Genie Bouchard demo-ing rackets as ’18 begins

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As of Sunday, Genie Bouchard’s longtime deal with Babolat is expiring.

So, to start the 2018 season, the 23-year-old Canadian won’t be under contract with a racket manufacturer for the first time … probably since she had braces.

That’s why there have been photos circulating of Bouchard practicing at Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia with a Head racket.

It’s one of the Graphene Touch Radical sticks, one of several models sent to Bouchard by the company.

But she has not, as some have speculated or assumed, made the switch or signed a new deal.

Tennis.Life is told that Bouchard has been experimenting with various Head models, as well as Wilson rackets. Bouchard played with Wilson for many years before making the switch to Babolat.

She also is considering staying with Babolat.

The companies sent some sticks down to Florida for Bouchard to try. So far – at least from what we’ve seen at the Hopman Cup, the Head racket is in the lead.

But Bouchard is likely to head to the Australian Open without a deal. In fact, she may not even have anything finalized until the Tour swings back to the U.S. in March.

Tough time to switch

The timing is not ideal to demo a new stick. Bouchard’s first official tournament starts in just over a week in Hobart, and is followed by the Australian Open.

Harold Solomon is Genie Bouchard’s new coach as 2018 begins. (ATP Tour)

A lot of players try out new models in the off-season (you can usually tell them by the blacked-out frames), but not when they’re starting the season.

Sometimes a player will have an immediate fit with a new frame.

Bouchard’s countryman Denis Shapovalov was one such player; he switched from Wilson to Yonex at Queen’s Club in June. And everyone saw what happened later in the summer.

But others have struggled for an entire season after making a switch.

It’s also not an ideal time to negotiate a new sponsorship, with 2018 budgets already locked up.

New coach, hitting partner for Bouchard

The racket isn’t the only change for Bouchard, as she arrived Down Under.

With her is veteran American coach Harold Solomon, with whom she trained some in Fort Lauderdale during the off-season.

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Robbye Poole, Serena Williams’ longtime hitting partner, is doing the same for Bouchard. If all goes well in Australia, it could well be a season-long gig. (Photo by Steven Domagala Photography)

Also on Team Genie in Perth is Robbye Poole, who was a hitting partner for Serena Williams for many years.

Early photos had the internet speculating about whether Bouchard had reunited with longtime former coach Nick Saviano, which was somewhat understandable.

There’s at least a passing resemblance between the two.

Solomon is a few years older, and a few inches shorter. But there are definitely some similarities. Both Solomon and Saviano are based in Florida. And they have worked with several of the same players.

A former world No. 5, Solomon has Jennifer Capriati and Jim Courier on his resumé. He also worked with Anna Kournikova at the end of her career.

If things go well in Florida, this likely would be Bouchard’s team for the 2018 season. But no longer-term commitments have been made yet.

(Photos by Steven Domagala Photography; used with permission).

Late-season split: Bjorkman and Cilic

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It’s the time of the season where nearly all players – even those who played through the Davis Cup final – are getting back to work.

Barely three weeks remain before the start of the 2018 season.

So it’s late in the day for an announcement of the end of another successful coach-player pairing.

But here it is.

Cilic announced on Twitter Friday that he had reached the end of the road with Jonas Bjorkman.

“@BjorkmanTennis and me won’t be working together anymore. We had some great results during 16 months and established an amazing relationship. It was a great pleasure to work with him. Would like to thank him for all his efforts and wish him the best.”

Bjorkman offered the usual lovely words of his own, less than two hours later.

Here’s what Bjorkman wrote on Twitter.

“Thank you for the past 18 months! It has been a great pleasure working and spending time with you both on and off the court during this time. I have such respect for all the hard work you always put in and for being such a gentleman! Wish you all the best for 2018!”

(A little discrepancy there in terms of the length of Bjorkman’s tenure. All moot now.)

Tough end of season for Cilic in London

Bjorkman, a former No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, worked with Andy Murray for the last part of 2015, as then-coach Amélie Mauresmo went off on maternity leave. 

