11 Jul 2016

The famous faces in the player boxes

5:13 pm on 11 July 2016

Opinion - The tennis is great, of course, but much of the real action at big tournaments these days takes place in the courtside player boxes.

Andy Murray's players' box celebrates after he takes the first set during the 2016 French Open tennis championship.

Andy Murray's players' box celebrates after he takes the first set during the 2016 French Open Photo: AFP

It really started with Bjorn Borg, the cool Swede who'd win Wimbledon each year while his girlfriend (and later, briefly, his wife), Mariana Simionescu, and his coach, Lennart Bergelin, perched anxiously in his box.

In those days at Wimbledon, there was just one players' box. Players' supporters took one row each, so the chain-smoking Simionescu would sit uncomfortably just behind the McEnroe family.

At least these days players are allocated a box each, so their supporters have a bit of space, though they're never far from the prying television cameras.

Mariana and Bergelin supported Borg throughout his career, but soon after Borg's retirement he split permanently from both of them.

One-on-one coaches were relatively rare back then, though Martina Navratilova always travelled with what she termed her "coterie". That comprised coach Mike Estep and Navratilova's various on or off-court partners, including, at various times, Nancy Lieberman, Judy Nelson and Renee Richards.

Pete Sampras had two coaches during his long career - Tim Gullikson, who died of cancer in 1996, and Paul Annacone. Andre Agassi had Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill.

The coaches seem to change more often these days.

Roger Federer's coaches have included Peter Carter (who died in a road crash in 2002), Tony Roche, Annacone, Severin Luthi, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Ljubicic.

Novak Djokovic's players box including Boris Becker during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut.

Novak Djokovic's players' box, including Boris Becker, during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut Photo: AFP

Novak Djokovic has had any number - Dejan Petrovic, Riccardo Piatti, Marian Vajda, Mark Woodforde, Todd Martin, Dusan Vemic and now Boris Becker.

Rafael Nadal has always been coached by his Uncle Tony and for a long time Andy Murray's chief supporter and assistant coach was "Mum Judy", a television favourite because of her vast array of facial expressions during her son's matches.

Murray has also used Jamie Delgado, Leon Smith, Mark Petchey, Gilbert, Alex Corretja, Miles Maclagen, Amelie Mauresmo (a rare case of a woman coaching on the men's tour) and, in two stints, Ivan Lendl.

It's been like a generational battle renewed lately, with Lendl in Murray's box, John McEnroe helping coach Milos Raonic, Goran Ivanisevic backing Marin Cilic, Becker guiding Djokovic and Edberg with Federer.

Their demeanour varies. Lendl is as stoic as an Easter Island statue. Edberg occasionally gets excited, though in an understated Swedish way. Becker tends to give meaningful stares at key moments. The emotional Ivanisevic goes through torture in every game and McEnroe is endlessly fidgety and talkative.

One of the most interesting player boxes is always that of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. It's not quite as entertaining now that parents Richard and Oracene have split.

It used to be a fascination to see which parent claimed a place in the box, but these days Richard is off the scene and Oracene is ever-present with her daughters and other relatives.

2016 Wimbledon champion Serena Williams.

2016 Wimbledon champion Serena Williams Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Do the coaches help? How much can any coach really assist Federer or Serena Williams, arguably the greatest male and female players of all time, or Djokovic, clearly the best player in the world at present?

Money is no problem for the top players - Federer recently topped $US100 million in career prizemoney (plus five times that much in off-court earnings).

So if an expensive big-name coach can help them improve by even 1 percent, they would regard that as a good investment.

Roche certainly helped Federer, Lendl guided Murray to all his Grand Slam titles, Ivanisevic coached Cilic to his one Grand Slam title (the 2014 US Open) and Becker has been Djokovic's coach while the Serb has risen to number one in the world.

Not only have these famous coaches helped shape modern tennis, but they make watching big tennis on television that bit more entertaining.

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