How does one begin to measure toughness? It’s probably most akin to gauging or producing team chemistry, and about as tangible. Lucky for Kei Nishikori and his coach, American legend Michael Chang, both have seemed to arrive for them almost effortlessly, with favorable results nearly as rapidly.
Since naming Chang, the former world No. 2 and the 1989 French Open champion, to a support team that includes longtime coach Dante Bottini, Nishikori’s game and results have continued to grow. After turning pro in 2007, the top-ranked Japanese player slowly rose in the rankings up to a career-high No 11 for a handful of weeks in 2013, ending that season at No 17. But talk about impact. Since Chang began working with him, Nishikori, now 25, has won seven of his 10 ATP titles (including three this season), broken into the top five (he’s currently No. 4 in the world), and made it to his first grand slam final at last year’s U.S. Open.
Two-time tennis Grand Slam winner and No. 5-ranked men’s player in the world Andy Murray, working toward his title defense of the Wimbledon crown, made an unorthodox choice: hiring a woman as his coach.
Toward the conclusion of the French Open a little more than a week ago, Murray, seeded third at this year’s Wimbledon and without question one of the players included in the “Big Four” who define this generation of the men’s game, named retired former top-ranked female Amélie Mauresmo as his new instructor. Why he recruited a previous winner and leading performer for several years at the unique grass-court tournament for the role would appear to be a no-brainer. Yet in doing so, Murray becomes the only player in the ATP top 100 coached by a female he is not related to (No. 49 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan is coached by his mother, and No. 58 Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan is coached by his wife). Much of the talk surrounding the news is what his selection means for the future of coaching in tennis and whether it signals the beginning of a movement where women train men.
After the revelation of Lance Armstrong’s systematic doping offered yet one more example of widespread performance-enhancing-drug use in professional cycling, another popular international endurance sport is under heavy scrutiny: Tennis.