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Team Cilic at the US Open in September. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He replaced Goran Ivanisevic as Cilic’s coach after the first part of the 2016 season.

It’s been a feature of some of the recent coaching changes that the coaches themselves have gotten out front of the news.

That was especially true in the case of Bjorkman’s fellow Swede Magnus Norman, who abruptly left Team Wawrinka this fall.

But this time, it was Cilic who announced it first.

Cilic only won one ATP Tour title in 2017 (Istanbul). But he reached a career-best No. 4 in October.

Bjorkman’s last tournament with Cilic was the ATP Tour Finals in London, where Cilic lost all three of his round-robin matches in three sets: to Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer and Jack Sock.

Konta confirms Joyce as new coach

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Johanna Konta has confirmed that Michael Joyce will be her new coach.

“Michael is a fantastic coach with a great pedigree and I’m really excited to work with him. 2017 has been amazing but I feel like there is so much more to come,” Konta told the WTA website. “The plan is for Michael to travel with me full time through 2018.”

The 44-year-old American already has been in the U.K. for a week and had already come to terms, although the official announcement came only Wednesday.

The two have begun preparing for Konta’s first tournament of the season in Brisbane, the first week of January.

Konta parted ways with Wim Fissette in October after the best season of her career. Fissette quickly signed on with former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, who parted ways with Torben Beltz. Donna Vekic snapped up Beltz.

Got that straight?

Great opportunity for Joyce

Joyce, who coached Maria Sharapova for many years, left his job working with American Jessica Pegula this year to work with Victoria Azarenka as she returned from maternity leave. 

Given Azarenka’s well-publicized custody issues, which seem a long way from resolved and are keeping her off the court indefinitely, Joyce had to consider his options. 

Jobs with top-10 players aren’t that easy to come by – despite the increasing turnover from year to year. So the opportunity was a no-brainer.

(Nearly) all-female team

Konta’s team is now complete. She also has strength and conditioning coach Gill Myburgh, physio Milly Mirkovic (longtime physio for the LTA) and mental coach Elena Sosa on her payroll.

It has probably been underpublicized that Konta’s entire team – with the exception of Joyce – is female.

Can you think of any player – female or male – for whom that’s the case? It would be great if it became a trend.

Konta hasn’t played since early October in Beijing. A left foot injury kept her off the court, and kept her from likely qualification at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.

She hasn’t won a match since the third round of the Premier 5 event in Cincinnati in mid-August, and has more than 1,000 ranking points to defend in the first month: a semifinal in Shenzhen, a title in Sydney and a quarter-final at the Australian Open.

New coach for Ryan Harrison

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Ryan Harrison is the latest American to come out from under the USTA umbrella and go his own way on the coaching side.

The 25-year-old from Texas, currently ranked No. 47 and  winner of the French Open doubles title this year with friend Michael Venus, announced the change Tuesday.

Harrison has hired the indefatigable Michael Russell as his coach for 2018.

Davide Sanguinetti and Peter Lucassen (who works with the USTA out of California and, more specifically, with up-and-comer Ernesto Escobedo) had been listed as his coaches.

“His reputation on and off the court are flawless and I look forward to getting to work,” Harrison said of Russell on Twitter. “Also would like to thank the USTA for their support.”

Russell, 39, wrapped up a long playing career at the 2015 US Open. He reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 60 in 2007.

What stood out with Russell during his career was his off-the-charts work ethic. It wasn’t unusual to see him on the practice courts at tournaments for extended periods daily, with two and sometimes three different players.

Harrison and Russell share Texas roots.

Russell works out of the Houston Racquet Club, where he was named director of the Houston High Performance Tennis Program back in May.

Harrison lives in Austin.

Harrison’s countryman Jack Sock, also 25, made a similar change this past summer.

He had worked with the USTA’s Troy Hahn for three years. But after longtime USTA head of men’s tennis Jay Berger stepped down from that role in June, Sock picked him up a month later. 

Djokovic announces coach on Insta live

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It was, without a doubt, one of the more original ways to announce a new coach.

