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"I think winning another (Grand Slam event) is obviously the goal. But competing at the top of my game, that's really what I want to do out there. And winning tournaments once in a while" - Stefan Edberg on his priorities at the start of 1995. Read the article

When a number one... - Opinions from players and coaches

from Tennis Magazine (issue of March 2014) 
by Jean Couvercelle, Rémi Bourrières, Anne Champomier and Jean-Baptiste Baretta
translated into English by Ludmilla Geeraert (Tennis Buzz)

ROGER FEDERER - STEFAN EDBERG

Roger Federer

Edberg was one of my childhood heroes. He was not really sure of himself, but he was very flattered, he came to Dubai and we spent a week together. I’m really happy he found time and desire to work with me. He’s really excited I’m sure he can bring me a different perspective.

I don’t see him as a coach, I see him more as a source of inspiration, a legend who spends time with me and talks with my coach Severin Lüthi and me. I’m not 15 anymore, he won’t revolutionize my game. I did not hire Edberg for that. For me, it is something else, a global thing: it’s an inspiration, a motivation to be able to listen to him and talk to him.

It is also interesting to see what he has to say about the evolution of my game towards the net. I’ve tried a lot of things, I have some ideas but I’m not sure I can do them in matches. It is interesting to see if it’s still possible to do many serves and volleys on today’s slower courts, or if there are other ways for me to go to the net. You think he will dump me if I don’t go to the net?

Stefan Edberg
It was a real surprise when I received a call from Roger asking me to help him. I was so far away from the tennis world. But Roger is someone so special on and off-court, someone I respect so much that I said «Ok, I'll think about it!»

But it’s such an opportunity to work with him... Maybe I can bring something so that he stays in tennis as long as possible because he is extraordinary for our sport. As long as he is healthy and motivated, he has the potential to do great things. The road will be long, but I think he is still good enough to beat anyone.

I do it because I think I can really bring him something. And maybe that little something can bring Roger back to where he was some time ago.

Roger is on court, but maybe hearing a different voice, different speeches from someone who has experienced this situation in the past, will be effective because there are still some things you can work on, details that can be decisive.

 

NOVAK DJOKOVIC - BORIS BECKER

Novak Djokovic
He can help me progress on a lot of aspects of my game: serve, return, volley. But his most important help is on the mental part. He knows what I feel, the challenges I’m facing, what I’m going through in difficult times. I was looking for someone who had known similar situations, and I thought of him.

Of course, tennis has evolved, and today’s game is based on the baseline. But I think with his game, his volleys and the aggressive style he developed, he can really help me.

When you change something in your life, it is always risky, but I do not want to think like that. I chose not to be in fear of change. These are negative feelings.

I am also very pleased to see all these former legends return as coach.

This is very positive for our sport. They won so many Grand Slam tournaments, they have all been number ones, they were champions, they know what we’re going through, in the Grand Slams in particular. They can identify to us.

Boris Becker 
I will not go into the details of things we are working on. But because I reached ten Grand Slam finals, I know exactly what a player feels in the final stages of a tournament. As he has already been world number 1, with six Grand Slam titles, I will not teach him how to hit a backhand or a forehand. But I think tactically, strategically and mentally, there is room for progress, and that’s why he called me.

 

MARIN CILIC - GORAN IVANISEVIC

Marin Cilic
Goran gave me lots of advice on my service. He told me to simplify my action “toss the ball in the air and strike!” Before, I was thinking too much before serving. But we worked hard on it, and it seems to work. Goran knows what I have to work on to get to the top. He also brings me all his experience and all the things he has experienced in his career.

 

KEI NISHIKORI - MICHAEL CHANG

Kei Nishikori
Michael Chang knows players very well. He gives me great advices on tactics and a lot of confidence. My game will not be fundamentally turned upside down. Michael was part of the top 10 for many years. My goal is to reach the top 10 this is my dream. I hope to learn a lot from him.

 

GEORGES DENIEAU
Former coach of the French Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams

What can these former number one bring to today’s great champions?

1 – On their game system in general: a more or less methodical but sharp review because their vision is of the highest level of our sport. It can only be to do a little more or a little less this and that (depending on their qualities, surface, weather, their opponent etc.) and take everything into account (strokes, game areas, length of rallies, initiatives, variations, improvisations, adaptations, percentage). With their sharp eye it can bring a decisive bonus on a specific point!

2 – On their personal technique, it is unlikely that they have to intervene. Perhaps a detail, with the coach in place and the desire of the player himself of course.

3 – For the training itself, they had different habits. However, they may suggest things and bring new life with enthusiasm and passion, the ingredients necessary to be effective.

4 – In the mental area where these three cracks (Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are top notch, with Nadal, it is an additional challenge. Prove themselves, prove to their team, and to the skeptics they were right. Any excess of zeal could have the opposite effect: doubt. It won’t be the case . A “detail” will perhaps have done difference. And in this case, it will not be a simple “detail” anymore…

 

PATRICE HAGELAUER
Former coach of Yannick Noah

Basically it comes from a need to be reassured. They seek confidence and serenity they sometimes lost and need to confide in a champion, who is somehow their equal. I don’t see that as a work of a coach, it is more psychology, it is more on the emotional level than on the playing level. With these legends, the champions of the caliber of Federer and Djokovic can speak freely and confide. This is very different from the work of a coach who is there all year long and who has not this experience.

