INSIDE STORY: ATP World Tour's coaching carousel keeps spinning

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  • Team Murray: Murray, Lendl and Delgado during practice at Wimbledon.

    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.

    “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.

    Players and their coaches:

    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
    Coach(es): None

    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