Courier, The Quiet Guy in the Booth, and the Coaching Drought in the ATP

Jim Courier may be the soft-spoken guy in the USA broadcast booth, but he has lots to say. And where are all the good coaches?

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I sat in a media session with Jim Courier and John McEnroe at the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles last month and Courier had a hard time getting a word in. That’s too bad because he has lots of good things to say. Courier and McEnroe were covering the first round US Open match between Richard Gasquet and Tommy Haas. McEnroe had the usual take on Gasquet, to whit, someone should take him aside and read him the riot act about his mental timidity – particularly his Davis Cup no show against the US earlier this year when he declined to face Andy Roddick in the deciding match of a Davis Cup tie between the US and France. And especially as McEnroe was a Davis Cup warrior during his playing days. But Courier dissected Gasquet’s strokes and correctly pointed out that his forehand will break down over a long match because he needs so much time to wind up and hit it. That comment isn’t all that astute but Courier also pointed out that Gasquet hits high to low in a way that requires perfect timing to hit a solid forehand.

That turned out to be a prophetic analysis. Gasquet and Haas traded sets and when Haas broke Gasquet at 5-5 in the fourth set to win it, Gasquet threw in the towel and lost the match, 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-5, 5-7, 2-6. Okay, this is that mental timidity thing McEnroe was talking about above, but many things go into one’s mental makeup and consistency is a huge part of it. Consistency breeds confidence and a stroke that has very little leeway for error is not a stroke you can carry into a five set match and go to war with. What can break down will break down in a five set match.

Courier was at it again in the second round match between Stanislas Wawrinka and Wayne Odesnik. This time it was Wawrinka’s forehand that had an extra motion in it. Sometimes it makes him hit the ball late and when he does that, he pushes the ball wide.

It didn’t matter against Odesnik, Wawrinka beat him handily, 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-2, but it does make me pine after Courier for coaching material and Andy Roddick might take notice. Roddick either is or is not working with his brother John as his coach. I’m not exactly sure. Patrick McEnroe is helping Roddick during this tournament and McEnroe sat next to John in the stands during Roddick’s first round match against Fabrice Santoro – more on that later. At the end of the match, Roddick made a point of including his brother John as an important part of his team, but it was Dean Goldfine – Roddick’s trainer – who was communing with McEnroe during the match.

It can’t be easy to fire your brother and McEnroe already has enough to do. He’s the Davis Cup captain, a tennis commentator, and he’s also the General Manager of the USTA Elite Player Development program, a tough job considering the vague connection between national tennis programs and the number of elite players that nation develops. Look at Serbia for instance. Serbia has produced two number one players and a number three player in the past year but not one of those players trained in Serbia.

Roddick needs a coach and he needs someone who’ll lean on him heavier than his brother. That probably doesn’t describe Courier and Courier is also the CEO of the Outback Champions Series senior tour so he also has more than enough to do, but if Roddick did the coaching by committee thing currently popularized by Andy Murray, he could do worse than getting some help from Courier.

Roddick looked strong against Fabrice Santoro. You can tell it’s time for Santoro to retire if Roddick is out-tricking him. For each drop shot or two-handed forehand slice Santoro came up with, Roddick had a drop volley or slice passing shot. Then there was that 140mph(225kph) serve to Santoro’s body. Santoro had to duck to keep from getting his noggin banged up. He didn’t appreciate it considering that Roddick was one serve away from winning the match 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Santoro spit on the court and sarcastically applauded the serve with his racket. Then he stood with his hands on his hips and motioned Roddick to serve – which Roddick did as Santoro stood motionless.

Roddick apologized for the serve when he got to the net – afterwards he said that he was trying to go up the tee and he missed (doubtful by the way, but possible) – but Santoro didn’t have much of a beef. He’d stopped trying and you can’t stand in against a guy who serves that hard and not mean it.

France, by the way, might be the counterexample to Serbia. Their national tennis program has turned out a bunch of great players. Speaking of coaches, though, Mats Wilander has been coaching French player Paul-Henri Mathieu since April ’07 and it’s not going so well.

First of all, Mathieu gave up at the end of the first set of his match against Mardy Fish before rebounding to take the second set. Fish ended up winning the match, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, and that shouldn’t happen because Mathieu is the stronger player. Wilander should bring some resiliency to Mathieu’s game but, instead, Mathieu is having a Jekyll and Hyde year.

Mathieu lost in the first round at five of the seven Masters events he’s entered – three on clay and two on hard court – sprinkled in with two fourth round results at slams. What can you make of that? He made his way up to number 12 in April and now he’s back down to number 25. It looks as if he wants to find his comfort level – “Number 12, eek, that’s way too close to top ten, let me get back down here where I feel more comfortable. Somewhere in the 20’s, ahhh, that feels good.” Mathieu’s ranking has been halved during Wilander’s tenure but I am definitely seeing a drought in the supercoaching league right about now.

During Murray’s second round win over Michael Llodra, Courier and (John) McEnroe were criticizing Llodra’s tactics. Llodra was a few points away from losing the match and he was hitting to Murray’s strength – his backhand – even though Murray was missing forehands. Courier was sufficiently impressed with McEnroe’s analysis to make the following suggestion: “If this broadcasting thing doesn’t work out for you, Mac, you might coach.”

Yes, we’re going through a coaching drought, but that is a truly terrible idea.