A whole lot more entertaining than a dry press release or a quick Tweet.

Former No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is getting ready to return to action in a month after a long absence due to an elbow injury, decided to try out the latest thing, Instagram Live.

He looked pretty excited about the new toy. And he looked in great spirits overall. And why not. He looks to be preparing for a return after so many months during which he didn’t even hit a tennis ball.

As Djokovic toured his gym, he decided to try out the feature that allows you to call up anyone who is watching the live stream.

The first connection, with a woman in Argentina, had technical issues.

The second caught another Argentine Djokovic fan at school. And she just couldn’t even believe it.

And then – the kicker.

Djokovic “noticed” his friend Radek Stepanek was among those making comments. So he called him up.

ND: “What are you up to?  What’s your next step?”

RS: “I’m enjoying the time that I don’t need to wake up in the morning, go to practice. Don’t have to discipline any more. Just looking around what comes next.

ND: “Really!”

RS: “So you have something for me, or what?”

ND: “I’m actually looking for another coach. I don’t know what you have in mind. But if you have nothing better to do, maybe we can give it a shot. What do you say?”

RS: “Why not? Let’s give it a shot.

ND: “This is amazing.  You didn’t even hear anything I had to offer but you accepted.

RS: “What do you offer?”

ND: “I can offer some real, real special things. Green juice every Wednesday – every first Wednesday of the month. I can offer you some acai balls on overseas fights – only one way, not return. It’s too expensive. And thats all, for the beginning.”

RS: “I think your offer was pretty generous to start with, so if I get some extra coconut on the acai balls, than I’m in.”

ND: “Give me a second please … coconut …

“I would love to give you a straight answer now. I have my manager here …

“So my answer is yes, but I have another question. It’s already 30th November. We have to be on the court literally tomorrow. So I don’t know how we’re going to make this happen.

RS: “I’m ready to go.”

And then, Djokovic opens the door to an office – and there’s his new coach.

It really was a fun way to get the fans involved in the announcement.

“Radek is one of my very close friends on the tour and I was always impressed with his level of determination, passion and love for the sport. The fact that he just recently retired at the age of 37 speaks volumes of his love for the game. He has lot of experience and knowledge, and he has played on a high level for many years. I am excited to join our forces together and cannot wait to compete again having a new team to back me up,” Djokovic said on his website.

“On Andre’s suggestion I pursued Radek, therefore I am sure the two of them will work well together. The new season is about to start and there is a long way to go back to where I left off. We are aware that I need to go step by step, not hurrying anything. I feel much better now, and I can’t wait to play matches again.”

Stepanek – Agassi a tag team

The moment veteran Stepanek announced his retirement – and even before that – the speculation began that he might begin working with Djokovic.

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Djokovic and Stepanek (along with former coach Boris Becker) have a good time on the practice court at Wimbledon in 2014.

The two are friends. They have practiced together often, and have remained pals despite the Serb’s overwhelming 13-1 record against the Czech.

They have squared off on a lot of major occasions – at all the Grand Slams except the French Open, and in the Davis Cup final.

InstaAnd Djokovic has been looking for a day-to-day coach to supplement the weeks he’ll have mentor Andre Agassi by his side.

Stepanek obviously knows all of Djokovic’s opponents, and has played them all.

The all-court game and canny court sense that allowed him to squeeze the most out of a long career contains a treasure trove of possible options Djokovic can add to his own game.

What Djokovic already has in his game has been more than enough to dominate men’s tennis for extended periods over the last few years.

Still, everyone out there is looking to get better – or get left behind.

And the company will be entertaining. He also will have a coach who can hit with him on the practice court – an added bonus.

The most positive thing is that Djokovic is out hitting balls and training. Only a month remains before he heads to Abu Dhabi for the six-player exhibition that will mark his first official time on the court since Wimbledon last July.

After that, a quick hop over to Doha for his first ATP Tour event. And then, the Australian Open.

Donna Vekic hires former Kerber coach

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Tennis is hardly the only sport that subscribes to the “proven commodity” theory. 

