Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Tennis Legends Now on Display As Coaches In U.S. Open Semifinals
NEW YORK — Between them, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including three U.S. Opens.
By Monday evening, one of them will add another U.S. Open title to his resumé — as a coach.
All four legends have a horse in the race for this year’s Flushing Meadows championship.
Edberg, who won U.S. Open titles in 1991 and ’92, coaches the five-time Open champion Roger Federer, who takes on Marin Cilic in one semifinal Saturday. Cilic is coached by his fellow Croation Ivanisevic, whose lone Grand Slam title came at Wimbledon in 2001.
Becker, who won the U.S. Open crown in 1989, coaches top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who meets Kei Nishikori in the first semifinal. Nishikori, the first Japanese man to make a Grand Slam semifinal in the Open Era, is coached by the former French Open champ Chang.
“First and foremost, it’s just incredible to see these guys back in the locker room,” ESPN analyst Darren Cahill told SNY.tv of the former stars-turned-coaches. “Never before in any generation of the game have we seen former legends like this come back to help current players. To see this happen, I think it sends the biggest message that this generation of tennis player is different from every other generation, for what they achieved, for the way they’ve dominated the game the last five or six years, for the amount of majors they’ve won.
“That speaks volumes to how good these four guys are and the fact that these guys want to be a part of it.”
Federer has won a men’s record 17 majors and Djokovic has seven. Andy Murray, who was beaten by Djokovic in the quarterfinals and is coached by former women’s world No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo, owns two. The exception to this group is Rafael Nadal, a 14-time major winner who is coached by his uncle, Toni Nadal, who was not a tennis star himself.
Between them the Big Four have won 36 of the last 38 majors.
Federer, who came back from two sets down against Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals Thursday night, grew up idolizing the serve-and-volleyers Edberg and Becker. Federer and Edberg hooked up early this year.
“So when I called him, I expected, you know, a negative answer clearly,” Federer said before the tournament began. “He doesn’t need to do this in any way. So I’m thrilled that he took the opportunity. He sees it as a really big opportunity to help me and get me to winning ways. It’s going really well. I’m really pleased how we’re able to manage everything, because he hasn’t followed the game very closely the last 15 years, but he has a lot of experience as a player….I think we really make a great team. He really enjoys himself on the tour now.”
While Chang pumped his fists in the player’s box after Nishikori outlasted No. 3 Stan Wawrinka (who is coached by former world No. 2 Magnus Norman) in five sets on Wednesday, Edberg has been more stoic — like a typical Swede.
Still, Edberg has perhaps had the greatest impact of the coaches on his player’s style, as evidenced by the fact that Federer had 74 net approaches against Nishikori, winning 53 of them.
“There is different ways to come to the net,” Federer said after the epic win over Monfils. “It’s serve and volley, it’s serve one shot come in, or throughout the rally. So I think it depends a little bit on who I’m playing. I know that Cilic is going to stay on the baseline and dictate play as much as he can. Otherwise he’s actually quite similar to Gaël: he’s tall, got a big serve, can return well, got a big reach. From that standpoint, I guess it was actually good playing Gaël tonight ahead of the match against Cilic.”
For his part, Ivanisevic enjoys seeing his fellow former stars coaching today’s giants.
“It’s crazy and it’s fun and it’s great to see Michael, Stefan and Boris all in the semifinals,” Ivanisevic told Chris Clarey of the New York Times. “We had so many great matches against each other, and now we are sitting there and we can’t do anything, just clap and hope our guys are playing well and winning. Now one of us is going to win a Grand Slam again as a coach. Who? It’s going to be interesting.”
Cahill said Edberg, Becker, Ivanisevic and Chang are more devoted to their charges than some previous celebrity coaches, and he hopes they stick around.
“It’s not about these guys at all, it’s all about their players and I think that’s different from the occasions we’ve seen it before,” he said. “I have a huge smile on my face seeing it happen. I think everybody loves it, I think the players love it.
“Even if you don’t have one of these former legends looking after you, the fact that they’re spending time with these guys in the locker room is great for everyone involved, and I hope we continue to see more of it.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.