They say it’s the off season but if you’re a coach it’s really the “on season”. This is the time when players makes changes to their roster in hope of bettering themselves for the new season which begins just around the corner.
Kei Nishikori snared Michael Chang in a promising move. Richard Gasquet recently added Sergi Bruguera in a curious hire. And there have been some others.
But the big news is that of Novak Djokovic signing up Boris Becker. And also the hint that Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg could also have a future.
First, I have to applaud both guys for at least trying to improve. Neither Becker nor Edberg have much if any past coaching experience. But they know what it takes to win and they understand the game. And therein lies the value. Novak and Roger know how to hit the ball, how to move, how to serve, but adding a Becker/Edberg might (and should) offer a different viewpoint in terms of strategy. And that advice could be a huge pay off.
So handicapping both moves…
Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker
Djokovic, who underperformed for the middle of 2013, trialed Polish great Wojtek Fibak while his current coach, Marian Vajda, was home taking care of family matters. Novak still finished second and nearly stole the top spot from Rafael Nadal, but fell just a few wins short. So Novak at least ended on a high note and has to be overflowing with confidence entering 2014.
And with Vajda cutting back on his travel to be with his family, I understand the need for Novak to look for a new coach. I’m just not sure Becker is the answer right now.
Boris has never coached anyone. Since retiring he’s been a bit of a playboy. He’s also done some TV and obviously promoted poker websites. That said, as a former serve/volley guy there’s no doubt he’ll have some interesting insight on Novak’s game and forward strategy, I just don’t know how committed Boris will be overall to the job.
Travelling, practice, schedules, media, scouting matches. Does Boris really want all that? Is Boris really going to watch Novak’s next opponent play? For such a big persona guy like Boris, that remains to be seen.
Novak’s problem hasn’t been his game really, it’s been his head. Self destructing in big moments, lapses in play during matches and losing confidence in his strokes. And I just don’t see Becker as a “between the ears” guy like a Ivan Lendl or even a Stefan Edberg would be.
So while I don’t think adding Becker will necessarily hurt (unless he makes Novak rush the net at all costs!), I’m not sure what the real upside will be or how he really fits in. Another voice, yes, but is he that dedicated?
Before this hire, Novak was my favorite to finish 2014 No. 1 anyway. Now? I’ll stay the course.
Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg
This partnership is not yet confirmed though both parties sound interested and open to the idea. I would guess Edberg just needs to get his schedule set and perhaps there’s a money issue to be resolved. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen at some point during the year.
The question is, would it be worth it? Unlike Djokovic who’s already at the top and soaring, I think this relationship would bear more fruit.
And at Federer’s age, why not? Status quo doesn’t really seem to be working and maybe a fresh face, new outlook would produce a spark.
After a shaky season, Federer did turn it around at the end playing his best tennis. So there’s some momentum. But with Andy Murray coming back, Juan Martin Del Potro playing well and of course Djokovic and Nadal, it’s going to be such a tough landscape next season for a 32-year-old with an aging body. So Roger’s going to need some help to compete.
And on the surface it would seem like Edberg and Federer would mesh. Two smooth-swinging, mild-mannered connoisseurs of the game. Edberg is known as one of the greatest serve/volley players ever. Federer use to play that style long ago when he first won Wimbledon. And of course there are the backhands.
Now I don’t think that Edberg (or Becker) can bring back the serve/volley (those days are unfortunately done), but he can fine tune Federer’s net game, that’s for sure. But Edberg’s real value will come from his wisdom. Edberg would give Federer a different gameplan on playing a Nadal or Djokovic. And also help Roger with the mental aspect, something he also needs.
But similarly to Becker, I don’t know how Edberg would gel with the day-to-day tasks of coaching. Severin Luthi would handle most of the chores but Edberg would still be expected to scout players, be on the practice court, etc. Unlike Becker, however, if Stefan agrees I think he’ll be 100% committed. He just strikes me as that kind of a person.
So if it happens, which I think it will, I think Federer-Edberg is a good fit. With Novak, I would argue he needs more of a mental guy and to me, Becker just doesn’t seem like the solution.
Regardless, it’s an interesting trend we are seeing as the current players, Nadal aside, tap into the minds of the past champions. Murray did it successfully with Ivan Lendl who taught the Scot how to win. Djokovic and Federer are already well-versed in winning, they just want more. It’s a low-risk, high-reward gamble I think. And if nothing else, it will add some more flavor to an already spicy 2014 season.
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