Nishikori’s new coach is a “Beast”

After an 11-year relationship with coach Dante Bottini ended this year, Kei Nishikori has turned to a very familiar face as he takes on the next phase of his career.

The Japanese star turns 30 just as the 2020 seasons begins.

And longtime Tour player – and fellow IMG Academy regular – Max Mirnyi will be his new coach.

Mirnyi, 42, retired as a player just over a year ago after a long career during which he reached No. 1 in doubles and earned 53 titles.

But earlier on, he also was a fine singles player. The Minsk, Belarus native reached No. 18 in the world back in 2003.

And he’s someone Nishikori has practically grown up with at the IMG Academy.

Mirnyi
The addition of Mirnyi will keep Nishikori’s off-season routine exactly as it is. Mirnyi, like Nishikori, lives right near the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

A longtime Sarasota, Fla. native, Mirnyi also trained at the academy for years.

Somewhere after his retirement, The Beast turned into a munchkin. (ATP Tour website)

So it should be an easy transition.

And after a career during which Nishikori has been one of the rare players not to hop on the coaching carousel, that comfort level makes it easy for the two to begin work and settle in quickly.

Nishikori is recovering from a procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow.

The injury made for a tough 2019 season, although he expects to be reach for the ATP Cup in a little over a month.

Mirnyi
After 11 years with Bottini (seen here with the rest of Team Nishikori at the IMG Academy a year ago), the Japanese star has turned to Max Mirnyi as he hits the 3-0 mark and tries to return to form in 2020. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Mirnyi, nicknamed “The Beast” because of his huge stature (despite his bio on the ATP Tour site, above), has long been considered one of the brightest men in tennis, and a stand-up human being.

He has a degree in International Law from Belarus State University.

And he has served as a goodwill ambassador to the UN in Belarus, as well as being involved with UNICEF and children’s rights.

According to the Kyodo News, longtime mentor Michael Chang will remain on board. Chang has never been a full-time coach, but has travelled to the bigger events to offer advice and support.

He and Bottini appeared to make the “coaching tandem” set up work like a charm.

Mirnyi one of many coaching changes

Mirnyi
A year ago, Kyle Edmund was working with Fredrik Rosengren at the IMG Academy. Twelve months alter, Rosengren is in Dubai with Karen Khachanov. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The cast of characters at the IMG Academy this off-season is going to have a significantly different look than it did a year ago when Tennis.Life stopped in.

Then, Brit Kyle Edmund was going through the paces with Fredrik Rosengren.

A year later, Rosengren is part of Team Karen Khachanov.

And instead of being in Florida, he’s in Dubai.

Rosengren and Edmund parted ways shortly after that pre-season training block.

In February, Rosengren announced he was retiring from the tour to spend more time with his family.

Mirnyi
Khachanov, who was in the top 10 earlier this year, is training with Rosengren in Dubai. (Khachanov Instagram)

The two had been together a year and a half.

Edmund reaching his career-high ranking during that period.

The 2019 season was a major struggle for the Brit after that, although he rallied to finish it well. But last month, Edmund had said he was “open to a reunion” with Rosengren.

That won’t happen now. Khachanov’s Instagram announcement mentioned that he will continue to work with his day-to-day coach, Vedran Martic.

So perhaps a more part-time arrangement is what convinced Rosengren to get back to the grind.

Mugu back with Conchi

On the women’s side, Garbiñe Muguruza has gone back to a happy place, in the wake of her parting with longtime coach Sam Sumyk.

Muguruza, who like Nishikori is managed by IMG’s Olivier Van Lindonk, will work with former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez in 2020.

Martinez was on board in 2017 when Muguruza won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. But unlike Nishikori’s situation with Bottini and Chang, the two-coach setup with Martinez and Sumyk didn’t appear to flow quite as smoothly.

And by March 2018, Martinez was out of the picture. After that, she worked with Karolina Pliskova.

A walk on the ATP side for Pliskova

Meanwhile, Pliskova went over to the “other side” – i.e., the ATP Tour, to recruit her new coach.

She chose Dani Vallverdu, who began his coaching career as a hitting partner/coach with longtime friend Andy Murray.

Mirnyi
Dani Vallverdu will be getting his first taste of the WTA Tour as he will work with Karolina Pliskova in 2020. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Since then, Vallverdu has worked with Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka.

