When a professional athlete is at the top of their game, that is the time they have to work the most to keep that position to their name. At times, finding one’s own weaknesses when everything is going well can be a difficult task. During that time, having someone by your side who can analyze your game, find your weaknesses, and propose solutions is something any athlete would want, especially if you are at the top of your game. That’s the role coaches play in professional tennis. That’s how important a role they have in a professional tennis player’s career.
But there comes a time when a player must continue without the assistance they need. In this post, we will look at some instances in the lives of tennis players when they had to or chose to play without a coach, and we will also see how they performed during that phase of their careers.
1. Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova, originally from Czechoslovakia, is one of the greatest achievers in the history of women’s tennis. Her career, which spanned over three decades from 1973 to 2006, included a period when she played without a coach. At the age of 18, Martina Navratilova had to leave Czechoslovakia and took up residence in the US. It took her six years (until 1981) to obtain US citizenship. During that six-year period, she traveled without a coach to play professional tournaments. During her stay in Czechoslovakia, Navratilova’s father was her coach. When she moved to the US, her father had to stay in their home country. From the age of 18 until 25, Navratilova played without a coach.
“When I left my country, my dad was my coach, basically. So from the age of 19 to 25, I didn’t have a coach. I lived around different places, but I didn’t have a coach, and it occurred to me to get a coach.” – Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova’s performance highlights from 1975 to 1981:
- Navratilova won her first major singles title at Wimbledon in 1978, where she defeated Evert in three sets in the final and captured the world No. 1 ranking for the first time on the WTA.
- She won it again in 1979 consecutive years. 1981 Australian open against Chris Evert.
- She won the Wimbledon championship for two consecutive years in 1978. 1979 and both the wins came against Chris Evert.
- Before that In 1975 she won her first title in women’s doubles when she teamed up with Chris Evert in the French Open.
- Chris Evert was a top female tennis player during those days and both had some memorable matches during that period of mid 1980’s.
After getting the US citizenship, in the year 1982 she elected former tennis player Renee Richards as coach. During that time she also recaptured her number one position and continued to dominate for the next several years.
6 years of professional tennis without the guidance of her father or a traveling coach was an uphill task for Navratilova but she not only overcame that but tested a lot of success during that period. One more reason for us to celebrate such a talented and hardworking athlete.
2. Roger Federer
Roger Federer is not just a tennis player with so many titles to his name, but he is also an inspiration to many aspiring tennis players. Federer has had many great years throughout his career, as is to be expected from someone who held the world No. 1 ranking for a total of 310 weeks. That’s roughly six years, or 71 weeks, if you prefer a different perspective. To date, he is the only one who has done it. When asked about one of the greatest years of Federer’s career, most tennis lovers will name 2004, and the stats support their claim. But what’s amazing is that Federer played the 2004 season without a traveling coach or even a head coach. He was on his own, and that makes his accomplishments in that year even more impressive.
“In the last few days, I have been hitting with juniors; I do not have a coach, and I like to play juniors. Tomorrow, I will train with the Swiss junior. I know him, and it should be fun.” – Roger Federer
Above is a quote from Federer in an interview, in which he gives details about how he is going about his practice after the 2003 season, when he decided to stop working with his coach of three years, Peter Lundgren. After that, Federer played at the professional level without a coach for the next two years. He played professional tournaments without a coach in 2004 and 2005.
Roger Federer’s performance highlights from 2004 to 2005:
- In 2004, he won three Grand Slam titles, becoming the first tennis player to achieve this amazing record since 1988.
- In the 2004 season, he won three ATP Masters titles, including the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
- Federer won 11 out of 12 singles finals he reached in the 2005 season.
2004 was the most dominant year of Federer’s 24-year career. Achieving so much without a coach makes that year even more special.
3. John McEnroe
John McEnroe is a former American tennis player who was known for his aggressive playing style. He has won six Grand Slam titles throughout his career. He played without a traveling coach for a major part of his career. McEnroe was not a fan of the idea of a traveling coach. He expressed his views on traveling coaches in a sports podcast:
“I didn’t have a coach who traveled with me. I did not like that.” – John McEnroe
John McEnroe has achieved the highest ranking of number one in both singles and doubles tournaments, winning 155 ATP titles in his career. His success without the assistance of a coach is an astonishing accomplishment in itself.
4. Nick Kyrgios
“I don’t have a coach, I haven’t had a coach for four, five years now. I feel like tactically I’m one of the best players on tour, I feel like I’m very tactically switched on.” – Nick Kyrgios expresses his views on not having a coach in a 2022 interview with TennisNet.
Nick Kyrgios is a professional tennis player from Australia. Born in 1995 Kyrgios achieved his career best ranking in singles competition in 2016 when he ranked world no 13 by ATP. When it comes to coaching Kyrgios has had a hot and cold relationship with the very idea of coaching. Kyrgios who turned pro in 2013 played with a head coach for around 2 years till mid of 2015. He hired a coach for the year 2017 but that stint didn’t last longer. Therefore from 2015 onwards except the year 2017 has played professional tennis without a traveling coach.
