Tennis coaches play a huge role in the sport but every now and then comes along one who pushes the envelop on and off the court. This could be with their alleged abusive methods of coaching or by their views or even for their propensity to get into physical fights with others.
Here’s a list of the most controversial tennis coaches of recent times.
Bernard Tomic was tipped to be the next big thing in Australian tennis but his highly controversial career, together with his father-coach John’s behaviour on and off the court led to a sad fizzle-out.
John has had a list of misdemeanours, having gotten into screaming tussles with chair umpires and lines-persons, including at a match involving his daughter Sara Tomic at the Australian Open.
But even this was nothing in comparison with the clash he had with Tennis Australia’s high performance director Pat Rafter, or even worse, the suspended jail sentence he got for attacking Bernard’s training partner.
Interestingly, John himself admitted he was ashamed of his son’s behaviour when Bernard admitted he was bored during his loss to Mischa Zverev in a Wimbledon match. Wonder what Bernard thinks of that.
Dokic was the father and ex-coach of Jelena Dokic, a former world number four, Wimbledon semifinalist and six-time WTA winner. Her career, however, was marred by a plethora of off-court issues with her dad Damir.
In her book, Unbreakable, Dokic chronicled the mental and physical abuse she had to endure at the hands of her father. Thrown out of the Wimbledon after breaking a journalist’s camera, claims of a rigged Australian Open draw against Jelena and threats to kidnap her were all out of Damir’s book of shame.
Later in an interview with a Serbian newspaper, Damir is alleged to have said:
“I have thought about dropping a nuclear bomb on Sydney since Jelena lost in the first round this week, for which Australia is to blame.”
And Damir’s issues weren’t restricted to his daughter alone, having spent a few months in jail for threatening the Aussie ambassador to Serbia with a weapon.
Controversial to hilt.
It was daughter Mary Pierce’s progress as a youngster that got her father Jim interested in the sport. So much so, he took over Mary’s coaching and pushed her to the limits with methods which have been described as brutal in many quarters.
Jim’s behaviour towards his own daughter and her opponents, however, meant he was banned by the WTA from attending tournaments and by 1993, Mary had had to take a restraining order against him.
His most-remembered catch phrase was “Mary, kill the bitch” in a bid to coax her daughter into finishing off a match against Magdalena Maleeva, to which Pierce responded with an angry throw of her racquet at his direction.
Interestingly, Mary became a born-again Christian in 2000 following which there was a reconciliation between her and father.
Mike Agassi, born Emmanuel and a former Iranian boxer who featured in the Olympics, is multiple Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi’s controversial father and early coach. Using methods he had tried on his earlier children to fine-tune Andre’s tennis, he might have helped the latter win majors, but that did not stop the relation from being on the rocks.
And it was again, down to the tactics Mike used to train his son, pushing him to the limits. So much so that Andre later admitted in his autobiography, Open, his dad was quite violent and made him take to drugs as a result.
In another excerpt, Agassi spoke about a startling incident after he had won the 1992 Wimbledon.
Speaking to his father for the first time after winning that title, Andre described Mike’s reaction – “You had no business losing that fourth set.”
Father and coach of the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, Richard is arguably the most successful tennis coach in the history of the sport, but as far as controversies go, he often found himself in the middle of one.
Often at the receiving end of racism growing up, Williams used unique tactics to toughen up his daughters before they took to tennis.
And even after they did, it was the booing of Richard – and his daughters – at the Indian Wells Open in 2001 which opened their eyes to the issues which still existed in the world of tennis.
Richard Williams has often been accused of fixing matches played between Venus and Serena in order to protect the harmony of the family, including the aforementioned one at the Indian Wells Open.
Which not directly a controversial character himself, Patrick Mouratoglou has been known to skirt with some controversies – like when he coached Serena Williams during the 2018 US Open for which she was penalised, and when he said the sport of tennis needed more, um, controversy.
In the final of the 2018 US Open, Serena was given a code violation for Mouratoglou’s hand gestures which he later admitted were a part of coaching from the sidelines.
In incensed Williams would go on to get a point penalty and then a game penalty for her a blow-up but Mouratoglou was unrepentant, later asking the authorities to look at changing the laws.
Mouratoglou also considers the sport of tennis to be too docile for its own good and has often supported the need for controversial characters in tennis. As a part of that endeavour, the Frenchman went on to introduce a new tennis format by the name of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown where players weren’t penalised for swearing or breaking racquets.
Father of Marion Bartoli, Walter gave up on his medical career to coach her daughter. What that meant, however, his methods of coaching weren’t always the most conventional and that led to a lot of speculation in the media about the relationship between them.
So much so that the French Tennis Federation had asked her to cut off any coaching ties with him, which she subsequently refused and as a result, Bartoli wasn’t allowed to play for France at the Fed Cup.
Later, she would go on to meet the president of the French Tennis Federation, Jean Gachassin, in a bid to smooth over their relationship. A year earlier, Bartoli had sent her father out of the court at Wimbledon in a fit of frustration.
Once, this controversial father and coach was also fined $2000 for on-court coaching, an act banned by the WTA rules.
Bartoli would go on claim her maiden – and only – Grand Slam at the 2013 Wimbledon, but that came under the tutelage of former French player Amelie Mauresmo, after having ended the coaching relationship with Walter.
All seemed to be well between them though, with Marion crediting her father for the Wimbledon triumph.
“I’m not going to sacrifice [my happiness] just to keep a person around. I have to be happy with where I am at my life. I feel like I worked really hard – maybe not for 21 years, but for 17 years – to be No 1 and to win grand slams.”
This was the multiple Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka talking about the reasons for her split with coach Sascha Bajin.
Bajin, a German with Serbian origins, was at the helm when Osaka won the Indian Wells Open in 2018, followed by her maiden Grand Slam win at the US Open.
However, soon after the Japanese player’s title victory at the Australian Open in 2019, Osaka sacked Bajin in what came out as a surprise move since he had won the WTA Coach of the Year award for his performances with Osaka the previous season.
Speculation mounted for a while before Osaka decided to put the record straight.
While she didn’t exactly make a mention of what went wrong, Osaka was forthright about her happiness being the most paramount and with Bajin around, that wasn’t happening.
Osaka announced her split with Bajin on social media and while he was equally gracious and cordial, both unfollowed each other after that.
Bajin coached Kristina Mladenovic and Dayana Yastremska after that but those stints did not last too long either.
Another father-daughter combo in which the senior Rezai, Arsalan, was controversial enough to get himself banned from the Australian Open in 2011. This came after a confrontation between the two, leading to a split.
Five years before that, Rezai had been convicted for getting involved in a spat with another player’s father, leading to the French Tennis Federation to hire extra security for a tournament.