Dimitrov splits with coach Vallverdu

“Karolína is a great player and I’m looking forward to working with her to help her reach her goals. WTA is something new for me, but I like challenges,” Vallverdu said in a statement on Pliskova’s website.

Pliskova also has added Olga Savchuk, a 32-year-old former doubles player from Belarus who retired at the 2018 US Open. 

Savchuk has also proved impressive in her first steps as a television commentator – in English, no less. She was with Pliskova in Zhengzhou this fall, where the Czech won the title.

Savchuk, who had a long career in singles and doubles, is a popular figure on the women’s tour and will join Team Pliskova in 2020 on an official basis. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

More new-old faces for 2020

The coaching carousel always has been in constant motion during off-seasons.

But this year, it feels as though it has sort of started to spin all season long as players become increasingly impatient for quick results.

In other news, Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva has hired former ATP Tour player (and current Russian Fed Cup captain) Igor Andreev as her personal coach.

Simona Halep will reunite with longtime coach Darren Cahill in 2020. But the two began the new season a little early, as the Aussie was back in the saddle at the WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen.

Halep and Cahill to get band back together for ’20

Promising young American Amanda Anisimova got a jump on the competition for those same, few, familiar faces when she pulled off the biggest coup so far.

The 18-year-old is working with longtime Justin Henin and Li Na coach Carlos Rodriguez in the off-season and at least through the Australian summer. Unless they truly don’t click, the association will become permanent.

New coach for Anisimova: Carlos Rodriguez

The coaching flavour of the month, Sascha Bajin, went from Naomi Osaka to start the season, to Kristina Mladenovic – and now, to promising Ukraine teenager Dayana Yastremska.

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Всем привет! Я очень рада поделиться с вами новостью о том, что в сезон 2020 я вхожу с новым тренером Сашей Бажином! Мне очень-очень приятно, и я очень рада что мы начинаем наше сотрудничество, это будет очень интересная и впечатляющая работа. Я уверена, что он поможет мне добиться исполнения моих амбиций. Очень жду начала нашей предсезонной подготовки, и уверена, что у нас все получится! Усім привіт! Я дуже рада поділитися з вами новиною про те, що у сезон 2020 я входжу з новим тренером, Сашою Бажином! Мені дуже дуже приємно, і я дуже рада почати наше співробітництво, це буде дуже цікава і вражаюча робота. Я впевнена, що він допоможе мені домогтися виконання моїх амбіцій. Дуже жду початку нашої предсезонної підготовки, і впевнена, що у нас все вийде! Hello everyone! I am very happy to share the news that I am starting 2020 season with the new coach! I am extremely happy, and I am very excited to start our collaboration as it is going to be very interesting and impressive work. I am confident that he can help me in achieving my ambitions. Super excited for the beginning of our preseason preparation and I am confident that everything works out! @bigsascha @radio_shark_fm

A post shared by Dayana Yastremska (@dayana_yastremskay) on

Angelique Kerber, who’s had quite the coaching carousel all on her own the last few years, split with Rainer Schuettler and announced last week that she had hired Dieter Kindlmann (who has worked with Maria Sharapova) as her new coach.

Marion Bartoli and Jelena Ostapenko, who had an energizing run through the final part of the WTA Tour season indoors in Europe, will extend their collaboration into 2020.

Some scheduling issues remain, as Bartoli has broadcasting commitments. But their association was a big hit.

Old friends Marion Bartoli and Jelena Ostapenko formed a really positive partnership in the waning weeks of the 2019 WTA Tour season. (Screenshot: WTAtv).

Julia Goerges announced Jens Gerlach as her new coach last month.

More news to come on the coaching front

So things are falling into place, slowly but surely.

But there are several players out there who appear to be looking for coaches, but who still have not officially announced any moves.

(If we’ve missed any news – Tweet at us and we’ll add it).

-Naomi Osaka

-Fabio Fognini

-Grigor Dimitrov

-Stan Wawrinka announced the end of his association with Yannick Fattebert, who was with him during the period when Magnus Norman was off the tour and remained a co-coach.

