So put yourself in Paul Annacone’s shoes. You’ve just gotten the call that Roger Federer, former World No.1, winner of more Grand Slam singles titles than any man ever and who many feel is the “GOAT”, wants you to be his coach. Federer shows up on the court, racquet in hand, and looks eagerly at you ready to get started on how you will help him get back to the top of the sport.
What do you tell him?
If I were Annacone, I would have no idea. But perhaps the former standout collegiate player for Tennessee and the former coach of Pete Sampras has an answer for a player who seemed never really to need a coach but whose current slide in both the rankings and his personal confidence might be something not even Annacone can help.
For those of you too young to remember what Annacone, who reached a career high singles ranking of No. 12, was like as a player, his style was very much serve and volley all the time. In fact, Annacone liked to chip second serve returns and come to net since he really didn’t have that great of a baseline game. I mention all this as his coaching of Sampras seemed a perfect fit since Sampras had a more natural serve and volley game than Federer does now.
I’m not saying that Annacone is going to make Federer charge the net more, but it’s unclear to me what other tactical change Annacone can give Federer to deal with the likes of Rafael Nadal or even hard hitting guys like Juan Martin del Potro and even Tomas Berdych who both have found ways of hitting the mighty Swiss star off of the court. Put it another way, If Andy Murray, who just announced an amicable split from his longtime coach Miles Maclaglan, had enlisted Annacone first, then it would make all the sense in the world for Murray to add more serve and volley to his game to help Murray answer relentless calls that he needs to be less defensive in his playing style.
Though not in the same league as a player with either Sampras or Federer, Annacone’s coaching style is more part sounding board/confidence booster along with being a tactical expert. I think the confidence booster aspect of Annacone’s style may be what Federer needs the most. I know that sounds odd but players, even those ranked in the depths of the bottom 100, don’t fear playing the Swiss maestro anymore. Federer, who’s looked unsure in his demeanor in the last few months, needs to get his strut back. Even if it’s a very diplomatic one.
Annacone’s relationship will be on a “trial basis” so who knows if it will even last through this year’s U.S. Open. But the once mighty and some thought unstoppable Roger Federer has now entered the same territory as Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and even his fellow Davis Cup teammate Stanislas Wawrinka in all trying new coaches, some successfully like Roddick’s work with Larry Stefanki, some not so much as Todd Martin’s brief stint with Djokovic. But it feels very weird that we’ve now entered a time when Andy Murray feels like going solo is a good move while Federer seems like he needs to have someone to look up to in the stands, even if it’s just to see the word “Mojo” written across the guy’s shirt.