Andy Murray hired eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as his coach before the 2012 season. Another eight-time major winner, Jimmy Connors, recently signed on as Maria Sharapova’s new coach. We can only hope that the pairing of a top player with a former Slam champion becomes a trend. In an attempt to facilitate that process, here are 10 partnerships that we’d love to see.
Milos Raonic and Pete Sampras: This is one of the most obvious picks, given their booming serves and Raonic’s well-known admiration for the 14-time major champion. Sampras surely has a world of knowledge he can impart on the 22-year-old Canadian, especially when it comes to serving patterns and tactics. And though Raonic doesn’t try to emulate his idol’s serve-and-volley game, Sampras could help improve his net game.
“I think he’s on the right track, but he’s very young, so let’s be patient here,” Sampras said during an exhibition with Raonic in November 2011. “It takes time to be a champion. All the tools are there. Don’t expect him to win Wimbledon next year. It’s going to take some time, but he can do it. I’m going to watch out for him over the next number of years. He’s going to break through.”
Raonic is still seeking that breakthrough on the big stage: He’s yet to reach a quarterfinal at a Grand Slam tournament.
Caroline Wozniacki and Chris Evert: Grinding baseliners, fierce competitors and a shared taste for golfers, “Sunshine” and Chrissie might make a good match. Wozniacki, a former No. 1 who has fallen to 10th, still has technical problems in her game, but, much like Lendl did for Murray, Evert’s greatest contribution to this pairing could be her champion’s mindset. Evert also knows what it’s like to juggle a tennis career and a high-profile relationship.
Juan Martin del Potro and Gustavo Kuerten: Could there be a more likable duo? I just want them paired up for that reason alone. Kuerten could teach him how to treat a clay court like an Etch A Sketch.
Ernests Gulbis and Marat Safin: Two big, strong, naturally gifted ball-strikers who never met a racket they didn’t want to break — or a reporter’s notebook they couldn’t fill up. Despite the nine-year age gap, the two players with playboy images became friends when Safin was still on tour. When Gulbis was looking for a coach in 2009, Safin recommended his former coach Hernan Gumy. Admittedly, this combination of two combustible guys could go horribly wrong. But despite Safin’s hot-headedness and the perception among critics that he wasn’t dedicated enough to the sport, he still won two Slams and reached No. 1. If that’s underachieving, I think Gulbis would take it.
Petra Kvitova and Martina Navratilova: Their games are markedly different, but if there’s anyone who can inspire the 23-year-old Kvitova to improve her fitness, it’s Navratilova. Aside from the physical focus, the savvy Navratilova also could succeed in helping the 2011 Wimbledon champion develop a Plan B when her power-baseline game starts to unravel.
“She’s a big woman, but use that to your advantage and make it as little a disadvantage as possible,” Navratilova said of Kvitova last year. “I think she just needs to get a little lighter on her feet. Petra doesn’t need to retool but she can definitely improve. She’s 22 years old. I was clueless at that age, so she’s way ahead of me on that one.”
Ryan Harrison and Andy Roddick: One thing about Roddick is he won’t be a paid sycophant. He’s a straight shooter who worked tremendously hard for the career that he had and he won’t accept anything less from his charge. Harrison already respects him as a mentor, and if Roddick were there on a daily basis trying to squeeze every bit of talent and effort from Harrison, I don’t think the 21-year-old would be ranked outside the top 100.
Taylor Townsend and John McEnroe: The 17-year-old loves the net, and she’s constantly trying to figure out ways to get up there to use her remarkably good touch and feel to finish points. That’s music to McEnroe’s ears. I don’t know how their personalities would mesh — does McEnroe know how to Vine? — but from a tactical perspective, Townsend could learn a lot from the fellow left-hander.
Kei Nishikori and Andre Agassi: Undersized and speedy counterpunchers. The biggest thing Agassi can do for Nishikori is get him fitter. Nishikori, 23, is ranked a career-high No. 11, but he’s still looking to prove that he can withstand the rigors of a full season. A few of those legendary offseason Agassi workouts might do him some good.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Martina Hingis: Radwanska is the only player in today’s game who plays with Hingis’ variety and has a tennis brain similar to that of the Swiss Miss. Unlike most of the pairings on this list, this one is actually feasible because Hingis has dabbled in coaching. Hingis could add more offense to Radwanska’s game, which has already improved dramatically over the last two years. She might be able to convince Radwanska that she can beat the big hitters and introduce some tactics to give her a chance against the three players ranked ahead of her, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Hingis never suffered from a lack of self-belief. Radwanska could learn from that.
Jerzy Janowicz and Goran Ivanisevic: Janowicz’s game is built for grass, as he showed at Wimbledon this year, and at 22 he has as good a chance as any young player of eventually winning the tournament. Janowicz is an emotional guy with whom a crowd can connect if he lets it. Ivanisevic, a former Wimbledon champion and fan favorite who knew how to work the court like a stage, might be the guy who could unlock that side of Janowicz and allow him to play even more freely than he already does.
What player-coach pairings would you love to see? Sound off in the comments or contact us on Twitter.