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WTA landscape is reflected in coaching changes

Matt Zemek

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Jimmie 48 Photography

At Tennis With An Accent, we have talked and written about the pronounced parity on the WTA Tour in recent years, especially at the majors. It isn’t a bad thing — fans love unpredictability and freshness. Moreover, seeing two teenagers reach the Roland Garros semifinals, with one making the final, is great for the future of the sport. This is part of a healthy dynamic.

Yet, as we have also explored here, women’s tennis — purely in terms of economic clout — can benefit from rivalries forming and becoming entrenched in the latter stages of big tournaments. 

Why hasn’t that happened — at least not yet — in 2019? The answer is not hard to arrive at: Coaching changes need time to take effect and emerge in full. Too many top WTA players are working through these necessary transitions at the moment. They need a little more time and space to show what they can produce.

Tumaini Carayol wrote this quality piece (everything he writes is a quality piece, but let’s affirm each new instance, right?) on Jo Konta’s resurgence. Coach Dimitri Zavialoff came aboard last October, and clearly, the player-coach relationship needed several months in which to sort through situations before ripening on clay.

This topic comes up from time to time: Coaches might begin their professional relationships with players, only to see the player win (or make the final in) the first tournament of that relationship. No honest coach would say that he or she coached the player to victory. A first tournament — in such a scenario — is realistically the product of the previous coach (and the player) more than the new coach.

If we are being honest about coach-player relationships, they need time to become productive. Exceptions can and do exist, but for the most part, these are not quick-fix attempts. Consider Naomi Osaka parting with Sascha Bajin despite winning two straight majors. Osaka made that choice not as a quick fix, but as a reset button with the long run in mind.

Kamakshi Tandon wrote this piece for Tennis.com on the new world of rapid coaching changes on the WTA Tour. In this climate of volatility, one should not expect new partnerships to instantly strike gold. The coach and the player both need to learn how to not only hear the words being said in an exchange, but to hear PAST the words and pick up the hesitation, the silences, the unspoken nuances, the fears, the aspirations, and all the other inflections which — when understood — enable a coach and athlete to work together.

Zavialoff with Konta might be the best new coaching relationship of 2019 through the first 5.5 months of the year, but the bigger takeaway from the first half of the season is how many of the new player-coach arrangements are clearly works in progress. Sloane Stephens and Sven Groeneveld have made clear progress in a relatively short period of time. That partnership could catch fire in the summer hardcourt season… but that is completely a guess on my part.

Match and tournament outcomes have been wide open — utterly unpredictable — on the WTA Tour this year. The coaching instability on tour is a central reason for that. Don’t forget that point as we move to grass.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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