- Kamakshi Tandon
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Another tennis season has begun, and what's the hottest new accessory for guys heading back on tour?
A former legend as coach. Everyone who's anyone is getting one, it seems.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have officially made it all the rage, hiring former Grand Slam champions Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, respectively, during the offseason. Edberg and Becker were two halves of an iconic rivalry in the 1980s and '90s, and will now face off from the sidelines for the first time.
Federer announced last week that childhood idol Edberg would be joining him for a 10-week stint that will start at the Australian Open. The pairing, already dubbed "Fedberg," will add even more interest to Federer's attempt to rejoin the top ranks this season after a difficult 2013.
"I thought if we could do a few weeks together, maybe 10, maybe 12, it would be something fresh, new, inspiring," Federer explained in Brisbane while preparing for his first tournament of the season.
Six-time Grand Slam champ Edberg was known for his legendary volleys, particularly on the backhand side, something the 32-year-old Federer may be hoping rubs off on his own game as he tries to keep to up with heavy groundstrokes from rivals like Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Federer's former coach, Paul Annacone, also specialized in an attacking game; the two parted ways in September after more than two years together. Severin Luthi, Switzerland's Davis Cup captain, remains the mainstay of Federer's coaching setup.
The 17-time Grand Slam champ also recently announced that he and his wife, Mirka, are expecting a third child in the coming year, making it a busy time in the Federer household.
"Being the legend he is and someone I look up to so much, anything he will say will mean very much to me and my team," said Federer of Edberg's impact.
"It will be interesting to see what he thinks, if it's possible to do serve-and-volley on the slower courts we see all around the world these days, or if there are different ways for me to find my way to net."
Speculation about a possible pairing began when Federer announced Edberg had trained with him for a week during the offseason, after which Edberg expressed interest in trying to do more during the year.
"The idea of the camp was that I would give my views and come up with some feedback. He wants to try some new things," Edberg told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagblagets.
Djokovic's decision to begin working with Becker came more unexpectedly, even to the new coach himself.
"I was approached by Novak and his manager while he was playing Beijing," Becker told the BBC. "I was surprised -- I didn't expect the phone call."
The pairing has produced some head-scratching, because Becker has not elevated his reputation of late. He has become the subject of ridicule in the tennis world for his less-than-insightful commentary on BBC. Becker's latest book, a salacious tell-all, has caused regular scandals in Germany as excerpts have been reprinted in newspapers and magazines.
It also led to a distasteful Twitter and television war with German comedian Oliver Pocher, which began over comments Becker made in the book about an ex-fiancée who eventually married Pocher.
All that aside, what is it Djokovic is looking for Becker to provide? The Serb dropped both the Wimbledon and US Open finals in what he called "emotional losses," and seems to be searching for guidance in big matches.
Becker was known for his competitor's instincts, and the six-time Grand Slam champion also played a serve-and-volley game that Djokovic has long been trying to incorporate into his repertoire.
"Speaking to [longtime coach] Marian [Vajda] in the last few months of the year, we came to the conclusion that I needed another legendary player who can eventually help me understand what I would like to do in situations like the Grand Slam final stages," Djokovic said at the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last week.
Djokovic has tried bringing in other figures to supplement Vajda before, with mixed results. Australian doubles great Mark Woodforde was tapped to improve Djokovic's volley in 2007, and a stint with two-time Grand Slam finalist Todd Martin between 2009 and 2010 ended when Djokovic began struggling with his service motion.
It appears Vajda will be taking more of a backseat than before, though, with Becker serving as Djokovic's main coach at most big tournaments. How well this latest arrangement works out will be judged largely by Djokovic's results at the Grand Slams, particularly the French Open, the only only major he has yet to win and one he freely admits is now most important to him.
The wave of former stars joining the coaching ranks is a relatively new phenomenon -- in the past, big names rarely signed up to go back on the road with another player. The trend could be traced back to Andy Murray, who began working with eight-time Grand Slam champ Ivan Lendl at the beginning of last season and went on to win the US Open few months later, followed by victory at Wimbledon in 2013.
Just as Lendl never won Wimbledon but got Murray over the hurdle there, the sport's newest big-name coaches will also be trying to help their players do something they did not manage themselves. Edberg retired relatively early in his career, while Becker never won a clay court title of significance.
Their presence also means more of Lendl's contemporaries around on the practice courts, though Murray maintains that he doesn't expect old rivalries to be reignited from the coaching box.
"I personally don't think there will be a renewal of the rivalry," Murray was quoted as saying in the Gulf News during Abu Dhabi. "Once you step on court, the coaches can do very little to the outcome of a match. It is in the preparation where the coaches can make a really good difference."
Of course, Murray then attempted to stoke just such a rivalry by tweeting, "How great is it to have all these legends of the game coaching? Absolutely loving it. #mycoachisbetterthanyoursnanananana"
One member of the current Big Four who won't be getting on the bandwagon is world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who is sticking with his coach and uncle, Toni.
"It will be great to have Ivan and Boris around next season," said Nadal during Abu Dhabi. "However, I will stick to my team. I always feel when I play bad, it is my fault and when I'm winning I'm doing the right things. I had success in my career with the same team."
Rafa's Spanish compatriot David Ferrer also opted for a low-profile choice after recently splitting with longtime coach Javier Piles.
The top women also seem to have eschewed the movement. Maria Sharapova did take on Jimmy Connors for a few weeks after Wimbledon, but then opted for a more seasoned coach in Sven Groneveld. Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have continued to work with established names -- Patrick Mouratoglou and Sam Sumyk, respectively -- while Caroline Wozniacki opted for Thomas Hogstedt, who had most recently been with Sharapova.
But plenty of ATP players have joined in, recruiting former top players for their team. Richard Gasquet has added two-time French Open champ Sergi Bruguera to his roster, Kei Nishikori recently announced he will be working with French Open champ and former No. 2 Michael Chang this season, and Marin Cilic has Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic working with him.
Earlier this year, Milos Raonic took on former No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic, while Nicolas Almagro began working part-time with former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero when the former french Open champion retired towards the end of last year.
In an interview with the Brisbane Courier-Mail, Ivanisevic noted that the amount of talent in the stands could begin to rival that on the court.
"They should have a tournament for the coaches," he joked.
These days, some of those coaches might pull bigger crowds than their players.
Another tennis season has begun, and what's the hottest new accessory for guys heading back on tour? A former legend as coach. Everyone who's anyone is getting one, it seems.