Champs underline the importance of tactical expertise

Federer turned to Annacone, while Serena had Mouratoglou guide her

Champs underline the importance of tactical expertise

Tennis coaches are the rule but not quite a necessity on the pro tour. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached the semifinals at Wimbledon the last two years without a full-time coach. Roger Federer has won Grand Slam titles in the past without one, too.

But coaches have rarely been more central to the story and the back story than they were at Wimbledon, which finished last week with Federer and Serena Williams holding the trophies.

Federer, back at No. 1, is the proud owner of 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and Williams has 14 major singles titles. But this Wimbledon represented the end of a two-year Grand Slam drought for both of them. And with each of them age 30, their victories came after both embraced new influences and new members of their coaching teams.
For Federer, his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title was his first Grand Slam title in the company of Paul Annacone, his primary tactical coach who has worked to refine Federer’s beautiful game. Annacone, a 49-year-old American, was also Pete Sampras’ coach when Sampras won his last five Wimbledon titles, including his seventh. It all adds up to quite a coaching double.

“Roger and Pete each have their own personalities; they each feel different to me,” Annacone said in an interview at the All England Club. “But to be able to have a front-row seat to greatness is pretty fun.”

Annacone, a top 20 player with an attacking bent during his career, coached Sampras from 1995 until Sampras retired in 2003, with one short break in between. He joined Federer’s team in 2010, working in concert with Federer’s friend and coach Severin Luethi, who is also the Swiss Davis Cup captain. “I think Paul helped a great deal with the tactics and the vision for Roger’s game, how he should develop his tennis,” Luethi said.

Federer said Annacone had a big role in this victory.“Really, what I felt very much now the last few months particularly or maybe the last year or so was the harmony we had in the team,” Federer said. “Paul integrated himself really nicely.”

For Williams, a player who has long been reluctant to seek tactical advice outside her family, this was her first tournament of any kind in the company of Patrick Mouratoglou, a French coach who helped prepare her for Wimbledon at his academy near Paris and then helped counsel her at the All England Club.

On Saturday, when Williams climbed into the Centre Court stands after beating Agnieszka Radwanska in the final, she embraced her parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price, her sisters Venus and Isha, and other longtime members of her team. Mouratoglou, who was also in the front row of the box, held back as Williams worked her way down the line, clearly uncertain of how to proceed. But Williams hugged him with full force, too. “We’ve known each other for what, three weeks, a month?” Mouratoglou said. “Honestly, I have the impression I’ve known her for 10 years.”

When it was suggested that Williams had not known him for 10 years but that he surely had known of her for that long, Mouratoglou chuckled.“True, good comment,” he said. “But I’m not talking about the player. I’m talking about her. I feel very close to her. Time plays a role, but there are people with whom you have a high level of connection and others where it is less so. I experienced this victory truly as I would have experienced it with other people I’ve worked with. It was very powerful.”

Mouratoglou has been chasing this kind of thrill for more than a decade, coming closest in 2006 when his protege Marcos Baghdatis was a surprise finalist at the Australian Open before losing to Federer. Baghdatis, who went to Mouratoglou’s academy as a teenager from Cyprus, and Mouratoglou were once extremely close. Mouratoglou said he still considered Baghdatis “almost a son.” But they no longer work together and have little personal contact.

Mouratoglou, while running his academy, has continued to work with aspiring stars, including his former pupils Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia. He continues to counsel Aravane Rezai, a Frenchwoman who is trying to piece her career back together. But his primary coaching duties at the moment are with Grigor Dimitrov, the gifted, dynamic Bulgarian who has long been considered a potential top 10 men’s player.

Mouratoglou has talked openly in the past about his desire to coach a Grand Slam champion, about his interest in working only with players who were willing to make the great efforts and sacrifices that correspond, in his mind, with winning the biggest tennis prizes. Now, after getting the unexpected chance to work with Williams after her shocking defeat in the first round of the French Open, he has achieved that long-term goal in a hurry.

“I feel 100 percent part of the adventure at Wimbledon,” he said. “She didn’t just experience it with me, of course. She experienced it with her parents and all her team. Everyone contributed what they could. She feeds off different people and she takes from each one what she needs to perform.”

Williams has not yet spoken at length publicly about her work with Mouratoglou, except to say that their talks before and during the tournament were helpful. But she certainly looked thankful when she interrupted Mouratoglou in the midst of a conversation Saturday, hours after her victory, and jumped into his arms again with a whoop.

Williams has long had a formal hitting partner, Sasha Bajin. But employing a coach as prominent as Mouratoglou at a Grand Slam event is a major change for Williams, whose official coaches remain her father and mother.

At Wimbledon, Richard Williams was asked for his thoughts on his daughter exploring other coaching advice.

“I think it’s good, but I think it would be a lot better if Serena took the time to apply her life more to Jehovah,” Richard Williams said. “I don’t know what she’s doing because I’m not with her 99 percent of the time, but I think she should take more time to do that. That’s more important than any tennis ball or anything she could do in training to try new things. It was Jehovah who brought her through this here.”

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