Tim Henman thinks Andy Murray should give a bigger role to Jamie Delgado


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Tim Henman thinks Andy Murray should give a bigger role to Jamie Delgado

It’s a fascinating topic with no clear answer, but there are certainly cases to signal a more prominent distraction when two players commence a romantic exploration compared to cases of players dating non-players. There are examples of both sides. Depending on those involved it can be an interruption that affects all other aspects of life.

There’ll always be cases for both sides of any argument, and finding that all-important balance is imperative to make any additional relationships in life work. Stan Wawrinka has seen some of his best days during his time dating fellow player Donna Vekic, and her biggest title to date has come in the same window of time (the Nottingham title in 2017). Despite a substantial age gap, these two players have now been together since at least 2015. Stan has won one slam during their time together, possibly two, depending on when they began dating (some say 2014, some 2015).

Something (or someone) needs to keep the players grounded. Take the example of the ‘Big Four’ in the men’s game. None of them coupled with fellow players (Mirka Federer was a player when she first met Roger in 2000 but retired {2002} before Roger’s first slam win {2003}), all of them in stable long-term relationships with figures who are devoted and dedicated to their partners’ careers. It’s a state of affairs that clearly works, being with someone with a more down-to-earth life.

When tennis players date one another it makes sense. The mutual existence on tour brings you into each other’s lives on a more than recurring basis. But like actors and musicians, many of those unions do not last. While they share a common lifestyle, and that makes certain aspects of their lives relatable and easier, the pressure on the individual to remain focused week after week must be hard, with both in the limelight, both having similar duties. The same could be said of coach/player relationships in which the hierarchy is another potentially problematic factor to consider, although they do not face the same separation. For two players it might be a distraction when they’re together at tournaments and a distraction when the tournaments take them to different locations. It must be hard to get a footing and find the all necessary balance that a successful relationship of any kind needs. It’s far from the stability of having a partner on the road with you, week in, week out.

Therefore, as career paths part and cross, divide and meet again, it cannot be a very fluid and stable situation to be in, romantically. One minute you are practically living in each other’s pocket, the next the relationship has switched back to a long distance one, as the WTA and ATP tours take players to different countries. The recent example of Mladenovic and Thiem would seem to signal a changing in on-court fortunes, for at least Mladenovic, whose form until Wimbledon was explosive, as she passed through the best period of her career thus far. The slide since has been not only noticeable but almost the scale of a Shakespearian tragedy. Apparently, they got together over the summer. There’s certainly a collision of dates to support the theory yet again. Thiem, at a time in which Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka and some other brilliant players have been absent, hasn’t truly capitalized on that advantage as players like Sock and Dimitrov have (each winning first Masters titles).

Think Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi, and how their successful relationship came post-Graf success, in fact, starting only months before she called time on her playing days. It’s hard to see how it would’ve worked prior to that and how it wouldn’t have proven a distraction. The success both achieved during the nineties might have looked rather different.

Returning to Dimitrov, his much-highlighted relationships with Sharapova and Serena Williams seemed to garner more attention than his on-court achievements of that time. Dimitrov, long labeled ‘Baby Fed’, wasn’t fulfilling his potential in those days and it wasn’t until some time into his relationship with Sharapova that he had a breakthrough year in 2014, reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals and the Wimbledon semi-finals. While both women suffered less than Dimitrov, it’s clear that some players are affected by their off-court lives. It doesn’t need to be a fellow player for that to happen, but it seems to be less common to pass through a good moment than a bad one when two pros are dating.

It's easy to pick multiple examples of relationships between two professional tennis players that have seen them enter poor periods on court, and there are always examples of those who can make it work too. Perhaps Radek Stepanek is the finest example. He knows as well as anyone that it has both its pros and cons, like anything. He has dated a number of female players (even marrying one) and finally concluded that it didn’t work. While there is a common basis for the couple the differences are even clearer owing to the joint life out on tour. It’s intense, much scrutinised and very hard to escape the bubble. In short, if you are happy in your love life with your fellow tennis pro but your on-court career is suffering, perhaps you don’t have very far to look for the reason.