We could say that 2014 is the return of the coach into the top echelon of tennis to a prominent position. It is interesting that Andy Murray, the baby (2 so far) of the current big four Grand Slam winners, with his appointment of Ivan Lendl has been the leader in the movement towards appointing ex top players as coaches. Why would a player of the stature and the winning record of Novak Djokovic employ Boris Becker?
Essentially Novak lost three huge matches in 2013, the French Open semi-final to Rafa Nadal in a match that really was on his racket to win, secondly the Wimbledon final to Andy Murray having lost the big five setter to him the year before at the U.S. Open and finally the 2014 US Open final again to Rafa Nadal. He finished the year with a 21 match unbeaten run, but in his mind he must feel that mentally he needs to gain an edge in order to win the big matches, especially the French Open in 2014, something which is missing and Boris Becker, a master of mind games and intimidation is the man he has asked to help.
I remember clearly when Miles Maclagan had two match points against Boris at Wimbledon. As his coach I had to really school him in how to deal with Boris on court so that he did not lose the match before a point was played and how to react to any displays of intimidation during the match. Miles was superb an delivered a fantastic mental performance. Boris clearly understands Locker Room Power and Novak in some way has been slightly intimidated by Ivan Lendl in the opposing box.
It does not matter whether the mental edge that Andy has gained from Ivan is real or imagined in the other players minds. The fact is if they believe it then it is there and having won Olympic gold and two Slams there is proof that Andy's head and belief has altered slightly. Novak is intent on closing that gap and gaining a mental advantage that will make him feel like he's going into a big match with an edge. Boris can do that for him. Boris will be able to make him believe he is a slightly different animal stepping onto the court. Novak did try and use Wojtek Fibak who was Ivan Lendl's mentor as an advisor during the summer. Boris like Lendl has one advantage in that he has been no1 and won 6 Slams; the "been there, done that" which carries extra weight.
Roger Federer has now employed Stefan Edberg to help him out. I believe this is because Roger knows that he has to shorten the points and over the course of the past year has been going to the net more. Roger is one of the greatest players ever, yet in my opinion has traditionally been a weaker volleyer and mover at the net, for the talent he possesses. He is great at finishing volleys moving in one direction however when he has to dig up a volley and split step at the right time, his movement is instinctive guesswork leaving him upright and "fishing" for volleys, especially on the forehand volley. Who better to work with him than one of the greatest volleyers and movers at the net of all time.
Top players continue to strive for small gains in improvement, something which they can believe makes them stronger when they go out on court and Roger is amazing in that with all the success over years he is still trying desperately to improve his game. This is the driving force behind great players; their constant efforts to improve. This is the magic that they possess, the perseverance to keep looking forward, to keep looking optimistically at the future. They do not look back except to learn from mistakes. They always look forward to the next step, the next challenge and strive to continue winning.
By contrast Rafa Nadal continues with the same set up that he has always had and one Coach Toni Nadal. Edberg played his whole career under one coach namely Tony Pickard. Both Tony's notably were not previous Grand Slam winners or world number ones but had fantastic careers as coaches. In their way they were able to impart a confidence and continued belief by the player that what they do is right to win at every level.
As coaches, they have been able to impart belief in their methods that gain the locker room power players need at the highest level to win. Locker room power is the manifestation of the beliefs that the player or players hold in their methods, in their process and other players feel this belief which creates an aura of strength.
If Roger does serious work on his movement at the net and his volleying and comes out in Australia playing that much better at the net and begins to win matches from the net in ways that he had not done before the confidence begins to grow and the chat in the locker room begins to change about how much effect Edberg has had on Roger's game and so his locker room power begins to grow. This creates nervousness in the opposition and when players are nervous then they begin to make mistakes and so Roger becomes a greater force.
Locker room power is an exaggeration of improvements based on substance; in other words you can't just pretend that you've improved; you have to believe intently that you have improved and show evidence in matches that what ever area you've been working on is better. With smart wording and smart press conferences the player and his team can begin to build a message that says "hey guys I'm a different animal."
The margins are so small that what ever edge you can create not only in your own mind but in the mind of others can be the difference between winning a grand slam and losing it narrowly.
In other news from TeamBath-MCTA our players have had a good off-season of training both in Bath and for Murray, Simpson, Gabb and Daniell a weeks training camp in La Manga went off well. Disappointingly for Samantha Murray her wrist injury has not recovered sufficiently for us to travel to Hong Kong and Australia for her to have her first crack at the Australian Open qualifying. Hopefully Sam can begin playing tournaments at the end of January healthy and move on from the excellent year she had up until the injury at the end of September in 2013.
I'm optimistic that Richard Gabb and Marcus Daniell can have a breakthrough in 2014 on the Challenger tour and Toby Martin and Scott Clayton can make further inroads into futures. I believe it will also be an exciting year for Anna Smith, Amy Bowtell and Jessica Simpson. April/May should also see the return of Lisa Whybourn to action after shoulder surgery.
We are also optimistic of some of our juniors making breakthroughs at all levels of ITF International Jr tournaments.
May I wish everyone a successful and healthy 2014.