If you are a tennis fan, you would have never been away from the GOAT debate – who is the greatest tennis player of all time. Have we, however, paused and thought of those people who pushed these players into achieving their greatness? Below is our list of all-time greatest American tennis coaches in the history of the sport.
Despite not possessing the greatest singles tennis record, Paul Annacone has gone on to become one of the greatest American coaches in the history of the sport.
Starting his coaching career in 1995, the New York-born Annacone was first associated with Pete Sampras till 2002, becoming his longest serving coach. During this time, he helped Sampras win nine Grand Slam titles and once the American great retired, he moved to coaching Britain’s Tim Henman.
Roger Federer then brought Annacone on as a full-time coach in 2010, and he helped the Swiss maestro win another Wimbledon title and a couple of year-end title victories. Federer also reclaimed the world number one ranking during that time.
Annacone has also been involved with Sloane Stephens, Stan Wawrinka and Taylor Fritz at different times to go with having managed the British Davis Cup team.
Other than coaching players and teams, Annacone has also been involved in the coaching video, Paul Annacone Tactical Tennis DVD Series. This consists of four parts that teach players how to overcome an all-court opponent, overcome a baseliner, get past a net-rusher and understand one’s own game.
Recently, Annacone was also involved with TopCourt, an online, subscription-based coaching for tennis players by the pros.
If you are an aspiring tennis player it’s highly improbable you wouldn’t have heard of Nick Bollettieri or the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
It was this academy in Florida that shot Nick to fame as it became the first of its kind, tennis boarding school for potential professionals, and in turn it also brought about a sea change in the manner in which tennis was coached to students. Later, the tennis academy was bought by IMG with Bollettieri continuing to remain associated with it as he grew its programs.
Some of the top players who graduated from that academy and went on to become number one in the sport included Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles. Serena and Venus Williams have both been involved with the academy in some capacity, along with Maria Sharapova, Mary Pierce, Jelena Jankovic, Anna Kournikova and Kei Nishikori.
A former world number four on the ATP charts, Brad Gilbert later went on to become a very successful coach for a wide variety of players. Once called the greatest coach of all time by Andre Agassi, he went on to help Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori along with a couple of other players.
Six of Agassi’s Grand Slam titles came under Gilbert’s tutelage, before Roddick won his 2003 US Open title with Gilbert as well. Murray’s early days in reaching the top-10 of the rankings also came under Gilbert.
Gilbert’s coaching career began in 1994, around the time he announced his retirement from his playing career, and his successes have been down to a great tactical nous which followed on from his own tennis-playing days.
He has also authored a book by the name of Winning Ugly, one that helps modest tennis players in overcoming tougher, higher-class opponents.
A former player with a singles best ranking of 15, Tim Gullikson’s best performance came in doubles where he made it to the final of the 1983 Wimbledon with brother Tom. That, however, paled in comparison with his coaching stints once he retired from the sport.
Gullikson coached some top players in the world at the time including Martina Navratilova, Mary Joe Fernández (who later became a USA coach herself) and Aaron Krickstein before taking on the role of Pete Sampras’ coach. That stint lasted more than three years, helping Sampras clinch four Grand Slam singles titles which in turn helped him get to the number one ranking in the world.
In an unfortunate turn of events, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1995, which ultimately led to his death the following year. Sampras, who was playing the Australian Open at the time, broke down during his match against Jim Courier but came back from two sets down to win the encounter in what turned out to be an emotional moment.
Ivan Lendl is one who will make the list of the best male tennis players of all time and one of the top American coaches as well. Czech-born Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam titles and seven season-end competitions, helped promote a different style of play, the aggressive baseline style.
As a coach, he first took over the role for Andy Murray, and assisted him in with two Grand Slams – making him the first Brit in many years to clinch a major. Their partnership lasted for two years before he rejoined the team in 2016, and soon enough Murray became the world number one.
Later he coached the 2020 US Open runnerup Alexander Zverev for a period of nearly 12 months but that relationship ended on a terrible note with the German complaining Lendl did not show enough interest in professional coaching as he did in his own game of golf or his dog.
A former world number 35, the Illinois-born Larry Stefanki became more noted for his role as a coach after retirement. He first coached John McEnroe in 1992 before commencing his coaching career on a full-time basis in 1995.
Some of the more prominent players Stefanki was involved with included Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, both of whom became world number ones under him. He would go on to take over the coaching role of Tim Henman as well, who reached world number four and was later involved in similar roles with Fernando González, Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova.
If the results of one’s wards are deemed to the ultimate barometer of a coach’s success, then Richard Williams is the greatest tennis coach of all time. After all, not too many others can boast of more than 40 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles, with Richard having coached his daughters Serena and Venus to that record.
Having never played competitive tennis, Williams took lessons growing up and used those to impart to his daughters, Serena and Venus. He then took over their coaching responsibilities after pulling them out of an academy they used to go to, and went on to lead them to become two of the greatest American tennis stars of all time.
A former world number 59 in singles, Estep’s greatest contribution to tennis has been his coaching stints with Martina Navratilova. The Dallas-born Estep was involved with Navratilova as a coach between 1983 and 1986, before taking over similar roles with Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Hana Mandlíková, Carling Bassett and Jana Novotná.
Other US Coaches Who Dabbled
Connors is one of the greatest tennis players of all times but when it came to coaching, his stints were largely uninspiring. The American was involved in coaching Andy Roddick for a period of less than two years in which the player’s best showing was a final at the US Open.
Later Connors joined hands with Maria Sharapova but the pair survived one match together.
Not quite a player coach, this former four-time Grand Slam champion has led the USA Davis Cup team between 2010 and 2018. He finished his career with a 10-8 win-loss record as a captain, and took the side to the semifinal on two different occasions.
Mary Joe Fernandez
Like Courier, Mary Joe Fernández has also been involved with the American national teams, coaching the American Fed Cup team. Later she was also appointed coach for the women’s section of the Olympic tennis team in the 2012 edition.
Much like twin brother Tim Gullikson, Tom also took to coaching after his tennis-playing days were over, joining the United States Tennis Association Player Development Program and helping build the careers of the likes of Jennifer Capriati, Todd Martin and Andy Roddick. He also coached the American Davis Cup team and the men’s Olympic tennis team in 1996 before becoming a part of Pete Sampras’ coaching setup for a couple of months.
A former Australian Open and US Open finalist, Martin has coached Mardy Fish and was a part of the team that took on the role of coaching Novak Djokovic for about nine months.
A French Open champion at 17, and the winner of 34 ATP titles, Michael Chang used his nimbleness and athleticism to surprise his opponents and made it to as high as world number two on the ATP rankings.
He later went on to coach Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
John McEnroe’s younger brother Patrick has been involved in coaching at various levels but his biggest contribution came as the General Manager of USTA Player Development. Known for a string of controversial decisions while working there, a call to get under-10 players to compete on smaller tennis courts caused much ruffle in American tennis.