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Myskina's relationship with coach sometimes stormy

6/17/2004

As Anastasia Myskina's former boyfriend, Jens Gerlach knows all about her moods.

It's just that now, as her coach, Gerlach is paid for his trouble by the French Open champion.

During her quarterfinal loss to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open, Myskina had a meltdown, tossing her racket and complaining that Gerlach was not vocal enough in his support. It happened again at Roland Garros, when Myskina lost it while trailing fellow Russian Svertlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16.

After surviving pre-match tears and defeating Elena Dementieva in the French Open final, Myskina seemed to have found a new level of maturity. It came, in large part, from Gerlach, who never failed to remind her that she was good enough to win a Grand Slam.

"I know that it doesn't help if you yell at somebody," Myskina said, slightly chagrined, in her on-court speech to the crowd. "I've worked on it. Finally, I became more professional on the court. I started believing in myself more."

She turned and spoke directly to Gerlach, who was watching from her guest box.

"I'm a hard person," she said. "Sorry for everything."


Later, the German coach downplayed the apology.

"Every once in a while, she tends to lose her manners and her head on court, or towards me or her family," Gerlach said. "There are always going to be incidents. Many people have asked, 'Why you let her treat you like that?' Or, 'How can she do that to you?'

"I always say we talk about it, she understands and she always says sorry."

Coaching in tennis is a 24-7 job and that kind of proximity can tear a relationship apart -- or just the opposite. A number of women on the WTA Tour are married to their coaches: Sandrine Testud of France and Vittorio Magnelli, Italy's Silvia Farina Elia and Francesco Elia, South Africa's Liezel Huber and Tony Huber and Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi and Claudio Pistolesi.

There are other combinations.

Rita Grande of Italy and Virginia Ruano Pascual are coached by their brothers, Vincenzo and Juan Ramon, respectively. Germany's Barbara Rittner married her fitness coach Michael Diehl. Lindsay Davenport, after breaking with longtime coach Robert Van't Hof, was briefly coached by her brother-in-law, Rick Leach. Amanda Coetzer is coached by her former doubles partner, Lori McNeil.

Parents, however, are often the coach of choice -- at least in the beginning. Melanie Molitor, a fine Slovakian player in her own right, was the architect behind the success of her daughter Martina Hingis. The combination worked for five Grand Slam titles, but there were often disagreements, particularly later in Hingis' relatively brief career. They separated twice, the last time in 2002, before Hingis retired.

"There was tension between the professional and personal relationships," Molitor explained to a Swiss newspaper reporter. "The separation was the only possibility to avoid damaging the personal relationship.

"Martina is no longer 18 -- but nearly 21. You must not tell her everything. She's an adult."

Russia's Dinara Safina still is coached by her mother, Raouza Islanova. Ai Sugiyama of Japan is coached by her mother, Fusako.

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, list their father Richard and mother Oracene Price as their coaches. In Serena's WTA Tour biography, Oracene is referred to as "coach/advisor," while Richard is referred to merely as a coach. Although the sisters have been coached by a number of different people on the technical side, the parents, apparently, fill that role today.

"There's a very thin line between a manager and a coach," Serena has said of her father. "As a manager, I think he's the best."

In March, at Miami's NASDAQ-100 event, Serena was asked why more players didn't keep their coaching in the family.

"Everyone's different," Serena said. "I think it's just the way different people were brought up. I know I'm extremely independent. I know my sister is. We were taught never to rely on anyone else.

"You have to pretty much rely on you."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.