I wasn’t quite prepared for the arrival of Jimmy Connors when Andy Roddick announced him as his new coach on Monday here at the ATP event in Los Angeles and it’s a big deal. It’s the Jimmy Connors Show Act II and it bears further comment.
Everybody is celebrating Andre Agassi’s career but Connors was forty when he retired, four years older than Agassi. We tend to forget that Connors came back and played the US Open again the year after he beat Aaron Krickstein in that epic fourth round battle in 1991. When he retired, Connors had played twenty years on the tour but he didn’t really retire. He immediately started a senior tour and played on it from 1992-1997.
After all that he needed a long rest and now he’s ready to get back to work. For the last two years he’s been a BBC commentator at Wimbledon and earlier this year he released an instructional DVD featuring such players as Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis, Sania Mirza, Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Connors wasn’t looking for a coaching gig and didn’t expect to get one. “I thought my knowledge of the game that was given to me by my Mom was going to stop here,” he said on Monday. Roddick can take some comfort in that. Connors has the utmost respect for his mother. He isn’t a coach temporarily out of work taking the next job offered. He’s an adoring son passing on his mother’s gift. Roddick can take that as a sign of faith.
As Roddick goes through the first disappointing stage in his career, Connors can remind him that his new coach lost almost as many slam finals as he won.
Vic Braden was at the press conference and I asked him what he thought about Connors coaching Roddick. Vic is a psychologist and a master tennis teacher besides being a sweetheart of a guy. The psychologist part of him rattled off Connors’ and Roddick’s Myers-Briggs Personality Types, ISTP for Connors and ENTP for Roddick. I don’t know much about personality types but I did notice that under stress, ENTP types express emotions in an “intensive and uncontrolled way” while ISTP’s “display intense feelings towards others.”
“Intense and uncontrolled” brings to mind Roddick’s emotional meltdown in his loss to Igor Andreev at Indian Wells earlier this year. Sitting in the stands was like watching a very large kid have a temper tantrum. As for Connors, there are too many examples of “intense feeling” to include here. That could just as well describe his entire life. This may not end up being the most harmonious relationship.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTP. INTP types are those annoying people who tell you what’s wrong with an idea before they tell you how it might work. Now that I’ve done that let’s look at the positives.
Connors technical skills weren’t great, his serve was weak and his strokes were unorthodox, but he should be expert at teaching Roddick to construct a point because he was an expert strategical player. Connors mother was smart enough to hand her son over to Pancho Segura, a top tennis player in the 40’s and 50’s, early in Connors’ career. Segura was unorthodox too, he had a two-handed forehand, but he was a master strategist and he passed that on to Connors.
Connors should be able to give Roddick some sense of perspective. Anyone with a twenty year career suffers a lot of heartbreak and disappointment in between the euphoria of transcendent victories. As Roddick goes through the first disappointing stage in his career, Connors can remind him that new his coach lost almost as many slam finals as he won.
A sense of perspective is often lost on the media. We want excellent results and we want them now. Especially if you are the country’s top player. James Blake might be ranked higher but Roddick is still the US star. As I was leaving the UCLA Tennis Center last night, people were standing in a line the length of the stadium wall hoping to get Roddick’s autograph.
Roddick faces the holy triumvirate of the media, the public and his endorsements.
It’s not just the media either. When Roddick bombed out of last year’s US Open, he not only disappointed the US public but he disappointed American Express who had bankrolled a set of prime time ads based on tracking Andy’s mojo. Roddick faces the holy triumvirate of the media, the public and his endorsements.
While Connors was talking about Roddick’s prospects on Monday he slipped in a snide remark about the media pressure on Roddick. Roddick is a grown man, he’ll still do his own media session after every match, but it should help to have Connors deflect some of the media attention his way.
Another ENTP characteristic is trying to do too much. After playing the singles and doubles final at Indianapolis last week, Roddick decided to accept a wild card into Los Angeles while he was on a roll. It may have been too much. Up 4-1 in the third set against Scott Oudsema tonight, he strained a lower back muscle. After getting by with his warmup serve for a little while and leaning over in obvious pain after more than a few of his shots, he managed to hang in there long enough to win the match, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2.
It’s too early to tell but maybe that Jimmys’ blood and guts, victory at any cost attitude is already seeping into Roddick.