from The New York Times
by Christopher Clarey
PARIS — The last point of the official 2014 season was fitting. Not only because Roger Federer won it to cap a resurgent year by securing the Davis Cup for Switzerland but also because Federer won it on his way to the net.
His wickedly sliced backhand drop-shot winner left the Frenchman Richard Gasquet no chance and was the last and one of the best reminders of the big impact that the new wave of stars-turned-coaches had on the year.
After a downbeat 2013, Federer brought in Stefan Edberg, who rushed the net all the way to No. 1, in order to hear a fresh voice and hone his attacking game. Though Paul Annacone, Federer’s former coach, also knew plenty about net play, Federer took his skills and confidence to a new level in the forecourt with Edberg in his camp.
Other leading men also prospered under high-profile guidance. Of the four players who won the Grand Slam singles titles this year — Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic — only Nadal was not coached by a former Grand Slam singles finalist.
Wawrinka made his breakthrough at the Australian Open under Magnus Norman, a French Open finalist once ranked No. 2. Djokovic won Wimbledon again — after a two-year lapse — with Boris Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion, in his camp. Cilic, one of the most unexpected winners in the history of the United States Open, was coached by another former Wimbledon champion, Goran Ivanisevic.
There was also Kei Nishikori, the injury-prone talent from Japan who reached the United States Open final and broke into the top five after adding the 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang to his team this year. And there was Milos Raonic, who became the first Canadian man to break into the top 10 while being co-coached by Ivan Ljubicic, a former top-three player and French Open semifinalist.
It was hard to see it as a coincidence that the man who started the trend, Andy Murray, ended up losing ground after splitting with his star mentor, Ivan Lendl, in March (Murray, in a variation on the theme, later hired another former No. 1 as Lendl’s replacement: the women’s star Amélie Mauresmo).
So does all this mean that less prominent personalities are about to be a vanishing breed in the men’s coaching ranks at the top? Unlikely. In most cases the star coaches were in a part-time role, adding value instead of manning the operation year round.
Federer still has Severin Lüthi as part of his coaching team. Djokovic still has his longtime coach Marian Vajda. Nishikori still has Dante Bottini. Raonic now has Riccardo Piatti — no global star, yet long considered one of the finest coaches in the game.
But there can be no doubt that more big names are coming to coaching, however short term their contribution.
“Look, if these top players are good coaches and they can get the results, they deserve it, no question about it,” said Bob Brett, who coached Becker and Cilic and is now head of player development at Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association. “But the truth is the top players already have been on the circuit for 15 years or even more and so they are not really necessarily wanting to be involved for 40 weeks a year with a player. They’ve got families and everything like that, but I really think that you can learn something from these ex-players. And this season is proof of that.”
This season was also proof that the old guard knew how to hang on to power despite absorbing some blows along the way. Wawrinka and Cilic might have broken up the Big 4’s Grand Slam cartel, but Djokovic still finished No. 1, Federer No. 2 and Rafael Nadal No. 3. [...]
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