James Corrigan: Why do coaches just sit there and take verbal volleys from furious players?
It's like trying to be an individual in the chorus line of 'Les Miserables'. All that advice about who they should be, so little time to be who they are
Monday 27 June 2011
Pity the poor tennis coach whose feelings are ranked lower than a piece of carbon fibre weighing considerably less than a bag of sugar. Why is it players receive dire warnings for their "racket abuse", yet their "coach abuse" goes unchallenged and unpunished?
What a strange message to give out to the kids, who may well conclude that their parents are inferior to their frisbee. We can only pray the most impressionable were not watching first when Marion Bartoli demanded her father/coach, Walter, leave Court 12 as she struggled to victory against Flavia Pennetta and then when Novak Djokovic proceeded to bash seven bells out of his Head IG Speed (eliciting a stern rebuke from the umpire) and at least the same number of chimes out of Marian Vajda (eliciting a weak quip from Andrew Castle).
Actually, we don't know if Djokovic's wrath was directed towards Vajda. It's hard to tell exactly who is being bollocked when there's 20 yards separating them, particularly when the bollockee remains as expressionless as a husband being loudly reprimanded by his wife in a packed supermarket. Brad Gilbert was the first to perfect this look during a relationship with Andy Murray which made that of Sid and Nancy seem harmonious.
So, in the essential sunglasses, Brad sat there, poker-faced, thinking to himself: "If I just sit here saying and doing nothing perhaps no one will notice." But we all did and wondered why he didn't scream back: "You're the one who's mishitting the shots, yer big ginger Jessie."
Of course, the salary and the contract inspire submission, but it also has to do with the very public nature of the scenario. The players' boxes are the problem. They're in the same place every time, meaning not only does the player know exactly where to look but so, too, do the spectators. When anyone watches a Murray match they instinctively look for his mum. And it is as difficult to spot Judy Murray on Celtic Court nowadays as it is to spot Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford (shameful FA touchline ban notwithstanding). Meanwhile, the coach could only be more noticeable if there was a big arrow dangling from the roof saying "Djokovic's coach".
Still, at least Vajda has company up there. A top tennis player's entourage rivals Dizzee Rascal's in number. Never mind the coach, there is a fitness coach, a masseuse, a mind coach, a personal doctor, an agent, a media manager, an equipment representative, a clothing representative, two parents, a few uncles, a blonde girlfriend... the list goes on. It reminds of that episode of The Young Ones when Neil returns home after an exam.
"It was terrible," said the hapless hippy. "I sat in the big hall and put my packet of polos on the desk, and my spare pencil and my support gonk and my chewing gum and my extra pen, and my extra polos and my lucky gonk, and my pencil sharpener shaped like a cream cracker and three more gonks with a packet of polos in each, and lead for my retractable pencil and my retractable pencil, and my spare lead for my retractable pencil, and chewing gum and pencils and pens and more gonks and the guy said: 'Stop writing please'."
It's a good job the player doesn't have to introduce his team to the crowd, like say, Elton John does with his backing band. Otherwise Today at Wimbledon would feature live footage.
Due to space constraints the back-room staff have already burst into the front room and the question must be if they're all really necessary. After all, Rod Laver was pretty good and he travelled with one coach who would double up as his practice partner, friend and adviser. But tennis has been transformed into a team sport and if you want to know why there are fewer "individuals" than there used to be, perhaps look no further than their accompanying circus. It's like trying to be an individual in the chorus line of Les Miserables. All that advice about who they should be, so little time to be who they are. Is it any wonder they sometimes rebel when they are flailing alone in the spotlight – à la Djoko – and seek to redistribute the despair?
It's the same in golf. There was a time when the pro's entourage would consist of a) him and b) a drunk caddie. Now there's seemingly one adviser for each hole and a few back-ups just in case of a sudden-death play-off. "I'm amazed we could ever get around golf courses on our own," so England's double major winner Tony Jacklin once told me. "I mean, how did we cope without somebody looking after our muscles, somebody else telling us how great we are and somebody else counting our money?"
Naturally, the last point is key. The successful tennis players and golf pros have become industries and big industries at that. There is far too much invested in them and their achievements to allow them to fend for themselves or, heaven forbid, to do their own thing. So curse away, Novak. Make them suffer while you suffer. You're all in this together. There's no I in team, although there is a "me" in blame.
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