But the old theory has proven true once again.

If you coach one top player who produces results, you’re often not going to have too much trouble getting another good gig when that one inevitably ends.

And so, less than two weeks after Torben Beltz parted ways with former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, Croatia’s Donna Vekic announced Wednesday that she would be working with the German for the 2018 season.

“The next season is nearly upon us and I can’t wait to start working with Torben Beltz as my new coach. 2017 was one my best years so far on the tour as I broke the Top 50 and I won my second WTA title, I am eager to do even better with Torben. It’s a great opportunity to learn from one of the best coaches and I look forward to this new collaboration,” Vekic said in a statement from her management on her Facebook page.

Kerber already is working with Wim Fissette, who parted ways with Johanna Konta after a hugely successful 2017. Fissette was let go by Simona Halep after she also had a great season in 2014.

“I am very excited to work with Donna, she has a lot of potential and I am sure we can achieve good results together,” was the statement from Beltz.

Coaching musical chairs

Fissette worked with Victoria Azarenka from February 2015 to the end of July 2016.

And she, too, must embark on a coaching search after her collaboration with Michael Joyce officially ended last week.

Joyce signed on with the Belarussian, leaving a lucrative and secure gig with American Jessica Pegula, with the idea he could help the more accomplished Azarenka get back to the top of the game.

The former Grand Slam champion and No. 1 took time away to have son Leo. She returned during the grass-court season this year.

But Azarenka’s well-documented custody issues have kept her off the court since Wimbledon. And with no firm return date as the case continues to wind its way through the courts, Joyce had to make a call.

He is reportedly close to an agreement to coach … Konta. 

The holdup – as so often is the case, especially with the women – so far has been the financials.

Divorce is final for Murray and Lendl

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They broke up once before. They couldn’t quit each other.

But this time, it seems permanent.

After a season during which Andy Murray struggled with a hip injury, he and mentor Ivan Lendl have called it a day – again.

“I’m thankful to Ivan for all his help and guidance over the years, we’ve had great success and learned a lot as a team. My focus now is on getting ready for Australia with the team I have in place and getting back to competing,” Murray said in a statement Friday.

The pair had first hooked up in December 2011, and they lasted until the spring of 2014 – just before the Miami event – through Murray’s rehab from back surgery late in 2013.

Murray was the innovator in the “former top player as mentor to add that little one or two per cent” coaching system. Many players, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic, followed in his path.

Murray and Lendl on the practice court at the Australian Open, during their first go-round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

And it seemed to work. With Lendl by his side, Murray won his first major at the 2012 US Open. He also won an Olympic gold medal in London, and finally broke the British men’s curse at Wimbledon with his title in 2013.

Another breakup, another rehab

At the time, Murray wanted more weeks than the busy Lendl was ready to commit to. And in the last six months of their relationship, the focus was more on Murray getting back to 100 per cent after the back surgery than anything else.

There are some similarities to Murray’s current situation. 

Full Team Murray during a practice session on Court Suzanne Lenglen before the start of this year’s French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He hasn’t played since Wimbledon. And again, the focus over the last few months – and the months to come – will be on getting his chronically-ailing hip back to where he can play his best tennis again.

As well, Murray is now 30, a father of two and an experienced competitor who has those majors and the No. 1 ranking on his resumé. With coach Jamie Delgado on board on a daily basis, he has a good-enough team around him for the foreseeable future.

Truth: there’s not a whole lot Lendl can even do for him, at the moment.

Murray plans to return to the tour in early January at the Brisbane event, leading up to the Australian Open.

Kerber wins the Fissette sweepstakes

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If it feels like a lot of players are looking for new coaches this offseason, you’re not imagining things.

And certainly Wim Fissette was at or near the top of the list of experienced top-level coaches who would be in demand.

Fissette worked with Johanna Konta in 2017 and helped her have the best season of her career. He also has worked with Simona Halep and, before that, Victoria Azarenka and the great Kim Clijsters.

Former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany struck early, and sealed the deal.

