Coaching Merry Go Round

I hope everyone had a very Happy Christmas and that the New Year will bring you and your favourite much joy during this 2014 season. 

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 coaches 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 latterly with 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 or maybe no one has ever asked her.  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 relatiosnhips 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 all players (Li).  I found 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 was playing the way Li played 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 If this is true, 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 and its very own hashtag, I can’t think off the bat exactly what it is that Groneveld will bring to the table with Sharapova, but as with the other coaching changes, the Spin will watch and see what happens next.

Female Coaches
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 longtime 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 and she had a female coach in her corner.
I think if a lot of these young women think about it, they will realise that perhaps getting a women’s perspective on their games may actually be beneficial to them.  Here are some suggested coaching relationships I would like to see on the WTA Tour:
Petra Kvitova and Martina Navratilova – may not be the best fit seeing as they love each other so much, but they have mutual respect and admiration for each other and maybe Martina may have 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 seems to be falling 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 and maybe a different way of looking at things may help Sharapova (then again maybe not)
What other female coaching relationships do you think would work.  Sound off in the comments.


by Karen

As many of you who read this little blog know I have been advocating for years for the WTA to not only produce its own content but to actually have its own network that would deal exclusively with women’s tennis.  As a fan of the women’s game, I believe I have been tireless in my efforts to have the WTA and indeed even players think about what it would mean if the women had their own broadcast network.  It would mean greater accessibility for fans of the game and it would grow the sport in a way not seen since the ATP had its Masters Series TV.

News broke today that the WTA has signed a US$525M contract with Perform to produce and air its content on all matches that are featured on the WTA Tour.  This is being hailed as an historic achievement for women’s tennis and for women’s sports in particular.  
While I have for many years been touting the WTA product as being exceptionally better than the men (even though it is my own biased opinion), I am glad to see that a media giant like Perform has also seen the benefits of partnering with an organisation that has only an upside to it.  The new faces on the women’s tour, coupled with the strength of its current top 10 has assured us that Perform will, for many years, get more bang for its buck than many other sports. 
Credit needs to be given to Stacey Allaster for brokering this deal.  I am sure that there were many out there who were calling for her resignation after the debacle of not being able to see many marquee women’s matches, and this accomplishment is a significant milestone for Ms. Allaster and her team. 
Not bad for an organisation without a named sponsor. 

I am a strong believer that the more people who are exposed to women’s tennis, either via social media (and the women are doing a great job at this by the way), the more people will turn up to tournaments that feature the women.  As the old adage goes, if you sell it, they will buy it.   If fans of the sport are unable to see the matches being played by the women on the regular Tour, then when the sport gets to mainstream media, i.e. via the Grand Slams, then the casual viewer who tunes in will not only have an idea as to who the player with the terrific serve blasting her way to a title is, but they will start rooting for said player.  

Thank you Stacey for listening to the voices of the masses.  Well done. 
Coaching Changes
The off season coaching changes continue.  To recap the most recent coaching changes:
Nick Saviano is no longer coaching Eugenie Bouchard.  Rumour has it that Sloane Stephens will be partnering with Saviano.  As of today (9 December) this has not been confirmed, except that there have been pictures circulating in social media showing Stephens hitting at Saviano’s academy.
Agnieszka Radwanska has partnered with Martina Navratilova for the upcoming season.  My instincts tell me that this is not a good hire.  If it is that Radwanska has developed the mind set that she needs to be more aggressive during match play, then it will be, but as we have seen during last season, even though Radwanska has done something about her serve, a lot more needs to be done if she expects to bag that elusive Grand Slam title, or indeed to be able to compete with the top tier of women’s tennis.
Simona Halep has parted ways with Wim Fissette and is now working with a Romanian coach as well as Thomas Hogstedt as consultant.
Madison Keys is working along with Lindsay Davenport in relation to local tournaments (North America), but will be travelling with Wim Fissette (Halep’s former coach) on international assignments.
As of today’s writing, Eugenie Bouchard has not announced a new coach.


