How many coaches does it take to make a top tennis player these days?
I apologize in advance for focusing on the U.S. players so much this week. That will change pretty quickly in the coming rounds. And I did want to see how the hell Ivan Ljubicic beat up on Nikolay Davydenko but I’m going to look at the last standing U.S. player, Robby Ginepri, because of something he said in his postmatch media session.
After Ginepri won his third round match against Florent Serra today, someone asked him about his next opponent, Fernando Gonzalez, and this is what he said:
He obviously has a huge forehand and likes to run around the backhand. He’s had a lot of clay court experience, and luckily my coaching staff is going to have a pretty good report for me.
And there you have it. These days it’s not enough to have a physio and a coach and an agent, a “coaching staff” is necessary. Remember, Ginepri is currently ranked number 88 in the world and he has a coaching staff.
I suppose I can’t complain. I have a yoga teacher, a trainer, a chiropractor, a homeopathist, a tantra teacher (honest, I do), and, of course, a tennis coach, and I’m an intermediate hack who has on court temper problems. I suppose you could call them my staff but they are not on call and, for Ginepri too, it’s not like Jose Higueras is his exclusive coach. Higueras also coaches one Roger Federer and maybe a few other people.
What does this coaching staff do for Ginepri:
Yeah, just with the new coach, with Jose kind of working with Roger and another guy coming on, Diego [Moyano]. Just another voice to listen to, another person to get me going in the morning, to get me going in the afternoon, just any time of day.
The first thing that pops into my mind is the relationship between former Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his 24/7 therapist, Eugene Landy. In the 1970’s, Wilson’s family hired Landy to treat Wilson’s mental illness. Landy’s approach consisted of 24 hour supervision such as locking the refrigerator door to keep Wilson from eating too much and dousing him with water when he didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
New York Yankee baseball player Alex Rodriguez had two therapists at one time. It’s not easy being a professional athlete, especially if you play in New York. And I don’t mean to be hard on Robby. His problem is not his game, it’s his confidence level, and if a coaching staff can build up his confidence level by helping him with his game, then bless him, he’s made the right choice. I’m just wondering where it all might end.
Will furtive courtside coaching be replaced by the real thing so that coaches can surround their players with positive vibes at all times? Are full time chefs far behind? A traveling sports psychologist would be nice. I’m envisioning a traveling sports academy for each player on tour.
Andy Murray is the current model for “coaching by committee.” He has a team of fitness experts, a main coach in Miles Maclagan, and assorted other coaches as necessary.
And James Blake actually should get a coaching staff. Note that I’m not suggesting he change his longtime – very longtime – coach, Brian Barker. I’m suggesting that he get an advisor who can add just the teensiest bit of variety to his game so he doesn’t spend his postmatch media session saying “See, I told ya!” the next time he loses a match in which he uses some variety instead of just hammering the ball all the time.
Jim Courier had a coaching staff and Higueras was one of them.
Further back, Martina Navratilova is to blame. She’s the one who started the whole entourage thing. She had a nutritionist and a trainer and a coach at the height of her career. Her coach at one point, Renee Richards, a transgender woman who played on the WTA tour, told a friend that, believe it or not, she was the most normal person in the group.
Whatever Higueras and Moyano are doing, it’s working. Ginepri has made it to the top 30 twice in his career, the last time when he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2005. By this February, he was down to number 171 but he’s now climbing his way back up. He’s reached three semifinals on hard court this year and a quarterfinal at Poertschach on clay two weeks ago.
Psychologically Ginepri is an interesting guy. The ad images of him look like hunky steam room shots but this is a shy, quiet spoken guy who uses cool bravado to cover up his more gentle self. He’s the kind of player who needs a few wins to get on a streak but can, conversely, take a big dive if he gets a few losses instead. Once he gets into a dive, he appears to be going through the motions.
Right now he’s on one of those streaks and here he was, playing a match against a French opponent in front of a French crowd and he looked totally focused. When he was serving for the match he had to battle through three break points and a disastrous first match point – he failed to put away two overheads instead losing the point to an overhead by Serra. On the next match point, no problem, and then he celebrated in his low key, shy kind of way.
If Ginepri makes his third trip all to the way up the rankings, then Higueras is due a lot of credit. If Ginepri makes it there then slips back down again the next year, maybe he’ll need three coaches to get him back on track next time.