Lethal combination of unabated commercialization, and ever-increasing glut of tournament prize-money, has changed the face of popular team/individual sports. Unlike, about 25 years ago, modern sportspersons assign so much importance to their personal earnings that honor or prestige of representing their countries has become secondary. There are countless instances of players refusing to play for their countries, because such participations do not add much to their bank accounts.
In recent years, digitization of television channels, amazing progress in transmission of video contents on internet and advent of smartphones have greatly enhanced exposure by instant coverage. Rules of advertising have changed and its consequence is manifest in the investment of monumental sums in sports-sponsorships. The slice of big business money in sports has also percolated down to second-rung players in sports like Football, Tennis and Cricket. You don’t have to be a Rafael Nadal to become rich because even lesser known players are millionaires.
In European football, players command millions of euros in transfer fee, something unheard of, a decade ago. Football brought fame to coaches and a realization that a master coach can bring about great results by sensible planning in team-play. There are names like Ferguson, Vicente Del Bosque, Jupp Heynckes, Guardolia, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Morinho, Antonio Conte, Carlo Ancelloti, Phil Scolari and Tito Vilanova, all of whom have acquired celebrity status in football. In the same way, the craze of cricket in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is so intense that investment, advertising and sponsorship money pays off many times over. IPL is an instant example of how big money lures players from all over the world.
What is true of football and cricket is equally true for tennis. Top rung tennis players earn so much these days that they can easily afford to pay their coaches or in some cases an entire team of coaches, as in the case of Novak Djokovic. He drafted the services of Boris Becker, in spite of already having a full coaching team, consisting of Marian Vajda, Miljan Amanovic and Gebhard Phil-Gritsch. The trend was apparently initiated by Andy Murray, who, in 2011, had hired the legendary Ivan Lendl. Since Murray won two Grand Slams, working with Lendl, the notion got ground that celebrated players of the past era had a trick or two under their sleeves from which their wards could benefit.
Other than Djokovic and Murray, Roger Federer also succeeded in convincing Stefan Edberg to work with his game. The year 2013 was a title draught year for Federer but he strongly believed that a lot of tennis was still left in him. Edberg made Federer go through grinding fitness routine and planned his practice sessions to the extent that Federer looked great in the just concluded Australian Open. His victories at Melbourne against Tsonga and Murray were so convincing that he really looked like a possible winner, before Nadal beat him in the semifinal. Federer’s one-handed backhand is still a problem for him. It becomes prominent against right-handed players, though Federer is able to turn around and hit forehands instead. Nadal, however, uses a lethal weapon of his left-handed forehand, which spins away from the right handers and it comes so fast that the opponent cannot quickly turn around to play a forehand. Edberg will want Federer to invent something else to counter this problem as the season progresses. Both Edberg and Federer know that defeat to world’s best player, Rafael Nadal is no disgrace.
Another tennis coach, who has suddenly burst into tennis scene, after Stanislas Wawrinka’s Australian Open victory last week, is Magnus Norman. A former tennis star himself, Norman briefly became world no. 2 and he is best remembered for his loss to Gustavo Kuerten in the 2000 French Open final. In later years, however, Norman couldn’t maintain his form and burnt out even when he was in his twenties. But Norman has a decent history of coaching. Even when he was still playing, Norman worked with fellow Swede Thomas Johansson as his doubles partner and trainer, and later his hitting partner in practice sessions. It is widely believed that Norman had a great influence in Johansson’s 2002 Australian Open triumph. When Norman quit tennis, he became Robert Soderling’s coach, when Soderling was still out of top 20 ATP players. Working with Norman, Soderling reached two consecutive French Open finals in 2009 and 2010. He lost to Federer in 2009, before beating Nadal in the fourth round. In 2010, Nadal got his revenge in the final with Soderling. In 2009, Soderling also progressed to the quarterfinals of the US open and in 2010 he did even better, when he reached the quarterfinals of two grand slam tournaments, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Magnus Norman has made noticeable difference to Wawrinka’s game. Though Wawrinka had a natural aggressive ability of an attacking base-line player, he used to crumble against big guys in crunch games. In 2013, Wawrinka defeated David Ferrer at a tournament in Portugal and Andy Murray in the US open, before losing to Djokovic in the semifinal. But Wawrinka had a good time in the World Tour Finals and association with Norman has helped him win his first Grand Slam at Melbourne.
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