Sharapova was ranked 18th at the time and was struggling to regain her form after two shoulder surgeries. She and Hogstedt set two simple but very ambitious goals: to get her back to number one, and to see her win another major. In 2012, they checked off both boxes: Sharapova won the French Open, completing a career Grand Slam, and she reclaimed the No. 1 ranking.
For Hogstedt, the three years that he worked with Sharapova was the most fruitful and satisfying collaboration of his coaching career. He said the leeway that Sharapova’s parents and her agent, Max Eisenbud (who also represented Li), gave him to tinker with her game and to assemble a first-rate support team was vital to getting her back to the top. But the main ingredient, he said, was Sharapova’s attitude—her willingness to take instruction and to embrace change “A lot of players would have resisted, but the way she commits, the way she follows her team—she’s unbelievable that way,” he said. He admitted that it was tough to move on. “It is not easy after that to coach other players,” he said. “It took some time.”
Hogstedt worked briefly with Halep and also with Caroline Wozniacki. Last year, Eisenbud recruited him to coach another WME/IMG client, Madison Keys. During their seven months together, Keys broke into the Top 10, but she terminated the relationship in November. If there were hard feelings, Hogstedt didn’t let on. “She will for sure win a Slam soon; she has a huge game,” he told me. He went on to say that because of players like Keys, who has a concussive serve and equally massive groundstrokes, the women’s game is quickly converging with the men’s game, and coaching strategies must evolve accordingly.
As laidback as he seems, Hogstedt has very firm ideas about how a player should train. He prefers relatively short and very intense sessions that simulate match conditions as closely as possible. It is something that he picked up as a junior, when he served as an occasional sparring partner for Borg. Borg, he said, had no interest in drilling—he just wanted to play, and he treated every hit as it if were the Wimbledon final (which, among other things, meant giving the guy on the other side of the net the silent treatment: “on the court, he never said a word to us”). Replicating match conditions nowadays, Hogstedt told me, requires putting particular emphasis on the first three shots of a rally. In his view, the serve, the return, and the third ball matter more than ever now, and practice sessions must reflect this. “This is where the future is,” he said.
On the topic of tennis’ evolution, we also discussed on-court coaching, which is permitted by the WTA but is a source of some controversy. Hogstedt was admirably candid; “I don’t think I would have liked it as a player, but as a coach, I like it a lot,” he said with a smile.
There’s a lot that he likes about the game; even after all these years, he is still besotted with tennis and still pinching himself over the life that the sport has afforded him. “I’m working, but it’s unbelievable to get to go around and watch all this great tennis,” he said. No doubt, that enthusiasm has also contributed significantly to his durability as a coach.
Read more articles from Michael Steinberger here.