Serena Williams Is Not at the U.S. Open, but Her Coach Is Everywhere

Maybe it’s the beard, the persistent, salt-and-pepper whiskers, all the time trimmed to an ideal size that makes Patrick Mouratoglou initially appear extra like a French existentialist thinker somewhat than tennis coach.

Or perhaps he’s a tennis enterprise capitalist. Or a tennis resort govt. Or a tennis “guru,” as Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek star, has referred to him. Depending on the second, Mouratoglou could be all of these issues, which might make it tough for him to even be a coach, at least in the method he thinks knowledgeable tennis coach ought to coach. That could seem odd for a person finest referred to as one, a person who wrote a e book about himself referred to as “The Coach,” but it’s the method he all the time supposed it to be.

For years, Mouratoglou has been courtside at Serena Williams’s matches. He has coached her since 2012, and was presumed to be her boyfriend for a time. Coaching her from the stands throughout the 2018 U.S. Open closing led to one among the most infamous meltdowns of Williams’s profession. She shouldn’t be at the U.S. Open this yr, having withdrawn to get well from a hamstring damage.

Mouratoglou, although, has been all over the place, simply as he’s at each main tennis match today.

There he’s sitting a seat away from Tsitsipas’s father and coach, Apostolos, throughout early-round matches towards Andy Murray and Carlos Alcaraz. After a match, he grabs a microphone for one among any variety of tv interviews he does about the state of the trendy recreation. Sometimes he camps out in the plaza of the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and indicators autographs for followers who know him higher than they know most of the gamers. Last Tuesday evening, he handed a sports activities drink onto the court docket of Arthur Ashe Stadium, attempting to assist relieve the cramps of Holger Rune, the 18-year-old Danish participant who trains at his academy, as Rune fell in 4 units to Novak Djokovic in the first spherical.

Mouratoglou watching Stefanos Tsitsipas throughout a match.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

At age 51, Mouratoglou has change into one among the most recognizable stars in tennis, despite the fact that he was by no means greater than a middle-rung junior participant as a youngster in France. Corey Gauff, the father and coach of the rising American star Coco Gauff, usually wears a baseball hat with Mouratoglou’s “M” brand above the brim when he watches his daughter play.

He is the uncommon coach who has turned himself right into a model, which can imply he’s higher at advertising than he’s at teaching. Don’t ask Mouratoglou to boil down his strategy to tennis right into a easy technique or system.

“My philosophy is I know nothing,” he mentioned in an interview days earlier than the begin of the U.S. Open. “I learn the person and I learn my player. A lot of coaches start with their method. There is one method per player and I need to find it.”

Tennis is in an odd spot at the second. The careers of most of its greatest stars are in repose. Its best males’s participant, Novak Djokovic, is worshiped in his personal nation but has by no means been universally embraced. Naomi Osaka is already a tennis megastar, but she has performed little this yr and introduced Friday evening that she was going to take one other break from the recreation.

That leaves sufficient area for a training determine like Mouratoglou to fill.

Tennis does this every now and then, producing a coach who’s a savvy marketer and businessman to change into way over a trainer and coach, normally with the assist of tv cameras that pivot to them as they watch their star gamers. Think of the Australian Harry Hopman in the 1970s and the New Yorker/Floridian Nick Bollettieri in the 1980s and 1990s.

None although, has reached the stage of Mouratoglou.

His empire contains the Mouratoglou Academy, in the south of France, which homes 200 pupil tennis gamers, lots of whom stay and attend college and prepare there full time.

He runs camps for an additional four,000 gamers, together with some adults, every year. Next yr, he’ll supply an e-coaching product.

Mouratoglou stopped for with followers.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

He can be a chief organizer of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, a made-for-television competitors that has included a number of prime gamers and has launched a sooner scoring system for matches.

U.S. Open ›

Latest Updates

Updated Aug. 31, 2021, 10:07 p.m. ETNovak Djokovic holds off Holger Rune in his first U.S. Open match.Maxime Cressy, an American qualifier, delivers the greatest upset up to now.The followers have been out once more for day two at the U.S. Open.

There are Mouratoglou tennis facilities at resorts in Costa Navarino in Greece and at Jumeirah in Dubai. He is an investor in the tennis media web site Tennismajors.com.

With solely 24 hours in a day, he just lately gave up his gigs as a commentator for ESPN and Eurosport.

He is the full-time coach of only one participant, Williams, but helps oversee to various levels the coaching and growth of a number of others, together with Tsitsipas, Gauff, Rune, and Alexei Popyrin, the 22-year-old Australian who reached the third spherical of the U.S. Open.