Kerber announced on Twitter Thursday that she had parted ways with longtime coach Torben Beltz and will work with Fissette in 2018.

Tough 2017 for Kerber

Kerber was always a legitimate, but slightly fragile No. 1. Her credentials to hold that spot were indisputable. But there always were several players hovering who threatened it, and the pressure visibly weighed on her through the season.

In the end, Kerber had to match her 2016 this past season to keep the spot. And she couldn’t do it.

At the moment, she is ranked No. 21. And after the Tokyo event in late September, won just one match the rest of the way (a first-round victory over Naomi Osaka in the first round of Beijing).

She has defeated Osaka twice since the shocking first-round loss at the US Open. But that was cold comfort during a season in which she really struggled.

Kerber has 340 points to defend during the Australian swing to start the 2018 season (including a fourth round at the Australian Open). And she has half-a dozen players right behind her in the rankings.

Fissette and Konta never seemed to have a meeting of the minds. But the Brit’s results were impressive until injuries hit late in the season.

Whether or not a coaching change will revitalize Kerber’s career remains to be seen. It’s always a crapshoot. And Beltz and Kerber accomplished some great things together.

But you can’t swap the player. So the coach is the one who typically pays the price.

Pospisil chooses ’18 coaching team

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There have been a lot of coaching changes for Vasek Pospisil in the last few years. (It feels like a Canadian virus; fellow Canadians Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard also have had their share).

But after spending the late summer and fall testing out some options, the 26-year-old from Vancouver has made his choice.

In 2018 and in the preparation leading up to the new season, he’ll work with two coaches who operate as a tightly-knit unit: Dirk Hordorff and Rainer Schuettler.

It seemed as though Pospisil and Woodford – seen here during last year’s preseason with Pat Cash – were a good fit. But reality proved otherwise, and Woodforde was gone by May)

Pospisil spent last year’s offseason and the first part of 2017 with Aussie doubles legend Mark Woodforde.

But that one really didn’t work out even if began with a bang, as Pospisil upset then No. 1 Andy Murray at Indian Wells in March.

After the split during a series of Challenger events in Asia in May, Pospisil immediately won a $150,000 Challenger in South Korea. But the rest of the season lurched along in fits and starts, with his reoccurring back issues often surfacing at just the wrong times.

Experience and Tour knowledge combine

THE GOOD LIFE: Hordorff probably wouldn’t argue if you said that being able to sit courtside on a lovely Aussie summer day chatting with the charming Mrs. Tipsarevic while supervising her husband’s practice has been a major perk of his long association with the Serb. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Hordorff, best known in recent years as the coach of Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, has always coached other players. He worked with Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu for a decade.

Schuettler spent more than 15 years on Tour, reaching a career-best No. 4 in singles. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

But his longest coaching relationship was with Schuettler.

Through 20 years together, Schuettler reached a career high of No. 4 in singles back in 2004. He was a surprise finalist at the Australian Open in 2003.

Now – much in the way former Raonic coach Ricardo Piatti and longtime former pupil Ivan Ljubicic worked together – they are a team.

The two combined to coach Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis from 2014-16.

(Purely coincidentally, Berankis is nearly exactly the same age as Pospisil – two days older, born June 21, 1990).

Hordorff, 56, also is vice-president for High Performance Sport at the German Tennis Federation.

Good candidates, tough call

Pospisil also considered another combination. Jan de Witt and Jan Vacek, both from the Germany-based BreakPoint Academy, were with him in New York at the US Open. 

Pospisi listens to Jan de Witt as Jan Vacek watches on, on a practice court at the US Open ahead of his first-round match. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

DeWitt has coached many players, notably including both Gilles Simon and Gaël Monfils. Vacek (imagine this tandem: Vasek and Vacek), a giant of a man, played on the ATP Tour for a decade and reached a career high of No. 61.

In the end, the Canadian liked what the Hordorff-Schuettler team had to say.

The pair will be the anchors as Pospisil rebuilds a solid team around him, and works to get his mojo back and get back to winning on court.

