In legendary days of Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Agassi and Graf, starting on the pro circuit had its pressures and many didn’t have money to hire a coach. The family had common ideas and some expert knowledge on coaching their child. Jimmy’s mom Gloria, along with Chris, Agassi and Graf’s dad had great experience so family coaching it was till the dynamics would stop working. Connors’ mom Gloria learned tennis from her mother so Jimmy was taught and coached by his mom and grandmom. “We taught him to be a tiger” and to “get those tiger juices flowing” Gloria would say. Chris Evert had the strong coaching regime from her professional tennis coach dad Jimmy Evert. Steffi Graf’s dad Peter and Agassi’s father Emmanuel had that tough, rough style but oftentimes was to strict and soon it lead them to seek other coaches.
The rigid coaching style on a teen can have negative effects as it did for Croatian’s Mirjana Lucic with dad Marinko, Jelena Dokic’s father Damir and Timea Bacsinsky’s father, Igor who was a tennis pro. There were times when Dokic’s father was literally banned from entering tennis venues and Timea would proclaim “I have a father who put me in a cage”. “When I got my first sponsor, he quit work to become my coach, it was the worst moment of my life”. France’s Marion Bartoli had many wins from father Walter’s coaching but the domination was at the negative end of it all.
Boris Becker, former player, now coach of Novak Djokovic commented long ago “I don’t like to see parents getting involved on a weekly basis in their child’s tennis career. Your father or mother should be your father or mother first and foremost. My message to Bartoli is that I don’t like to see parents of tennis players being on the payroll of their children…”.
The relationship fathers who coach their children are special and ever challenging. Twins and doubles play specialists Bob and Mike Bryan had years of their dad Wayne’s coaching. He started having too much empathy and desire for them to win and watching was agony. The Bryans had said “Sometimes the parents want it more than the kids, which puts pressure on the kids to perform…you never want to feel like they’re more disappointed than you are….the lines get blurred…it’s very hard to flip the switch on and off.”
At present, Italy’s Camila Giorgi is going through that watchful dad coaching with father Sergio’s tense sideline watching. Poland’s Aga Radwanska had a time of it when her father Robert coached her and most times feelings were strained. He had gotten disgusted one time and said she needed a psychiatrist; that’s when she changed coaches. But all father-child coaching situations aren’t a struggle.
Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki ranked in the top 30s now, has had many coaches in the past 3 years and says “…I feel like I’ve tried enough and I’m tired…my dad (Piotr) is a great coach and it’s been working really well…I realize that when my family doesn’t travel with me to tournaments, I feel kind of lonely and I don’t enjoy the game as much”.
Swiss lady Belinda Bencic has been coached by dad Ivan since she was 4 years old, with her pivotal coach being Martina Hingis’ mom Melanie Molitor, but her dad is the primary coach. He did a great job with Belinda, but admits “sometimes it works, sometimes not…but it’s important the parents are with the young players because they sometimes start early…family is important”. Sibling coaches also exist with Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic coached by brother Marko and long ago veteran Spain’s Arantxa Sanchez Vicario coached by brother Emilio. The instances will happen when family coaches really put the player in the middle of a peculiar situation. They can’t release their relative because of the dedication they have with them, but yet if they aren’t winning, something has to be done.
Rafael Nadal and his Uncle Toni have a rare dynamics but many have said when Nadal started that downward spiral down the ranks with constant losts, people said Uncle Toni should leave and new blood (coaching) should arrive. Djokovic has given his take on the matter saying “any move to get rid of Uncle Toni as coach could backfire on Nadal”.
The same for France’s Caroline Garcia with her dad Louis-Paul bringing her up to the top 40, but she hasn’t elevated in a while. He hasn’t any tennis coaching qualifications and didn’t even play pro tennis. He doesn’t want to go and she feels obligated to keep him even when her ranking to elevate is at a stand still.
The latest on the mother-child coaching strings is Britain’s Heather Watson and her mom Michelle. Heather had seen herself without a coach when her permanent one left to be with his young family in Argentina and then Judy Murray served as an interim until after the Davis Cup and Australian Open times. Heather entered the Monterrey tournament in Mexico and didn’t hesitate to ring her mum Michelle to join her. Michelle came and hasn’t regretted it since. Heather says “It’s very different to be traveling with a parent rather than a coach, but it’s working well…My mum has been with me my whole career and she’s a proper tennis geek. She knows all the results, who everyone’s been playing…” But time will tell if this mother-daughter coaching dynamics will work out for Heather, since Michelle came on the scene, Heather has enjoyed 6 straight victories including her 2nd career title. So far, so good or as Belinda Bencic’s father has said “sometimes it works, sometimes not”.