Kyrgios performance highlights from 2015 onward (except for the year 2017):
- Due to his performance in the 2015 Australian Open, he became the first teenage player to reach two Grand Slam quarterfinals since 2001.
- Reached his career-best ranking of 35 in the 2015 season.
- Managed a win over world No. 2 Roger Federer in the second round of the 2015 Madrid Open.
- Reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal in 2016.
- Became the youngest tennis player since Marin Cilic to enter the top 20 in the world rankings.
Kyrgios is a unique case in the professional tennis circuit. Professional tennis players spend most of their time finding and evaluating coaching offers. However, Kyrgios is someone who has received coaching offers from the likes of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe in the past, but he has different plans altogether. As we can see from his performances, he has achieved a fair amount of success without the assistance of a coach, and that is applaudable.
5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a French former professional tennis player. He began his professional career in 2004 at the age of 20. His coach when he started his professional career was Éric Winogradsky, who coached Tsonga for seven years. In 2011, Tsonga parted ways with his coach, citing the reason that he wanted to play more freely and rekindle the passion he had when he started playing the sport. For the next two years, he played tournaments without the help of a coach.
Tsonga was one of those players who started playing tennis simply for the love of the game and never looked at it as a profession in the early days. But there is a reason why it is called professional sport. As he moved forward in his career, people’s expectations and the competition depleted the feeling of joy and passion he had for the game.
“I was young and for me it was only a game and a passion – and not a job. But it started becoming more serious because everyone was expecting me to play good and I lost my passion. Two years ago I decided to be alone, without a coach, and become spontaneous again.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a 2013 interview with TheGuardian.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s performance highlights from 2012 to 2013:
- Reached his career-high world ranking of No. 5.
- 2012 Qatar Open champion (defeated French tennis player Gaël Monfils)
- Silver medalist in the men’s doubles event at the 2012 London Olympics
- In 2013, he became the first French player since 2008 to reach the French Open semifinals.
After a two-year gap, he decided to hire former Australian rules football player and tennis coach Roger Rasheed as his coach in 2013.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from professional tennis in 2022, after an 18-year career in which he achieved amazing results, despite being plagued by injuries throughout, and especially in later years. Sometimes it is very important to pause in life and reflect. It is important to remind ourselves of the reason we started something. Because as we move along, it’s easy to lose track of the path. Tsonga’s decision to play more freely and the way he tackled the whole situation sets a good example of how to get back on track and regain that energy.
6. Mandy Minella
Mandy Minella is from Luxembourg, a European country. She made her pro debut in 2001 at the age of 16 and retired in 2022. Minella is one of the most well-known tennis players from Luxembourg.
When she was 15, she moved to Paris to achieve her dream of playing professionally. When she first arrived, she was all alone, without a head coach or traveling coach for years. After 7 years of her professional career, she hired Norbert Palmier as a coach, and he coached her from 2008 onwards.
“In 2001, I moved to Paris at age 15 to follow my dream of becoming a professional tennis player. My parents made this possible and I did not want to disappoint them. I trained full-time at an academy but struggled with solitude. I traveled alone for years without a coach.” – Minella recalling the earlier days of her pro career.
Mandy Minella is one of the most famous tennis players to come out of Luxembourg. Aside from her, Gilles Müller and Anne Kremer are the other two names that come to mind who have their roots in Luxembourg. Minella has played without a head coach for most of his professional career, which is not an easy task for any professional player.
7. Maria Bueno
“Maria was a big star who caught the interest of the fans at a time when the men took center stage. She helped lay the groundwork for what was to come.” – Billie Jean King acknowledging Bueno’s contribution to female tennis.
Maria Bueno was a Brazilian tennis player who started playing tennis at the age of 6 in 1945. Her father and elder brother were both tennis players, but her father never turned professional. Bueno played tennis professionally for 11 years and set many records during that time.
Performance highlights of Maria Bueno’s career:
- Won 19 Grand Slam titles during her career from the 1950s to the late 1960s.
- Won the Wimbledon Championship 5 times.
- She has won 63 singles titles in her pro career.
- Featured in the top 10 rankings from 1958 to 1968.
- As a doubles player, she has won twelve Grand Slam championships.
Bueno was a self-taught tennis player and never had a traveling coach during her professional career. She trained at Clube de Regatas in São Paulo, Brazil, without the help of any formal coaching.
During the early 1960s and the period before that, many tennis players played their professional or amateur careers without a coach due to limited resources and the socio-political situation of the time. At that time, females in sports were not encouraged as they are today, especially in a sport like tennis. Despite being self-taught, she reached heights in her career that any tennis player can be inspired by.
8. Kristina Mladenovic
Kristina Mladenovic is a French tennis player who achieved her career-best singles ranking of world No. 10 in 2017. Her major achievements in tennis have been in doubles competitions.
At the age of 16 in 2009, she turned professional. Since then, until the day of writing this blog post, she has maintained a remarkable win percentage of nearly 70% in doubles competitions. Kristina Mladenovic ranked No. 1 in doubles in 2019, with Hungarian tennis player Tímea Babos as her partner. She has been coached by her mother, Dzenita Mladenovic, for most of her career.
