Pioline's therapy pays dividends

By John Roberts
Friday 16 August 2013 06:36
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Cedric Pioline, who hopes to become the first Frenchman for 37 years to win the singles title here, is the most experienced competitor in the tournament but not necessarily the most secure. He and his coach are receiving counselling to improve their working relationship.

Pioline says Pierre Cherret only talks about the negatives in his game and ought to understand that he likes to be praised for the good things he does.

They have regular therapy sessions with Jean-Marc Lhabbouz, a sports psychologist with the French Tennis Federation.

Cherret and Pioline met at a tennis academy and socialised together as teenagers. While Pioline pursued a career as a professional, Cherret, three years older, decided his future was in coaching.

When Pioline split with his former coach, Henri Dumont, in 1994, he asked Cherret to help him for a few months, explaining that he thought he was too young and inexperienced to do the job full time. They got on so well that Pioline continued to consult Cherret on a part-time basis and then employed him full-time in 1997.

"Despite the fact that we are friends, I feel I can tell Cedric everything he needs to be told," Cherret says. "I just have to choose my words."

The chemistry has worked so far this week. Pioline, a finalist at the Monte Carlo Open in 1993 and 1998, advanced to the semi-finals yesterday, defeating Karol Kucera, of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-4, to sustain home interest in an ATP Tour Tennis Masters Series event shorn of several big names to begin with and soon bereft of seeded players.

Pioline, the No 8 and the only seed remaining, will play Morocco's Karim Alami, who defeated Albert Costa, the No 12 seed, 6-4, 7-5.

Today's unseeded semi-final is between Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, who survived a keen contest against Alex Corretja, the Spanish No 9 seed, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Gaston Gaudio, of Argentina, who eliminated the Spanish prospect Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Gaudio, who changed his coach a few weeks ago, parting from Jorge Gerosi in favour of Horacio De La Pena, a former Tour player, believes a relationship with a coach is similar to a bond with a fiancée.

"It is the same thing," Gaudio said. "You have to have a special feeling with your coach. You can't choose any kind of coach just because he is good.

"If you don't trust him, then it doesn't work. I was practising with Horacio when I was 15. We finished because he was too busy and could not travel around the world with me. Now we are together again.

"The help he gives me is not in my tennis. It is in my concentration, to put everything of me into what I do. Horacio is a very tough guy, and I was very lazy sometimes."

Hrbaty, a semi-finalist at the French Open last year, is coached by Marian Vajda, a Slovakian former Tour player. "I think a player's relationship with a coach is like a marriage," Hrbaty said, "because you are travelling with him all the year. You have to be good friends and understand each other.

"You have to believe your coach. If he is saying that you played this bad or this good, you have to believe that it was really like that. You have to be like one man also during the game. I look at Marian sometimes. He always supports me and shows me that I have to fight, and he never let me down."

The strain on a player-coach relationship is not helped by the increasing demands of a crowded season. Corretja, a former president of the ATP Tour Player Council, has warned the Tour Board that players will burn out unless the bigger tournaments are distributed more evenly to allow breathing space.

"Otherwise more players will pull out of the tournaments like the big guys do," Corretja says. "Why is [Pete] Sampras not here? Because he won the Ericsson Open. He played Davis Cup, then he said it is not worth it for him to go to Monte Carlo.

"It is great to have these Masters Series tournaments, but at least give a chance to rest a little bit, otherwise you just burn out after a couple of days or a couple of weeks. The problems are difficult to solve, but not impossible. So they should think about it."

Gaston Gaudio, Argentina, def. Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain, 6-4, 6-2. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia, def. Alex Corretja (9), Spain, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Cedric Pioline (8), France, def. Karol Kucera, Slovakia, 6-2, 6-4. Karim Alami, Morocco, def. Albert Costa (12), Spain, 6-4, 7-5.

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