Without a net
Could a new coach make No. 1 Federer even better?
Posted: Monday August 27, 2007 12:43PM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 2:30PM
NEW YORK -- Does the greatest tennis player in the world need the help of a coach to get even better?
Over the past several years, Roger Federer has proven he can dominate the game with or without a coach. Earlier this year, the world No. 1 ended his coaching agreement with legendary player and coach Tony Roche.
When word got out that Federer would once again navigate the ATP Tour without the assistance of a coach, seemingly everyone with a pedigree asked to be considered for the coveted position. His agent, IMG's Tony Godsick, has been besieged with phone calls of high-profile coaches offering their services.
Federer, who won three Grand Slams without a coach in 2005, has openly said he doesn't think he needs or wants a coach with him on a weekly basis, but would like to have a coach for the training weeks before and between big events.
In my mind, there are two clear-cut front-runners for the position: Paul Annacone and Darren Cahill. Both are among the most respected coaches in the world and have similar resumes, which include outstanding playing careers and coaching stints with former No. 1 players. Annacone coached Pete Sampras, while Cahill helped guide the careers of Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi.
Both are similar in style and approach to the game. They both keep their advice simple but specific to the strengths of their players. Their personalities would also mesh well with Federer's understated, low-maintenance character.
Both have other gigs -- Cahill other gigs is an analyst for ESPN and coach of the Australian Davis Cup team, while Annacone coaches Tim Henman and serves as a consultant for the Lawn Tennis Association -- that make them familiar with the current crop of players against whom Federer competes.
The bigger question is whether Federer will commit to making adjustments in his game in response to the recent improvements of top contenders Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. While Federer is still the dominant player in the game, the gap is undoubtedly closing. Nadal is gaining on Federer head-to-head, stretching the Wimbledon final between them to a thrilling fifth set, while Djokovic stunned Federer in the Montreal final earlier this month.
If Federer can find an elite coach whom he believes in, that guy might be able to push the Swiss star past his comfort zone and get him to make proactive adjustments in his game. Federer has proven that he can win at a staggering pace playing anyway he likes, but his reluctance to move forward on the court and serve-and-volley are perplexing to many in tennis.
What's ironic is that he's an amazing volleyer and showed early in his career how capable of serving and volleying he is. I know that he feels most comfortable at the back of the court, where he can use his athleticism to out-maneuver his opponents, but Nadal and Djokovic have proven that they can keep up with him from the baseline.
The dimension Federer has that they don't is his ability to dominate in the front-court -- that's an area he's going to have to commit to sooner rather than later.
Federer has proven that he is more than capable of governing his own game. But his belief in and dependence on a good coach would help him make the necessary adjustments that could benefit him in the years to come.
Outspoken ATP tennis pro Justin Gimelstob is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He's competing in his 13th U.S. Open.