Young players turn to ex-pros hoping for Slam breakthrough
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Goran Ivanisevic won one Wimbledon title in his colorful tennis career, but the big-serving Croatian believes he might have won even more if he'd had an ex-player as his coach, like many of the top competitors do today.
''Bad luck I did not have someone like me to coach me when I was (playing),'' he said Tuesday at the Australian Open. ''I should have had this Goran to coach that Goran. Probably I would win at least five, six more Grand Slams.''
Ivanisevic, 43, is now part of the latest trend in tennis - the exclusive but steadily growing club of former pro players who have turned to coaching in their post-retirement years.
The big-name stars like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray may have glamorized the ex-player hires in recent years, taking on Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl/Amelie Maursemo, respectively. But the players just behind them in the rankings have also jumped on the bandwagon to try to close the gap and contend for slams.
Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic both won their first majors last year under the tutelage of former players - Wawrinka is coached by Swede Magnus Norman and Cilic by Ivanisevic. And Kei Nishikori has former French Open champion Michael Chang in his corner, while Milos Raonic is coached by Ivan Ljubicic, once ranked No. 3 in the world.
Chang believes the ex-player coaches have caught on among these players, in part, because they can bring valuable perspective from their own careers that could be the final piece needed for a breakthrough at the majors.
The fifth-seeded Nishikori hired Chang at the end of 2013 and proceeded to make his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, where he was beaten by Cilic. He plays defending champion Wawrinka on Wednesday for a spot in the semifinals.
''The mentality and attitude ends up playing a very important role,'' the 42-year-old Chang said.
''We all know everybody can come out here and play great tennis, they all hit great forehands, great backhands and great serves, but the mindset is another element that the public and press don't see. Something that I try to help him out and give him good advice wherever I can.''
Ivanisevic, who reached three Wimbledon finals before finally winning in 2001, sees how valuable this insight can be when looking back at his own career.
''I say (to Cilic), `Listen, you're going to learn only by learning not to the same mistakes that I did,''' he said. ''It would take 10 days to tell you how many mistakes I made.''
Ivanisevic has known Cilic since 2002 when he invited the then-14-year-old rising junior to practice with him. Cilic, who pulled out of this year's Australian Open due to a shoulder injury, hired Ivanisevic to coach him in 2013.
''It's nice to have somebody in the corner who was through all these things,'' Ivanisevic said. ''Unfortunately, I could not do things with myself that I can do with him. But I succeeded with him, also made me proud.''
Ljubicic, too, was drawn to coaching by the opportunity to help one of the game's rising stars take the next step. Raonic also plays for a spot in the semifinals Wednesday against Djokovic.
A former French Open semifinalist, Ljubicic, 35, said there's an expectation that an ex-player coach can have an immediate impact on a player's results, but this isn't necessarily the case.
His coaching relationship with Raonic, which began just a year after Ljubicic retired in 2012, got off to a rocky start.
''We had difficult first few weeks because (Raonic) was struggling, out of confidence and out of shape, but we decided to try a little bit longer and the results started to come,'' Ljubicic said.
Ljubicic said he wasn't going to return to the grind of the tennis tour for just any player, either. He wanted to coach a contender.
''(Milos is) one of the most determined and motivated people that I have ever met, and that meets my needs and my type of people that I want to work with,'' he said.
Chang, too, didn't take the decision to return to the tour lightly. He said it wouldn't have been possible without the help of his wife, who travels with him and takes care of their two children.
''It's fun to be able to work with Kei and to see him excel and improve,'' Chang said. ''Spending time with my family is important, too.''