The Davis Cup Final, Roddick’s New Coach

The Davis Cup final between Argentina and Spain starts up on Friday and Larry Stefanki is Andy Roddick’s new coach.

Davis Cup

Believe it or not, there’s still plenty of tennis coming up. Friday marks the beginning of the Davis Cup final between Argentina and Spain in the coastal resort of Mar Del Plata in Argentina. Before Rafael Nadal went down with knee tendinitis, it might have been hard to pick the winner, but now it looks pretty easy.

Argentina was smart enough to choose a fast indoor court and let their players David Nalbandian and Juan Martin Del Potro test the surface out as they worked on it, and Nalbandian is 27-6 indoors over the past two years. Spain will send David Ferrer, who’s been slumping, and the inconsistent Feliciano Lopez into battle in singles.

What I find curious is Nadal’s decision to run himself into the ground instead of preparing for the Davis Cup final, especially as he said it was so important to him. He played only Madrid and Paris in the fall season, but if his tendinitis is severe enough to keep him out of Davis Cup, it’s because he played on sore knees. If he wanted to avoid the fine for skipping a Masters Series event, he should have played a match or two then pulled out with the tendinitis. If he wanted to play so he could keep his rankings point lead over Roger Federer, well, was it worth it?

Argentina has never won a Davis Cup and I don’t expect them to let the opportunity pass by now.

Roddick’s New Coach

Bjorn Borg’s longtime coach Lennart Bergelin died earlier this month. I was looking online for something that Peter Bodo wrote in his book Courts of Babylon. As I remember it, Bodo was making the point that Borg essentially abandoned Bergelin after he retired. Borg failed to contact Bergelin when Bergelin had two heart attacks and didn’t call him up when he made his short-lived attempt return to the tour.

It turns out that Bodo’s book has not been scanned into google books yet, but I did find a section on coaches in Bill Scanlon’s book, Bad News for McEnroe, the title of which is, I believe, a tongue in cheek reference to Scanlon’s three career victories over John McEnroe (against nine losses).

Scanlon won nine singles titles in the 70’s and 80’s and recorded the only known golden set in professional tennis when he beat Marcus Hocevar in February, 1983, and won the second set without losing a point.

In the chapter titled, appropriately, Support Systems, Scanlon cites Ion Tiriac and Bergelin as the first professional touring coaches though their roles were vastly different. Whereas Bergelin was a glorified babysitter who made sure that Borg’s huge stash of tightly strung rackets were restrung the moment they pinged, Tiriac was a megalomaniac who first ruled over Guillermo Vilas. He not only drove Vilas to greatness with practice sessions that were brutal and unheard of at the time, but he controlled everything about Vilas’ career down to the cut of his tennis shirts and took a hefty cut of Vilas’ income in return. Tiriac continued that role with Boris Becker, taking over his career when he was a teenager and collecting, again, a hefty cut of Boris’ income for his dual role as manager and coach.

Much of sports management today has been taken over by large marketing firms. Somewhat similarly, if you want to make big money in coaching, go to work for a national tennis association. Roger Federer’s sometime coach Jose Higueras was just hired by the US tennis association. Brad Gilbert was paid a million bucks a year by the LTA, Great Britain’s tennis association, when he coached Andy Murray, and Pete Sampras’ former coach Paul Annacone gets big bucks from the LTA as head coach of men’s tennis.

Speaking of which, the LTA and Wimbledon just signed a new agreement that will bring even more money into the LTA’s pocketbooks. Does any other country in the world have such a rich tennis association for such a small population? France, maybe, but they appear to do much more with it. Having a slam should help a country’s tennis association but France seems to be the only one of the four slam countries with a strong field of established and developing players. Patrick McEnroe, General Manager for Elite Player Development in the U.S., please take note.

So if you’re not working for a national tennis association and didn’t pick up your tennis charge when he was still wearing braces, what do you do?

If you’re Larry Stefanki, you try to find some way to convince an established player to change his approach to the game and good luck with that. He managed to push Fernando Gonzalez up to the number five ranking after he reached the Australian Open final last year, but Gonzalez has dropped down to number 15 and now Stefanki gets a go-round with Andy Roddick after Roddick hired him this week as his latest coach.

I haven’t seen too many coaches who came along late in a player’s career and made a big difference, but in Roddick’s case, he needs someone but it doesn’t have to be someone to change his game, just someone to make sure that he does what he already does well. When Jimmy Connors coached Roddick, he got him back up on the baseline for the return of serve and boosted his confidence. I’m not sure Stefanki has to do a whole lot more except keep Roddick playing aggressively.

Roddick might have finished a step or two higher in the rankings if not for the injuries this year including dropping out of the Tennis Masters Cup with an injury. He came into the Tennis Masters Cup at number six and ended the year at number eight so he lost two ranking places there. If he can end next year at number six, Stefanki will have more than earned his keep. Besides, who else was there?