As with every new tennis season there are always changes. Addition of new tournaments, retirements, etc. However, nothing is looked forward to as much as the ever present coaching changes. There have been some high profile hires and fires in the latter part of the tennis season on the WTA Tour and the Spin Team will be taking a look at each of these coaching changes and give our thoughts on which of these high profile coaching changes we expect to be successful.
Before we get into the discussion of the coaching change, I have to say that the success of a coach depends entirely on the player. If the player is any good, the coach will not have much in the way of work to do. See Serena Williams and Moragotalou. However, in some cases, the coach will have to break down and rebuild a player’s game, as in Victoria Azarenka and Sumyk.
For me, it is all well and good to say that you have coached Serena Williams to Grand Slam glory, but Serena Williams was already a hugely successful athlete before Patrick came along, ditto for Maria Sharapova when she hooked up with Thomas Hogstedt. In my view, in order to prove your coaching chops, you will need to take an unknown player and turn that player into a dominant, consistent champion. To date, only a few coaches have been able to do that.
With the coming season, there are a few coaching relationships that I will be taking a look at and the Spin will be running a poll to get readers’ comments on the effectiveness of certain coaching situations. At the end of each Grand Slam, the Spin will tally the total number of votes for each of the various coaches and we will look to see what, if any, gains have been made to their respective players’ games.
First up is the recent announcement of Sloane Stevens and Paul Annacone. Annacone has his work cut out for him. From the research that I have done, Annacone has never really taken a player such as Stevens, one who has never made a final of any tournament and turned him or her into a champion at whatever level. Yes he coached Sampras and more recently Federer, but these 2 men were already household names and had achieved remarkable things in their respective careers. Sloane is another matter. I would consider the partnership a success if Sloane gets to the final of any tournament. He would be a contender for Coach of the Year honours if she won a Grand Slam.
Next up is Caroline Wozniacki and Thomas Hogstedt. It may be a bit unfair but Wozniacki really should not have anything to prove to anyone, but unfortunately she does. A few years ago she ruled the WTA Penthouse, these days her game and her psyche seems to be in tatters. Her father has allegedly taken a backseat and Thomas Hogstedt, rejuvenator of Sharapova’s career and the man who was formerly in the corner of Li Na will undertake the task of reinventing Wozniacki’s career. I would consider it a success if Wozniacki makes it to another Grand Slam final.
Samantha Stosur and Miles McLaghlan. This one is a head scratcher. I am not quite sure what McLaghlan, formerly with Andy Murray and Laura Robson can bring to the table for Stosur. The question for me with Stosur is what are her career goals as she approaches the twilight of her career? Does she want to win another Slam? Does she want to make it to the top of the WTA rankings? I don’t believe I have read anything from Stosur that tells us her career plans. In any event, the singular goal for Stosur next season, do well in Australia.
Laura Robson has announced that she will be working with Nick Saviano. Saviano is a veteran coach who either previously worked with Eugenie Bouchard or is currently working with Bouchard (depends on where you get your information). In any event, Saviano will be working alongside former ATP pro Jesse Witten. I think the best coach that Robson had was Zelko. He got her fit, improved her ground game and from all accounts he was a hard taskmaster. He got her to her first WTA final and even though she lost, she would go on to have a pretty good year in 2012. Pity that she regressed so much in 2013, mainly due to a shoulder injury. That being said she has a huge game and if she continues to work hard with Saviano she should replicate her 2012 season. I would consider it a success if she won her first WTA title.
Under The Radar
There are a few other coaching relationships that I will be keeping my eye on. One that I think has been overhyped is the Li Na/Carlos Rodriquez relationship. I actually think that this has been a very unsuccessful partnership so far. The fact that you have been successful in coaching one player (Henin) as an all court player, does not necessarily mean that it will work with another (Li). I find it amusing that the game that is now being played by Li was what Henin played in her first career. Once she retired and came back she played as Li did in her first career. All the beauty and elegance that made Henin such a joy to watch was pushed out of the way for a style that was just mindless baseline ballbashing.
Maria Sharapova and Sven Gronefeld. I am not confident that this will be a partnership that will be as successful as the one that Sharapova had with Thomas Hogstedt. While the Hogstedt relationship ended on a losing note with its very own hashtag, I can’t see what Groneveld will bring to the table with Sharapova, but as with the other coaching changes, the Spin will watch and see what happens next.
I think the women above are missing the boat completely when it comes to coaching relationships. Bartoli, winner of the 2013 Ladies Singles Title at Wimbledon severed coaching ties with her father prior to entering the lawns of Wimbledon. She partnered with former No.1 and winner of 2 Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, Amelie Mauresmo. Bartoli would go on to win Wimbledon with none other than Mauresmo sitting in her box.
Eugenie Bouchard, current holder of youngest teenager in the top 50 of the WTA and winner of the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year Award was coached this season by Natalie Tauziat, a former WTA player. Unlike many others in her age group she had a very successful season.
Finally, and most importantly in my mind, Samantha Stosur severed her long time coaching relationship with David Taylor and had Alicia Molik, Fed Cup captain and former WTA No. 5 coach her for the rest of the season. She won 2 titles, her first since her US0 2011 title and qualified for the Tournament of Champions.
Lucie Safarova, she of the huge lefty game won her first title in 5 years with a female coach in her corner.
I wonder why these young women are reluctant to consider the benefits of getting a woman’s perspective on their games. Here are some coaching relationships I would like to see on the WTA Tour:
Petra Kvitova and Martina Navratilova – may not be the best fit as they love each other so much, but they have mutual respect and admiration for each other. Martina could Petra believe in herself, especially when things get tight in a match.
Agnieska Radwanska and Martina Hingis – similar game styles and similar disposition on court. The difference is the mentality that they both carry on court. The Swiss Miss was legendary for her on court demeanour. Radwanska can fall apart when things get tough.
Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport – they both hit some of the cleanest groundies on tour, plus they are fans of each other. Davenport was never known for her mentality but she had variety in her game. A different way of looking at things may help Sharapova lift another slam trophy and may even get her that much needed win over Serena Williams.