2014 and has decided to extend their work together into 2015, even changing an integral part of his team set-up. Last month, he announced his split with long term members Vallverdu and Green.

Sources stated that the 2006 Wimbledon winner might not have been the most experienced coach when the Brit hired her but Mauresmo has managed to do something many failed to do (more than just making Murray laugh in practice) since she began captaining the French Fed Cup Team: reunite Marion Bartoli with the French Federation early last year. A few months later, Bartoli went on to win Wimbledon herself, under the mentorship of the woman who is now Murray’s coach.

Even though he had up-and-down results in the second half of 2014 – and was trounced by Federer in London – Murray ended up winning three titles this fall. 2015 will provide a better gauge to determine whether a rested Murray working exclusively with Mauresmo will be back in the hunt for more major titles.

Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker (since December 2013)

In one of the most surprising stories from last year’s off-season, Novak Djokovic announced that he hired six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker as a second, consulting coach for the majors as well as the tournaments of the Masters series. Let’s have a look at how Twitter reacted to this partnership:

That pretty much sums it up. Becker has spent his life post-career being more of an enigma than he ever was on-court. Particularly in his native Germany, the former No. 1 has been a polarizing figure in the tabloids and gossip columns, hounded by tax evasion charges, a failed marriage, and the infamous “broom cupboard affair.” On top of that came a biography, which fuelled more gossipping and was torn apart by critics, as well as bizarre TV appearances as recently as last October. Elsewhere, Becker was still largely known for his tennis and his work for the BBC at Wimbledon.

Djokovic finished 2013 on a 24-match win streak, but was frustrated by his defeats at the final three majors and losing the #1 ranking to Rafael Nadal. And that is when he asked Becker to join his team. Marian Vajda, Djokovic’s long-time coach, would still be on his team. But Djokovic made it clear he wanted experience from someone played at the top of the game for several years, and possibly a fresh approach.

In the first few weeks of the partnership, questions arose: how is this going to work? Who is going to benefit more – Djokovic or his newly appointed second coach? What is Becker going to bring to the equation?

Fast-forward to the present: some of those questions linger, but despite the prophecies of doom and gloom, the partnership is going strong and will continue into 2015. Boris Becker might remain polarizing, but he seems to enjoy his work. The past 12 months have seem him go through an image 180. The 47-year-old made regular appearances in German newspapers but due to his “protegé” doing well rather than the gossip columns.

Djokovic and Becker both remained tight-lipped about what exactly they have been working on, often citing mental preparation and dealing with pressure. It was one of the sub-plots in press conferences during the Serb’s double in Indian Wells and Miami, and persisted all the way through the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Despite a few dodgy matches, the Serb won seven titles in 2014, and defended the No. 1 ranking after reclaiming it at Wimbledon. Could Djokovic have done that without Becker? Perhaps – but Djokovic has stressed that people underestimate the German’s role, so it’s fair to assume he had an effect on his year.

Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg (since December 2013)

Days after news of the Djokovic-Becker partnership broke, Roger Federer announced that Stefan Edberg would be joining his team for at least ten weeks in 2014. Throughout his career, Federer had called the Swede as his childhood hero; after a week of training in December, the 17-time Grand Slam titlist was able to get hire his idol.

Coming off of his most difficult year in a decade, Federer finished 2013 at No. 6 after exiting Wimbledon in round two to Sergiy Stakhovsky, and getting brushed aside by Tommy Robredo in Flushing. A series of back flare-ups hampered his play on various occasions and he struggled with a larger racquet during his summer European clay-foray. In October, it was announced that his collaboration with Paul Annacone had come to an end after three years – but his trusted coach Severin Lüthi would remain.

When Edberg joined Federer, the question was whether he would serve and volley with increased frequency and be more aggressive, or whether the six-time Slam Champion would serve more as a mentor, someone Federer could talk to and relate to his state of mind on and off-court.

It turned out to be a little bit of both.

But was it just Edberg’s doing? He probably had a considerable impact, as many pundits and writers imply. But Federer has attacked for most of his career. The Swede came at a time when Federer had struggled. An aggressive game-style combined with low confidence and a movement-restricting back issue doesn’t add up well, even for Roger Federer.

This season has seen the Swiss turn fortunes around and finish within striking distance of the No. 1 ranking. His body held up for the majority of the year, which allowed him to be more aggressive and keep matches shorter. Both men enjoyed the work and mutual input and, as a result, extended their collaboration. There’s a very good chance Edberg’s presence gave Federer that extra inspiration to post more consistent results. And that could be proof enough for the Swiss that the hire was a good decision.

In Part III of “The Legend of the GOAT Coach,” we’ll be looking at the two recent male US Open finalists and future collaborations in 2015.

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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. #SNS Retrospective: 2014’s Top Ten ATP Points | 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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