“Men are kind of given more credit up front. They have to prove that they can’t coach rather than prove that they can.”
A Tennis Channel analyst, Navratilova has served as an “on-air” coach for the last six years. In addition, she notes, she was coached by some of the greatest minds in tennis — King among them.
“So unless I’m a total idiot, I should be able to pass that knowledge on,” she said.
According to several who have competed and coached at the top ranks, a coach’s gender is significant. Women can better relate to the challenges and emotions faced by female players.
“It’s not all about X’s and O’s or tactics,” said ESPN analyst and former player and coach Darren Cahill, whose charges have included Andre Agassi and Daniela Hantuchova. “It’s more about controlling those emotions, getting the best out of yourself, knowing that if you lose a great opportunity to not let that affect you for two or three games. That happens more in women’s tennis than it does in men’s tennis. And I feel like a woman’s perspective can deal with that much better.”
Eyeing healthy environment
Richard Williams readily conceded that his ex-wife “brings a lot more to the table” as a coach than he does.
“Even when we’re on the court now, I can hear Venus and Serena’s mom say something to them, and it looks like they’re paying more attention,” said the sisters’ father, who’ll be in Serena’s box Saturday, along with Oracene and male hitting partner Sasha Bajin, who has assumed day-to-day coaching duties.
He also suggests that more female coaches would create a healthier emotional environment for young players.
The issue of destructive player-coach relationships is never far from the surface of women’s tennis, though rarely discussed — whether it’s fathers who drive daughters too hard or male coaches who parlay power over their charges into sexual relationships.
“We have seen where men have brought more devastation to these young women than any woman ever would, under any circumstances,” Richard Williams said.
Added Navratilova: “We have way too many coaches that are romantically involved with the players, to their detriment.
“It may help in the short term, but it certainly will hurt them in the long term. They’re not equal relationships.
“The coach is a person of authority, and a lot of these kids aren’t 18 yet.”
In some ways, women’s tennis has been a victim of its own success.
When Stanford Coach LeLe Forood competed on the pro tour in the mid-1970s, men had so little regard for women’s tennis that few considered coaching in it. But as its credibility and popularity grew, it became an attractive, and lucrative, career path for men who weren’t ready to give up the game.
Now, it’s time for women to even the score — at least those willing to make the sacrifices required.
Forood, who has led the Cardinal to six NCAA titles, said the ranks of female coaches in college tennis are growing. Stanford graduate Laura Granville, also a former pro, was hired last month to coach Princeton’s women’s team.
And former pro Kathy Rinaldi is regarded as one of the USTA’s bright coaching stars, working with top junior American Taylor Townsend.
McEnroe wants more résumés like hers.
“It’s invaluable to be able to understand players’ highs and lows and understand the different emotions you go through as a player and a person,” McEnroe said. “It’s interesting that there don’t seem to be that many women out there who want to get into it.”