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.

Piatti
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.

Piatti
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.

Piatti
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. 

Wawrinka and Norman end partnership

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It’s that time of the year, when coaching relationships end and the game of coaching musical chairs begins.

On Wednesday, Stan Wawrinka announced the end of his fruitful four-year collaboration with Magnus Norman.

They made a very effective team.

Wawrinka’s best career results – and they’ve come relatively late in his career – have been with Norman by his side.

Wawrinka won three Grand Slams: the 2014 Australian Open, the 2015 French Open and the 2016 US Open.

Norman was named ATP Coach of the Year in 2016.

Unfortunately, the Swiss star has been sidelined since Wimbledon this year, and called it a season in early August before undergoing knee surgery.

Typically, the player will initiate these things. But in this particular case, it appears to be Norman who is taking his leave, for family reasons.

Wawrinka

Mutual decision? Maybe not

The Swede, still just 41, coached Thomas Johansson and Robin Soderling before joining Team Wawrinka.

“After much thought I have decided to dedicate my future to my family. With two young kids at home, now is the right time for me to be with them. I could not have had a better player to work with and this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make”, Norman said in a statement.

“I’m really honoured to have worked with Stan who is a great tennis player, but more importantly a fantastic person. I want to thank the whole team behind Stan for all the work over the last four years. It’s been a teamwork and a privilege from the first day.”

Wawrinka

Here’s the statement from Wawrinka, per his management.

“I would like to thank Magnus for the amazing four years we had together. I will always be grateful for the work and the time he spent on me to make me improve and become a three-time Grand Slam Champion. He was not only part of my team but also part of the family. For now I’m focusing on my rehabilitation and I will take time to decide with my team the necessary next steps,” Wawrinka said.

Wawrinka

Another coaching split: Konta, Fissette part

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British No. 1 Johanna Konta has Tweeted out the fruits of her baking efforts the last few weeks.

It turned out that she’s sharpening her skills because her season is already over.

Konta, who was in the race for the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore until a week ago, had still hoped to be there as an alternate, and then go on to play the second-tier finals in Zhuhai, China the following week.

But that won’t happen now.

The foot injury that exacerbated her on-court struggles during the second half of the season has yet to sufficiently heal.

And on top of that, Konta has split with coach Wim Fissette after just one season.

Of course, it was a mutual decision and they’ve parted on the best of terms.

Because isn’t that always the way?

“After careful thought and discussion, Wim Fissette and I have mutually decided to end our working relationship. Things ended very amicably and I wish Wim all the best. We’ve achieved a lot together and I want to thank him for all his patience, hard work and expertise,” Konta said in a statement.

“I will be working with my team over the coming weeks to find the right way forward for me and my tennis. The goal is to get a new coach or coaches in place as soon as possible but the focus will be on making the right decision rather than a quick decision.”

Konta was a surprise champion in Miami. She reached a career-best No. 4 after her semi-final effort at Wimbledon.

Djokovic-Agassi pairing to return in ’18

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Novak Djokovic will be back next season.

And when he does return, Andre Agassi will once again be by his side.

In a press release, Team Djokovic announced the return, and also the composition of Djokovic’s new team.

The Serb divested himself of his longtime team – coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard “Phil” Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic after the Monte Carlo tournament last April. Supercoach Boris Becker left after the 2016 season.

Replacing them are another rather international group. Physiotherapist Ulises Badio (an Argentine based in Italy who worked for the ATP Tour for four years through last May) and fitness trainer Marco Panichi (an Italian based in Monte Carlo) will join Agassi.

Still in the works is the hiring of a second coach who will be involved in much of the day-to-day work and travel. Agassi – busy with many endeavours – has never been interested in or intrigued by a full-time gig.

