(Part 3 of a conversation between Nina Rota and Pat Davis in which they pick a new coach for Richard Gasquet even though he doesn’t realize he needs one.)
I agree that Gasquet needs a new coach and though I don’t know enough about the French psyche to agree or disagree that the French players are too obedient, I also think his new coach should be outside the French tennis association. Every time Gasquet appears on television they show the French magazine cover he appeared on when he was 9 years old. A lot has been expected of him for many years and unhooking himself from the French tennis association might help relieve some of the pressure from those expectations.
As for Gasquet’s conditioning, physical that is, the two strongest images I have of the 2006 U.S. Open have a lot of cramping in them. First, the younger and much healthier Marcos Baghdatis cramps up in his marathon loss to the old man Andre Agassi. Then Gasquet, cramping so badly you can see his thigh muscles twitching, somehow manages to hobble over to a Lleyton Hewitt shot and hit the ball past Hewitt and down the line through a window that was a foot wide at best.
During the New York marathon this year, the New York Times ran an article about medical research related to cramping during physical exercise. Players often say that they have to be sure to hydrate themselves before a match in hot temperatures to make sure they don’t cramp up, but this research discounted the effect of dehydration on cramping and said that cramping was due to one, and only one, thing: poor conditioning. What’s up with these youngsters, are they afraid of the treadmill? How good could Gasquet be if he were stronger and fitter?
Yes, we both agree that he needs a new coach and now to your question: who should it be?
You wondered earlier, Pat, whether Gasquet would benefit from a hard line coach because he’s such a teddy bear. Honestly, is there a more affectionate ATP player out there than Gasquet? He always pats his opponent and makes physical contact some way or other. A hard line coach for a teddy bear? Bad idea. A marine drill sergeant could help a wayward, undisciplined soul but would probably just create resistance in a gentle soul. Besides, Jimmy Connors is already taken.
This is the era of superstar coaches getting upwards of a millions dollars a year – Brad Gilbert gets that anyway – so Gasquet should have a superstar coach too. Problem is, they’re all taken. So, in addition to telling Gasquet he needs a new coach even though he’s not looking for one, we may be picking a coach who doesn’t realize that he should be a coach.
But first, let’s look at established coaches. The best coach out there is probably the least known. Robert Landsdorp helped develop Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport and was, until he got tired of her father’s antics, Maria Sharapova’s coach. Really, Yuri Sharapov could have at least stayed on the court until the awards ceremony was over in the Australian Open this year even though his daughter lost badly to Serena Williams. He could have given Serena the respect she deserved.
Lansdorp, though, is not a traveling coach and he’s probably better at developing players than coaching an established player. He’s also an outspoken guy. He’s not in the least bit shy about calling out his players or their fathers and Gasquet might prefer someone more low key.
Now let’s look at retired tennis players. This could be a problem because Andre Agassi has better things to do than traipse all over the world following Richard Gasquet around. Brad Gilbert was a good ATP player but he was no superstar and anyone that was a superstar doesn’t need the money or fame that coaching would bring. Jimmy Connors is an exception but then he has a mandate. Besides supporting U.S. tennis by restoring Andy Roddick’s confidence, he’d like to pass on what his beloved mother, Gloria, taught him. He loved and revered his mother to a fault. I’ve had tennis coaches tell me that they helped Jimmy make changes in his game only to hear Jimmy credit his mother with the change.
John McEnroe is an absolute no no. A short stint as the Davis Cup captain was more than enough evidence. You can’t publicly browbeat modern tennis professionals into playing Davis Cup. They have way too much power.
Pete Sampras? He played by feel, he’d work his way into a tournament. Clearly you don’t win 14 grand slams without good strategical skills and he may be a good communicator but I haven’t seen it yet and there are ex-superstar players out there who have demonstrated that they are good communicators.
Which brings us to my choice: Jim Courier. Here are his credentials:
1. He reached the number one ranking in the world.
2. He won four slams, two at the French Open.
3. He had a French girlfriend.
4. He celebrated his 1992 French Open title by giving an acceptance speech in French (quick reminder, Gasquet is French).
5. He’s a soft spoken, intelligent guy with strong analytical skills that are very evident in his job as a television commentator.
Does he want to coach? Dunno. But he has said that he’d like to captain the Davis Cup team whenever Patrick McEnroe is ready to give up the job so there’s hope.
Okay, back to you Pat. Agree or disagree with my choice? If not, what you got?