Milos Raonic described himself last year as “the CEO of Milos Raonic Tennis” when he was trying to explain to the media what it was like to work with three different coaches at the same time.
The Canadian started 2016 with two coaches in his camp – Riccardo Piatti and ex-world No1 Carlos Moya – then added seven-time grand slam winner John McEnroe as a consultant at the start of the grass season.
“At the end of the day, every coach I have is to some extent an advisor, and it is my job personally, out of everything I hear, to weigh what it’s worth and weigh what is best for me. I’m the CEO of the Milos Raonic Tennis. That’s it,” Raonic had told reporters at Roland Garros last May.
The world No3 has since parted ways with both Moya and McEnroe but commences 2017 with Piatti and 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek in his corner.
At the top level of men’s tennis, having an elaborate team that features more than one coach is becoming more and more common.
Nine of the world’s top-16 players on the ATP circuit have two or more tennis coaches on their staff.
World No9 Rafael Nadal recruited Moya last month to work alongside his uncle Toni Nadal and Francis Roig.
Roger Federer has Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic, Novak Djokovic added Dusan Vemic as a second coach to support Marian Vajda, while world No1 Andy Murray works with Ivan Lendl and Jamie Delgado.
With elite players opting to source help from legends of the game – a trend which was kick-started by Murray when he brought in Lendl in 2012 – the rise of part-time coaches came hand in hand. Many former players returning to the sport as coaches would only travel with their pupils to a limited number of weeks. Instead of being coach-less for the remaining time, players hired second coaches to be with them on the road in the absence of their other mentor.
When you’re a top player, you can afford to do that.
Krajicek, who briefly worked with Stan Wawrinka during the grass season last year, was in Abu Dhabi with Raonic and Piatti over the weekend for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
He says things have been running smoothly since he joined the Canadian’s camp.
The Milos Raonic corporation! pic.twitter.com/mZQnaDI1qq— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 29, 2016
“It’s a good dynamic. Normally if one coach can’t come then the other coach is there but now I came (to Abu Dhabi) for a couple of days then I go back to Holland and then Riccardo, who’s been his coach for the last four years, will stay with him until the first round of the Australian Open and I join just before the Australian Open,” Krajicek told Sport360.
“In general, it’s good especially in the training weeks. We were in Monaco last week, and Riccardo put emphasis on certain aspects of the game and myself on other aspects. In that way you try to complement each other and be the best kind of coach that you can be.”
For Krajicek, the decision to venture into the coaching world was based on family circumstances.
He expects to travel with Raonic between 20 and 24 weeks this season.
“That’s what I said was possible for me,” said the 45-year-old Dutchman. “My daughter is leaving our house next Monday, that’s why I’m flying back, I’m taking her to LA, she’s going there for 20 months and my son he’s traveling a lot, he’s 16 and he’s just starting to play tennis full-time. So suddenly there’s no kids in the house, then it’s easier for me to travel. My wife is a writer so she could take her laptop anywhere if she wants to join. So for us 2017 is a different year and coaching fits perfectly.”
Raonic is hoping Krajicek can help him with his attacking game. The pair share similar types of bodies, both tall and big-servers, and Krajicek felt that the partnership made sense. Raonic explained in Abu Dhabi how things work within the team.
“I think the one thing that I have learned is they are very proactive with each other,” Raonic said of his coaches.
“They’ve always been that way, everything that gets passed onto me is quite filtered through everybody so that’s important because you might hear from a few different voices but you want to keep hearing consistently the same message. That’s an important thing to have.”
Murray first announced he was going to work with Lendl at the end of 2011. Their partnership paid dividends in their first season together as Murray claimed his maiden slam title at the 2012 US Open before ending Britain’s 77-year men’s singles drought at Wimbledon the following season.
They split in March 2014 because Lendl was unable to commit to the number of weeks of travel Murray needed but reunited last June only for Murray to claim a second Wimbledon and third major soon after.
“When I started working with Ivan, it helped a lot that – you know I always felt really nervous before grand slam finals. And he spoke to me and he was like ‘yeah, I used to throw up sometimes a few hours beforehand, I used to hate it, the nerves are terrible’. And that just makes you feel more normal, like someone who has won so much and has been as great a player as him that it’s normal to feel that way,” Murray said on Sunday in Doha. “Whereas someone that hasn’t played in matches of that magnitude, they won’t know that so they can’t talk to you about it. They are the things I think the ex-players can help with.”
While Lendl’s influence has been huge on the Scot, Murray insists he relies “hugely” on Delgado, who is with him every week of the season.
