Engineering the winner’s DNA: Grand Slam champions as coaches, the newest tennis trend

Andy Murray posing with his Wimbledon 2013 trophy alongside Ivan Lendl.

Lendl played a instrumental role in Murray winning two Majors

Current World No.3 Andy Murray hired the legendary Ivan Lendl as his coach in 2012. The partnership worked wonders for Murray as he won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 2012 London Olympics. He beat Federer on the same Center Court at Wimbledon where he had shed tears after a heart breaking loss against him in the final. Murray’s fine run from there continued as he went on to win his first Grand Slam at the US Open in the same year. His second Grand Slam and the most coveted one –the Wimbledon 2013- also came under the tutelage of Lendl.

At the highest echelons of tennis, most players are technically sound. Their forehands, backhands, volleys and overheads are all equally good, but what sets them apart is the winner’s mindset.

Murray, before pairing up with Lendl, reached quite a few Grand Slam finals but had never managed to go past the finish line. He was a very frustrated man on court and would also at times act like a peevish child. He earned himself the ‘cry baby’ tag as he often cried in post-match interviews. Lendl, over time groomed him into a Grand Slam Champion. There was a stark difference in Murray’s demeanor, his response to critical junctures in the match and above all the ability to manage his mind on the way to and during a Grand Slam final.

Ivan Lendl has won all Grand Slams except the Wimbledon. Paradoxically, he helped Murray win Wimbledon!

Lendl is a renowned clay courter and has three titles at Roland Garros. However, Murray did not manage to win a French Open while being coached by Lendl.

While ‘been there, done that’ is definitely an important factor, what can’t be discounted is the fact that ‘what works for me, may not work for you’. Every player is unique. Lendl helped Murray figure out how he could emulate success at the Grand Slams by utilizing Lendl’s ‘been there, done that’ in his own way and by not trying to mimic Lendl’s way!

With the success of Lendl-Murray pairing, Grand Slam champions found a new job overnight.

Roger Federer with Stefan Edberg

Roger Federer hired his childhood hero and six time Grand Slam Champion, Stefan Edberg. Novak Djokovic joined hands with Edberg’s rival Boris Becker. Japanese No.1 and current World No.5 sought the help of Michael Chang while Marin Cilic brought into his team Goran Ivanisevic.

How successful have these partnerships been?

Some work. Some don’t. Some take time.

Coaching partnerships often take time to show results. A lot depends on the chemistry between the coach and his/her charge. Murray hired Lendl towards the end of 2011 and it took a good eight months before Murray won his first Grand Slam at the US Open in 2012. Apart from his own effort, Lendl put Murray in touch with the same sports psychologist, Alexis Castorri, who had helped him control his emotions on court while he was a player. Murray had started working with Alexis before the US Open and it helped him win that title.

Novak Djokovic with Boris Becker at the 2015 Australian Open

Djokovic and Becker joined forces before Australian Open 2014 and the partnership bore fruit when Djokovic won Wimbledon 2014. Just before the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2015, Djokovic commented on his coaching relationship with Becker. "Especially in the second half of 2014 things started to get together and clicked for us in the relationship, on and off the court," Djokovic said.

"We never had an argument, we never had a fight. Now it's been a little bit over a year and I learn constantly something new from him from a psychological point of view, mostly because he has been in these situations before. So he understands what I go through, the challenges that I face, the obstacles that I need to overcome to win big titles and to be number one in the world, because he was there," Djokovic added.

The Fedberg partnership is also a successful one as Federer won five ATP titles, including the Masters events at Cincinnati and Shanghai and reached the Finals of Wimbledon in 2014. Edberg added a new hue to Roger’s game as he approached the net much more than before. This helped him add a new dimension to his aggressive game and added to his longevity as he kept the points as short as possible.

Marin Cilic celebrates with coach Goran Ivanisevic after winning the US Open

In September 2014, Marin Cilic won the US Open. Almost a year before that, Cilic was serving a doping ban and was at one of the lowest points of his career. He teamed up with Goran then and a year later he joined the lineage of Grand Slam Champions.

"Goran has brought lots of knowledge, the differences are small pieces in my game which really fit," Cilic said. "I have the belief to be more aggressive, and there is joy on the practice courts which brings out the best in me. I was waiting to be a grand slam champion."

Kei Nishikori broke into the top 10 and then the top 5 with Chang by his side. He also reached his first ever Grand Slam final at the 2014 US Open, but was blown away by Cilic’s Ivanisevic-like serve!

Female Grand Slam Champions join the coaching bandwagon too

Murray set yet another trend of hiring female coaches. While the rest of the world critiqued his decision, Murray stuck to his guns and partnered with Amelie Mauresmo. There was a buzz, a positive one at that, about their chemistry. Murray reached the Final at this year’s Australian Open and mentioned that Mauresmo had played a key role in his success. Mauresmo had already tasted success as she had mentored Marion Bartoli to her sole Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2013.

Lindsay Davenport soon joined the fray as she was roped in by upcoming American sensation Madison Keys in the off season last year. The partnership almost immediately paid dividends as Keys reached her first Grand Slam Semi Final at this year’s Australian Open. Keys also managed to reach the WTA Final at Charleston last month.

Watch this clip that shows Davenport coaching Keys on court.

A couple of weeks ago, former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki teamed up with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario for this year’s French Open. In the recently concluded Porsche Open at Stuttgart, it was surprising to see that Wozniacki’s game had transformed very quickly. Defense was the cornerstone of Wozniacki’s game. Now her game includes a lot of offense too.

But coaching is not every Grand Slam Champion’s cup of tea...

Agniezska Radwanska was not to be left behind as she secured the services of one of the greatest players of all time – Martina Navratilova. However, four months later Navratilova withdrew from her coaching stint as she felt she was unable to dedicate enough time.

Maria Sharapova hired the legendary Jimmy Connors and she ended it even before the world could take note of their partnership. Sharapova decided to part ways after she lost her very first match with Connors on her team. Lack of chemistry between the two led to this short-lived stint.

...and every coaching relationship outgrows its purpose

Murray and Lendl ended their coaching partnership in 2014. Murray stated that Lendl had helped him achieve almost all goals they had set for themselves when they got together. While every coach tries to tap into his charge’s potential as much as possible, there comes a time when he may not be able to take him beyond a point. Every coaching partnership outgrows its purpose and when it does, the player hires a new coach in the hope that he or she may see him in a new light and take him to the next level.

With the advancement of technology and the evolving equations of the game, some of these Grand Slam Champions feel transported way ahead into the future. A game that was predominantly based on touch and finesse now includes power which is a big factor. When Davenport paired up with Keys, she supposedly stood 8 feet behind the baseline as Keys would bludgeon every ball off both wings. For Davenport, who retired not very long ago, it was an out of body experience. So far, they seemed to have been coping well with the changes and have added value to their prodigies.

It is an interesting trend for the sport which gives all tennis aficionados a chance to see how former Grand Slam Champions engineer the winner’s DNA. And watching the partnership unfold is even more exciting if your current hero is playing a Grand Slam Final and his coach, your former hero, is cheering him on from the Player’s box.

Edited by Staff Editor
Fetching more content...
App download animated image Get the free App now