In a sport that never seems to really end, the 2014 tennis season is already underway in the last days of 2013. But the biggest news so far hasn’t even happened on the courts.
The unexpected announcement of Boris Becker as Novak Djokovic’s new coach even caught the German Hall of Famer by surprise when the idea was first pitched to him by Djokovic through a phone call. That revelation was then followed a week later by Roger Federer who declared that Becker’s contemporary, Stefan Edberg, will join his team starting at next month’s Australian Open.
While fans of a certain age might already be celebrating by dusting off their VHS copies of the late 80’s rivalry that included Becker and Edberg contesting three consecutive Wimbledon finals, the collective response to the news has been mostly a resounding “Huh?”.
That’s especially true for the Becker pairing with Djokovic. Despite his six Grand Slam titles and recent stint as TV commentator, Becker has never officially coached anyone before. For his part, the Serbian superstar cited his experience training in Germany as a teen as one reason he made the surprise call. However, the prevailing view is that this is a mismatch of personalities and playing styles. Despite Becker’s experience in winning major titles, many expect the newest “odd couple” in the game won’t even last a year.
“Fedberg”, as they are described on social media, is being given, at least for now, more of a positive outlook. Especially since Federer calls Edberg his childhood hero and with many hoping the “Swiss Maestro” might start playing more serve and volley tennis similar to Edberg who won six majors. Though Edberg competes on the senior tour, he’s mostly kept out of the tennis spotlight since retiring. And that’s why it’s hard to gauge just how long Edberg will remain with Federer after their initial ten week trial period concludes.
The return of Becker and Edberg to the tour, at least in the coaches’ box, continues a recent “80’s Flashback” trend started by Andy Murray. The Scot’s hiring of Ivan Lendl is now considered the main factor to Murray’s recent title wins at the US Open and Wimbledon. With Kei Nishikori also now working with former French Open champion Michael Chang, the question being asked now is “Who’s next?” among the 80’s stars that might be tapped by current players.
But why this era specifically that was known for the men wearing short shorts and (mostly) serving and volleying their way into the history books? Johan Kriek, a two-time Australian Open winner, and another star of that decade, recently posted that he believes today’s stars are looking for more ways to shorten points in an increasingly physical game. Plus finding just that extra bit of inspiration from someone else who knows what it’s like to compete for the biggest titles just might make the difference between raising the winner’s or finalist’s trophies.
Whether it’s a boost of confidence or finding a way to make a backhand volley just a tiny bit better, the only real and likely final barometer of these alliances between very distinct eras in the sport will be in the win/loss column. And it will be the players themselves, and not their famous coaches, who will get the blame or accolades for making such a decision.
How long Becker, Edberg and the other 80’s greats hired will actually stay on with their prospective charges is anyone’s guess. If nothing else, it will allow long time watchers, and those too young to remember, the opportunity to look back on Becker and Edberg and their own extraordinary accomplishments. As for the fans of Djokovic and Federer who are wondering what to make of all of this, perhaps listening to the hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in a portable CD player over and over will help.