Coaches are playing key roles at the Volvo Grand Prix Masters. With the exception of Johan Kriek, Jose Higueras and Andres Gomez, all Masters' entrants have their coaches in attendance. The most famous is "Count Dracula"--Ion Tiriac of Romania, whose pupil is Guillermo Vilas.
"The godfather of us all (coaches) is Harry Hopman," says Tiriac. "He would take his Australian team around the world on eight-month trips, from February to October. I am just doing the same thing, but now there are two different factors: There is much more money involved, and I do it for just one player.
"What people don't realize, is that the top three or four professional tennis players are multimillion dollar businesses. After all these years with Guillermo, I don't feel like his coach. I am more like, how do you say, his other ego."
Another partnership exists between third-seeded Ivan Lendl and Wojtek Fibak. An active player in his own right and ranked 23rd in the world, Fibak began to work with Lendl chiefly because both are from Iron Curtain countries.
"When Ivan first started traveling without the Czechoslovakian team," says Fibak, "he needed someone to talk to, to advise him where to stay in certain places and how to play against the better players. Since Jan Kodes (the former Wimbledon and French Open champion) had stopped playing, there was no one from Eastern Europe for him to relate to. Now Ivan is like a part of my family.
"I am from Poland and Ivan is from Czechoslovakia, but both our countries face similar political difficulties and that is a very strong bond between us."
Like Lendl, Sweden's Mats Wilander was brought up in a team atmosphere. His coach, John Anders Sjogren, is in many respects just as new to big-time tennis as his student. Wilander's Davis Cup teammate, Hans Simonsson, is also here in New York as a friend and practice partner.
The group of young Swedes seems unaffected by success. "This is a learning experience for the whole Swedish junior-development program," says Sjogren. "We had two or three good world-class players before (Bjorn) Borg. But in the last few years we realized that our coaches needed just as much experience as our players. So as you see us traveling, I am perhaps learning more than any of the players."
A coach can provide a young player with excellent practice partners. The young French Davis Cup player, Henri LeConte, is here as Tiriac's next prodigy. With Tiriac as his coach, LeConte will be able to practice against Vilas, Borg and Jimmy Connors.
"More than anything else," says Warren Jacques, Steve Denton's coach, "practice against the top players gives an up-and-coming youngster a great idea of how far he has to go to reach the top."
"Warren made me believe I could be a top player," Denton says. "He told me that since I had a big serve and was a good athlete, I could learn the rest. This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me (making the Masters). I believe in my heart that I really belong on the same court with these guys."
Unlike some others, John McEnroe feels a coach is necessary only occasionally: "I basically know what I'm doing out there," he told me concerning Davis Cup matches. "I know what's going on out there. The game is not that complicated. After you've played a guy a few times, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how he plays."
Connors' brother Johnny is here with him, while his wife Patti and son remained in Florida. Jimmy talks to his mother in Belleville, Ill., every day about tennis: "People don't realize that my grandmother and mother are the only coaches I've ever really had. They know a lot about tennis."
Jose-Luis Clerc's coach, Patricio Rodriguez: "It is probably true that we have an advantage over a young player who has a new coach. It takes many years before a player has the kind of relationship that Borg has with Lennart Berglein, Vilas has with Tiriac, or Clerc with me." To which Sjogern replies: "Perhaps I should watch the coaches more than the players."