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Analyzing Angelique: Kerber Parts with Coach

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Earlier today, World No. 11 Angeliqe Kerber – one of Germany’s most consistent players – has announced via Facebook that she has parted ways with Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, her coach of almost 2 years. TTI evaluates the current situation of the former No. 5.

Angelique Kerber hardly ever beats around the bush – and this post on her Facebook page from earlier today certainly fits her no-nonsense style. In a fairly unceremonious entry, the 27-year-old announced that she and longtime coach Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh had stopped working together after her first round loss to Victoria Azarenka in Doha.

But before we go into where the German goes from here, let’s first recall where she’s been, her rise, and subsequent ubiquity towards the top of the game.

It was a 2011 summer bootcamp that effectively restarted Kerber’s once stagnant career. After a tenth consecutive first round loss, she joined Fed-Cup teammate Andrea Petkovic for mid-season training at the Schüttler-Waske Academy in Offenbach after Wimbledon, cancelling most of her US hard court tournaments to focus on improving her fitness. It didn’t take long for major results to follow suit; the lefty with Polish roots reached the semifinals in Dallas in her first event back, foreshadowing an unlikely breakthrough at the US Open where she reached the semifinals, ranked No. 92.

Over the next 12 months, the wins piled up; she captured a pair of indoor titles in Paris and Copenhagen – defeating Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli at the former, while dismissing Wozniacki in straight sets at her home tournament. A quarterfinal finish at the French Open and another major semifinal – this time in Wimbledon – cemented her hard-earned Top 10 status and ensured a debut appearance at the WTA Finals. Though she failed to advance past the round robin stage, she played one of the matches of the year against Victoria Azarenka – leaving those who had struggled to get excited about her presence in advance to the event more than a little red-faced:

The 2012 season saw Kerber easily prove she was no fluke. Her sophomore season amongst the world’s elite, by contrast, proved more challenging. By the end of 2013, she admitted to putting a lot of pressure on herself, but also noted the increased expectation from the public and the press. The struggle to defend results and adjust to the attention manifested in a decidedly uneven season, one that yielded results below her own expectations – particularly at the Grand Slams. It wasn’t until a much-debated late wild card entry (and title) in Linz that the German could secure her spot at the WTA Finals for a second consecutive year.

These changes likely led to an end to her collaboration with Torben Beltz; to that point, Beltz had worked with Kerber for most of her career. She brought in Benjamin Ebrahimdazeh by Rome, and the German-Iranian became a more permanent fixture in the Kerber camp towards the tail-end of 2013. While Beltz was more introverted and calm in his on-court coaching and demeanor, Ebrahimzadeh is a livelier personality, to say the least.

The former head-coach of the Schüttler-Waske Academy first remarked that he was aiming to gradually establish Kerber among the world’s Top 10, all the while developing her game, improving her second serve, and emphasize greater on-court aggression.

With goals like that, does it feel like the 27 year is pulling a ripcord? Perhaps. Last season, she reached the finals of four events events, but finished second each time. The clay season was particularly disappointing for Kerber, who went 5-5 and lost three straight tournament opening rounds. Beyond major tournaments, she seemed to take Fed Cup trip most seriously of all, traveling to Brisbane the weekend before action kicked off on the red dirt in Europe. In an interview ahead of the 2014 Fed Cup Finals against the Czech Republic, she conceded to sacrificing part of her season for that tie against Australia.

While her commitment to the team competition is admirable, it illustrates Kerber’s kryptonite: poor scheduling.

The German’s game largely revolves around her anticipation and fitness, both of which allow her to play long and grueling rallies, and hit winners on the run. But at some point the combination of that game style and a heavy schedule is going to prove costly. In the previous two years, Kerber has won most of the matches she should win, and can even pull off the occasional big upset. But too often, she would be show up flat-footed and exhausted in the next round – an issue with which Agnieszka Radwanska struggles.

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But three weeks into the 2015 season and Kerber already looks flat. After a three-set defeat at the hands of Elina Svitolina in Brisbane, she battled through several three set-matches in Sydney draw before getting dispatched easily by Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals. The German has suffered first round exits in four of her last five tournaments, including a shock loss to Irina Camelia Begu in Melbourne – a day after her 27th birthday – and a double bread stick at the hands of Francesca Schiavone in Antwerp.

Kerber already dropped out of the Top 10 earlier this month. Just weeks later, her coach drops out of the German’s box. Her 6-0, 6-3 loss to Azarenka in Doha was likely symptomatic of her state of mind – much like her chats to Ebrahimdazeh during the encounter. When the 35-year-old first arrived for an on-court coaching timeout, he led with, “there isn’t much he can say [to her]” followed by further conversation with an unnerved Kerber:

Perhaps it’s just the end of the road for Ebrahimzadeh and Kerber; in the long run they didn’t truly realize the plans they had for their collaboration. The veteran might have finished 2014 in the Top 10, but her form hinted she was due for a slide, one that looks to have begun in earnest.  The German’s serve still lacks any discernible bite, and the rest of her game hasn’t improved as much as she might have wanted.

The 2012 Wimbledon semifinalist likely has several years of good tennis left in her, but she’ll probably be forced to make some changes. Kerber has stated that it’s time for her to tread new paths; at the same time, she might be advised to rethink her courseload in the future. Without a “swagger” schedule, she won’t be able to improve on some of the more glaring liabilities in her game, or give her body and mind the necessary time to refuel.

Ebrahimzadeh might not be a part of Kerber’s team anymore, but some of their very special on-court coaching moments won’t be forgotten:

What do you think of the latest developments in Kerber’s team? What does the future hold for her? Sound off in the comments!

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.

2 Comments on Analyzing Angelique: Kerber Parts with Coach

  1. Nice one. I didnt know about her summer-camp with PetKo. It seems like latter part of 2011 was a great turnaround for her.

    I love Kerber sometimes. She is such a great fighter. She was part of many marquee matches last year and even in the matches she lost (like Fed Cup against Petra), she played well and won some great points.

    But then there are days when it looks like she doesnt give a shit about what’s going on. I feel like screaming at her and pulling my hair out then. Cause she is so much better than that.

    I had thought that after 2012 both her and Errani will slide down the ranking. Kerber held on in top-10 for 2 more years. I hope whomever she gets on board now is able to help her overcome her attitude problems.


  2. Great article and interesting insight. It will definitely be interesting to see where Kerber goes from here.


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  1. Angelique Kerber: technical or mentality issues? | Tennis Translations

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