“He would know more about how I feel, how I’m hitting the ball, than Ivan would because he’s just around more,” Murray said of Delgado.
“Unless you’re actually there on the court watching it, it’s difficult to relay exactly how my practice is going or how I’m hitting the ball or how I’m feeling. Jamie is a huge part of my team and my success last year but the reason Ivan is there and the reason why I got him back on board was after I lost the French Open final – Jamie was doing a fantastic job, I played really well the last six-eight weeks, I had my best clay-court season ever. But it’s just that extra little bit of help at the end of the major competitions that can help, maybe it just gives you that extra little bit of confidence and calm, belief that you have someone in your corner that’s been there.”
Perhaps Moya can bring a similar edge to Nadal in the Spaniard’s attempt to climb back to the top of the sport.
On Team Nadal, a lot of delicate logistical planning takes place in order to coordinate between his three different coaches. Toni Nadal, Moya, and Roig all have families of their own and will only be on the road for specific weeks. Nadal says a plan is already in place but he is well aware that it can change at any time if necessary.
“We have our basic calendar but there are always possible changes, depending on the results, depending on the feelings of every moment. Don’t forget that my uncle has three kids, Carlos has three kids, and Francis has another boy, you need to be flexible with all these things,” Nadal said.
For now, all the Spaniard can confirm is that Moya and Toni Nadal will be with him in Australia this month.
Having more than one voice in the team does not work for everyone. David Goffin enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016 while working with 2002 Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson and Thierry van Cleemput. He rose to No11 in the world, and reached his first slam quarter-final in Paris. But this season, Goffin decided to stick with just Van Cleemput.
“It was not easy,” explains Goffin of working with two different coaches. “For 2017 I decided to come with only one coach but it was still a great experience. It was the first time for me to work with two coaches.
“As you can see on the tour there are a lot of players working with two coaches and sometimes it’s nice. I wanted to work with Thomas because he had the experience of winning a grand slam, to be top-10. So it was nice to work with him, but I wanted to go back with only one coach and we’ll see in 2017.”
World No10 Tomas Berdych is hoping he can finally break his grand slam hoodoo under the guidance of Goran Ivanisevic, the ex-Wimbledon champion who helped Marin Cilic claim the 2014 US Open.
It might not be easy to adopt someone else’s philosophy at 31 having already spent 16 seasons on tour but Berdych insists he is open to Ivanisevic’s ideas and is willing to do whatever it takes to advance his career.
“It’s about knowing the person, what’s his idea about my tennis first, because that’s what I like and that’s what I’m looking for from the coaches,” says Berdych. “I want to know what’s their idea about my tennis, not really I am telling them ‘I want to do this, this this…’ because then at the end it’s like why do you need a coach?
“If you know everything then you just get a guy that you play and that’s it. But what’s good about Goran is that basically his idea is what I was looking for.
“Now we have to see how fast and how good we can transform it onto the court and that’s it. He likes to keep things very simple and straightforward, not many complicated things which is also what I was looking for in my tennis.”
World No12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga worked with French duo Thierry Ascione and Nicolas Escude for a couple of seasons before splitting with the latter. He remains with Ascione, a retired pro who peaked at 81 in the world, but admits he is interested in bringing in a legend or a “super-coach” as they are referred to, to help his cause. But there’s a catch.
“I’m looking for it but it’s not easy you know. It’s somebody you want to gel with, and first there is the language and sometimes it’s not easy for me. But it’s also because I’m… I’m also a sensitive man, I need to have people around me who I feel are right. And that’s it. For me it’s difficult to have somebody who is good but not the people I like,” says Tsonga.
No1 Andy Murray
Coach(es): Ivan Lendl, Jamie Delgado
No2 Novak Djokovic
Coach(es): Marian Vajda, Dusan Vemic
No3 Milos Raonic
Coach(es): Richard Krajicek, Riccardo Piatti
No4 Stan Wawrinka
Coach(es): Magnus Norman
No5 Kei Nishikori
Coach(es): Michael Chang, Dante Bottini
No6 Marin Cilic
Coach(es): Jonas Bjorkman, Ivan Cinkus
No7 Gael Monfils
Coach(es): Mikael Tillstrom
No8 Dominic Thiem
Coach(es): Gunter Bresnik
No9 Rafael Nadal
Coach(es): Toni Nadal, Francis Roig, Carlos Moya
No10 Tomas Berdych
Coach(es): Goran Ivanisevic, Luka Kutanjac
No11 David Goffin
Coach(es): Thierry Van Cleemput
No12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Coach(es): Thierry Ascione
No13 Nick Kyrgios
No14 Roberto Bautista Agut
Coach(es): Tomas Carbonell, Pepe Vendrell
No15 Lucas Pouille
Coach(es): Emmanuel Planque
No16 Roger Federer
Coach(es): Severin Luthi, Ivan Ljubicic
Even before he rose to become world No1, Andy Murray had slowly emerged as a leader on the tour. Not just in tennis terms, as a member of the ‘Big Four’, but in how he spoke out about issues he believed in and conversed in public with brutal honesty.