Having a portfolio as prolonged as Mouratoglou’s would appear to run counter to somebody whose authority flows from his stature as a coach and whose philosophy depends on spending sufficient time with every participant to tailor his strategies and methods to the particular person. That strategy, Mouratoglou mentioned, requires a deep information of every participant’s strengths and weaknesses, each psychological and bodily, in addition to their cultural and household background.

The easiest clarification is that Mouratoglou is not actually a coach, if he ever was one in the first place, along with his work for Williams as an exception. But she might not be round for for much longer. It’s not a job he ever supposed to play. He took it on out of necessity. His imaginative and prescient for his tennis empire was not going to work in any other case.

Serena Williams at a apply with members of her teaching crew, together with Mouratoglou, at the 2021 French Open.Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

As a toddler, Mouratoglou dreamed of turning into a prime skilled, but his dad and mom advised him it will be too dangerous and wouldn’t help the endeavor. He give up tennis at 16, pursued his training, and at 20 went to work for his father, a number one French industrialist and the proprietor of a serious renewable power firm.

When Mouratoglou was 26, his father advised him he was able to change into a accomplice. Mouratoglou advised his father he was quitting. He nonetheless had a ardour for tennis and wished to construct a tennis empire, starting with an academy for younger gamers.

He partnered with Bob Brett, an Australian coach and a protégé of Harry Hopman. Mouratoglou knew little about teaching and felt he wanted a giant identify to draw gamers. Then in 2004 Brett give up. Mouratoglou realized if he discovered one other well-known coach to be his accomplice, the identical factor might occur, so he realized how one can coach and located some younger prospects whose early careers he might assist help, like a enterprise capitalist seeding a start-up firm.

His early recruits included Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia. He started working with Williams in 2012, and has used the stature from her unmatched success to construct his empire and a brand new mannequin for the extra expansive function a tennis coach may play.

Mouratoglou now operates like the chief govt of an organization with a participant growth division, with every participant functioning as a separate unit or product. He has 50 coaches working for him at his academy. The prime professional gamers related to him — the ones whose televised matches he makes positive to attend — every has another person who capabilities as their coach. Most have solely restricted contact with Mouratoglou on a apply court docket, although he supervises the crew of health trainers the gamers work with. His academy can function base camp the place they’ll prepare.

Mouratoglou first noticed Gauff, 17, when she was 10. He established a relationship together with her father, who introduced Coco to the academy. He first noticed Tsitsipas, now 23, on YouTube when he was simply 16.

“Patrick is kind of like the overseer,” Coco Gauff mentioned the different day.

She mentioned Mouratoglou normally speaks to her by means of her father if he has any particular pointers, so she doesn’t have too many voices in her head. “He also helps with getting the right people on my team, figuring out who and what I need to help me succeed,” she added.

Mouratoglou with Coco Gauff and her father at the Australian Open final yr.Credit…Michael Dodge/EPA, through Shutterstock

Both Popyrin and Rune, who has had Lars Christensen as his coach since he was 6, mentioned the most essential function Mouratoglou has performed is offering them a really perfect surroundings for coaching.

It is a mutually useful relationship. The gamers, who get entry to a first-class coaching middle with practically each doable amenity, are the finest advertising units to draw different aspiring gamers, who pay for the academy’s array of providers, or for tennis lovers, who attend camps at a Mouratoglou tennis middle at a resort.

There might be no higher method for Mouratoglou to verify everybody is aware of about his reference to these gamers than taking his customary spot of their containers throughout their matches. All Mouratoglou’s present gamers in the important draw misplaced throughout the early rounds, although there are a number of gamers with Mouratoglou ties in the junior tournaments this week.

He has one sacrosanct rule when he attends a match: If he begins with one participant, he stays to the finish, even when one other participant his firm works with is enjoying on one other court docket. Leaving halfway may ship a nasty message, he mentioned.

It’s additionally one other method of letting the gamers know in the event that they want something, Mouratoglou or somebody in his rising empire will probably be there. Popyrin, who has struggled this yr and is 73rd in the ATP rankings, mentioned Mouratoglou has recently been a voice of positivity attempting to remind him that he can change into a prime participant, maybe like the third-ranked Tsitsipas, although he added that Mouratoglou normally capabilities like a tennis Buddha, a sounding board who listens way over he speaks.

“I vent to him,” Popyrin mentioned. “He lets you speak your mind, and when you speak your mind to him, a lot of the time you get the answer yourself.”