I had the chance to speak very briefly with Ana Ivanovic today via a conference call to promote next week’s BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup. Ana, who played in the exhibition last year, is filling in this time for an injured Serena Williams. She called in from San Diego, where she’s spending the next few weeks preparing for the upcoming Indian Wells tournament with her new coach Heinz Gunthardt.
I asked her about her new hire:
ANA IVANOVIC: “I was looking for a coach for a while already. I spoke to Heinz a few weeks ago and he could arrange his time and could manage to come with me here to San Diego and start practicing. I spoke to him before, and I’ve known him a long time. He’s a great coach, very experienced. But obviously it’s different once you step on the court. So I wanted to see how that works out.
“I’m really enjoying the time I’m spending with him on the court. He makes it very fun. We’ve already worked on a few things about my game and I feel a lot more confident about certain things and a lot more clear out there. I really hope it’s going to work out in the long run.”
Around the time of last year’s BJK cup, Ana Ivanovic hired Craig Kardon, who was Martina Navratilova’s old coach. She was asked about her relationship with Kardon at last year’s French Open in May:
Q. How is it with Craig Kardon? You started, I think, in February. How has he changed your way of preparing the matches, the strategy? He was coaching Navratilova, who has a kind of different game for you.
ANA IVANOVIC: We’ve been working a lot on my game overall, and I think I improved a lot of areas of my game. I added some things, and I feel more comfortable coming forward, obviously. But, no, I think working with Craig is really good. I feel also since I start working with him I got my game back and committing more to my shots and moving forward. That’s something that was lacking months before that.
Yeah, I’m still working really good. Also, every practice that we have, he always tries to make it fun and we always compete. He’s very competitive, too, so we always have some games.
Ana and Kardon split a month later, and she returned to her on again/off again coach, Sven Groeneveld, of adidas’s player development program. As Ana finished 2009 outside the top 20 for the first time in five years, it was hard not to wonder: Were these staffing changes more a sign of panic than positive change for the former No. 1 player?
Shahar Peer’s coach, Pablo Giacopelli spoke with me on Tuesday and offered his general take on the frequent coaching changes on tour:
“A lot of players make the mistake of changing coaches instead of changing themselves. Often a tennis player can change things over and over and over but the results are the same. It’s amazing to me that very few people ever sit the players down and say ‘the person who needs to change here is you.’
“The whole environment (of the WTA tour) unfortunately at times makes the players feel like they’re out of this world, like they’re some kind of Hollywood superstars – which of course they are – but it can take them away from reality. The reality of who they are and what they are and what they’re made of – it’s always easier to blame the next person for your flaws and your shortcomings. It’s a lot harder to take responsibility and say “I made the mistake, I made the wrong choice, I should have done this differently” and take a little more responsibility for what goes on in their careers and their lives.”
Obviously this is a coach’s perspective – job security is always nice – but it’s true that Ana has been struggling to find a lasting solution to her flagging game and confidence for quite some time. (Though in my very limited experience with her, I can say that the humble Ana most definitely doesn’t fall into the Hollywood-sized ego category!)
Let’s hope for Ana’s sake that this latest hiring decision sticks. Given Gunthardt’s resume and expertise – he coached “Fraulein Forehand v. 1.0″ Steffi Graf to 12 of her 22 major titles – it seems more like a match-made-in-heaven than a desperate move. Or we could split the difference and say that desperate times call for desperate measures - and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Ivanovic said today that her March 1st exhibition match vs. Kim Clijsters at the Billie Jean King Cup will be a good way to “test” some of the new things she and Gunthardt have been working on in San Diego: “Even though it’s an exhibition, it’s still a competition and that’s why we both felt that it’s a great opportunity.”
The Billie Jean King Cup will be broadcast live on MSG Plus (semifinals) and ESPN2 (final match) on March 1st. All matches will also be available on ESPN360.com. Click here for MSG ticket information.