Monday, March 16, 2009

You know who could've used Larry Stefanki as a coach?

Oh, what could've been …

So, I read this article on Black Tennis Pros that originally ran in USA Today about James Blake and Andy Roddick taking different approaches in their career regarding coaching. Roddick's had a few, to say the least, while Blake has stuck with the same guy, Brian Barker, since he was a kid.

Roddick's working with Larry Stefanki now, the guy that made a huge impact on the career of the guy Blake lost to today for the seventh time in a row, Fernando Gonzalez. There's a reason the Chilean earned the nickname "Gonzo," and it just wasn't because it was a shortened version of his last name. Fernando swung out at practically every shot from any spot on the court—a style Blake knows all too well. But if Gonzalez could get under control—and make a Slam final in the process—why couldn't JB?

I'll tell you what I think: The coaching holds him back. Barker did get Blake to number four in the world. While that's very impressive, there's not enough title-winning hardware to go with that result. If you've made multiple Masters Series finals, as Blake has, then you should at least be winning some of them. And if Gonzalez can make a Major final, then Blake should, too.

But you know, let's step aside from winning the big ones: Coming up short in the two finals made last year in Houston and Delray Beach, almost-glorified Challengers, is ridiculous.

I think it's too late for him to win a Slam or even make a Major final, which is sad because I think he could have. But I don't think it's too late for a coaching change to salvage more out of his career, because it looks to me that Barker's strategy, or lack thereof, has run its course. I think Brad Gilbert or a Brad Gilbert-type could work wonders.

Who knows? Maybe this latest run of bad form is a result of coming up short in the Olympics last year. But a fresh voice could possibly help him move past that. It's a shame to see a talented player stuck in a rut without considering other options to get out of it.

(Photo: Getty Images)


Shelia said...

I think he needs a drink!

I honestly could not believe what I was watching today. Gonzalez didn't do anything spectacular. He played well, but nothing over the moon. Blake just went to pieces.

And what was up in the second set? He was acting like he didn't even know how to play tennis.

I said that Blake was in a 'funk,' I was tweeted back with the message "he's not in a funk, he's transitioning to top 40." Ouch!

hcfoo said...

Perhaps Blake is torn in between Barker and his career. I agree he needs to make the fastest decision to find a new coach before he slumps further down the ranking.

TopSpin said...

Agree with you that James could benefit from fresh ideas - less convinced he's that open to changing his attitude and demeanour: downcast at the best of times.

I'm almost surprised at hearing myself say that - Im a great fan of his as you well know, but as sheila indicates, that was a new low against Gonzales - I too couldn't believe what I was seeing.

He's not known for his variety but then neither is David Ferrer - look at the way he conducts himself on court, even when it's obvious he has no chance in the match.

Disappointing. As I say he can benefit from a new set of insights but is going to need more than technical input to dig himself out of this one - dare I say it - only he himself can do that.

van said...

Ouch indeed! Yeah, I could understand sticking with one coach if you're winning Slams, but even the best players needed to hear different voices. And you know what, too? If it doesn't work out at all with a different coach, then maybe you can get back in your comfort zone and bring back the familiar voice.

freakyfrites said...

I think Blake is soooo stubborn that he'll never change coaches. The way he cringes when the press asks him about his mental game or his coach - he's just way too defensive about it all.

I know this sounds crazy, but if Barker really, truly cared for Blake's career, wouldn't he step down or at least suggest taking on a new set of eyes? Yeah, not going to happen, right.

I've also been wondering about Djokovic - I feel like he's gone as far as he can with Vajda and may be itching for something new. Gilbert and Novak would be a formidable duo!

van said...

Hey Freakyfrites! I think that's a great point about Barker; maybe he should just step down. It would be the honorable thing to do.

I didn't think about that with Djoko. That would be an interesting combo, to say the least!

Naf said...

Hey, Van:
I think Blake's always been something of a head case. It's like every time there's a tight match or a match he should win hands-down, he reads his own press and gets all nervous. He needs a sports psychologist, methinks! I don't know about Gilbert, though --might need a thicker skin for a coach like that! :)
Nice post!

Deborah Chapman Crawford said...

I like how James no longer plays like its speed tennis. It really irked me how fast he'd get when he was playing poorly. Frankly, the tactic of slowing down and calming down did work for a while but now he needs to have the game to bring with it. Unfortunately, I agree that James is past winning a major or even getting to the final. But hey, I remember Taylor Dent was in his 'group' to come out, from what I remember and Blake has been consistent to get through a couple rounds every tourney. I wish he had the nerve to take it all the way but fear he just doesn't have it in him.

Anonymous said...

Blake has nice volley's ,great speed and a good backhand.
He needs to study percentage tennis,know what to do with a short ball and get up to the net!
The guy can win at least two slams if he stays healthy.