Breaking silence: Do tennis coaches benefit from talking to the media?

MELBOURNE, Australia — Midway through last year’s French Open, Patrick Mouratoglou made a decision to not be so open with the media between Grand Slam matches.

Mouratoglou, Serena Williams‘ coach since 2012, said she didn’t ask him to stop, but …

“I thought she needed me to shut up,” he told ESPN.com last year. Of course, those comments came, ironically, at the US Open, a few days before the controversial final. Mouratoglou has always been one of the most approachable coaches on the circuit, happy to chat after each of her matches. While he clearly enjoys a good discussion, it was a sign of his relationship with Williams that she had never asked him to put a lid on it, trusting Mouratoglou not to give away any secrets.

Here at the Australian Open, though, Mouratoglou has again gone public, making himself available to the media. Although the fallout from the US Open final is a topic he brushes aside, unwilling to go into detail.

Mouratoglou, who has his own Academy in France, can, of course, use the exposure to boost his own brand, but many feel it benefits the player if the coaches are more visible to the public eye. “[Tennis] is a game,” Mouratoglou said. “And as a coach, you have to also play a game. It’s a chance to take some pressure off a player or put some pressure on an opponent.

“It’s also great for the fans, to hear something they would not normally hear, maybe to understand things differently, or get a different perspective and it’s great for the show. I always said I’m not going to talk to the press just when you win, but also when you lose, and I have always done that. I see it as my duty. I think I can be a help.”

At this year’s Australian Open, a WTA initiative has allowed the media the chance to speak to the coaches of many of the women’s quarterfinalists, including Mouratoglou and Sascha Bajin, who is working with US Open champion Naomi Osaka. Designed to boost the profile of coaches, it has allowed more people to get an insight into their role.

When Toni Nadal was coaching Rafael Nadal, he could always be found in the players’ lounge immediately after matches, answering questions in Spanish, French and English, and sometimes even Italian. Carlos Moya, a former world No. 1 and current coach of Nadal, has followed his example. Magnus Norman, who coaches Stan Wawrinka, is another who is happy to speak, while Severin Luthi, part of Roger Federer‘s team for many years, is affable and willing to chat.

Some coaches prefer not to speak, while many players insist their coach keep quiet. Maria Sharapova‘s coaches have historically rejected almost all media requests. Any desires to talk with Andy Murray‘s coaches usually had to go through his management company, while Miles Maclagan, one of Murray’s early coaches, was fairly reticent, fearing his words might be twisted, or that a headline in a newspaper would be skewed and upset his boss. Ivan Ljubicic, Federer’s coach for the past three years, is much more careful.

When Darren Cahill worked with world No. 1 Simona Halep, the Australian did not speak to the media until Halep’s tournament ended. “That was his decision,” Halep told ESPN at the Australian Open last week.

Trust between player and coach is a key. Halep said she knew Cahill would not say anything controversial, while Osaka gave Bajin the green light to talk away. “I feel like if he wants to, he can do whatever he wants,” Osaka told ESPN.com. “I’m not the person that’s in control of that, so whatever he’s happy to do. I feel like I’ve been with him for a year now and he doesn’t seem like a person that would do something crazy.”

Before the start of the Aussie Open, the WTA held a coach media day in Brisbane and plans to hold more this year in Madrid, Eastbourne and Cincinnati, as well as at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, while the other Grand Slams could follow the example here.

The ATP says it is likely to hold more informal briefings with coaches at times during the year.

Wawrinka, for one, would advocate for that. He doesn’t tell Norman what to do or what not to do. “I’ve always been someone who doesn’t mind,” Wawrinka told ESPN.com. “If you have press, you don’t have to ask me. Do it if you want, don’t do it if you don’t want to. For me, you’re completely free.

“But it’s also the reason we work well together. It’s because he is who he is. I know he’s not going to be on TV and talking every day. When he talks, it’s to say something interesting. I want my coach to be who he is.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, whose coach Gunter Bresnik enjoys talking to the media, agrees. “You can maybe have more power through the media than straight to myself.”

And Australian Sam Stosur said it was pointless having a coach if you don’t trust them to do all parts of their job. “I’m not going to have a coach with me trying to help me with my game and my career, build that trust if then I can’t trust what they’re going to tell the media,” she said. “I’ve never even thought about telling them what to say.”

Although it’s not for everyone, hearing from so many coaches has given us more insight into players than ever before.

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