What should we make of this month's coaching carousel? How much stock should we buy in IPTL? Welcome to The Rally, off-season edition. Freelance writer Kamakshi Tandon and I discuss a supposedly slow month in tennis.
There hasn't been much off in this off-season, you said to me last week, and you were right; it seems to be getting less "off" every day. Between the IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) team exhibitions in Asia and the high-profile super-coach appointments for 2015, the players have given us plenty to see, and talk about, so far in December. And now the ATP has announced a big increase in prize money at Masters events, a smaller increase at 250s, but no increase at the minor-league Challenger level. I'm guessing you'll have something to say about that last development.
I'll start with the first two items above.
What did you think of the IPTL, now that's it three-week run is over? It obviously started strong and made an impressive splash. All of those star-studded selfies and we're-all-one-big-happy-family photos were fun to see on Twitter for a week or so. And the idea behind IPTL is a laudable one; I've always thought team tennis, where the sport can market the men and women together, is the game's Holy Grail. But Holy Grails have a way of staying just out of reach. At a certain point I stopped looking at the selfies and the promo photos, and I never started paying attention to the matches themselves—but then again, I was on the other side of the planet. For now, IPTL seems like a great way to serve an Asian audience that doesn't get much live tennis. But do you see it becoming more than that, or affecting the way the rest of the tour is run?
Which of the coaching changes intrigues you the most? There have been so many I'm not sure I've got them all straight. Simona Halep dropped Wim Fissette, who was briefly hired by Madison Keys, before Keys decided to go with Lindsay Davenport and her husband, Jonathan Leach. Genie Bouchard dropped Nick Saviano, who may or may not be working with Sloane Stephens going forward. Aga Radwanska hired Martina Navratilova. Andy Murray stuck with Amelie Mauresmo, and split with two longtime members of his team; Tomas Berdych then picked up one of his exes, Dani Vallverdu, as his own coach. And John Isner hired Justin Gimelstob; apparently he’s decided to go with a super friend rather than a super coach.
The Keys and Radwanska situations are interesting for opposite reasons: Keys and Davenport play similar power-baseline games, while Radwanska and Navratilova play very different styles. Martina, as you can hear in her commentating, knows the sport well, but can she fit her attacking vision into Radwanska's defensive game? Along those lines, it will be interesting to see if Gimelstob can translate his own commentator's-booth knowledge of the current players into real success for Isner. Finally, now we'll see just what Vallverdu offered to Murray: I'm thinking he'll have something to prove after getting bumped for Amelie Mauresmo.
Whatever happens, there will be a lot to watch as the new season begins next month.