Perhaps it’s the beard, the stubborn, peppery whiskers, always trimmed to a perfect length, that initially makes Patrick Mouratoglou look more like a French existentialist philosopher than a tennis coach.
Or maybe he’s a tennis venture capitalist. Or a director of a tennis resort. Or a tennis “guru,” as Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek star, called him. Depending on the moment, Mouratoglou can be all those things, which can make it difficult for him to be a coach too, at least in the way he thinks a professional tennis coach should coach. That may seem strange to a man best known as a man, a man who wrote a book about himself called ‘The Coach’, but it is as he always intended.
Mouratoglou has been on the field for years at the games of Serena Williams. He has been coaching her since 2012 and was supposed to be her boyfriend for a while. Coaching her from the stands during the 2018 US Open final led to one of the most infamous meltdowns of Williams’ career. She will not be attending the US Open this year, having pulled out to recover from a hamstring injury.
However, Mouratoglou has been everywhere, just like every major tennis tournament today.
There he sits one seat away from Tsitsipas’ father and coach, Apostolos, during early round matches against Andy Murray and Carlos Alcaraz. After a game, he picks up a microphone for one of the many television interviews he does about the state of the modern game. Sometimes he camps in the square of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and signs autographs for fans who know him better than most players. Last Tuesday night he poured a sports drink on the field of Arthur Ashe Stadium in an attempt to relieve the cramps of Holger Rune, the 18-year-old Danish player training at his academy, when Rune fell in four sets to Novak Djokovic in the first round. .
At the age of 51, Mouratoglou has become one of tennis’s most recognizable stars, even though as a teenager in France he was never more than a middle-class junior player. Corey Gauff, the father and coach of rising American star Coco Gauff, often wears a baseball cap with Mouratoglou’s “M” logo above the brim when he watches his daughter play.
He’s the rare coach who’s made himself a brand, which could mean he’s better at marketing than coaching. Don’t ask Mouratoglou to summarize his approach to tennis in a simple strategy or formula.
“My philosophy is that I don’t know anything,” he said in an interview days before the start of the US Open. “I teach the person and I teach my player. Many coaches start with their method. There is one method per player and I have to find it.”
Tennis is in a strange place right now. The careers of most of its biggest stars are at rest. His greatest male player, Novak Djokovic, is adored in his own country, but has never been universally embraced. Already a tennis megastar, Naomi Osaka has played little this year and announced on Friday evening that she would be taking another break from the game.
That leaves enough room for a coaching figure like Mouratoglou.
Tennis does this every now and then and produces a coach who is a shrewd marketer and businessman who becomes much more than a teacher and trainer, usually with the help of television cameras that turn to them as they watch their star players. Think of the Australian Harry Hopman in the 1970s and the New Yorker/Floridian Nick Bollettieri in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, none of them have reached the level of Mouratoglou.
His empire includes the Mouratoglou Academy, in the south of France, which is home to 200 student tennis players, many of whom live and go to school and train full-time.
He leads camps for an additional 4,000 players each year, including some adults. Next year he will come up with an e-coaching product.
He is also the lead organizer of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, a televised competition that has featured several top players and has introduced a faster match scoring system.
There are Mouratoglou tennis centers in resorts in Costa Navarino in Greece and in Jumeirah in Dubai. He is an investor in the tennis media website Tennismajors.com.
With just 24 hours in a day, he recently gave up his appearances as a commentator for ESPN and Eurosport.
He is the full-time coach of just one player, Williams, but to varying degrees helps oversee the training and development of several others, including Tsitsipas, Gauff, Rune and Alexei Popyrin, the 22-year-old Australian who reached third place. round of the US Open.
Having a portfolio as long as Mouratoglou’s seems to conflict with someone whose authority derives from his status as a coach and whose philosophy rests on devoting enough time to each player to tailor his methods and strategies to the individual. That approach, Mouratoglou said, requires a deep understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses, both mental and physical, as well as their cultural and family background.
The simplest explanation is that Mouratoglou is no longer really a coach, if he ever was one, with his work for Williams being the exception. But maybe she won’t be around for long. It’s not a role he ever intended to play. He took over out of necessity. His vision for his tennis empire would not work otherwise.
As a child, Mouratoglou dreamed of becoming a top professional, but his parents told him it would be too risky and not support the pursuit. He retired from tennis when he was 16, continued his education and at the age of 20 went to work for his father, a leading French industrialist and the owner of a large renewable energy company.
When Mouratoglou was 26, his father told him he was ready to become a partner. Mouratoglou told his father that he was stopping. He still had a passion for tennis and wanted to build a tennis empire, starting with an academy for young players.
He worked with Bob Brett, an Australian coach and protege of Harry Hopman. Mouratoglou knew little about coaching and felt he needed a big name to attract players. Then Brett dropped out in 2004. Mouratoglou realized that if he found another well-known coach as his partner, the same thing could happen, so he learned to coach and found some young prospects whose early careers he could support, such as a venture capitalist developing a start-up sowing.
His early recruits were Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia. He started working with Williams in 2012, and has used the stature of her unparalleled success to build his empire and remodel the greater role a tennis coach could play.
Mouratoglou now operates as the president of a company with a player development division, with each player acting as a separate unit or product. He has 50 coaches who work for him at his academy. The best pro players associated with him – the ones whose televised matches he certainly attends – all have someone else who acts as their coach. Most have only limited contact with Mouratoglou on a practice field, although he oversees the team of fitness trainers the players work with. His academy can serve as a base camp where they can train.
Mouratoglou first saw Gauff (17) when she was 10. He got into a relationship with her father, who brought Coco to the academy. He first saw Tsitsipas, now 23, on YouTube when he was just 16.
“Patrick is like a supervisor,” Coco Gauff said recently.
She said Mouratoglou usually addresses her through her father when he has specific directions so she doesn’t have too many voices in her head. “He also helps to get the right people on my team, figuring out who and what I need to help me succeed,” she added.
Both Popyrin and Rune, who has had Lars Christensen as his coach since he was six, said the main role Mouratoglou has played is to provide them with an ideal environment to train.
It is a mutually beneficial relationship. The players, who get access to a first-class training center with almost all possible amenities, are the best marketing means to attract other aspiring players, who pay for the academy’s range of services, or for tennis enthusiasts, who camp in a Mouratoglou tennis center at a resort.
There’s probably no better way for Mouratoglou to make sure everyone knows about his connection to these players than to take his usual spot in their boxes during their matches. All of Mouratoglou’s current players in the main draw lost in the early rounds, although there are several players with Mouratoglou ties in the junior tournaments this week.
He has one sacred rule when attending a match: if he starts with one player, he stays until the end, even if another player his company works with plays on a different field. Leaving halfway through could be bad news, he said.
It’s also another way to let the players know if they need anything, Mouratoglou or someone in his growing empire will be there. Popyrin, who has struggled this year and is 73rd in the ATP ranking, said Mouratoglou has been a positive voice of late trying to remind him that he can become a top player, perhaps like third-ranked Tsitsipas, although he added that Mouratoglou usually functions as a tennis Buddha, a sounding board that listens much more than speaks.
“I’m airing it,” Popyrin said. “He lets you speak your mind, and if you say your opinion to him, you often get the answer yourself.”