Roland Garros 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

The French is the epicurean’s tournament, where the kiosks feature crepes filled with apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar, and ice cream bars favored with Grand Marnier; where hot dogs doze in light, crisp rolls that resemble sleeping bags; where these and other specialities evolved through centuries of respectful doting on the sensitive receptacle that for some peoples is a mere stomach.

The French tournament site, like those of Wimbledon and the US Open, is located just far enough outside the city to achieve a slumberous, almost pastoral quality. The Stade Roland Garros borders the Bois de Boulogne, the rambling park that contains the famed Longchamp Race Course and the Racing Club de France. The stadium and its grounds, named after a World War I aviator killed in action, were constructed in 1927 primarly for the defense of the Davis Cup.

Despite the French preoccupation with style, there is a monotonous, almost martial quality to Roland Garros. Yet this grim undertone strikes a symbolic note, for the French is the most grueling tournament in the world. The Italian assaults the nerves, Wimbledon tests the spirit, and the US Open challenges the will. The French attacks the body and often defeats a player through sheer exhaustion. Matches routinely last four hours on the slow clay, and despite the draw of 128, five-set matches are the rule from the start. Tennis at the French is trench warfare; lobs are lifted like deadly mortars, except they almost always come back. Battles that commence while the idle are still taking croissants and café au lait on the the Boulevard Saint-Germain last long into the dusk. As late as nine in the evening, there is still enough light to keep the contestants engaged.

The main walkway at Roland Garros:

Roland Garros 1978

Arthur Ashe, serving and selling his way deep into the Paris underground:

Metro Porte d'Auteuil, Roland Garros 1978
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Article by Tennis Magazine, April 2014, translated by Tennis Buzz. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Georges Deniau

Former coach of the French Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams

What can these former number one bring to today’s great champions?

1 – On their game system in general: a more or less methodical but sharp review because their vision is of the highest level of our sport. It can only be to do a little more or a little less this and that (depending on their qualities, surface, weather, their opponent etc.) and take everything into account (strokes, game areas, duration of rallyes, initiatives, variations, improvisations, adaptations, percentage). With their sharp eye it can bring a decisive bonus on a specific point!

2 – On their personal technique, it is unlikely that they have to intervene. Perhaps a detail, with the coach in place and the desire of the player himself of course.

3 – For the training itself, they had different habits . However, they may suggest things and bring new life with enthusiasm and passion, the ingredients necessary to be effective.

4 – In the mental area where these three cracks (Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are top notch, with Nadal, it is an additional challenge. Prove themselves, prove to their team, and to the skeptics they were right. Any excess of zeal could have the opposite effect: doubt. It won’t be the case . A “detail” will perhaps have done difference. And in this case, it will not be a simple “detail” anymore…

Patrice Hagelauer

Former coach of Yannick Noah

Basically it comes from a need to be reassured. They seek confidence and serenity they sometimes lost and need to confide in a champion, who is somehow their equal. I don’t see that as a work of a coach, it is more psychology, it is more on the emotional level than on the playing level. With these legends, the champions of the caliber of Federer and Djokovic can speak freely and confide. This is very different from the work of a coach who is there all year long and who has not this experience.

Federer is not look not looking for someone who accompanies him on the court, he wants someone to help him feel good. Sometimes a champion simply needs another speech, or the same things said otherwise. Because all that really lies in the field of communication. Former champions see things and analyze them with many
objectivity. They are not in emotions like a coach who lives these situations for the first times can be.

All these experiences make me think of Yannick Noah, who had many discussions with Arthur Ashe, when I was coaching him. These moments were essential for Yannick because Arthur had a role model. He was a character who was shining on an off court. The discussions they had and that could be very intimate really triggered many things with in him, confidence and self-esteem. For me too, in my work as a coach, it brought me a lot. It comforted me in my approach.

Yannick Noah

I was surprised to see Boris and Stefan back to the circuit. But it makes sense. They can bring, share. Boris has experienced amazing things… And they are available. I talked to Boris I can tell you that I feel he’s really motivated.

