Australian Open: Of tennis legends and their star wards

By Jayanta Oinam | Last Updated: Jan 14, 2014, 00:45 AM IST

Jayanta Oinam

As the season-opening Grand Slam started on Monday at the Melbourne Park, some of the sports legends will also make their own comebacks of sorts. These legends, well past their prime, will be giving their invaluable guidance to their star wards and help them win the tournament.

In tennis, everything is at stake. Such is the demand of the game today, that the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who are already regarded as some of the greatest players in the history, have opted to hire former masters like Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker as their personal coaches.

Tennis players hiring former players, legends or of little repute as coaches, is a common practice. Who else can give better on-court insights than those who have already breathed and lived there? But the coaches have barely hit the front-page. However, the much-publicised Andy Murray-Ivan Lendl association, which helped the Scottish break the Slam shackles in 2012, has changed the scenario altogether. And starting with the Australian Open 2014, coaches will be in the perennial limelight, for their every move, for their every word.

The current line-up of former players who are making a return as coaches includes such legends as Stefan Edberg (Federer), Ivan Lendl (Murray), Boris Becker (Djokovic), Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori), Sergi Bruguera (Richard Gasquet) and Goran Ivanisevic (Marin Cilic). These six former players have won themselves a combined 24 Grand Slam singles titles in their prime. A huge number, indeed! The presence of any of these players in their ward`s box in any tournament will surely intimidate the opponents.

However, such high-profile associations have not always proved successful. No doubt such a combo of past and present greats adds value to their campaign, visibility and overall marketability, but success is what everyone desires. The ill-fated association of Maria Sharapova and Jimmy Connors, lasted only one match after much brouhaha. The Russian dumped the 61-year-old flamboyant American, winner of eight Grand Slam singles titles, after losing to Sloane Stephens at Cincinnati last August. Short-lived associations are rarely reported but when it involves such high profile personalities, it often demands world-wide media attention.

Even though, hiring of legends as coaches is becoming a trend. But still a lot of top players are happy to travel with trained coaches, parents and relatives. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal expressed his apprehensions about hiring a former winner. He is still with his uncle Toni, who helped the right-handed Nadal into becoming a left-handed Clay King and one of the greatest players in the sports history. The Williams` still have their father, Richard as their head coach.

The advantage of having a close family member as mentor obviously helps and the history is evident of it. Dubbed `Swiss sensation`, Martina Hingis` played five Slam finals in a row from 1997 Aus Open to its `98 edition, winning four of those under the guidance of her mother - Melanie Monitor. Besides the filial assistance, other important factor that proves fruitful is the stability, and thus the longevity of partnership. Belgian multiple Grand Slam winner, Justine Henin stuck with Carlos Rodriguez. Even Roger Federer`s stable stints with Paul Annacone and Peter Lundgren, helped him become the player we all know today. The same can be said about Novak Djokovic`s long-time coach, Marian Vajda.

So, if there is a Murray, benefiting from Lendl`s experience, there is also an uncle Toni who is doing wonders for Rafael Nadal.