Mission 1 – Serena
Like most people who follow tennis, my first reaction to Maria Sharapova hiring Jimmy Connors was mild confusion. The more I thought about it; the more I figured Connors’ unwillingness to concede anything to players who had favorable head-to-head records against Jimbo was the key to his hiring. Connors promised something along the lines of following Bjorn Borg around the globe to prevent a calendar year Grand Slam after a straight set loss to the Swede in the 1978 Wimbledon final. Connors made due on this threat but never had to travel to Australia by beating Borg in straight sets to win the 1978 US Open. John McEnroe wrote about how uncomfortable it was to be in a locker room with Connors prior to a match. A 36 year old Connors implied that he might be Andre Agassi’s father after a 1988 loss to Agassi at the US Open. Jimmy extended no quarter to anyone.
Sharapova needs to make an impression on Serena as she has lost big matches and big trophies to the world number one. Jimmy can perhaps make Maria relish running into her nemesis rather than dreading such encounters.
Mission 2 – Beating Everyone Else More Often
For all that is made of Serena’s dominance over Sharapova, Serena did not win the Australian Open or Wimbledon in 2013. Other players can beat Serena. If Sharapova improves her ability to beat players such as Victoria Azarenka and Na Li, she can increase her chances of taking advantage of Serena’s losses. The fact is that as well as Serena Williams has played over the past two seasons that 4 of the 7 major crowns awarded have been claimed by players other than Williams. Maria is ranked #2 in the world. Jimmy Connors does not have a rebuilding project as a coach. He simply needs to help Sharapova take advantage of draws that open up as well as give her some grit when she plays Serena. That is it. Can he do it? I am not sure, but I don’t think this is a coaching Mount Everest.