“This year, again, I stopped with my coach. I have no one right now and look, the results are coming back. I don’t know what to say.” – Kristina Mladenovic after quitting Georges Goven as her coach.
From 2017 to mid-2019, Mladenovic played professional tennis without a head coach for almost 2.5 years. In the second half of 2019, she hired former German tennis player Sascha Bajin as her coach, but that stint lasted only six months, as Bajin decided to quit the job for personal reasons. In 2017, Mladenovic parted ways with her coach, fellow Frenchman Georges Goven, and went without coaching assistance for nearly two and a half years.
Before the 2017 season, Mladenovic had one more year without a coach, from September 2014 to September 2015. In mid-October 2015, she announced Georges Goven as her new coach.
“Two years ago when I had my best season, reaching [the] quarters of the U.S. Open, and reaching No. 27, I was alone the whole year with no coach.” – Kristina Mladenovic on her 2014-15 season without a coach in an interview with WTA.
Mladenovic evaluated her performance during her two seasons without a coach. In her own opinion, she did well during that phase of her career. Some athletes, especially in individual sports, perform well when they are on their own with little outside assistance. These players prefer to follow their instincts and do what they think is best in each scenario. We also saw this in Roger Federer’s case, when he played one of the best years of his tennis career without a coach.
9. Elena-Gabriela Ruse
“no one told me what to do or stayed with me in the team. When I was 18 or 19 years old, I was traveling for two years without a coach. I was traveling with the ITF Team.” – Elena-Gabriela Ruse recalling her early days in pro career.
Elena-Gabriela Ruse is a Romanian tennis player born in 1997. She is one of the top women’s tennis players from Romania and idolizes Simona Halep, who is also from Romania. Ruse comes from a sporting family, as her father and brother were both involved in sports.
During her junior tennis competitions, she performed well and achieved a ranking of No. 7 in ITF Junior tournaments. However, her transition to the professional level was not smooth. She lacked the guidance that one expects in the early days of a career, and also struggled with injuries.
She made her professional debut at the age of 18 in 2015. For the next two years of her professional career, she played various tournaments without the assistance of a coach. Her only source of support was traveling with the ITF team.
Playing without a coach in a lonely sport like tennis, especially in the early days of one’s career, is an uphill task. However, Ruse took it in her stride and performed well during that period.
Elena-Gabriela Ruse’s performance highlights from 2015 to 2016:
- In 2015, Minella won her first professional singles title in a tennis event in Antalya.
- In 2016, she won ten singles matches and eight doubles matches in a row.
- She achieved her first victory over a player ranked in the top 100 when she defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich at an event in Germany.
- In 2016, she improved her performance from 2015 and played in two singles finals.
10. Bernard Tomic
Bernard Tomic is a special entry in this list, and there is a reason for that. So far in this post, we have seen players who have played at various points in their pro career without a head coach or even a traveling coach. In Tomic’s case, he has always had the assistance of his father as a coach, both during his junior days and at the professional level. This is not an unusual arrangement, but it is worth noting that Tomic’s father never played tennis at any level, amateur or professional.
Given Tomic’s success at the professional level over the years, we can only appreciate his father’s role in his success. Providing tennis coaching to an aspiring tennis player without any formal training was a bold decision on Tomic’s father’s part. Tomic, who is originally from Australia, reached his career-best ranking of No. 17 in 2016. It took him eight years to reach the top 20 in singles competitions.
Bernard Tomic’s career highlights:
- At the 2010 Kooyong Classic, Tomic defeated world No. 3 Novak Djokovic in three sets.
- Reached the Grand Slam quarterfinals in 2011 and also entered the top 50 world rankings.
- In 2013, he won his first ATP final when he defeated Kevin Anderson in the Hopman Cup final.
11. Dick Savitt
Today, 14 is considered a late start for formal tennis coaching, or any sport. This was not the case in the early 1940s, when Dick Savitt decided to take up the sport at the age of 14 on his own, without the guidance of a coach or elder.
Savitt, born in New Jersey, never took any formal coaching in tennis, learning the basics of the game on his own. Within three years, at the age of 17, he started playing at the amateur level. Savitt always had a keen interest in sports, enjoying basketball in addition to tennis.
Dick Savitt’s career highlights:
- Achieved an astonishing 75% win percentage throughout his career.
- Winner of the 1951 Australian Open and the world No. 1 ranking in the same year.
- 1951 Wimbledon Championships champion.
- Dick Savitt was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and received various other awards for his contributions to the sport.
From the examples above, we can learn that playing with or without a coach is not a point of concern if you have self-belief in your abilities and skills. There are many instances where tennis players have worked with successful coaches but still failed to achieve the results they were looking for. Professional tennis is considered one of the hardest sports in the world, and the following is a good example of why. Tennis is not difficult just on the court, but also off the court, as a tennis player has to overcome many hurdles to become a pro.
Tags: Tennis Insights