Fortunes in sport can change quickly, as was underlined on Wednesday when British No. 1 Johanna Konta announced the hire of Michael Joyce, Maria Sharapova’s former coach.
How strange to think that a starry-eyed Konta was hammered 6-2, 6-2 by Sharapova at Wimbledon two years ago. Now she is ranked No. 9 in the world, 51 places above her conqueror that day, and is able to attract the best-qualified coaches in the world.
Joyce was a moderately successful player on the men’s tour, reaching a high point of No. 64. But his greatest achievements arguably came during the seven years he spent as Sharapova’s coach. She won both her hard-court grand-slam titles – one in New York, the other in Melbourne – during that period, while also climbing to No. 1 in the world. In her book, she describes Joyce as “a great coach and an even better friend”.
That relationship ended in 2011, after “our practices lost their spark,” in Sharapova’s words. Since then Joyce has spent some time in a lower-profile role with Jessie Pegula – a prospect from New York State who has been held back by injuries – before signing with former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in March. That partnership never had a chance to establish itself, however, because of the custody battle that developed over Azarenka’s son Leo, preventing her from attending any events since Wimbledon.
Konta and Joyce – who is a 44-year-old Californian - had already been spotted training together at the All England Club, and she made the news public on Wednesday in a statement.
A post shared by Michael Joyce (@mjoyce73) on Apr 11, 2017 at 8:42am PDT
“Michael is a fantastic coach with a great pedigree and I’m really excited to work with him,” said Konta, who has also parted company with regular hitting partner Andrew Fitzpatrick. “Our first tournament together will be the Brisbane International [in the first week of January] and the plan is for Michael to travel with me full time through 2018.”
As with managers in Premier League football, tennis operates a merry-go-round in which any recognisable figure who comes on the market usually finds a new employer before long. Konta’s discarded coach Wim Fissette has already signed up with Angelique Kerber, who finished the 2016 season as world No. 1.
Joyce will be aware, however, that these positions can be insecure. Konta has parted company with her coach at the end of each of the last two seasons, despite some major achievements in both years.
Having split with Spain’s Esteban Carril at the end of 2016, she spent only one season with the Belgian Fissette. In that time, however, she won the Miami Open and reached the semi-final of Wimbledon – two feats that outstripped anything we have seen from a British woman since Virginia Wade 40 years ago.
In character, Joyce is likely to be more outspoken than either of his predecessors, who were both softly-softly types. In 1995, the novelist and tennis enthusiast David Foster Wallace devoted 12,000 words to a detailed feature about Joyce the player (he was then ranked No. 79) and produced the following elegant observation.
“What Michael Joyce says rarely has any kind of spin or slant on it; he mostly just reports what he sees, rather like a camera. You couldn't even call him sincere, because it's not like it seems ever to occur to him to try to be sincere or nonsincere.”
If Joyce remains as direct as he was then, it will be interesting to see how Konta relates to him during the lean patches that inevitably crop up in any tennis career.
Meanwhile, the Australian Open confirmed on Wednesday that Serena Williams has entered January’s event – although this does not necessarily mean that she will attend. Azarenka, a two-time former champion, has not.