Assessing recent coaching changes
Coaching relationships don't last forever in tennis, and a number of top players have made switches or tweaks since the final Grand Slam event of 2009, the U.S. Open. Can't tell the gurus without a program? For your convenience heading into the first Slam of 2010, the Australian Open -- which begins next week -- we've rounded up some key transitions and additions.
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From A to Z and back again: Two relatively new members of the WTA's elite essentially (although not formally) swapped coaches. No. 7 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is now working with French coach Samuel Sumyk, who spent several productive years in Vera Zvonareva's corner (and is married to former American pro Meilen Tu). No. 9 Zvonareva of Russia, meanwhile, hired Azarenka's newly available ex-coach Antonio Van Grichen, who guided Azarenka all the way from junior world champion to the top 10 over a four-year span. The changes took place the same month. Both of these talented players need a steadying voice to become Slam contenders; how lucky for them that these two were on the board.
A first time for everything: Veteran American James Blake will enter the first Grand Slam event of his career without his coach since boyhood, Brian Barker, who quietly stepped back last fall at Barker's insistence. Blake, who backslid to No. 44 during a disappointing 2009 season, is working with Kelly Jones at his Tampa training base. Blake and Barker parted amicably, and in fact haven't fully parted; they hit together in the offseason and neither has ruled out any options in the future.
Expanding entourage: No. 3 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia clarified her personnel situation in a recent blog entry, saying she is working with former Russian pro Andrei Olhovskiy, who is with her Down Under, in addition to Russian Fed Cup captain Larisa Savchenko. Kuznetsova's decision to leave her longtime base in Spain and move to Moscow paid off last season as she won the French Open to notch her second Slam. Olhovskiy, a Davis Cup stalwart for Russia in the '90s, won 20 doubles titles during his ATP career.
Room for improvement? Spanish clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro, 24, who nearly cracked the ATP's top 10 in 2008 and has been fluctuating in the bottom half of the top 50 ever since, hired Jose Perlas after the U.S. Open. Perlas' former clients include Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic, French Open winner Carlos Moya of Spain and French Open finalist Guillermo Coria of Argentina. (Tipsarevic's newish coach is Dirk Hordorff, whom he shares with German veteran Rainer Schuettler.) Almagro's biggest win last year was an early-season championship in Acapulco over France's Gael Monfils.
Other ATP shifts: French prodigal son Richard Gasquet has reunited with ex-coach Eric Deblicker following a season interrupted by a suspension for cocaine use that was later overturned. Gasquet has tumbled to No. 53 Latvia's No. 84 Ernests Gulbis, who had an awful 2009 in which he won back-to-back matches in only two tournaments, began working with former Argentine pro Hernan Gumy last fall.
WTA changes: Jelena Dokic, Aravane Rezai and Sonia Cirstea have migrated under the umbrella of the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in suburban Paris, where up-and-coming Romanian star and French Open quarterfinalist Cirstea, ranked 45th in the world, is working with Dominika Cibulkova's former coach, Vladimir Platenik of Slovakia. Academy founder Patrick Mouratoglou is co-coaching Rezai, the French pro who finished last year at a career-high No. 25 (Rezai's father is her other co-coach), while No. 58 Dokic of Australia brought coach Borna Bikic with her Looking to regain her form of two seasons ago, No. 21 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia has hired full-time fitness trainer Damian Prasad, formerly affiliated with the Australian Institute of Sport, and continues to work with Sven Groeneveld and Darren Cahill of the Adidas coaching stable.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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