Djokovic had a full coaching team with  Agassi and Ancic at Wimbledon. Also already on board was Ulises Badio, announced Tuesday as Djokovic’s full-time physio going forward. Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Ancic not in the plans

It sounds as though former world No. 7 Mario Ancic, who joined Team Djokovic for Wimbledon but obviously wasn’t needed beyond that, isn’t part of the plans. Ancic, a lawyer who has a full-time job in New York, obviously is neither qualified for, nor available for, the main coaching job. 

Djokovic ended his 2017 season after losing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. He had been carrying an elbow/arm injury for more than a year, and he felt it was time to finally resolve an issue that was clearly affecting his performance.

In an appearance at a basketball game last week in Greece, Djokovic said he hasn’t started playing tennis again.

He and wife Jelena welcomed a second child, daughter Tara, at the beginning of September.

Djokovic will not open his 2018 season in Doha, as he has done each of the last three years. He is the two-time defending champion having beaten Rafael Nadal in the final in 2016, and Andy Murray this year.

The press release indicates a return at the Australian Open. But of course, Djokovic may well enter a tuneup event before that. There’s plenty of time.

New coach for Milos Raonic

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WASHINGTON – Milos Raonic Inc. is hiring again.

All jokes aside, the 26-year-old Canadian has added another coach to his advisory board for the hard-court season.

Dusan Vemic, the 41-year-old Croatian-born Serb who has been part of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team on several occasions, has joined Team Raonic for the summer.

Mark Knowles, the retired doubles specialist who began working with Raonic during the grass-court season, also will be back. And main coach Richard Piatti will be in Cincinnati and at the US Open, Raonic told Tennis.Life.

Vemic, though, is flying solo this week at the Citi Open.

Here’s what they looked like on the practice court Monday, with Kei Nishikori on the other side of the net.

Vemic was a top-150 singles player with a big serve. But his best results came in doubles. He reached his career high of No. 31 in 2009.

For a brief time after he retired, Vemic and Petar Popovic worked together with Andrea Petkovic of Germany. It was during that period that the German reached the top 10.

He worked with Djokovic and now-former coach Marian Vajda during many of the Grand Slam events from 2011 to 2013. He last was on hand for the Miami Open last year. Vemic also is a coach with the Serbian Davis Cup team and was the coach of the Serbian Olympic men’s team in Rio last year.

Vemic coached the legendary Bryan brothers for the last part of 2016. As of Wimbledon, he still was coaching them. The Serb’s various biographies and online resumés still state that he is the coach of the Bryan brothers.

The Bryans won the Atlanta ATP event last week, and are in Washington this week for the Citi Open. But Vemic is with Raonic.  

We will investigate.

Vemic Rogers Cup memories

Vemic teamed up with Djokovic in doubles at the Rogers Cup. They lost to Rafael Nadal and his 41-year-old, retired coach Francisco Roig.

The standout tennis.life memory of Vemic came at the Rogers Cup back in 2009. 

Rafael Nadal wanted to play doubles. But for whatever reason, he couldn’t hook up with a partner. So he ended up playing with his associate coach Francisco Roig.

Roig was 41 at the time, and retired a decade.

Their opponents? Djokovic and Vemic, who was near his career-high ranking in doubles at the time. Nadal and Roig won, 7-5, 6-4. It had to be a little bit embarrassing!

Jesse Levine now coaching Jessica Pegula

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Jesse Levine, the Canadian-American whose playing career was cut short by an elbow injury, is back in the coaching game.

The 29-year-old, who worked with Madison Keys in 2016 before Thomas Hogstedt came on board, is now working with American Jessica Pegula.

We’ll have to call them “Jesse and Jessie” – just because it’s there.

The two are currently training in Boca Raton, Fla. as Pegula prepares yet another comeback from injury.

Still just 23, the talented American has had her rise up the WTA Tour rankings halted numerous times.

She had knee surgery in 2014 and missed more than a year. Some of that time was spent trying to find the right diagnosis after it occurred in Wimbledon qualifying.

