The wave of new coaches on the ATP Tour. A breath of fresh air for 2014

It is with lots of interest in all media especially social media that we read of the new additions on the men’s side. What is striking is the fact that all of the coaches that are hired were superstars from the 80’s and 90’s. It started with Murray hiring Ivan Lendl and we can clearly see the improvement since Lendl joined the Murray camp. Now Roger Federer has hired Stefan Edberg, former number 1 serve and volley expert from Sweden and Boris Becker is hired by Novak Djokovic, another specialist at the serve and volley game. Connors was hired some years back by Roddick and lately Connors briefly worked with Sharapova.

As a former top ten player, I have firsthand knowledge of all of these guys since I played them, many many times. In fact, I predicted that Boris Becker will win Wimbledon in 1985 after he beat me in the finals of Queens in London. He did. I beat Stefan Edberg at Wimbledon when he was making his debut from the juniors, although that win was in 5 sets and one of my best ever comebacks from two sets down. I lost to Lendl in the 1986 semis at the French Open so I have intimate knowledge of their games and being around them for decades, one get to know their thinking….

You may ask yourself, why are these top guys hiring guys who played totally different styles than them? Here are my answers:

1. Besides a new fresh pair of eyes, it is exciting to have a new guy at your side, which brings the desire up to perform and that is hugely important. Desire is a must!

2. The men’s tour has become so brutally physical, that players are thinking about how to shorten points. These coaches played 90% of their points “short”. Meaning serve and volley, chip and charge etc. That was their state of mind. Roger and Novak are looking for some of that (More on this aspect later in this blog).

3. Publicity for the “team” brings a whole new flavor to their camp. It is all good! Their sponsors like it, the fans like it, and with the explosion of “immediate news” on social media, it is all good!

I will break down the different “celebrity” coaches here from Connors to the sudden hiring of Edberg and Becker.

Connors is an absolute icon in our sport. A tough guy, with a very hard edge, who won more ATP tournaments than any man on this planet! It was the perfect “American story” for Andy Roddick to have hired Jimmy when Andy was on the verge of being more dominant. The heart breaker finals against Roger at Wimbledon was perhaps the moment that extinguished that “flame”. None of us will know when it happens but I suspect that match really affected Andy. That type of relationship has very little to do with a new “technical improvement” rather the player is looking for that extra mental boost that may help them reach a little higher. No guarantees that would happen.

Ivan Lendl joining Andy Murray was the perfect fit in my opinion. Andy Murray was “brides maid” to Roger and Rafa for a number of years and it was beginning to look like he would not be able to get “over the hump” mentally at majors in particular. Ivan was in that same position for years. He was in the finals of 8 majors before he won his first! Remember Brad Gilbert, who coached Andre Agassi with great success and was hired by Murray via the LTA in England to help Murray? It did not work! Why? Murray did not have the same respect for Gilbert as he has for Lendl. It was so obvious, that it was embarrassing at times at tournaments and the relationship ended shortly after that. Lendl helped Murray understand what it will take mentally to get his first major win and he did! Now Murray has a US open, an Olympic gold medal and a Wimbledon title under his belt. Murray also just came off back surgery so he has issues physically. He may have to start thinking about shortening points…..

Federer hiring Stefan Edberg is another smart move after a long stint with another serve and volley expert, Paul Annacone. But since Roger slid in the rankings to number 7, it was the right time for a change of scenery. It happens all the time! Edberg is the consummate gentleman of our sport. An eight time Grand Slam champion, he knows how to move forward to the net and is a very cool cucumber. A perfect mental fit to help Roger understand how to shorten points and what it takes to perhaps serve and volley a little more. It is all about finding that “little edge”. None of these coaches are hired for a new forehand or backhand, but certainly could be of great assistance in the volley area, movement and reading skills at the net and how to be a little smarter about attacking at the right time and the surprise effect of coming to the net. This is a great fit for Roger. I think Roger bends his elbow too much on his backhand volley and gives it too much “chop” at contact. It would be interesting to see if Edberg helps him shorten his backhand volley preparation to be more solid. There, I criticized Roger!… 🙂

Djokovic hiring Becker was another surprise! I was with Becker and Edberg at Richard Branson’s fundraiser on Necker Island a few weeks ago and had a conversation with both of them. None of them let on what they were up to for 2014.
Novak is an incredibly gifted athlete that has all the stuff physically and mentally. His volleys are not his stronger shots but again, I think him hiring Becker points to a “fresh” start with new excitement in trying to be more aggressive with a new team member. It is all about finding that extra mental edge at this high level. Novak is looking to be number 1 again after Rafa snatched it back at the end of the season.

David Ferrer just fired his longtime mentor/coach. Perhaps the best player out there today who may never win a major unless he adds a little more risk in coming to the net. Ferrer has all the stuff mentally. His serve has improved but I think he can still improve on his serve a little and coming forward will be necessary. Like they say, no risk, no reward. I am a huge fan of Ferrer. I certainly hope he can add a major to his mantle. But it will require him to risk a lot more and throw the “kitchen sink” at those moments in big matches where he used to play “not to lose” and then did lose. Perhaps play closer in to the baseline and risk blistering shots down the line from closer in and follow it in…. Again, no guarantees but that is the only way to get the rewards.

Rafa needs no “celebrity” coach. He is a simple thinker, is perhaps the best “self motivator” out there. Uncle Tony is there and I do not see any changes in the family set-up. They “tinker” with his game all the time and I suspect that if the Nadal camp see improvements from Roger and Novak in shortening points, they will follow suit.

I for one will be watching closely in 2014. Adding these coaches will be interesting to see if any changes “sank in” and will bear fruit! Go at it guys!

Johan Kriek

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Meet the Author

Johan Kriek has won two Australian Opens, was a semi-finalist at the US Open, reached the semi-finals at the French Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. He has won 14 professional singles and 8 doubles titles, reaching an all-time high ranking of Number 7 in the world. Kriek’s most memorable wins include victories over Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

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