The Era of the Player-Coach

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Billie Jean King, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Over the past two weeks, the Australian Open, the first major tournament of the year, featured several storylines. Two that stood out were a pair of perennial favorites — Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — being eliminated early and a pair of young players — Nick Kyrgios and Madison Keys — making major breakthroughs. But for me, a third storyline existed: the validation of former No. 1 number one tennis players making their names as coaches.

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Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray formed a partnership a few years back that helped bring Murray that elusive Wimbledon title. Madison Keys’ shining moment in Australia is, in part, due to having Lindsay Davenport coaching her. Boris Becker works with Novak Djokovic and Stefan Edberg is in Federer’s camp. Michael Chang helped Kei Nishikori get to the final of last year’s U.S. Open. Martina Navratilova is now working with Agnieszka Radwanska, and while it is still early, I think this could be a partnership that will turn her into a more serious threat.

The proof is in the partnership.

When a player has a chance to work with a coach who was at one time the best player in the world, there is nothing like it. I had that experience at 15 years old when I was coached by the great Alice Marble. It was life-changing. She taught me most matches are won and lost in the middle of the court around the service line. She was right and I carried that with me for my entire career.

Alice Marble wins at Kent Championships - 14-June-1939

As a player you can’t help but get caught up in the history. Hearing the stories of legends and understanding they’ve been where you want to go is incredibly valuable. Their greatness builds all around you. You reach a moment when you really start to understand what you need to do to be the best in the world.

There is something special about having a coach in your corner who at one time stood on top of the world in your sport.

Pete Sampras once told me how he spent one week, early in his career, with Ivan Lendl. That experience totally set his course to the top. One week with Lendl in Connecticut and Pete quickly learned that his physical and mental preparation wasn’t even close to where it needed to be. His time with Lendl helped make him the iconic champion he eventually became.

2015 Australian Open - Day 11

The Madison Keys/Lindsay Davenport relationship is the perfect pairing. There are similarities to their game and to their approach. They both have great timing, both are excellent strikers of the ball and both are big. But Lindsay — like so many of the other former top players — brings so much more to the conversation. Champions know how to finish. If you’ve watched Madison lately, she is finishing much better now than she was last year.

Success in coaching often comes down to making the most of teachable moments. Some players only need a quick jolt, while others need a longer term relationship. But there is something special about having a coach in your corner who at one time stood on top of the world in your sport.

This is a great time in tennis for the players, the coaches and especially for the fans and I love it!

The Beauty of Wimbledon

There are very few places like the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club. Long considered one of the centers of tennis excellence, there is something special -- almost magical -- about the home of The Championships. In my generation, if you wanted to end the year as the No. 1 player in the world, you had to win Wimbledon. I was fortunate to win my first of 20 Wimbledon titles as a teenager in 1961, and have been fortunate to come back every year for the last 54 years.For many of us, Wimbledon is the perfect blend of tradition and innovation—and I do believe that is part of its magic. The symmetry of the pristine grass courts is a sight I never tire of seeing. Each year, usually the Sunday before matches start, I make a quiet trip to sit in the stands surrounding Centre Court and soak in the Wimbledon experience—just as I did when I played the tournament. As I leave, I always grab one blade of grass from Centre Court, and cherish the wonderful memories of this place.Photos by Bob Martin and Thomas Lovelock/AELTC

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