Tennis Prose




Feb/24

8

Curious American Coaching Partnerships

There are several American players with curious coaching partnership which make one wonder if they are maximizing their potential results.

Taylor Fritz has gotten to the top ten range with Michael Russell, a career journeyman player and one of the hardest workers in ATP history. Fritz has stagnated around no. 10 in the world for a couple of years now and you wonder what would happen if he added a co-coach with Russell, someone like Thomas Johansson or Ivan Lendl or Andy Roddick, who have won Grand Slams. Or replaced Russell with a new coach?

Frances Tiafoe surged into the top ten range with South African Wayne Ferreira, also a top ten range player in his heyday and a high tennis IQ brain, who managed to figure out how to beat Pete Sampras seven times. Ferreira was so tactically brilliant that other players would ask him for counsel on how to beat world no. 1 Pete. (This was revealed by Wayne in my book Facing Sampras.) Tiafoe dismissed Ferreira in late 2023 and hired Diego Moyano, who has never made any notable coaching impact on any player in the ATP. Tiafoe has struggled with journeyman caliber results since replacing Ferreira with Moyano. And with Tiafoe’s range of talents and skills, dynamic fighting spirit and natural comfort on the big stages, you wonder how he may perform if he had the guidance and direction of someone like Jim Courier and Andre Agassi in his corner.

Tommy Paul is another talented American who has flirted with entering the top ten. His coach for the last four or five years has been Brad Stine, who has done a wonderful job directing and developing Paul’s ranking from around 100 in the world to just outside the top ten and a Grand Slam semifinal. Stine has worked with Jim Courier in the past but was not a player of any note. Again, the Paul and Stine union has been fantastic but you wonder what would the impact be if Paul added a second coach or a new coach, of someone who knows and actually experienced the pressure and life of being a top ten, top 25 player. Stine can’t give that complete education to Paul. But someone like James Blake or even Ann Grossman could. Grossman helped guide Paul a Sarasota Open Challenger title five years ago when Paul’s official coach was Moyano. It was an important title for Paul and seemed to spark his career.

A reality of the player coach dynamic is some coaches do not want to share duties with a co-coach for several reasons – financial, credit, ego, etc. But the coach’s highest priority should not be himself — it should be all about what is best for the player.

Pro tennis has seen several examples of a player staying with the wrong coach or parent for too long in their career because the parent or the coach had some kind of control and fear of losing credit if a new coach was hired and suddenly the results improved significantly. I won’t mention any names.

Andy Roddick was a unique and educational example, a model for how players should handle coaching issues. Tarik Benhabiles, a former highly ranked junior and top 100 range ATP player, developed Roddick to the cusp of stardom. When Roddick felt he was stagnated, he replaced Benhabiles with Brad Gilbert and the new energy and voice of Gilbert resulted in Roddick quickly excelling into a US Open champion and world no. 1. Unfortunately, Benhabiles, surely a fine coach, never recovered from the perception that he ran out of coaching ammunition with Roddick and he never worked again with a top player again or achieved any kind of good coaching results.

Andy Roddick should be the example for Paul, Fritz, Tiafoe to consider the value and benefits of gaining a new voice, new ideas and new energy from a new coach. If they really want to be the best they can be. But who knows, some players are satisfied and content just to sustain a certain ranking and income – an insider told me this – where the player does not have to deal with the pressure of protecting points, high ranking, and endorsement and media demands.

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5 comments

  • Sander Groen · February 8, 2024 at 9:31 pm

    Men are more like women these days; looking for someone to give them a pat on their back all the time and make them feel comfortable with where they are instead of looking for someone who kicks their asses and make them improve……

  • Matt Segel · February 10, 2024 at 9:57 am

    Nice Sander. But remember Thiem had his best results with essentially a cheerleader, Nic Masseu. Great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. Not everyone can win, there is only 5 people in the top 5.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 10, 2024 at 3:48 pm

    Matt, what makes you think Massu was an overrated coach? He may be a very underrated coach. It’s no coincidence Thiem ascended to a higher level with Massu.

  • Matt Segel · February 10, 2024 at 9:19 pm

    I don’t think he was overrated, I am just saying the ex super star is not always the best coach, and the toni Nadal demanding coach is not always good. It is about confidence and motivation and relationship. Bad coaching can really damage a player. Cahill with Sinner is a good example. He gives him good tactical advice, inspires confidence but leaves the day to day to the other coach. Goran/boris with marion Vida is a good example.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 11, 2024 at 8:01 am

    Matt, Cahill has valuable experience with working with Agassi and Hewitt and their habits and tendencies, which he can share with Sinner. As far as xs and os and tactics, not sure if Cahill really helps to an extraordinary degree in that regard. Cahill was not a great champion player, his best attributes are having guided Hewitt and Agassi to the top. Massu was dedicated with Thiem and they had a strong relationship. Massu was a great player – his double OLY gold in 2004 prove it, prove he was a special tennis mind. I think he really helped Thiem until that injury derailed him. But I’m biased for Massu from doing interviews with him and being in awe of that Olympic magic he created.

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