TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF THE PLAYER/COACH RELATIONSHIP
Ana Ivanovic has gone through more coaching changes during her young career than most other players, struggling to find long-term stability with a regular coach as well as consistency with her game. How many coaches she has had? At least eight: Zoltan Kuharsky (early career), David Taylor, Craig Kardon, Scott Byrnes, Sven Groeneveld, Antonio Van Grichen (trial basis), and Heinz Gunthardt (eight months). She signed on with Nigel Sears, the former head of coach for women’s tennis at the LTA, in June, 2011. Ivanovic has also sought the tutelage of Darren Cahill, via the Adidas Player Development Program.
“When you have a new coach, there is extra motivation in the beginning, and that can create some good results,” says Ivanovic. “But the changes that you make together take time to flourish, and it will be some time, probably next season, when I am in a position to really reach my potential.”
For better or for worse, some players, including Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na, Rafael Nadal, Marion Bartoli, and Maria Sharapova rely heavily on parents, a spouse, or other close relatives as their primary coach. For the most part, these players have been able to avoid the coaching carousel, but there is a down side. These players seem to have no real choice when it comes to coaching, until they reach adulthood. Even then, it can be a sticky mess for players to part ways with a parent or relative as a coach, given their history together both on and off the court.
Li Na became household name after winning the 2011 French Open. A few months prior to winning her first Grand Slam, she decided to drop her coach (also her husband) for a more experienced and knowledgeable coach, Michael Mortensen. His tutelage helped to turn things around for Li Na by developing her clay-court game.
Marion Bartoli, who, despite having a tumultuous relationship with her father/coach, Walter Bartoli, continues to work with him on a full time basis. Who can forget Bartoli’s third round match against Flavia Pennetta at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships, when she was overcome with frustration and banished her father from her players box on Centre Court? He obliged, and Bartoli went on to win the match.
The bottom line: In tennis, pressure and instability will always be a part of the player/coach dynamic, as they navigate through their respective careers. But as they say, money makes the world go round. And in tennis, it simply makes it go round a lot faster.