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As the tennis fraternity impatiently awaits the US Hard Court season, we attempt to look beyond the familiar circuit of tournaments and trophies and take a peak into the change pioneered by Britain’s No. 1, Andy Murray, who hired a female coach, namely Amelie Mauresmo as the newest member of his camp. Having a female coach on a full time basis or as a part time consultant is anything but a trend in the ATP tour, especially among the guys higher in the hierarchy. Not to mention the WTA tour where only one of the top 20 ladies had a full time female coach, namely Sabine Lisicki working under Martina Hingis, a partnership that ended this June. While this sexist attitude stands unexplained, it has definitely enraged former greats like Billie Jean King. The 39 time Grand Salm winner did not hide her disappointment when she pointed out that not appointing more female coaches was a “big mistake”.
Well perhaps the change in the way the game is played has a role in it. Traditional women’s tennis was based on chips and charges, drop shots and elegant lobs. However with modern polyester strung racquets that impart heavy topspin, players have the privilege of hitting the ball harder, with greater net clearance, still finding the sweet spots on the court. The game has moved from the forecourt, a rather uncharted territory these days, to the baselines. Most points are contested in the form of gruelling rallies that end with a forehand or backhand pumelled down the line or back behind. Even women’s tennis today has more force than finnace. Probably it is this advent of power that deters today’s players from working under a female coach.
Let us have a look at five players who have been an exception to the universal order of things. The countdown begins.
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5. Sergiy Stakhovsky A name that inevitably reminds us of Wimbledon 2013, where the man in question was the architect responsible for ending Roger Federer’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter final appearances, thereby handing out the Swiss Maestro his earliest Grand Slam defeat since French Open 2003. The Ukrainian, who reached a career high rank of 31 in December 2010, was advised by Olga Morozova, a former French Open and Wimbledon runners-up and former coach to Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Stakhovsky admitted the benefits of his choice- “If you can find smart people and it’s a woman, I don’t see anything bad in that”. Despite the fact that Stakhovsky has struggled to steady himself in the ranking ladder, most tennis critics would agree that the 28 year old has both the potential and the tennis artillery required to cause consistent damage, especially on faster courts.
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4. Andy Murray: The man who hit the headlines pre-Wimbledon this year by appointing Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, has not had the script written in his favour, as he slumped to number 10 in the ATP rankings following his Wimbledon quarter final exit. This is not the first time that Britain’s sole Open Era Grand Slam champion has been under female guidance. He started his tennis lessons under his mother Judy Murray, who is also the current captain of the British Fed Cup team. Though Murray’s decision has raised a few questions marks, the reason for his choice of Mauresmo does seem justifiable. Mauresmo, like Murray, was criticized for succumbing to pressure as she lost multiple Grand Slam Finals from winning positions, before she finally managed to win one. Besides, both of them have strong backhands, a sharp slice and effective net prowess. The Brit, who has decided to continue his association with Mauresmo even after his Wimbledon hiccup, could definitely use her experience to reclaim lost ground. [/nextpage]
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3. Goran Ivanisevic: Known for his on-court tantrums, this former world number 2 was coached by Jelena Gencic, a lady who described Goran as a “little fussy”, but an extremely good guy who was very “coachable”. Probably one of the strongest servers ever, the Croat had many notable victories over other legends including the likes of Boris Becker, Tim Henman, Pete Sampras, Pat Rafter, etc. His victory over Rafter in a five set grass court classic saw him become the only wildcard entrant ever to win the Wimbledon Championships in the year 2001.
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2. Marat Safin: Having admittedly smashed 1055 racquets over his topsy-turvy career (including 48 in 1999 alone), Marat Safin adds to our list as he was coached by his mother Rauza Islanova in his early days with the game, from the age of 6 to 13 years. A hard hitter on both wings, with a strong serve and sharp volleys, Marat Safin was always a significant but inconsistent force to reckon with. He ended his career with two Grand Slam triumphs, one each on Australian and US soils. His most notable victory would be the one against Roger Federer in the semi finals of the Australian Open 2005, a five set thriller which Safin took 9-7 in the fifth after saving a match point in the fourth set.
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1. Novak Djokovic: Jelena Gencic’s most illustrious find would be the current world number 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion, Novak Djokovic, who himself dedicated his Wimbledon 2014 success to his first coach, whom he also refers to as a “second mother”. In June 2013, during the French open, when Gencic passed away, Novak’s team intentionally witheld the news from him till he won his third round encounter against Grigor Dimitrov. The news affected the Serb to such an extent that he cancelled the post match press conference. Later on, he wrote a letter for his deceased coach which was read out during Jelena’s commeration ceremony by his mother, Dijana. As a kid, Djokovic actually started with a single handed backhand. Gencic mentioned in an interview- “One day he politely asked me if he could try a two handed backhand because he thought he could hit the stroke harder with more accuracy”. Today Novak’s double fisted backhand is arguably the best stroke on the tour.