He’s taken younger players under his wing, inviting British up-and-comers to his preseason training in Miami or Dubai each year, and stuck up for troubled talents like Australian Nick Kyrgios, who seems to be constantly under-fire for one reason or another.
Having initially had a difficult time with the media and the British public early in his career due to a supposed lack of personality and surly demeanour coupled with some teenager-like tantrums on court, Murray is now considered a strong voice to be heard.
The Scottish world No1 was also elected to the ATP Player Council last June for the first time in his career.
So it came as a surprise when Murray shied away from making any leadership claims when asked about it this week in Doha.
“To be honest I don’t think I’m the best leader… in my team or anything,” Murray said in an interview with Sport360 and the Times of India on the sidelines of the Qatar Open on Sunday.
“I probably got better at it as I got older but I don’t think that’s something I’ve been particularly good at. I just think certain examples with some of the younger players, I went through a lot of the same things myself and I know how difficult that can be for a young person growing up in the spotlight with a lot of pressure and people like killing you.
“It’s not easy and you’re not taught how to deal with that at a young age.
“With Nick for example, I know Nick a little bit, I spent time with him away from the court and he’s very different to how he is in press conferences, how he is on the court, he’s not really like that. Maybe it’s a way of him dealing with the stress or the pressure.
“He hasn’t helped himself sometimes. But I don’t see myself so much as a leader.”
Not even with respect to the sport?
“I don’t think so. There’s certain things where I’ll be more passionate about, like Nick’s situation, or equal pay… things like that. When something means a lot to you it’s a lot easier to talk about it,” he explains.
Murray has been a strong advocate for equal pay in tennis saying there “should be equal pay, 100 per cent, at all combined events” when the debate was reopened following Ray Moore’s controversial comments about women’s tennis during Indian Wells last year.
He was happy to declare himself a feminist when coming to the defence of his former coach Amelie Mauresmo and had public arguments with Sergiy Stakhovsky on social media. There are other issues he wishes to address in today’s game.
“I do think that educating players from a younger age on how to handle what being a professional athlete is, because there’s more to it than what you see when you’re a junior. It does change quite a lot,” he says.
“I do think tennis could invest more money in anti-doping. If you look at the prize money now, the amount of money that’s in the sport, we could be doing more to protect it as well, that’s something that could change.
“In terms of on the court, like rule changes and stuff – I’m open to trying new things. I don’t think there’s an idea that someone’s mentioned that I thought was great or could transform the sport but I’d be open to changing some stuff. To shorten matches, if that’s what TV and sponsors want then there’s no reason why we can’t change.”
When it comes to Kyrgios, Murray has always empathised with the talented yet temperamental Aussie. Kyrgios was suspended from the ATP for tanking a match in Shanghai but there was a condition that stated his time away from the court would be shortened should he agree to see a sports psychologist.
Murray has exchanged messages with Kyrgios over the past couple of months and the Brit does not necessarily agree with the ATP’s approach to handling the situation.
“I think it should be up to the player to decide whether they need to see a sports psychologist or not. It’s not up to the ATP to be telling which players get coached by which coach and trained by which trainer. But you know, if something good has come out of it, then great, but I don’t think that should be the case in the future. But I hope that in this case it works for Nick,” says Murray.
He begins his first singles campaign of the season today in Doha, where he faces Jeremy Chardy in the Qatar Open first round.
He is carrying a 24-match winning streak from last season, which he ended as world No1 for the first time, and is hoping to keep the momentum going.
The 29-year-old had his most consistent stretch of results in the second half of last season, losing just three matches in 10 events contested (including Davis Cup) from Wimbledon onwards.
Any match against Sir Muzza is a toughie! https://t.co/g8H7UbPAz7— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 3, 2017
What was his biggest take-away from it all?
“I had a very clear goal at the end of last year, trying to get to No1, and each week I was getting a little bit closer, that I’m able to compete – even a lot of matches I didn’t play my best but I found a way to get through, so that’s something I’ll look to continue at the beginning of this year,” he responds.
