Andy Murray’s much-awaited return from injury, Roger Federer’s quest to claw his way back into the top four of men’s tennis and Pat Rafter’s surprise comeback from retirement to partner Lleyton Hewitt in doubles. These are just a few sub-plots that Tim Henman is eagerly anticipating to unfold as the season’s first Grand Slam, the Australian open, gets underway in Melbourne on Monday.
However, what excites him even more is the larger picture. It may have become fashionable to employ famous former players as coach but Henman said it will be extremely interesting to see what these ‘legends of the game’ have to offer when they take their seats in the coach’s corner.
Novak Djokovic and Federer have employed former world No.1s Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, respectively, as their coaches in the off season. Henman believed Murray’s successful stint with Ivan Lendl may have acted as an important factor in them bringing the game’s greats on board. “You know Lendl has obviously done a great job with Murray. Maybe those other guys have looked at that and said, ‘well, why don’t I try it as well?’ It could be one of the reasons why they have hired these high-profile coaches. But will that work? That’s the big question and it will be very interesting to see,” Henman said.
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The serve-and-volley specialist was curious to see what changes Djokovic and Federer bring to their game, though he said it would be more about dealing with the psychological aspects rather than technical. “I guess it won’t be about new shots and such. It will be more about strategising; employing different game style against different opponents or do something with their mental preparation on the court. These guys (Becker and Edberg) have so much to offer. It will be very interesting to see,” Henman, who was in Mumbai on Sunday, said on the sidelines of the HSBC Road to Wimbledon event.
Henman picked Djokovic to lift the season’s opening Grand Slam, saying the Serb along with Nadal will continue to dominate the men’s circuit at least for the first half of the season. He did not fancy Murray to set the courts on fire under the harsh Melbourne sun, warning the comeback to men’s tennis won’t be easy.
The reigning Wimbledon champion had an operation on a long-standing lower-back problem three months ago and has been steadily rebuilding his fitness.
“He will have put in a massive amount of working in gym, doing a lot of work to get back to full fitness. But you never really (are 100 percent fit). The only way you really gain confidence is when you play matches on court. He has played just two matches and one of them was very easy (against world No. 2129 Mousa Zayed). So it will be a big challenge for him,” Henman said.
“However, if he can get through early stages (at Australian Open) then there is no reason why he can’t have a good run. I really hope he can get off to a good start.”
Another player Henman hoped gets off to a good start is Federer. He spoke with great disappointment regarding the Swiss master’s downfall, saying a lot of little things did not go his way last season. “Physically he wasn’t able to practice and train as much as he would have liked because of a few problems with his back. He lost a few matches that he was used to winning probably knocked his confidence a little bit. Perhaps, he wasn’t moving as well he did before. So it’s all very small pieces but if they all add together…he is human, he will lose a few matches. But he is still motivated,” Henman said.
“But that’s what happens when you raise the bar so high. He is 32 so it’s not going to get any easier for him. I found it a little bit frustrating when so many people want to talk about his retirement. He has earned the right of playing as long as he wants. And we should enjoy watching him because the day he retires, we are all going to miss him.”