I think by now everyone and their mother (and father) has done a WTA Year in Review.  The Spin team has taken a bit of a hiatus and chose not to do a wrap up of either the US Open, or the Year End Championships.  However, the Spin team thought it would be fun to have its own Awards to the players who inspired the writers on this blog and who inspire tennis fans to really get up at half past zero just to catch their matches.
So without further ado, here goes:
Player of the Year  
Without a doubt this award goes to Serena Williams.  Separate and apart from taking some embarrassing losses, Ms. Williams showed what toughness is all about by storming back during the latter half of the season to bag Grand Slam No. 18, and win her third consecutive Year End Championship title. 
Most Improved
This was a hard one by any stretch of the imagination.  From Madison Keys with her triumphant performance at Eastbourne to Eugenie Bouchard for making it to the top echelons of women’s tennis, to Ekaterina Makarova showing us that even though she flies a lot under the radar she is a force to be reckoned with in women’s tennis.  There is also Casey Dellacqua.  A player who had virtually disappeared from women’s tennis. As a matter of fact, she had disappeared from women’s tennis as she studied for, and qualified to be a beauty technician.  Even though Casey did not win any titles this year or make any finals, I believe this award should go to her for sheer determination and effort.  This is even more remarkable seeing as Casey welcomed a son into this world with her partner. 
Almost Award (dedicated to Lucie Safarova) (singles)
Has there ever been a player who confounds tennis fans as much as Lucie Safarova.  Such a dangerous opponent when she is playing well, Lucie’s career for 2014 can be summed up in that one word “Almost”.  There were many “Almost’s” this year on the WTA (Shuai Peng and Dominika Cibulkova I am looking at you both) but the award goes to none other than Angelique Kerber.  0-4 in WTA finals will get you that ignominious award.  The Spin team hopes Kerber will retire this accolade in the new season.
Almost Award (doubles)
Up match points, served for the set, almost there, this doubles team of Hseih and Peng.  Peng and Hseih could not lose and for whatever reason they just did not seem to get it together this year.  Theirs would have been an exceptional story line if they were able to get their act together.  However the “Almost” award in doubles will go to the matching pair of Martina Hingis and Daniela Hantuchova.  What started out to much fanfare ended in dull whimpers and glaring looks between 2 players who have partnered with other people for success.  This was not a marriage made in heaven.
Newcomer (singles)
Even though many could claim this prize, I think for all intents and purposes there is really only one person who could claim this title.  While Jana Cepelova did exceptionally well in taking down Serena Williams, she virtually disappeared from the radar after the tournament in Charleston.  Her impressive defeat in Fed Cup after serving for sets, coupled with her inability to even register interest amongst tennis fans showed how much of a fluke her win over Serena Williams was.  However, the Newcomer award goes to Belinda Bencic.  Despite being double bagelled by Caroline Wozniacki (ouch) in Istanbul, Bencic showed why she has captivated the minds of tennis fans all over.  We wait to see how she develops as her career moves forward.
Newcomer (doubles)
The excellent team of Cara Black and Sania Mirza in their one and done season did what many doubles teams have never been able to do.  From saving numerous match points at the season ending championships to bagging a few titles, this team showed what true teamwork is all about.  Such a pity that they will not be playing together again next season.
OMG Moment (singles) – she lost?
Serving for the set.  Serving for the match. Had match points.  Lost.  This could be the epitaph on many a career, but no one does this as much as Camila Giorgi.  For someone who stands at 5 feet nothing, Giorgi plays above her height.  She hits the ball with everything in her and while she had some truly remarkable highlights this year, her inability to keep the ball in play during the tough times hands her this award.
OMG Moment (doubles) – they lost?
Peschke and Srebotnik.  Had multiple match points at the Year End Championships and lost to the team of Black and Mirza. 
Is she still playing (singles) – you swear this person had retired
A question many asked about Dominika Cibulkova. What happened Domi?
Are they still playing (doubles) (dedicated to Liezel Huber and Martina Hingis)
Liezel Huber seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.  Since her partnership with Cara Black ended in lots of recriminations, Huber has been having a hard time finding someone who befits her talent.  Methinks she will have to clone herself.
Crowd Pleaser (singles) – people come to watch this player
This award is not going to go to who you think.  This is not for Rena’s Army, or Shara Family or even Genie’s Army.  This award goes to the Halepeno Hoppers, i.e. fans of Simona Halep.  Never has a player captivated the minds and hearts of tennis fans the world over as Simona Halep has.  From the resounding rounds of applause wherever she plays to the fans who voted for her as Player of the Year, a title some say she won, and that the only reason Serena Williams won was because the journalists who cover tennis voted for her. From the resounding shouts of SIMONA that resounded around Roland Garros to the screams of delight when she played her home tournament in Romania, Simona Halep has proven that brunettes do have fun.
Crowd Pleaser (doubles) – they really love this doubles team
Without a doubt the Williams Sisters
This award would not be complete if we did not hand out awards to the people who bring us the blow by blow account of what is happening on court, and in some cases, not even happening.  To our commentators, we salute you.  Without further ado:
Are you kidding me (male) – for the commentator who spends half his time discussing things other than what is happening on court. 
This is a toss up between John McEnroe and Kevin Skinner (TennisTV).  However, while Kevin will run his mouth a mile a minute and has some of the more colourful ways of describing what is going on during a match, no one beats John McEnroe in the are you kidding me department.  From opining about who will never be successful at the Grand Slams again, to telling us what his career was like, while a women’s match is being aired, John McEnroe has no peer in this department. 
Are you kidding me (female)

Pam Shriver.  Just because she is so messy with her on court interviews and interviews from the stands. Honourable Mention to Navratilova just because of the haterade.
The Jon Snow Award “You know nothing”
Again, John McEnroe
I would put Chris Evert here but she has evolved as a commentator, so I am going with Tracy Austin. As clueless as they come.
Mute Award
John McEnroe
Martina Navratilova
Stupidest question asked at a presser?
Does matches like this where you lose make you want to retire? (to Venus Williams after losing to eventual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 7-5 in the third set)
Best response to the stupidest question asked at a presser?
Venus’ response:  “I’m not getting outta here,”. “They don’t encourage you to stay around in tennis. But I want to win grand slams. “No one is going to give you one. You have to snatch it, growl. I did the best I could out there. It was a shame that there had to be a loser. And even more of a shame it had to be me. Totally figure out how that feels like.”
Worst narrative in women’s tennis?
The Caroline Wozniacki break up story.  This beat out the Kim Clijsters had a baby story which was retired when Clijsters retired, as well as the Sharapova shoulder.
Worst commentary overheard during a women’s match
The commentators really show their true colours during Wimbledon.  Nowhere else do you get gems like these:-
“It helps that they are both beautiful as it helps with marketing them …” (during match between Sloane Stephens and Maria Kirilenko)
Virginia Wade during the Venus Williams/Maria Teresa-Flor match “the Williams Sisters used to win matches based on hitting with so much power. Now all the women hit with power and are able to outhit the Williams Sisters.  Now, the Williams Sisters are winning by using brute force”.
Worst article appearing in the press about female tennis players:
Just read the Daily Mail.  They just can’t get enough of women’s tennis. 
Most over-exposed couple
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki 

Have your own special award, sound off on Twitter or in the comments.