Paul-Henri Mathieu

Coached by Mats Wilander between January and September 2008

The big difference in the speech of these former players is that they are used to these important situations and they know what to expect. That is something you can not talk about with a coach who has not experienced these major events. In the matches preparation it was interesting for me to have the opinion of a former great player.

At the beginning of my practices with Mats and especially during matches, I felt the need to impress him because he was not everybody else! I was a little scared at first, afraid of being judged, but this disappeared after a few weeks.
What is undeniable is that these champions have a background in more in comparison to another coach. But it’s not enough, otherwise it would be too easy, everyone would take a former player!
What’s difficult for a former player who becomes a coach is to find the right balance and remember you’re a coach and not a player anymore. Some former players understand it very well and others will have difficulty to adapt, and to put themselves in the player’s skin. To coach is something else, it is a full-time job.

To coach is not to judge others, it is also to feed oneself from the player. The former champions know that and in general it works well. But it is not so easy. Everyone is not able to embark on a new career, because it takes time and energy. With stopped our collaboration with Mats, because I needed someone full-time and he had other obligations.

Wotjek Fibak

Former champion, former coach of Ivan Lendl and Djokovic’s advisor during the 2013 US Open

For me, the cases of Becker, Edberg and Lendl are very different. Djokovic, when he started working with Becker was at his best. Technically , tactically and physically. He had not lost since a few months. The only thing to expect from Becker is that he doesn’t change anything, waste anything. The bonus, for Djokovic is to have a star in his box, and have him as friend. This is not a need, it is more a trend now than a necessity…

Edberg, he came alongside Federer in a crisis, or just out of a crisis. But he is like all the Swedes, except Wilander: as much as Becker is open, lively and funny, Stefan is shy, and do not talk much. But Federer is a little “in love” with him and Edberg is his idol. Edberg brings his presence and can make Federer a little more aggressive. It worked in Australia until Nadal. But Federer can’t beat him by coming to the net or playing rallyes, so… Becker and Edberg are financially independent. With them, it is more a story of fun and friendship than real coaching.

It is really different for Lendl. Murray needed Ivan’s help mentally, physically and tactically. He improved everything. Djokovic and Federer, what could they change?

But I am very happy with this trend. It’s great!

Sam Sumyk

Victoria Azarenka‘s coach

As I am someone curious, all these experiences interest me. We must be patient before making a true assessment .
Tennis is often played on details, so the help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is certainly on details. It can be technical or psychological. It may be taks about the game or small changes in all the parameters of the game. This is the advantage of high level it is not just the technique of the forehand or backhand, there are a lot of parameters that come into play.

All these champions have experienced so many things, they went through so many emotions. They have a
background more important than ours, that mine for example. They have an asset that lambda coach do not have: the anticipation. They understand better what is going to happen, they have more instinct yo know how the player will react on different situations. Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change their game. Their is no limit, it is only a matter of will.

Players have the right to go for it, if it’s allow them to improve. When you engage in a certain way, you don’t always know what will happen. You are still a little in doubt, but it is positive, it moves forward.
With Vika, we experimented with Amélie Mauresmo, it seemed interesting to have a woman with us, to have an outside view, someone with her experience, someone Vika would respect. It was worth it, and it was rewarding for everyone: Vika was able to share with Amélie, but I found it also interesting for me.

Arnaud Di Pasquale

I don’t think we can talk of trend. Be careful, work with a former great it’s not the miracle solution. The high level, this is not an exact science. What’s true is that the higher you go, the more you need to unlock things that are difficult to perceive, to feel. The idea, in my opinion , for these players is to have an advisor more than a coach. They expect a speech, a psychological intake more than a technical input. Moreover, it seems that they rely on these former champions on specific periods.
Often, they already have a full-time coach. To not have been a great champion is not a disavantage for a coach. It is a bonus to surround themselves with someone who has experienced the highest level, but the contribution of the great champion does not replace the role of the coach. You can learn how to do this or that shot even if you were not able to do it yourself at very high level, the French system proves it. There’s a lot of theory in the efficency of shots.