Roger Federer’s beautiful one hand backhand (above).
“You don’t have that room for movement with the 2-hander that you do with the one hand.”–Martina Navratilova
September 5, 2010
August 4, 2010
Paul Annacone (R.), looking over Tim Henman’s forehand (above).
I’ve been looking to add someone to my team and I’ve decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone. As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test period. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences.
See you soon
Roger Federer made big news this week when he announced on his official website in a letter to his fans (above) that he has begun to work with legendary American tennis coach Paul Annacone. Annacone, who had captained the British Davis Cup team from 2008 until November, 2010, most recently worked one on one with Britain’s Tim Henman–probably the last men’s player to favor the classic serve and volley style.
Annacone, a successful singles and doubles player in his day, won 14 doubles titles, including 1 major championship (Australian Open, 1985, with partner Christo Van Rensburg), and reached as high as world # 12 in singles, also in 1985. Federer, who takes on new coaches very apprehensively, announced that he has begun working with Annacone on a trial basis, which could be considered by some as a slight to one of tennis’s top coaches, though we should recall that Annacone began to work with his most famous pupil, Pete Sampras, on a trial basis in 1995, when Sampras’ coach Tim Gullickson became too ill to work and travel with Pete.
Annacone helped Pete win 9 majors, including 5 Wimbledon titles and 3 U.S. Open titles, while transforming Pete into an even more aggressive attacker. Annacone, a serve and volleyer who often used the nearly defunct strategy in his return game called the “chip and charge”–when you slice back a return and approach the net behind it–is a New York native who was born in The Hamptons.
Federer announced that he has added Annacone to his team, which is known to include Swiss Davis Cup Captain Severin Luthi. The move is a stark contrast from the last coach that Roger added to the team, Spaniard Jose Higueras, to help him win the French Open. While Higueras’ association with Federer was short lived (they worked together for a few months in 2008), Higueras is widely credited with helping Roger add the forehand drop shot to his repertoire, a shot many feel was instrumental in Roger finally winning Roland Garros in 2009, and a shot that he now employs quite frequently.
Annacone could not be more different from Higueras (BTW, Higueras coached Sampras briefly as well) in terms of tennis philosophy. Annacone helped Pete Sampras become the best attack player the game has ever known by encouraging him to always move forward, even when returning serve on clay. Federer, probably blessed with the best hands in the game today, hopefully tabbed Annacone to improve his net play, and the frequency with which he attacks. Federer and Sampras are friends and frequent hitting partners when Federer is in California, where he has spent an increasing amount of time the last few years. I would bet that Roger made this hire having considered Sampras’ input.
Though it might not have taken a genius to figure out that Roger needed to make this hire specifically, and short of that, then this type of hire. Federer, who turns 29 this week, must be aware of the fact that Sampras won two majors (Wimbledon in 2000, The Open in 2002) in the twilight of his career (at age 29 and 31) with Paul Annacone as his coach.
As a long time tennis fan, and as a devout Sampras and Federer fan, I have a great deal of optimism regarding an Annacone-Federer partnership. For one, Paul Annacone was one of the slowest guys I’ve ever seen play the game, but still managed to maximize his potential by employing solid strategy: an aggressive attacking style that pressured his opponents by taking their time away, and by using the angles on the 78′ rectangle to great advantage.
When you don’t win, you lose confidence. That’s natural. Roger may have some nagging back and leg issues, which he cited as reasons for losing in the quarters at Wimbledon, and they may well have contributed to what has been an even worse year for Federer, to date, than 08–the mono year. When Roger returns to top speed, assuming he’s not yet there, Annacone should be the perfect fit because he is phenomenal at making guys feel good about themselves. Between Sampras’ last Wimbledon title in 2000 and his last Open title in 2002, Pete fired Annacone, and then hired him back after Wimbledon in 2002 where Pete suffered an awful upset to Swiss George Bastl.
Sampras had not won a tournament in over 14 months when he won his last major at Flushing versus Agassi in 2002, and one would think that his confidence would begin to flag. It did. That’s why he re-hired Annacone, and in Pete’s words, had Annacone not been able to resume coaching Sampras, “that might have been it for me.”
On the approach they took and on his reunion with Annacone:
We went back to the basics in our first training sessions shortly after Wimbledon. Paul lifted my spirits from the get-go. It was great to hear his voice again, and to tap into his way of thinking. It mayy sound crazy, but to hear Tim Gullickson say, with a sly grin and a twinkle in his eye, that my serve down the middle was like a Green Bay Packers power sweep, that meant something. And to hear Paul say he wanted me to go and impose myself on my rivals, that I should remember that I was Pete Sampras and they were not, that meant something too. It meant more than I had imagined it would.
–Pete Sampras, A Champion’s Mind (P. 261)
Roger needs someone from the outside to come in and tell him how great he is and why he is so great, and some fine tuning. Some tinkering. I would think that Annacone, who knows a thing or two about greatness, would be salivating at this opportunity to work with Roger, considering how much a healthy Roger has left to offer. And frankly, as a Federer fan, I can rest a bit easier knowing Annacone is in his corner. Federer usually has a very murky coaching situation at best, and Annacone, even on a trial basis, means that Roger is getting better coaching than he ever has, including his time with Aussie great Tony Roache.