For any seasoned airplane traveler — that does NOT include me; I have a fear of flying — “First-class or coach?” is a question one might sometimes hear.
This year in women’s tennis, the first-class flyers are hoping a coach leads them to their intended destinations.
Look at the top six seeds at the 2019 women’s Australian Open:
Simona Halep didn’t want to part with Darren Cahill, but Cahill needed to step back. Halep’s coaching situation is different from what it was entering last year’s Aussie Open.
Angelique Kerber changed coaches, from Wim Fissette to Rainer Schuettler.
Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka have stable coaching situations.
Sloane Stephens is no longer working with Kamau Murray.
Elina Svitolina is no longer working with Thierry Ascione.
Four of the top six seeds at this women’s Australian Open have different coaching situations relative to the bulk of their 2018 seasons.
Outside the top six seeds, Madison Keys will have a new coaching arrangement this year. Karolina Pliskova will juggle two coaches, Conchita Martinez and Rennae Stubbs. Venus Williams even wanted a new voice, parting with David Witt after 11 years.
You don’t need me to sit here and tell you how good or bad these moves are. I am merely making note of them. You can judge for yourself whether each of these players above needed a change and the fresh start which comes with it. The newsworthy aspect of this story is how pervasive these changes are at the top tier of the women’s game.
These moves might be examples of taking something very good and making it even better. Consider the Cleveland Cavaliers firing coach David Blatt midway through the 2016 NBA season, when Cleveland had the best record in the Eastern Conference and had made Game 6 of the NBA Finals the year before. That was a ruthless firing in a larger context… but that ruthless move led to the Cavaliers winning the city of Cleveland’s first major professional sports championship of any kind since 1964.
Ruthlessness — and a quick trigger — paid off handsomely.
WTA players are clearly seeking that same payoff, and aren’t concerned with the appearance of having little patience. Sometimes, that lack of patience is the best thing an athlete can have. Knowing when to be patient and when to be impatiently ambitious is one of the toughest things an elite athlete has to figure out. WTA players are erring on the side of impatience this year.
It will make this Australian Open, and this 2019 season, thoroughly interesting to watch.
Women’s tennis was already in a great place entering 2019. It didn’t need this coaching drama-rama to add to its entertainment value… but here we are.