It’s only been a few days since top American Sloane Stephens announced her engagement to soccer star Jozy Altidore.
And now, she has made a move on the coaching side as well.
Stephens and her team have been spotted around the grounds at the Mutua Madrid Open, and at meals, with experienced longtime coach Sven Groeneveld.
The big ATP/WTA combined event begins Friday with the first round of women’s qualifying.
Of course, speed is of the essence.
As we were writing up this piece and researching Groeneveld’s background, Stephens confirmed the new team member on Twitter.
In a move that surprised a lot of people, Stephens essentially divested herself of everyone around her on the tennis side after a highly successful 2018 both on and off the court.
The 26-year-old “took a break” with longtime coach Kamau Murray during the offseason. Murray had been by her side as she returned from foot surgery, won the US Open, reached the French Open final and rose to No. 3 in the world last July.
She’s currently No. 8.
Stephens building a new team
Stephens also split with her longtime agent, John Tobias. And then she joined IMG for new representation.
For the season-ending championships in Singapore, and the early-season Australian swing, Stephens call upon Sylvester Black. Black, the father of young American players Hurricane Tyra and Alicia (Tornado), is based in Asia.
After working with her former coach Nick Saviano during the offseason, and going back and forth with the veteran coach in the early 2019 season, that reunion never materialized on a permanent basis.
Meanwhile, Murray and Stephens’ former associate coach, Othmane Garma, have joined forces with Monica Puig.
Stephens has been travelling with a Canadian hitting partner, Taylor Hawthorne. Hawthorne, 24, has occasionally acted as Stephens’ on-court coach. And she has been using the USTA’s coaches as needed.
It might be economical. But it led to a less-than-idea situation when she faced her friend, fellow American Madison Keys, in the Charleston quarterfinals.
She had been working with USTA coach Chris Tontz, who obviously had a conflict with Stephens facing another American and was not in her box for the match
(Keys defeated Stephens in three sets, and went on to win the tournament with her own new coach, Juan Todero, the former coach of Puig. Coaching in women’s tennis can be a game of musical chairs that way, can’t it?)
Groeneveld long on experience
Groeneveld is best known in recent years for his long association with Maria Sharapova.
The Dutchman stayed with her for 4 1/2 years, through her 15-month doping suspension and up until March, 2018. Sharapova announced the end of their association on her website, with a gracious and appreciative message.
But his successful coaching career, which began in 1991, includes many other luminaries.
Now 53, Groeneveld was co-creator and head of the adidas player development program. It was based in Las Vegas and offered support and coaching to the players the tennis manufacturer sponsored. That program, which began in 2005, was disbanded in 2013.
He also is the founder of Orange Coach, a service that matches players with prospective coaches.
Back to the women’s Tour
Most recently, he worked with highly-touted junior Wu Yibing of China, the 19-year-old who won the US Open singles in doubles in 2017 to cap off a No. 1 junior career.
It appeared to be an … eventfual eight months (and ended during this year’s Australian Open). Groeneveld found a very involved family a challenge.
“He has a right to have a coach whose views are better aligned with his mother,” was Groeneveld’s comment on Twitter in the wake of the split.
Among the female players Groeneveld has worked with: Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Kimiko Date, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki.
On the men’s side: Michael Stich, Greg Rusedski, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Kiefer, Mario Ancic, Fernando Verdasco and more. He also was, years ago, the head coach at the Swiss Tennis Federation.
Which means he had a young Roger Federer under his purview.