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Wim Fissette — The Brilliant Nomad Of Tennis

Matt Zemek

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Most sports, if not all, have one such figure.

Whereas most great coaches stick with a successful team or athlete for many years, parting ways only when victory or success at an expected standard no longer seem attainable, there is usually at least one great coach in a sport who is eternally restless.

The brilliance, the acumen, the proven ability to get results are all unquestioned. The skill, the deft touch, the ability to connect with athletes all jump off the page. Knowledge of subject matter and command of situations are unmistakably complete. The Xs and Os are mastered. The details are handled. The product improves considerably. Championships — or if not championships, new heights of achievement — are reached.

It doesn’t matter.

This kind of coach wants to scratch an itch, to innovate in a certain way or advance his project with a relentlessness or ambition the athlete (or team of athletes) is not yet ready for. Friction emerges. The athletes aren’t necessarily wrong to resist the coach, and the coach isn’t necessarily right to insist on more changes or developments. What matters is that neither party can contain the disagreement long enough or well enough to stay in partnership. The coach leaves.

The coach then finds a new landing spot where his message is fresh and new. The results immediately improve. The victories mount… but then, after the process leading to success runs its course, the same friction and insistence emerge again.

The coach leaves again. On and on the cycle goes: The coach keeps winning at each new stop along the way, with each new team… but he either wears out his welcome, or gets restless, or a little bit of both (or all of the above).

There is an identity which belongs to this kind of coach: He is the nomad.

This is the successful yet irritating, brilliant yet uncomfortable, masterful yet unanchored coach who doesn’t crave stability. This is the coach who — unlike most of his peers — won’t accept the security of being with one elite championship-level team or athlete on an extended basis.

In tennis, this person is Wim Fissette, whose tenure as coach of Angelique Kerber will not continue into 2019. The two parties could not arrive at a mutually agreeable solution on how to continue their professional partnership. As a result, Fissette’s nomadic yet spectacularly successful coaching career will move to a new player, presumably one on the WTA Tour.

“Why did this happen?”, you might ask with good reason. It is simply the case that Fissette is tennis’s foremost nomad. He is the Larry Brown of this sport.

Larry Brown, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, is widely regarded as one of the basketball geniuses of his time, one of the greatest coaches who has ever lived.

Brown is the ONLY MAN in history to win a college basketball national championship in the United States AND the NBA championship. He won the collegiate national title at the University of Kansas in 1988, and the NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He led the most successful college basketball program of all time — the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) — to the national championship game in his first season on the job in L.A. in 1980. He led the Philadelphia 76ers to their last NBA Finals appearance in 2001. Philadelphia has made only one trip to the NBA Finals in the past 35 years — Brown was the man who got the Sixers to that point.

Brown, who is no longer an active coach at age 78, began coaching in 1972 and coached until 2016, taking only three years off. He has coached for over 40 seasons.

Brown could have made a long-term home at almost every place he coached, given his ability to generate great results. Yet, in his 41 seasons, his longest tenure was just six seasons — with Philadelphia from 1997-1998 through 2002-2003.

Brown coached 10 different professional basketball clubs and three different college teams, meaning he coached at 13 different jobs. At only ONE of those 13 stops did he fail to make the playoff tournament… and that was a place where he coached only one season due to a fallout with team management. Brown was a man who took jobs with teams which had been struggling and built them into winners. He spent much of his career “fixing” basketball teams, whereas other men such as Phil Jackson spent their careers coaching elite teams and making sure they won championships.

Wim Fissette, very simply, is the Larry Brown of women’s tennis.

He coached Kim Clijsters in the shimmering and hugely successful final act of her career, guiding her to multiple major titles. Fissette coached Sabine Lisicki when the German made her only major final at Wimbledon in 2013. Fissette was there when Simona Halep burst onto the scene in 2014, making the Roland Garros final and the Wimbledon semifinals as part of a breakthrough year. He coached Victoria Azarenka to the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami in 2016. He coached Johanna Konta to the Miami title, Wimbledon semifinals, and a career-high No. 4 ranking in 2017. He then paired with Kerber and led the German to a redemptive and restorative 2018 season, complete with a first Wimbledon championship but also three major quarterfinals and two semifinals.

Fissette wins almost everywhere he goes… but his longest coaching tenure with a player was just three years (with Clijsters).

There is one such coach in most, if not all, sports. It is not conventional or typical, but there is at least one restless nomad out there in the distance.

Wim Fissette, taking a page from Larry Brown, is that man in women’s tennis.

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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