-Kyle Edmund had worked with fellow Brit Mark Hilton after Rosengren departed. But Hilton has joined Team Dan Evans. He looked to be set, on a planned trial run with experienced coach Franco Davin (Gaston Gaudio, Juan Martin del Potro, most recently Fabio Fognini).  But Davin appears to be working with the relatively obscure Ecuadorian Emilio Gomez this off-season. So … to be determined. 

-Kristina Mladenovic

A Next-Generation Sunday on the ATP Tour

One comes from a land where reading a poem by Pushkin can move a man to tears.

The second already is positioned as the sensitive, soulful heart of the new generation.

So who, upon winning his first career ATP Tour title Sunday, was the one who couldn’t stop the tears?

The most outwardly stoic and phlegmatic of them all, of course.

Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund earned his maiden title Sunday in Antwerp, Belgium, with a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) victory over France’s Gaël Monfils.

It was the first time in his career the South African-born Brit had been the top seed at the ATP level.

That’s an added bit of pressure, no doubt.

“Emo Edmund” was a surprise, but a heartwarming one, as he did an on-court interview after his victory in Antwerp.

And when he did it, all the emotion few have seen on court – everything he himself may not have known he was holding back – came flooding out.

“Very obviously happy, and a lot of hard work goes into this. It’s just … emotion,” Edmund said, needing a few more moments to gather himself.

“I’m just too happy. It’s not just me that put in the work. There’s so many guys behind the scenes. It’s just really nice when something you’ve been working for comes together.”

TsiTsi in TitleTown

About a thousand miles  west and north in Stockholm, Sweden, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas was feeling some of the same emotions.

He, too, won his first Tour title Sunday, with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over qualifier Ernest Gulbis of Latvia.

For him, the reaction was laughter, mixed with a little disbelief, combined with evident pride that he was able to get the job done.

Tsitsipas was playing his third final, his second of the season after going all the way to Sunday at the Masters 1000 in Toronto in August, only to lose to Rafael Nadal.

“It’s not easy knowing that I’ve lost in two finals before. I really wanted this title badly. And I would like to thank Ernests for giving it to me today,” Tsitsipas joked. 

Tsitsipas even got a congratulatory Tweet from the prime minister. He is the first Greek man ever to win a title on the ATP Tour.

Khachanov is Чемпион Москвы

For Khachanov, who won in Marseille early this year as well as Chengdu in 2016, the thrill wasn’t the novelty of it all. It wasn’t that first one that you will never forget.

Tsitsipas hugs father/coach Apostolos and mother Julia, a former pro, after his victory.

He is now 3-for-3 in finals after dispatching Adrian Mannarino of France 6-2, 6-2 in Moscow Sunday.

Mannarino, 30, was playing in his sixth Tour final, and was looking for his own “first time”

But for Khachanov, in his hometown, it was an especially sweet victory.

In the first 20 incarnations of the Kremlin Cup, a Russian won 14 times. But Khachanov is the first to take the title since 2009, when the recently-retired Mikhail Youzhny raised the trophy. 

“It was one of the dreams I had when I was a kid. Coming here I was asking top Russian players for autographs and dreaming one day to become a champion here,” Khachanov said, per the ATP Tour’s website. “Today is the day and I am really happy. These are memories I will always keep in my head.”

Edmund, Tsitsipas and Khachanov came into their respective weeks ranked No. 15, No. 16 and No. 26.

The first two won’t move much; Edmund jumps one spot, Tsitsipas stays the same.

But Khachanov will move inside the top 20 for the first time, up seven places to No. 19.

So all three have rankings that are less than their respective ages. And all are in the top 20.

The landscape is changing, if slowly. But knocking off titles at the 250 level is a great first step for the next generation.

And now that Edmund and Tsitsipas have – as Edmund put it about himself – gotten the “monkey” off their backs, it’s onwards and upwards.

“It’s just great that I’ve been able to have this experience and come through it, and it just gives you so much belief and confidence for the next time that happens,” he said.

Murray on the right path after two clutch victories

It appeared, late into the night on Monday at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and after a long day of waiting, that Andy Murray’s return to action was going to be dealt a setback.

Down a set to young American Mackenzie McDonald, his groundstrokes short and his fuse even shorter, the former world No. 1 appeared on his way out.

But somehow, through a nervy second set and through six blown match points at the very end, Murray closed it out at 12:47 a.m.

On Wednesday, facing the current British No. 1 and No. 4 seed Kyle Edmund in the second round, he had to rise to another big challenge. 