Federer is not looking for someone who accompanies him on the court, he wants someone to help him feel good. Sometimes a champion simply needs another speech, or the same things said otherwise. Because all that really lies in the field of communication. Former champions see things and analyze them with many objectivity. They are not in emotions like a coach who lives these situations for the first times can be.

All these experiences make me think of Yannick Noah, who had many discussions with Arthur Ashe, when I was coaching him. These moments were essential for Yannick because Arthur had a role model. He was a character who was shining on and off court. The discussions they had and that could be very intimate really triggered many things within him, confidence and self-esteem. For me too, in my work as a coach, it brought me a lot. It comforted me in my approach.

 

YANNICK NOAH

I was surprised to see Boris and Stefan back to the circuit. But it makes sense. They can bring, share. Boris has experienced amazing things... And they are available. I talked to Boris I can tell you that I feel he's really motivated.

 

PAUL-HENRI MATHIEU
Coached by Mats Wilander between January and September 2008

The big difference in the speech of these former players is that they are used to these important situations and they know what to expect. That is something you can not talk about with a coach who has not experienced these major events. In the matches preparation it was interesting for me to have the opinion of a former great player.

At the beginning of my practices with Mats and especially during matches, I felt the need to impress him because he was not everybody else! I was a little scared at first, afraid of being judged, but this disappeared after a few weeks.

What is undeniable is that these champions have an extra  background in comparison to another coach. But it’s not enough, otherwise it would be too easy, everyone would take a former player!

What’s difficult for a former player who becomes a coach is to find the right balance and remember you’re a coach and not a player anymore. Some former players understand it very well and others will have problems to adapt, and to put themselves in the player’s shoes. To coach is something else, it is a full-time job.

To coach is not to judge others, it is also to feed oneself from the player. The former champions know that and in general it works well. But it is not so easy.

Everyone is not able to embark on a new career, because it takes time and energy. I stopped my collaboration with Mats, because I needed someone full-time and he had other obligations.

 

WOJTEK FIBAK
Former champion, former coach of Ivan Lendl and Djokovic’s advisor during the 2013 US Open

For me, the cases of Becker, Edberg and Lendl are very different. Djokovic, when he started working with Becker, was at his best. Technically , tactically and physically. He had not lost since a few months. The only thing to expect from Becker is that he doesn’t change anything, waste anything. The bonus, for Djokovic is to have a star in his box, and have him as friend. This is not a need, it is more a trend now than a necessity...

Edberg, he came alongside Federer in a crisis, or just out of a crisis. But he is like all the Swedes, except Wilander: as much as Becker is open, lively and funny, Stefan is shy, and does not talk much. But Federer is a little "in love" with him and Edberg is his idol. Edberg brings his presence and can make Federer a little more aggressive. It worked in Australia until Nadal. But Federer can’t beat him by coming to the net or playing rallies, so... Becker and Edberg are financially independent. With them, it is more a story of fun and friendship than real coaching.

It is really different for Lendl. Murray needed Ivan’s help mentally, physically and tactically. He improved everything. Djokovic and Federer, what could they change?

But I am very happy with this trend. It’s great!

 

SAM SUMYK
Victoria Azarenka's coach

As I am someone curious, all these experiences interest me. We must be patient before making a true assessment.

Tennis is often played on details, so the help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is certainly on details. It can be technical or psychological. It may be talks about the game or small changes in all the parameters of the game. This is the advantage of high level, it is not just the technique of the forehand or backhand, there are a lot of parameters that come into play.

All these champions have experienced so many things, they went through so many emotions. They have a more important background than ours, that mine for example. They have an asset that normal coaches do not have: the anticipation.

They understand better what is going to happen, they have more instinct to know how the player will react on different situations. Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change their game. There is no limit, it is only a matter of will.

Players have the right to go for it, if it allows them to improve. When you engage in a certain way, you don’t always know what will happen. You are still a little in doubt, but it is positive, it moves forward.

With Vika, we experimented with Amélie Mauresmo, it seemed interesting to have a woman with us, to have an outside view, someone with her experience, someone Vika would respect. It was worth it, and it was rewarding for everyone: Vika was able to share with Amélie, but I found it also interesting for me.

 

ARNAUD DI PASQUALE

I don’t think we can talk of trend. Be careful, to work with a former great is not the miracle solution. The high level, this is not an exact science. What’s true is that the higher you go, the more you need to unlock things that are difficult to perceive, to feel. The idea, in my opinion, for these players is to have an advisor more than a coach. They expect a speech, a psychological intake more than a technical input. Moreover, it seems that they rely on these former champions on specific periods.

Often, they already have a full-time coach. To not have been a great champion is not a disavantage for a coach. It is a bonus to surround themselves with someone who has experienced the highest level, but the contribution of the great champion does not replace the role of the coach. You can teach how to do this or that shot even if you were not able to do it yourself at very high level, the French system proves it. There’s a lot of theory in the efficency of shots.

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When a number one... - Opinions from players and coaches