We are lately debating the merits of Richard Gasquet acquiring a new coach. Nina, I am glad you agree that Gasquet needs a coach who is outside of the French federation. I’m sure Gasquet has seen enough of himself at a tender age on the cover of the French tennis magazines. He’d probably like to track down all copies and burn them. All of which leads me to conclude that tennis matters a lot more in Europe, Russia and South America than it does here in the States. In fact it’s probably slipped here since ten years ago when Sampras and Agassi made life interesting for us stateside.
If you want to grow up anonymously as a tennis player, it would be good if you were an American. You won’t find the same pressure from your countrymen the way Amelie Mauresmo and Richard Gasquet do. Not surprisingly, both players now reside in Switzerland, Land of the Ultimate Cool and Restraint. It’s the home of Federer, after all. They are really blase now, those Swiss. Perfect place to live! Ain’t neutrality grand? I’m surprised that half the French tennis crowd hasn’t moved there yet.
Nina, you ask whether players today are afraid of the treadmill. I think they are even though players are a lot fitter today. I would not say Gasquet is one of them. So his coach’s first order of business should be a solid training program. Then the fine tuning can begin.
Should Gasquet go for what Nina terms “a hard line” coach? I don’t think we want someone who would brutalize Gasquet the teddy bear, but certainly someone who possesses a strong work ethic, and who can recognize that it all starts with physical conditioning.
The key is not how well a coach can run poor Gasquet around, but how well he can communicate. Your hunch about Pete Sampras’ unsuitability as a coach may be correct; I think Pete can analyze well but his verbal fluency isn’t that great. I don’t see him entering the coaching arena at all, and probably not the commentary booth too much either.
Of course there is the other extreme and that’s where I would place Brad Gilbert. He is a coach who provides nearly non-stop verbal patter to his players. The man can’t stop communicating. This is his great strength, I would argue, but his style may be too “in your face” for some people. Ditto John McEnroe, a great player but one who is probably so idiosyncratic that he won’t find a good way to distill his experiences and pass them along. Actually his brother Patrick would make a better coach, and has. He couldn’t play nearly as well, but he can analyze and communicate more effectively than John.
Which raises an interesting point about coaches: does a great player necessarily make a good coach? Not at all, unless the player can step outside himself and see what he’s doing on the court. Some great players know how to do what they do instinctively but they may not be able to teach it or even recognize it themselves. A great player may not know how to make other players great.
When I was working with actors, our coach would stress that you need to communicate clearly and simply what you want from them. For some reason it feels very appropriate in this case too. He used to tell us to talk to actors until the light comes on in their eyes and then shut up. I always thought that was pithy, useful advice.
One of our readers this morning threw in the name of Mats Wilander. This is one of my two choices to coach Gasquet. The other would be Paul Annacone. Annacone’s claim to fame was his long-time association with Pete Sampras. Now he works part-time with Tim Henman. Annacone was not a great player by any stretch, but he has morphed into a really good coach with a calm, analytical style that also appears low-key. The question would be, however, does he want to move on after Henman retires and coach someone new like Gasquet?
Wilander is interesting because he was a great player who can analyze well and he has a style of game that can connect with Gasquet’s all-court play. Wilander won Slams on all four surfaces (he won the Australian Open when it was still played on grass). Mentally, Wilander was very very strong as a player. He is also hard-nosed. I heard his comments last year about Federer losing to Nadal in the Rome final. They were rather brutal, albeit true. It’s the way Mats said it that offended a number of people, but I recognize that sometimes you have to talk tough truth to power. I said that Roger took his foot off the gas at the crucial moment in that match; Wilander accused Federer of lacking balls. Same meaning in the end, but one came out a lot harsher. Does Gasquet need to be talked to in such a strong fashion? Maybe he does. Wilander’s Swedish matter-of-factness may be very good for someone like Gasquet.
Nina, I like the idea of Courier a lot too. He is a Francophile, but he is not part of the French system. The best of both worlds there. He’s got a good head and a steady game. But he may be so thrilled to have landed Sampras on his Seniors Tour that his time and energies may really want to go there.
Besides, the thing I wonder about Courier as Gasquet’s coach is this: Does a player need to have a coach who plays a nearly identical game? Or can they be miles apart? Should they be miles apart? Courier’s game is much more a power baseline game, while Gasquet is more about finesse and all-court play.
What says you, Nina?