2014 Coaching/Player Relationships on the ATP and WTA

I don’t know about you guys, but I am ready for tennis season to be back in full force! I am counting down the days until the Australian Open! But until then, let’s discuss some player/coach relationships as it seems like lately there has been an influx of new relationships being formed.

It’s not new to see former pros on the coaching end of things, but it seems like lately, all of our favorite players from the past have made their way back to the circuit via coaching. Brad Gilbert has worked with the best of them — everyone from Agassi, Roddick, Andy Murray to Nishikori and even Sam Querrey. Some of those relationships blossomed in chemistry, and some were duds. In 2013, we saw Sharapova hire, and quickly fire, Jimmy Connors — but let’s be honest, there wasn’t enough room on the court for those two superstars. Then there was Martina Hingis’ stint in coaching Anastasia Pavlyuchnkova…until Martina realized how much she missed the limelight and competition.

So, who do we have paired up in 2014?

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Federer and Edberg are working together in 2014 — photos by Cynthia Lum

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Ivanovic, Cirstea prep for their matches at BNP Paribas Open

The main stadium at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The main stadium at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

What a stadium!

All players love to be here and love to play in the main stadium in front of a special crowd here at Indian Wells.

It was another early day that began with Sorana Cirstea. My colleague Sven Groeneveld and I were on court with her together with her full-time coach Victor Ionita.

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adidas players get ready for BNP Paribas Open 2013 in Las Vegas


UnknownBefore the two big events in Indian Wells and Miami, players often like to get ready by practicing for a week or 10 days somewhere preferably not in the city and the club where the tournament will take place but in the same climate to prepare physically and mentally. Even though the season is still young, it does feel to some of the players as if it has been going on and on already.

Before Indian Wells, adidas invites some of its tennis athletes to come to Las Vegas and work with my colleagues (Sven Groeneveld, Darren Cahill and Gil Reyes) and me. Sven Darren and I do the work on court, and Gil focuses on the work in his gym with machines that he created himself especially for the need of tennis players.
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First day at The Open

With Sven Groeneveld and Mats Merkel

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Sven Groeneveld and Mats Merkel

I would like to keep our introduction short and express our desire for you to get to know us by learning about what we do.

This is 2010, and the first slam of the year has started. Each year we start the Australian Open not on the Monday but on the Sunday before the tournament.

Since I joined the adidas Global Sports marketing team in 2006, Jim Latham, head of the adidas Player Development Program, has always kicked off the Slam season with a presentation to all of our international contracted players and their entourages.

It is a very special feeling to get so many of the world’s best tennis players in one room with their sponsor. It creates a relaxed atmosphere that would, and can be, compared to a big family’s once-a-year Christmas or Thanksgiving lunch.

We mingle, we catch up and we get the feeling we are part of a family, and that is what adidas is made of — a lot of great athletes who have the same passion drive and ambition to bring the best out themselves. They are bonded by a brand that is doing more than just providing shoes and clothing, but going the extra mile to be involved in their everyday struggles and dreams. Mats and I are proud to be part of that team, and it gives us a chance to live out our dreams and passion with great athletes and a great brand.

Day One

The first day was one of those days that you really do not want to have to start the tournament off with, rain!

As we had a busy schedule ahead of us, we were again able to balance out the schedule for the players who are depending on us during this year’s Australian Open 2010.

Ivanovic
Wozniacki
Morita
Mirza
Kirilenko

We managed to get all girls on either for their warm-up or their hour of practice. Ana came in early at 9, but we were forced to go indoors (there are 6 indoor courts available for about 300 players). The planned hour hit turned into a half-hour with 3 other players on court and Mats, who was hitting with Ana. As Ana and Mats were going through their routines, I was with Maria Kirilenko on center court for her first round encounter with Sharapova. They were going to kick off the tournament at 11 on center court. At 9:30 Kirilenko finished and I headed over to the indoor courts to find out that Ana had stopped, but Caroline was still hitting with Azarenka for her hour of training on her day off.

This is where it all gets very tricky as we are dealing with an individual sport with players who are used to have the world turn around them. Our players are different because they understand we have more than just one player, and they show the flexibility that is needed to be a true professional. We also had another 3 players who we had to prepare or train, but Kirilenko was going to go on court at 11 to play her match. I had promised her I would be there, so Mats had to take over the coordination and communication with the other players.

As it was a rainy day, the match of Maria vs Maria was played under a closed roof. Meanwhile Mats had to juggle the rain and the court changes and the all the delays that came with it. I was, however, lucky enough to sit in the winner’s box for a match that lasted 3 hours, 22 minutes.

Since there are not enough courts on site at Melbourne Park other facilities are used to accommodate players who want to practice during their day off because the site is only used for matches and the warm-ups. However, the top 16 seeds in both the men’s and women’s draws are allowed to book on site even when they don’t play.

Since Morita is not in the top 16, she would have not been allowed to practice on site, but because Mats has a great charm and can communicate like a champ, he was able to get Morita a court on site.

The weather was bad the whole day, and as it turned out only 25% of the matches scheduled were finished yesterday. So you know what that means: reschedule. And that was happening from 7 p.m. until around 11:30 p.m. We did not leave the site until 11:45 p.m., and we had arrived at 8:30 a.m.

I had to call Caroline Wozniacki at 11:30 p.m. to tell her that her match had been taken off the schedule, and she would not have to play a match that was originally scheduled as the second match on after the 11 a.m. start. That would have meant a 10 a.m. warm-up.

Sania Mirza had been at the site since 12 p.m. and did not leave until 7:30 p.m. when her match was cancelled. She will have a match today starting at 11a.m.

After the warm-up with Ana from 9:00 – 9:25 a.m. I personally will hit with Sania at 9:30 a.m. and Mats will head over to the Hisense Court at 9:25 a.m. to warm up Fernando Verdasco for his first round match starting at 11 a.m.

Today we will have Ana as well at 11 a.m. so Mats will do one more warm-up with Morita at 11 a.m. and then head over to the match of Sania and I get to sit with Ana and her team. Our day started early and most likely will be a late one as the rain is already threatening again. We are in the lounge now, and before we left our hotel the Yonex team prepared the 5 racquets Ana will need for her match today.

Maria Kirilenko

Our work with Maria Kirilenko started already in 2006, and we have continuously worked with her over the years either through her full-time coach or her father, who is coaching her now. I will not take any credit for yesterday’s victory as I believe Maria should get all of it. I have never seen her as focused and motivated as she was yesterday for the whole 3-and-a-half hours.

Last Thursday I received a message from Maria asking if I could attend some of her practices and catch up in her prep for the tournament. She did all her work with her father in the pre-season prep in both Spain and Asia (as she had some exhibition events there).

I come in to just give her that little extra help with her serve and some tactics and support from the side of the court. When we warmed up in the morning, Maria Sharapova was next to the court and in her routines with her team. When I passed her I smelled a strong smell of cream that warms up muscles and that indicates normally you are hurting a little. So in my prep talk I told Maria that she should realize Sharapova could be hurt and she had to continue to make her run as much as she could and never give up.

The day before I had received a message from Maria Kirilenko telling me, “I want to Win.” She is normally not so outspoken or talkative, but this time and for some reason she is speaking her mind. She believed from the beginning that she could win and maybe even should.

I enjoyed every minute of it, and we are looking forward to another day at this year’s Australian Open 2010.

Yours,
Sven and Mats