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.

View this post on Instagram

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

The end for Mirnyi, Schnyder and Jovanovic

At this time of the year, players who toiled late into November are on the beach somewhere (usually, not exclusively, the Maldives).

But those who wrapped things up a bit earlier are already back into training for the 2019 season.

So for those in the twilight of their careers, it’s decision time about whether they can – want to – go through the grind one more time.

For longtime doubles star Max Mirnyi, 41, the answer was no.

It’s been a very tough choice to make considering that the game of tennis has been my life ever since I can remember myself. I am absolutely thrilled to have had a chance to enjoy this game for so long!” Mirnyi said in a statement.

“While competing for myself or representing my country I have always treated my profession with the highest honour and respect, worked at it as hard as I could and now, stepping away from the game, I have no regrets and feel nothing but joy. I have achieved far beyond what a little boy from Minsk, Belarus could dream about at the beginning of the road.”

Belarus’s statement is a document full of evidence about just how much of a village it takes to make a successful professional tennis player.

Solid singles to brilliant doubles

Before Mirnyi was a doubles specialist, he was a very good singles player, reaching the top 20 back in 2003 with one career title, in Rotterdam that year.

But it was in doubles that he found a lasting home. Even in 2018, which turned out to be his final season, he was more than competitive. With Philipp Oswald of Austria, he won two titles – on an indoor hard court at the New York Open, and on red clay in Houston in April.

They were titles No. 51 and No. 52 of his career. And among those Mirnyi thanks are the (exactly!) 100 doubles partners with whom he teamed up professionally through a 25-year career.

Oswald and Mirnyi also reached two finals: to open the season in Auckland, and to close out Mirnyi’s ATP Tour career in Moscow in October.

His final match was in Davis Cup, in late October against Slovakia.

Mirnyi won the French Open men’s doubles four times (twice with the just-retired Daniel Nestor, twice with Jonas Bjorkman) and the US Open men’s doubles twice (with Lleyton Hewitt and Mahesh Bhupathi).

He also won the 2007 US Open mixed doubles with a young Azarenka, and again in 2013 with Andrea Hlavackova. He won the mixed at Wimbledon in 1998 with Serena Williams, His mixed partners have included Williams, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova (with whom he shares an agent), Anna Kournikova and Genie Bouchard.

A multi-faceted Mirnyi life

While he did this, Mirnyi also completed his law degree in 2008. As well, he married and had four children, now ranging in age between four and 13. Mirnyi also has been a UN AIDS ambassador, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, the vice-president of the Belarus federation, 

Mirnyi relocated to Bradenton, Fla. to train at the Bollettieri academy in 1992 – and never left.

He was the flagbearer for his country at the Olympics in London in 2012, and won gold in mixed doubles (breaking British hearts) with countrywoman Victoria Azarenka over Andy Murray and Laura Robson.

 

Comeback too tough for Jovanovski

After a long time out of the game with wrist and shoulder surgeries, 26-year-old Bojana Jovanovski (who added “Petrovic” during her injury break when she got married) came back to try it again in 2018.

It turns out her body just couldn’t withstand the training needed to get back to the level she was capable of. And so on Wednesday, she reluctantly announced her retirement.

“After a lot of thinking and numerous injuries and operations it was very hard for me to make a final decision, I am still very passionate about tennis and competing but my body can not follow. Since I can no longer train and play the way I used to, give my best and fulfill all professional goals I had no other option,” Jovanovski Petrovic wrote on Facebook.

“So far I dedicated all my life to tennis, training and competition, did my best as a player and achieved great results. Maybe I did not achieved the maximum of my potential but I’m not unhappy,” she added. “Tennis has given me a lot and enriched my life. I had a chance to travel the world, meet people and make friends for life. In the future tennis will remain a big part of my life. I’m not leaving for good and without a plan.”

The Serb’s first order of business is to finish her psychology degree, and then look to coaching. 

Return in 2018

Jovanovski Petrovic was ranked in the top 80 six consecutive seasons, with a peak at No. 32 in 2014, before the injuries hit.

After losing in the first round of the 2016 French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska, Jovanovski Petrovic didn’t play again until the first round of qualifying at the WTA Tour event in St. Petersburg in Feb. 2018.

She played sporadically after that (although she did play the full grass-court season). Her final match was a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Sabine Lisicki in the qualifying in Tianjin, China in September. Lisicki, a former Wimbledon finalist, has been dealing with her own injury issues and is out of the top 200.

Schnyder’s Part II also done

Mirnyi

Another player who was gone for a significant period of time and returned was Patty Schnyder.

MirnyiSchnyder, who turns 40 in a few weeks, retired after the 2011 French Open – and even got the big, awkward official ceremony at the end of that season at the WTA Tour Finals.

She reached No. 7 in singles, and also was a top-20 doubles player and a three-time Olympian.

The new mom returned in July, 2015 in small events in Europe. And in her fourth tournament back, she went from the qualifying to the title at a $10,000 ITF in Prague. Later that season, she went from the qualifying to the final at a $25,000 ITF in Bangkok, beating former top-30 player Kaia Kanepi in the final.

Back to the WTA Tour

In April, 2016, she made her first return appearance on the WTA Tour with a wild card in the Charleston qualifying. (Other than a pair of wild cards into her home-country WTA event in Gstaad, Schnyder effected this comeback largely on her own).

By Aug. 2017, her ranking back near the top 200, she returned to the Grand Slam level for the first time, losing in the second round of US Open qualifying.

The return of Zvonareva and Schnyder (photos)

Schnyder got as high as No. 139 this June. And at the US Open, she won three rounds in qualifying, and got to face old foe Maria Sharapova in the first round of the main draw.

Sharapova and Schnyder had met eight times before, going all the way back to 2004. But while Sharapova led the head-to-head 7-1, that was a deceiving stat. Six of the eight meetings went three sets – and even the two straight-sets Sharapova victories were 7-5, 7-5, and 7-5, 6-4.

Schnyder gave Sharapova all she could handle in the second set of a 6-2, 7-6 (6) defeat.

Ends it with a comeback victory

Her last Tour match was a loss to Varvara Lepchenko in Luxembourg in October.

But her final competitive match was a victory, as Schnyder won in the French Interclubs last Wednesday for Mihaela Buzarnescu’s team, St-Dié-des-Vosges.

It was, perfectly, an impressive comeback. Schnyder beat Spain’s Laura Pous-Tio 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-2.

But with her ranking back down to No. 279, it was going to be another season of grinding down at the lower levels. As she turned 40, as she put it, it was time to try something new.