While Murray has been hounded by comparisons with his fellow ‘Big Four’ members – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – throughout his career, and remains well behind them when it comes to stats and records, his stellar 2016 has pushed him closer to his rivals. He was able to achieve milestones they haven’t managed to accomplish, like being the only man to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in singles. Does he feel like he’s gaining ground on them?
“I’ve always been asked about that group of players and obviously of the four players that are in it, I would have by far the worst career,” he says. “But it’s still a very good career, I just happen to be playing at a time where the guys ahead of me have been incredible. I’ve always tried to catch up, or keep up with them, and I hope that the next few years I can continue to add to what I’ve done.
“But you know finishing No1 in the world is big, in this time it was a big thing for me. I managed to achieve it and I was obviously very happy with that. But I’m aware of what my role is within those players, where I stand in it, but I’m still proud of all of my results.”
Novak Djokovic’s zen-like mood he exhibited before the tournament deserted him during a tricky first match of the season but the Serb soldiered through it to reach the Qatar Open second round on Monday.
The defending champion had to climb back from 1-5 down in the opening set before he managed to overcome an inspired Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (1), 6-3 in an 86-minute contest.
“I was a bit flat on my feet,” is how Djokovic described his slow start.
“I had to get more time to get the engine started I guess. It’s first match of the year. You never know how you’re going to start.
“As well as you have trained in the preparation period and the days prior to the tournament, really is different when it’s competitive play, when you start the official match and the crowd is there.”
An aggressive Struff took Djokovic by surprise, hitting big serves and groundstrokes early on while the world No2 was mistiming his shots and moving sluggishly.
A very rusty and erratic Djokovic is through 7-6 (1), 6-3 over Struff. Zeballos/Flo Mayer next. #QatarOpen— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 2, 2017
Even after he drew level for 5-all and then took the tiebreak comfortably, Djokovic was angry at himself in the second set before he wrapped up the victory. He takes on Argentinean Horacio Zeballos in the second round.
Djokovic has been emphasising the importance of keeping a calm and relaxed state of mind off the court in order to deal with the pressure of constantly being at the top of the sport.
He meditates, trains outdoors, and follows what he calls a “holistic approach” to his training and this season, he has a new calming factor in the form of Dusan Vemic, whom he has added as a second coach to work alongside Marian Vajda.
Vemic is a retired pro who played both singles and doubles and has worked with Djokovic briefly in the past. After parting ways with Boris Becker end of last season, the Serb has brought in his compatriot and good friend Vemic to add a more familial feel to his camp.
“He brings a lot of calmness for sure. He’s quite a calm guy. But he’s also somebody that understands the game very well,” Djokovic said of the 40-year-old Vemic.
“I’ve known him since I was five, six, seven years old. We grew up in the same tennis club. He was at the time the best player we had in the country. He was always treating me very friendly, always kind, helpful, always available for any advices.
“I think that relationship that we established at that time kind of carried on all the way to this moment. We feel very close. We are more than friends. We feel like we are family. It’s great to have him on board, because we work together in 2012 I think and ’13, and then several years we didn’t.
“Then last season he was in Miami for tournament and now he’s back as a second coach in the team officially. So I’m really glad, because I have that friendly relationship with him and also the professional relationship. It’s well balanced. Him and Marián get along very well. So keeping things very simple.”
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi runner-up and Doha’s No4 seed David Goffin navigated a rocky first set that saw him save 10 of 12 break points in before he ousted Dutchman Robin Haase 7-6 (4), 6-2.
Goffin echoed Djokovic’s sentiments about the trickiness of the first match of the season.
“It’s never easy when you start the first tournament of the season. Then you are a little bit nervous. You can feel the stress a little bit before the match,” said the Belgian world No11.
World No1 Andy Murray lost his doubles opener alongside Mariusz Fyrstenberg 6-2, 6-4 to David Marrero and Nenad Zimonjic.
Murray begins his singles campaign on Tuesday against Jeremy Chardy of France.
The Scot had said on Sunday that he considers Djokovic the greatest threat to his No1 reign. Djokovic sees Murray as his “main rival” but says it’s dangerous to only concentrate on one opponent.
“He’s No 1 in the world. Undoubtedly he’s the man out there. You know, now we have the return of Nadal and Federer that we cannot count out in any circumstances because of their history and results and the quality of players that they are,” said Djokovic.
“Surely the way 2016 went, it’s kind of expected because of the season that Murray and myself. We are kind of main rivals. But as I said, I don’t want to focus the attention only on one player, because other players deserve the attention as well.”