The annual game of WTA musical chairs is going to be especially frantic this off-season, as so many players already have turfed their coaches – or are about to.
But American Amanda Anisimova has gotten out way ahead of the curve.
Tennis.Life has learned that the 18-year-old officially will begin working with legendary coach Carlos Rodriguez on Monday, as she takes on countrywoman Jennifer Brady in the first round of the China Open in Beijing.
Rodriguez, a Belgian originally from Argentina who is now 55, was the career-long coach of Justine Henin.
The official arrangement is a trial through the Australian Open in January. But unless they really don’t hit it off – they met for the first time the day before Anisimova’s first-round match in Beijing Monday – it is expected to be a long-term association.
They will spend three weeks together in China to finish off the season. The pre-season training block will take place in Florida.
Rodriguez a career-changer for Li Na
He was with Henin through her retirement and return to play. After that, he worked with Chinese Hall of Famer Li Na from 2012-2014.
With Li Na, he helped retool an established, mature game in the late stages of her career – one of the biggest challenges in the tennis for a coach. Li Na won her second major title at the 2014 Australian Open and reached her career-best ranking of No. 2.
The commitment to Li Na was a complicated affair. Rodriguez is a shareholder and the manager of a tennis facility called Potter’s Wheel International Tennis Center, founded in 2011 originally as a branch of Henin’s Belgian academy.
Li Na agent Max Eisenbud of IMG managing to broker a deal with the academy back then to, in effect, loan Rodriguez out. But as Rodriguez said later, it got complicated.
When he announced his departure in July 2014, he told the Belgian press that as early as Miami in March Mrs. Ding Ding, the academy boss, “made it clear that she needed my presence. That without me at Potter’s Wheel, more and more players hesitated about coming.” Li Na retired two months later.
Rodriguez on loan to make a champion
Many players have wanted Rodriguez to work with them in the interim. But Rodriguez has made it clear that he would not, could not go on the road.
It appears Eisenbud has been able to strike a similar deal with the academy’s owner again, this time with one of the most talented up-and-comers in women’s tennis.
Rodriguez is expected to work full-time with Anisimova and travel with her.
But this week, he will only have to drive about 20 miles from the academy to the Olympic Training Center, where the Beijing Open is taking place. Anisimova also is scheduled to play the Tianjin tournament next week.
And the two are getting a head start on the off-season – and Rodriguez can watch his new charge competing close up. That should help to develop a little chemistry before the hard work begins to prepare for the 2020 season.
Hantuchova offers rave review
After Li, Rodriguez worked with Daniela Hantuchova as the then 31-year-old Slovak was looking for a renaissance season after a difficult 2014.
Rodriguez was clear with her that as long as he was working in China, he wouldn’t go back on the road with a player. So Hantuchova took what she could get, which was for Rodriguez to help her prepare for 2015 during the off-season. The two even spent 10 days in Dubai.
Hantuchova had worked with some of the most well-known coaches in tennis. But she told Le Soir at the time that Rodriguez was leagues ahead.
“I’m not afraid to say that he’s the best coach in women’s tennis. And it’s not just a question of tennis, it’s also a life philosophy. Carlos has the gift, in a few words, to put everything in perspective,” she told Le Soir. “I sometimes feel like I’m rediscovering everything again at his side – even tennis. It’s a great source of inspiration for me and and a privilege to be able to work with him.
“His approach to tennis is unique. I know a lot of coaches with big egos who, for 20 years, have always done the same thing. Carlos constantly challenges himself. He’s exactly what I thought he was, and even more,” she added.
Helping Peng get on track
Rodriguez did the same with former top-15 Chinese player Shuai Peng, who has been oft-injured during her career and also was hit with a three-month ban in 2018 after trying to pull off a doubles partner switch in fairly secret-agent fashion.
During the suspension, Peng went to train with Rodriguez at his academy; by the time she returned in Nov. 2018, she was barely hanging in the top 300.
“He is like a grandmaster who is so wise and experienced to handle all situations in the game, even after I approached him for help, Peng told China Daily. “I was expecting a cold shoulder from him due to the ban and all the controversy, but he embraced me with open arms.”
Again, Rodriguez wasn’t able to travel with Peng. But the newspaper reported he had “designed a strict training and competition schedule for her.”
Ranked No. 80 when she began serving the suspension, Peng was down to No. 298 when she returned to action late in 2018, after the training camp with Rodriguez. Now 33, she is now right on the cusp of getting back into the top 100.
A game-changer for Anisimova
The mission with Anisimova is a sea change from Rodriguez’s efforts with established veterans in his more recent work.
Anisimova, who turned 18 Aug. 31, is currently ranked No. 29 and was as high as No. 23 after Wimbledon. She reached the French Open semifinals earlier in the season.
She’s considered one of the major future stars on the WTA Tour and already has an all-court game that Rodriguez won’t even have to convince her to adopt, as he did with Li Na.
After dealing with back issues earlier in the summer, Anisimova was rocked by the sudden death of her father Konstantin, shortly before the US Open. She missed the final Grand Slam of the season, and returned to action last week in Wuhan.
She lost to Karolina Pliskova, after defeating Samantha Stosur in the first round.
Anisimova had been working with a Colombian coach named Jaime Cortés. She won her first career title back in April, in his native land, at the WTA Tour event in Bogotá.