Pegula worked her way back up on the minor-league circuit and after receiving a wild card into the qualifying at the 2015 US Open, not only made it through but defeated Alison Van Uytvanck in the first round. She lost to Dominika Cibulkova, 6-3 in the third set, in the second round.

She received a wild card into the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. a year ago and made that pay off as well. Pegula upset both Christina McHale and No. 1 seed Samantha Stosur before bowing out in the semifinals.

Later last summer, she qualified for the US Open again.

More surgery

Pegula has played only one match since last October, back in January in Orlando. She had a leg injury in the last part of 2016. And then she had to have hip surgery in January.

Pegula was coached for several years by former Maria Sharapova coach Michael Joyce. He stood by for a long time through the various physical woes. But eventually Joyce had an offer he couldn’t refuse.

He is now working with former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka as she returns to the tour after maternity leave.

Pegula’s plan is return to action either at an ITF $25,000 tournament in Landisville, PA the second week of August or the $100,000 event in Vancouver, Canada the week after that.

Her ranking currently sits at No. 236. But she will drop more than 125 spots next Monday as the semifinal points from last year’s effort in D.C. drop off the computer. Pegula can use a injury-protected ranking of approximately No. 185.

Levine has been involved in a few different ventures. He was helping out Milos Raonic on the coaching side in Miami in March. He also does some work for Nike, and he will be in Montreal next month doing television commentary for the Rogers Cup, a Masters 1000 tournament.

Zverev adds Ferrero for US summer

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Former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero is a French Open champion. Of his 16 career titles, 13 came on red clay.

And rising star Alexander Zverev has no particular history with Spain. He has spent his life training either in Germany or Florida.

So Ferrer certainly is an out-of-the-box choice to be an added voice for the North American hard-court season.

But the 37-year-old will be by Zverev’s side beginning in 10 days at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Ferrero already is in Saddlebrook, Florida with Zverev, braving the heat and humidity to prepare for the hard-court swing. That will include Masters 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati after the D.C. event, and will culminate at the US Open.

Ferrero
Just 17 here, Zverev practices with Roger Federer at Indian Wells in 2015. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Ferrero thrilled with the challenge

(Random fact: Zverev’s older brother Mischa has a 3-1 record against Ferrero).

“Zverev is a different player. He has the makings of a champion,” Ferrero said in a statement through his academy, Equelite. “It’s a challenge that fills me with enthusiasm and desire to do my best.”

The 20-year-old, currently ranked No. 11, originally had been the second-highest ranked player behind Dominic Thiem at the D.C. tournament. But a trio of last-minute wild cards has changed the landscape.

In addition to those two, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov will be in the draw.

The five will be ranked No. 7 through No. 11. And Zverev will end up the No. 5 seed in the tournament. For a 500-level tournament, the trophy suddenly got a lot more challenging.

Add him to the super-coach ranks

Ferrero
Back in 2008, Ferrero sported a mullet. It was an unfortunate time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Ferrero works with players through his academy. But he has not been active out on the coaching circuit since his retirement in 2012.  

Despite his resumé, he seems to get overlooked among all the Spanish champions. There could well be internal, political reasons for that. Or perhaps Ferrero just goes about his business quietly, and he’s not willing to play the game.

When Carlos Moyá stepped down as Spanish Davis Cup captain in 2014, Ferrero seemed the front-runner to replace him.

Instead, the Spanish federation made an ill-advised decision to name former player Gala León Garcia. Garcia had few relationships with anyone on the Davis Cup team. And she didn’t even have all that lustrous a resumé as a player on the WTA Tour. But after that experiment went sour, they didn’t choose Ferrero. They nominated Conchita Martinez.

Ferrero was an integral part of Spain’s 2009 Davis Cup squad. He won the fifth and deciding rubber against Germany in the quarterfinals. But when Rafael Nadal returned to play in the final, Ferrero was not even selected to the squad. Even worse, he wasn’t included in the presentation ceremony after Spain won its second consecutive Davis Cup.