How Pam Shriver’s Telegraph revelations led to ‘supercoach’ role
A year ago, next month, Telegraph Sport published a first-person column from Pam Shriver, five-time Wimbledon doubles champion, in which she revealed her inappropriate teen relationship with a coach 33 years older than her.
Shriver hoped that the column would shed light on blurring the boundaries of the case, which are still common in the women’s game. But her new role as a campaign quarterback also took her down an unexpected path – one that found her cheering from the player’s box on Sunday night when Donna Vekic won the WTA tournament in Monterrey.
Formerly known as a pundit and broadcaster, Shriver has now joined the ranks of “super trainers,” a term first coined when Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl in 2011 and has since been applied to returning legends such as Boris Becker (who worked with Novak Djokovic). ). ), Carlos Moya (still working with Rafael Nadal) and Conchita Martinez (training Garbine Muguruza).
“I had no plans to coach at this level,” Shriver told Telegraph Sport. “I coached the high school team and worked in the backyard. But everything changed when I went to San Diego in October for the WTA 500 tournament.
“I wanted to talk to some players about defense. Donna, a 26-year-old Croatian, member of the WTA Players Board, was on my shortlist. I saw her beat Lauren Davis in qualifying and before we talked about anything else, I told her that she wasn’t using some of her abilities as well as she could. Things like a more focused second serve attack or a more accurate serve. [which means hitting the corners of the box rather than the middle].
“In general, I felt that with more clarity, her power play should be closer to the top, and not to the mid-70s, where she was then.”
Vekic was so impressed with Shriver’s analysis that she hired her almost immediately. Now, just under five months later, Vekic has climbed 54 spots in the rankings to No. 23 in the world – just four spots short of her career best. Since that first conversation, she has won 19 of 23 matches and ended the most purple period of her career by beating world No. 5 Caroline Garcia in Sunday’s final in Monterrey.
Speaking at the Australian Open in January, where she lost to eventual champion Arina Sobalenko in the quarterfinals, Vekic said of Shriver, “In San Diego, we hit it off right away. She’s a coach, consultant, mentor, call it what you will.”
Shriver follows the standard “supercoach” paradigm in that she doesn’t pay too much attention to technical minutiae. It mostly remains with Vekic’s day-to-day coach Nikola Horvat, a Croatian compatriot. Instead, she provides tactical advice, assists in training, seeks out opponents, and provides moral support.
Nearly every contemporary player who has played with one of these 20th-century tennis legends has seen improvement, although Martina Navratilova, Shriver’s doubles partner throughout the 1980s, failed to inspire Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska when they briefly merged in 2015.
However, Shriver’s influence was especially striking. She also joins a hugely underrepresented group: female coaches working in elite tennis. Now that the aforementioned Muguruza has dropped down the rankings, the only players in the top 100 other than Vekic who include female coaches in their support staff are Jill Teichmann (Arantcha Parra Santoja), Daria Saville (Nicole Pratt), Alison Van Uytwank (Ann Devris). ) and Sara Sorribes Tormo (Silvia Soler Espinosa).
The challenge now for Shriver will be to align her coaching with her previous broadcasting commitments. For the next two weeks – the duration of the Indian Wells tournament is often referred to as the “fifth major” – she will split her time between Vekic and the Tennis Channel. “It’s not easy juggling,” she said, “and we’re still learning as we go.”
But Shriver is optimistic about Vekic’s prospects this season, and especially the fighting spirit that led Vekic to Sunday night’s 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over an in-form Garcia.
“In each of the three tournaments where I worked with her,” Shriver said, “she won the match 7-6 in the third set, which made a huge difference. Now she plays important moments very hard. That’s one of the reasons why, if she stays healthy, I believe she can compete for the Majors and make it to the WTA Finals at the end of the year.”