Coach's role is becoming too much for one man

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The Independent Online

In May Roger Federer split with his coach, Tony Roche, having recruited the Australian two years previously with a view to improving his clay-court game in particular. Within a week of the announcement Federer had beaten Rafael Nadal on the king of clay's favourite surface for the first time in six attempts. Six months later the world No 1 has still to appoint a new coach, but it has not stopped him successfully defending his Wimbledon and US Open titles and again reaching the final of the French Open.

While it would be misleading to suggest that Federer's example shows that top players hardly need coaches – the case of Fernando Gonzalez, whose game and fortunes were transformed by his appointment of Larry Stefanki last year, could be used to argue the exact opposite – their role varies enormously from player to player.

Jimmy Connors, recruited by Andy Roddick last year, did a fine job restoring his charge's confidence and self-belief. Peter Lundgren coached Marcelo Rios and Marat Safin, two of the game's more volatile characters, and his success was as much down to his ability to cope with their temperaments as to his knowledge of kick serves and running forehands. Sometimes a player might be looking for a personal assistant as much as a coach: someone to make sure things run as smoothly off the court as they do on it.

In his short career Andy Murray has already had plenty of experience of different coaches. Leon Smith saw him through his teenage years before he went to train in Barcelona. Murray rapidly dispensed with his first coach on the senior tour, 69-year-old Pato Alvarez, and turned instead to a younger man in Mark Petchey, who took over in the summer of 2005. Less than a year later Murray parted from Petchey before linking up in July 2006 with Brad Gilbert.

Nick Bollettieri, Andre Agassi's former coach and the founder of the world's most famous tennis academy, was surprised to learn of the end of Murray's partnership with Gilbert, but approved of the Scot's plan to surround himself with a team rather than look to one individual. "I could envisage a team of three: a physical trainer, someone to work on his technique and someone to motivate him," Bollettieri said. "I think that combination would work well for Andy.

"Being a tennis coach is a very complex job and it's no surprise there are very few great coaches out there. There's a big difference between a teaching pro and a coach. A teaching pro gives a lesson, gets paid and then walks away. But a coach is with a player the whole time and has to be a jack of all trades. He has to do the coaching on court but a lot more besides: booking practice courts, arranging hitting partners, getting rackets strung, ensuring the travel arrangements are all in place.

"You have to understand your player's idiosyncrasies," he added, "know what makes them tick, know what makes them angry. You have to know how to handle the player. And one of the things that players often forget is that coaches have their own lives to live as well."

Federer himself has worked with a number of coaches and talked recently how several different voices can help a player to develop. "You go through different stages where you have different coaches early on," he said. "They always feed you with a lot of information, they motivate you, they tell you how it used to be in the past maybe, they motivate you by telling you what you can achieve.

"You then start to dream a little bit, and you chase those dreams as far as you can. Then eventually you start to realise yourself that you also have capabilities, possibilities and a lot of talent. You want to get the best out of yourself."