Lucie Safarova had the best moments of her career with the man we call the “WTA Whisperer”, Canadian Rob Steckley
And as the 2018 season dawns, they have reunited.
“Coach Rob Steckley is back and I’m looking forward to work together in 2018! Watch how we prepare for Australia! I think I’m ready!” was the announcement from the 30-year-old Czech on her Facebook page.
It was just a brief reunion for now; Steckley already is on his way back to Toronto for the holidays. On the plus side, it’s not as though they need to get to know how the other works. It’s like riding a bike.
It will come as no surprise to Safarova (and Steckley) fans that they have marked their reunion with a video.
During their 3 1/2 years together, there were numerous fun, clever videos – sometimes guest-starring Safarova’s friend and doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
This reunion video is probably the first one to feature the use of a drone. Uh oh.
Steckley is one of the WTA Tour’s true iconoclasts. And from the beginning of his coaching career, when he worked with the young’uns at Tennis Canada, it was clear his calling was the sometimes mysterious and often challenging job of coaching women.
Soft-spoken, original, and somehow blessed with the ability to soothe and elicit a laugh while still being a top-notch technical coach, he carved out his niche. With Safarova, he was able to calm the Czech’s nerves, help bring her out of her shell a little, and bring out her best tennis along the way.
Parted ways in 2016, stayed friends
But by the 2016 US Open, Safarova had been dealing with illness and injuries and seemed on the verge of either retiring, or becoming a doubles specialist. The motivation had waned, and Steckley had a lot of good reasons to stick to the home front, with a young family.
So they parted ways.
In the interim, it wasn’t as though Steckley didn’t have offers. One feature of the women’s Tour is the fact that once a coach has had success with one top player, he’s going to be sought after when other players are looking for coaches.
You only have to look at the current off-season to see evidence of that.
The 37-year-old was approached by numerous players.
But if there’s another thing that marks the women’s Tour, it’s a general unwillingness to pay the going rate for a top coach – and there are precious few who fit that description.
There are exceptions, of course. But it happens more often than you would think, often with the players who have heavy family involvement and seem unwilling to invest in their careers outside that bubble.
Steckley knew his value. From home in Toronto, with occasional stints on the road, he worked with some of the Canadian players including Charlotte Robillard-Millette and young prospect Layne Sleeth.
After finishing the 2015 season at No. 9, Safarova was hospitalized at the end of the year with a viral illness. By the end of 2016, she was down to No. 62.
The Czech lefty’s ranking recovered some in 2017, hovering between No. 28 and No. 40. She ended the season at No. 30.
For much of the year, she was coached by Frantisek Cermak.
A new start in 2018
Steckley’s return to Safarova’s side, hopefully signals a return of the motivation and desire she needs to maximize her ability once again.
And it appears partner Mattek-Sands, who was sidelined for the year after a horrific knee injury at Wimbledon, is also on the way back.
So things already appear to be looking up in 2018.