Currently ranked No. 109, Pospisil likely will have to play the qualifying at the Australian Open in January. He will begin his season at Hopman Cup in Perth, teamed up with Bouchard.

Longtime Raonic coach Piatti out

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Milos Raonic has been keeping a fairly low public profile in recent months, and has barely been on court since Wimbledon because of assorted injuries.

But if there were coaching changes before in his career it’s been a veritable game of musical chairs the last 16 months – ever since the Canadian reached the 2016 Wimbledon final.

The constant through all that was the veteran Italian coach Riccardo Piatti.

And now, Piatti has announced that his relationship with Raonic is done.

“It’s been an amazing ride, but it’s time for me to embrace new adventures and new challenges,” Piatti wrote on Twitter.

We’re told that Piatti called it quits around the US Open, but that the two agreed to wait until the end of the season to officially announce it and remain on good terms.

There has been no confirmation so far, via social media, from Raonic. That is fairly unusual; typically he has been the one to announce the end of coaching collaborations. One exception this year was when strength and conditioning coach Dalibor Sirola left in early April.

Piatti, who has his own academy, has been a rare sighting in 2017. He was in Paris for the French Open, and at Queen’s Club just before Wimbledon.

He was due to rejoin Raonic in Cincinnati, but Raonic was forced to withdraw with a wrist injury that also cost him the US Open.

Think about it. A year ago at Wimbledon, Raonic had three coaches: Piatti, Carlos Moyá, and short-term mentor John McEnroe.

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An embarrassment of coaching riches at Wimbledon in 2016 for Raonic, who reached the final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

At the moment, he may or may not have any.

Piatti and Moyá switched off on tournaments for much of 2016. But they were together for Moyá’s first Grand Slam with Raonic at the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

New faces in Team Raonic in 2017

When Moyá said hasta luego at the end of 2016 to integrate Team Nadal, Raonic looked to Dutch former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek to fill that spot.

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Former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek had been tapped to be Raonic’s grass-court mentor the previous year. That ended up being McEnroe, but Krajicek came on board to start 2017. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Krajicek had been in the picture before – he was to be Raonic’s grass-court mentor the previous year. But it didn’t work out. And that mentor ended up being McEnroe.

In Miami this year, fellow Canadian Jesse Levine was on hand with Krajicek, to lend a hand.

Raonic’s countryman Jesse Levine, a south Florida resident, was in the house to lend a helping hand for the Miami event in March. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

By the French Open, Krajicek was nowhere to be seen, and Piatti was back in the saddle.

Piatti on the practice court with Raonic and Andreas Seppi – May 2017. (Stephanie Myles, Tennis.Life)

By Wimbledon (having discussed a potential association with Pat Cash), Raonic was accompanied by former doubles star Mark Knowles.

Knowles (seen here a few years ago when he was coaching Mardy Fish at Wimbledon), was with Raonic during the summer grass season. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

By the Citi Open in D.C., Raonic had former Serbian player Dusan Vemic with him.

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Dusan Vemic was a surprise guest star in Milos Raonic 2017 coaching cavalcade at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in early August. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Through his summer struggles with a wrist issue, it was a moot point.

One more for the (2017) road

And then, Tennis.Life heard that he was working out in the Bahamas with another potential coach, longtime David Ferrer collaborator Javier Piles.

Sure enough, Raonic turned up in Tokyo with Piles. But after beating Victor Troicki in the first round, the 26-year-old Canadian retired after just one game agains Yuichi Sugita.

He hasn’t played since.

Raonic
Piles was on hand when Raonic returned to action in Tokyo last month. But that amounted to one match – and one game.

His ranking is currently at No. 24 – the lowest it has been since August, 2012, when he was just 21.

Raonic is due back on court at the Abu Dhabi exhibition in late December, and then is scheduled to head immediately to Brisbane to officially begin his 2018 campaign.

Who will be with him? 

Now there’s a question.

The one member of Team Raonic from 2016 who remains with him is physio Claudio Zimaglia.

Clearly Raonic has been searching for something – something he has yet to find.