Serena Williams Isn’t At The US Open, But Her Coach Is Everywhere

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Perhaps what initially made Patrick Mouratoglou look more like a French existentialist philosopher than a tennis coach is the always-perfectly-trimmed beard, the persistent salt-and-pepper mustache.

Or maybe he’s a tennis venture capitalist. Or a tennis facility manager. Or a tennis “gurus,” as Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas refers to it. Mouratoglou could be all of these depending on the moment, which can make it difficult for him to be a coach as well, at least the way he thinks a professional tennis coach should coach. This may seem strange to a man best known for writing a book about himself called “Aries,” but he always intended it to be so.

Mouratoglou was on the sidelines at Serena Williams’ games for years. He has been coaching her since 2012 and for a time was assumed to be her boyfriend. Coaching him from the stands in the 2018 US Open finals led to one of the most notorious collapses of Williams’ career. Not at the US Open this year, recover from a hamstring injury.

Mouratoglou was everywhere, as he is at every major tennis tournament these days.

There, he sits one seat away from Tsitsipas’ father and coach, Apostolos, in their early-round matches against Andy Murray and Carlos Alcaraz. After a game, he gets a mic for one of any number of television interviews he’s done about the state of the modern game. Sometimes the USTA Billie Jean King camps out on the plaza of the National Tennis Center and signs autographs to fans who know him better than most players. Last Tuesday night, 18-year-old Danish player Holger Rune, who was training at his academy, handed a sports drink to the court of Arthur Ashe Stadium, trying to relieve cramps as he fell against Novak Djokovic in four sets. in the first round.

At 51, Mouratoglou has become one of tennis’ most recognizable stars, although as a teenager in France he was never more than a middle-ranking junior player. Corey Gauff, father and coach of rising American star Coco Gauff, often wears a baseball cap with Mouratoglou’s “M” logo on his brim while watching his daughter play.

It’s the rare coach who transforms himself into a brand, which may mean he’s better at marketing than he is at coaching. Don’t ask Mouratoglou to turn his approach to tennis into a simple strategy or formula.

“My philosophy is that I know nothing,” he said in an interview days before the US Open kicked off. “I’m learning about the person and I’m learning about my player. Many trainers start out in their own way. There is one method per player and I need to find it.”

Tennis is in an awkward spot right now. The careers of many of its biggest stars are stagnant. Its greatest male actor, Novak Djokovic, is worshiped in his home country, but never universally adopted. Naomi Osaka is already a tennis star but has played very little this year and announced on Friday night that she will be taking a break from the game once again.

This leaves enough room for a coaching figure like Mouratoglou to fill.

Tennis does this often, and it produces a coach who is a savvy marketer and businessman to become much more than a teacher and trainer, often with the help of television cameras that turn to star players as they watch. Think Australian Harry Hopman in the 1970s and New Yorker/Floridian Nick Bollettieri in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, none of them reached the level of Mouratoglou.

His empire includes the Mouratoglou Academy in the south of France, home to 200 full-time tennis students, most of whom live there and attend school.

It organizes camps for 4,000 players each year, including some adults. Next year, it will offer an e-coaching product.

He is also the lead organizer of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, a made-for-television competition featuring several top players and introducing a faster scoring system for matches.

There are Mouratoglou tennis centers in the resorts of Costa Navarino in Greece and Jumeirah in Dubai. He is an investor in the tennis media website Tennismajors.com.

With just 24 hours a day, he recently gave up commenting on ESPN and Eurosport.

He is a full-time coach of Williams, who is only one player, but helps to oversee the training and development of many other players to varying degrees, including Tsitsipas, Gauff, Rune and the third-placed 22-year-old Australian Alexei Popyrin. US Open tour.

Having a portfolio as long as Mouratoglou’s seems to go against someone whose authority comes from his position as a coach and whose philosophy relies on spending enough time with each player to tailor his methods and strategies to the individual. Mouratoglou said this approach requires a deep knowledge of each player’s strengths and weaknesses, both mentally and physically, as well as their cultural and family backgrounds.

The simplest explanation is that Mouratoglou is no longer really a coach if he had been in the first place, with the exception of his work for Williams. But it may not be around for much longer. It’s not a role he plans to play. He took it out of necessity. His vision for the tennis empire wouldn’t have worked otherwise.

Mouratoglou dreamed of becoming a top professional as a child, but his parents told him it would be too risky and would not support the effort. He quit tennis at the age of 16, continued his education, and at the age of 20 went to work for his father, a prominent French industrialist and owner of a large renewable energy company.

When Mouratoglou was 26, his father told him he was ready to become a partner. Mouratoglou told his father that he was quitting the job. He still had a passion for tennis and wanted to build a tennis empire, starting with an academy for young players.

He partnered with Bob Brett, an Australian coach and Harry Hopman protege. Mouratoglou knew little about coaching and felt he needed a big name to attract players. Then in 2004 Brett resigned. Mouratoglou realized the same thing could happen if he found another well-known coach to be his partner, so he learned how to coach and found some young candidates he could help support early careers, such as a venture capitalist who founded his startup company. .

Among its first recruits were Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis and Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She began working with Williams in 2012 and used the reputation of her unmatched success to build her empire and a new model for the broader role a tennis coach can play.

Mouratoglou now functions as the general manager of a company with a player development division, with each player functioning as a separate unit or product. He has 50 coaches working for him at the academy. The best professional players associated with him – players he is guaranteed to attend televised matches – each have someone else acting as a coach. Most have only limited contact with Mouratoglou on the training ground, but he oversees the team of fitness trainers the players work with. His academy can act as a base camp where they can train.

Mouratoglou first saw Gauff at the age of 17 at the age of 10. He started a relationship with his father, who brought Coco to the academy. He first saw Tsitsipas, now 23, on YouTube when he was 16.

“Patrick is like a kind of overseer,” Coco Gauff said the other day.

He said that if Mouratoglou had a particular pointer, he usually spoke to him through his father, so there wasn’t much in his head. “It also helps my team get the right people, find out who and what I need to be successful,” he added.

Popyrin and Rune, who have coached Lars Christensen since he was 6 years old, said the most important role Mouratoglou played was to provide them with an ideal environment for study.

It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Gaining access to a world-class training center with almost any amenities, they are the best marketing tools to attract other aspiring players paying for the academy’s services, or tennis enthusiasts attending camps at a Mouratoglou. tennis center in a resort.

There is probably no better way to let Mouratoglou know about his connection to these players than by taking his usual place in their box during matches. Mouratoglou lost all current players in the main draw in the early rounds, but there are a few players with Mouratoglou ties in junior tournaments this week.

He has one holy rule when he goes to a match: If he starts with one player, he stays until the end, even if another player his company works with is playing on another court. “Leaving it halfway sends a bad message,” he said.

It’s also another way to let players know if they need something from Mouratoglou or someone in his growing empire. Popyrin, who has struggled this year and is 73rd on the ATP standings, said Mouratoglou has had a positive voice lately trying to remind him that he could perhaps be the best player like third-placed Tsitsipas. It works like a tennis Buddha, a sounding board that listens more than it speaks.

“I’m bragging about him,” said Popyrin. He lets you speak your mind, and when you speak your mind to him, you often get the answer yourself.

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