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Coach, a guru and friend

A lot of people back home have been asking me why Lleyton Hewitt failed so badly in defending his men's singles title. I had written in my first article itself that the top seed would find the going difficult as there has been a lot going through the mind.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2003 01:54 IST

A lot of people back home have been asking me why Lleyton Hewitt failed so badly in defending his men's singles title at The Championships. I had written in my first article itself that the top seed would find the going difficult as there has been a lot going through the mind. It's tough being out on the Tour with so much to take care of. Being out for over 30 weeks of tournament play, there's a lot which goes through a player's mind and that's where the role of a travelling coach gets magnified.

I can tell you for sure, when Lleyton made the decision to part ways with Jason Stoltenberg, it must have been a tough one. I think Lleyton owes a lot to Stoltenberg I have played him a few times, including the 1993 Davis Cup semifinal in Chandigarh.

Even on Sunday, when I was at one of the tennis clinics in London organised by Emilio Sanchez at a David Lloyd centre, I was asked to talk on a few subjects on tennis. Believe me, the topic of coach-player always crops up and I have to explain what my experiences have been.

Back to Lleyton. I think he did get affected after he parted ways with Stoltenberg. It takes a lot for a player-coach relationship to develop, and when it does come to an end, it is not easy for the player. Yes, I can tell you for sure, that when such relationships do come to an end, they are decided mutually. It was under Stoltenberg that Lleyton's ascent began and then he reached the pinnacle. But when Lleyton decided to move away from Stoltenberg, it must have been after a lot of thought.

A player-coach relationship does not mean just that tennis is taken care of. For a coach, travelling means a 24-hour job, where every need of the player is taken care of. A coach is a guru, as well as a friend. On court, the player learns a lot from the coach, and off court, he places huge faith in the coach.

I can say for sure, a player trusts the coach 100 per cent. If it's evening and a player wants to go out for dinner, a coach has to be ready. If a player is having some personal problem, he looks up to the coach for advice and valuable suggestion.

It's not just a coincidence that players have been changing coaches a lot in recent weeks. Andy Roddick, my favourite from the top half, has benefitted by taking on Brad Gilbert as coach.

And at the same time, if Agassi has parted ways with Gilbert and signed on Darren Cahill, he has also reaped the benefits, which is why he is back in the No.1 slot.

A coach-player relationship is sacred and whatever you hear outside may not be always true. I have had the benefit of having been under very good coaches, who were not only my gurus, but taught me so much that I could deal with all kinds of issues.

I think I must make a mention first of David O'Meara and Chandra Sir (T.Chandrashekar) who worked a lot on the fundamentals when I was with BAT. As the years progressed I was helped out by Gene Mayer, Naresh Kumar Sir, Tony Roche and Bob Carmichael. For me, each one was a guru, each one taught me several facets, which even today stand me in good stead at 30 years of age.

This is my second year on the Tour without a coach. Some might wonder how I manage without a fulltime coach. The truth is the coaches have taught me so much, today I feel confident of managing on my own.

Each player-coach relationship has a life span. Each one of them took me to a new level. And when I say each player-coach relationship has a life span, it applies to all the players. That is why we see so many changes happening out there on the Tour not only in the men's section but also in the women's side. (PMG)

First Published: Jul 02, 2003 00:50 IST