It was one he had already dealt with in his first, brief attempt at a return at Queen’s Club in June. In the second round there, Edmund had posted his first victory over Murray after two losses.

This time, Murray showed his quality in a 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-4 win over the world No. 18.

Murray

And now, it gets interesting.

He faces unseeded Marius Copil of Romania in the third round, after Copil upset No. 14 seed Jérémy Chardy of France in straight sets.

Already, Murray’s ranking has zoomed from its current No. 838 to an unofficial No. 511 with the victory. A win over Copil, and he’ll be about No. 375.

That number doesn’t matter, of course. Murray already has a wild card into next week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto. And he’s likely to get wild cards wherever he needs them, on his path back to the top after hip surgery in January.

Marked difference in presence

The thing about Edmund, as good as he is, is that he almost leaves no imprint upon the matches he plays. That’s not a knock, more an acknowledgement of the fact that he’s just a very quiet man who goes about his business, without a lot of flash or dash.

On Wednesday, Edmund was sort of the canvas, while Murray chucked cans of paint at it to create a colourful piece of art.

Murray was at his chuntering … best … Worst?

Murray

It’s an acquired taste, although it’s always fun to use the word “chuntering” (In Murray’s native land, they use “channer”).

The constant grumbling is classic Murray. For whatever reason, he doesn’t get a lot of stick about how he celebrates his opponents’ errors. Perhaps people understand him well enough by now to have an idea of who he is, and how gracious he is in both wins and losses.

Murray
(Oops. Slipped. Killer humidity).

The brutally hot weather got a few people on Wednesday.

But these two did their level best to push it aside.

While Murray’s movement looked better than it did Monday, he’s obviously still being somewhat careful.

His serve isn’t anywhere near the velocity it was at his peak, either.

And it’s hard to tell if he’s feeling the hip or not.

Like many tennis players, Murray looks like he can barely walk or his feet are on fire between points – only to rev up the jets when he has to run. 

But Murray willed himself to win this one. Not that you needed him to tell you that he’s highly motivated to make it back. He sat, annoyed and frustrated, on the sidelines long enough to give him all the fire he needs to make this happen.

(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Video: Federer hits the court

INDIAN WELLS, Calif – Roger Federer was in San Jose, Calif. Monday night at his charity exhibition.

Less than 24 hours later, the 36-year-old was on court at the BNP Paribas Open for the first hit of what he hopes will be a successful title defense.

Federer hit with Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund. And there were, you know, some people on hand to watch.

Definitely standing-room only, with the requisite “You’re No. 1” and “Roger, it’s my birthday” shoutouts.

Federer rarely puts on a T-shirt without a purpose. And in this case, he was wearing one from the Nike Gyakusou collection.

It’s a running collection, not a tennis collection that “flawlessly fuses asymmetrical aesthetics with Nike’s latest running innovations — including Nike Dri-FIT and Nike AeroReact. Traditional colors and whimsical sublimation patterns accentuate a performance collection complete with a range of reflective graphics, diverse storage solutions.”

That’s quite a thing.

No. 1 sights and sounds

Here’s what it looked and sounded like.

As Federer was hitting tennis balls, the draw was being made for the men’s singles.

And for the first time since 2010, he found his name at the top of the drawsheet.

(Not to jinx him, but the last time Federer played this tournament as the No. 1, he lost his second match – third round – in a third-set tiebreak to then-No. 33 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus).

Good draw

After a first-round bye, Federer will play the winner of Ryan Harrison vs. Federico Delbonis. And then, perhaps No. 25 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

He got the “worst” of the non top-four seeds in a potential quarterfinal. But that No. 5 seed happens to be Dominic Thiem of Austria.

Thiem is less of a threat on the hard courts. But the Indian Wells courts are so darn slow that they may help him. Thiem was a quarterfinalist a year ago, losing in a third-set tiebreak to Stan Wawrinka.

He has No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov in his half, while No. 2 Marin Cilic and No. 4 Alexander Zverev are in the other half.

Also in the other half – No. 10 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro.

Federer looks in good shape from that perspective. But he does have to reach the semifinals to remain No. 1, given he’s defending 1,000 points from a year ago.

If he doesn’t, Rafael Nadal will overtake the top spot without even playing the event.