Some folks who watched Caroline Wozniacki coax Maria Sharapova into a slew of unforced errors in victory at the 2010 US Open might have thought that a year and half later, the Dane would be a serious Grand Slam contender and that the Russian would still be struggling with the effects of her shoulder surgery.
But that is not the case today, as the 25-year-old Sharapova has put together a an impressive, consistent year, while Wozniacki, even though she continues to try and hang tough, hasn’t not won a tournament since last August and has fallen to No. 6 in the rankings.
One man who observed their U.S. Open clash and the vast majority of No. 2 Sharapova’s career is Michael Joyce, who coached through thick and thin and has known her since she was 11. The two remain close friends, but Swede Thomas Hogstedt is now coaching Sharapova.
After he and Sharapova decided to part ways at the start of 2011, Joyce could have taken a job with another top pro but wanted to see if he could take another from the ground up. He was part of almost every major success in Sharapova’s career and is still very much a part of her life as the two chat frequently.
Recently, after Sharapova fell to Agnieszka Radwanska in the final of Miami, the two went to Disneyland. While they didn’t talk much tennis, he noticed that for the first time in a while, she seemed very happy and relaxed.
Two weeks later, she would win her first title of the season, taking out Victoria Azarenka on indoor red clay in Stuttgart, which was a crystal mental step for her given that the No. 1 had buried her in the Australian Open and Indian Wells final.
“For the past couple of years she’s been a little on edge and almost confrontational about things that have nothing to so with tennis," Joyce told Bleacher Report. “And this time it was like she was back to being the old, normal Maria. You think she would have been pissed off because she lost to Radwanska but she seemed relaxed again.”
Sharapova and Joyce’s spilt at the start of 2011 was very emotional and one that brought her to tears. But Joyce himself thought that their coaching-pupil relationship might have been getting a little stale, so he told her that she should give it a go with Hogstedt, who had had success coaching China's Li Na.
However, last spring, when she could not find her form and had gone though a bad stretch, Joyce reminded Sharapova what type of player she should be—one who should always move forward because at 6'2" and without the balance of a ballerina, she simply cannot win matches against the other elite players running sideline to sideline. He also told her that it was time for her to retake control of her life.
“I remember when she won the  US Open against [Justine] Henin she won 24 of 25 points coming in,” he said. “We know she’s never going to be a great [standard] volleyer, but she can hit a great swing volley. It’s not about volleying, it’s about moving forward and taking care of the short balls.
"I told her you are a champion because of you. And you’ve had help along the way, but I’ve seen you win 25 tournaments and in 23 of those there was a match you could have lost and won anyway.
"Now every time something tough happens, like you double fault a couple times, it becomes such a big deal. If you think someone like Jimmy Connors [whom Sharapova worked with a little] Hogstedt or me again is going to come in and bring back that toughness you once had, it’s not going to happen.
"I told her you can quit tennis now and be fine, or keep playing and you can be ranked No. 15 and try to be happy with that, or you can suck it up, stop looking at people for answers and take some responsibility for yourself.”
Joyce is now coaching U.S. up-and-comer Jessie Pegula, the 18-year-old daughter of Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, who under his watch has halved her ranking in the past year.
When Joyce started with Pegula, he liked how she struck the ball, but saw that she had not been taught point construction, was not sure what defined a successful game style given her ability, needed to get in better shape, and noticed that because had been playing up as a junior in higher age groups, she hadn’t been able to win an enough titles, which is important for any player's mental well being.
He thinks that in the next couple of years Pegula could make a breakthrough, but it’s still a learning process for both of them. The coach has to commit to learning about the player, and the player has to learn to trust her instructor.
“That why I laugh at players who change coaches all the time, because it take a while to get to know somebody,” Joyce said. "We as men have a enough trouble figuring out women in general, let alone when they are playing a sport like tennis.”
Even though Joyce now spends much of his days traveling to smaller tournaments, he still keeps a close eye on the top ranks of the WTA . While he’s impressed by younger generation players such Azarenka and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, he is not by former No. 1 Wozniacki, the 21-year-old has not won a big tournament in more than year.
“She's the one I’m most disappointed in,” Joyce said “I tell you what’s killing her—everyone talks about her needing to be more aggressive, but it’s not that, it’s she has to get more weight on her ball like she had a couple of years ago. She can’t break an egg with her forehand.
"When she was doing well, even when she played Maria at U.S. Open, she was serving well, at a high percentage and her forehand was really heavy so the girls couldn’t attack her, and then she could attack with her backhand.
"Her forehand is a joke. It’s not penetrating at all. It’s like the Andy Roddick syndrome. She used to use a Babolat racket and then switched to Yonex, which is not very powerful. There’s nothing on her ball and that’s going to hurt her against Maria, Kvitova, or even a Marion Bartoli.”
Joyce also points out something obvious that’s important with Wozniacki, whose base if that of a relentless counterpuncher. In order for her to be successful she needs to be mentally and physically at 100 percent or she is going to struggle.
Unlike, say, Serena Williams (who just beat Sharapova and Wozniacki in succession in Madrid), she cannot ace and service winner herself through match. And, while trying to regain an elite level and improve, she’s in danger of losing what got her there in the first place.
“Roddick is a good example of that,” he said. “He spent so much effort trying to beat Roger Federer that he became a worse player in general. Wozniacki might be confused, whether she should be aggressive or not.”
Wozniacki might have made a critical error at the start of this year. Finally, after months of vacillating, she and her father and coach Piotr brought in a new coach, the experienced Ricardo Sanchez. But then fired him after just two months on the job. Sanchez was not allowed to develop trust between the three, which Joyce sees as a mistake.
“Look at Maria and Hogstedt,” he said. “ She played bad for four months, then had decent results and still wasn’t playing that well, but maybe now she is playing better because it takes time.
"But if Caroline’s dad is the coach it might be [a] problem because you can’t go in there and really help her if her dad has the final word on everything. That’s going to be an issue.
"That’s one thing about Yuri [Sharapov] that people don’t realize is that Maria always had good coaches. Yuri liked to hear he was the coach in public, but he was letting me work with her all the time.
"You see Wozniacki’s dad running down on the court. Yuri never ran down on the court, Sometimes you would see him yelling down at Maria, but half the time he was telling her what I had told him to say.”
And what would Joyce tell Wozniacki if she asked?
The same thing he told Sharapova.
"Take more responsibility for herself because at the end of the day, no coach is going to matter when it’s 5-5 in the third set. That’s on you.”
Matt Cronin is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
Longtime tennis journalist Matt Cronin is a columnist for Tennis Channel, a reporter for Tennis.com,a radio analyst at all the Grand Slams and the author of the book, “Epic: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever.”
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