He became the first German since Boris Becker to reach the Round of 16 at all four majors. He has career wins over Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. And he remains the last German man to reach a Grand Slam final.
Now Rainer Schuttler, who rose to a career-high No. 5 in 2004, is guiding the career of a countrywoman and former No. 1 who stands but a Coupe Suzanne Lenglen away from a career Grand Slam: Angelique Kerber.
“He knows how it is to be a player on court,” said Kerber, the No. 8 seed at the BNP Paribas Open. “He knows how it feels to be in pressure situations, what we have in our minds in important moments. The conversations are little bit different than what I’ve had with coaches before.”
“He understands the emotions,” added the reigning Wimbledon champ. “He understands the moments that you get nervous.”
Kerber, who has previously worked with Torben Beltz and Wim Fissette, first teamed up with Schuttler in November. Named WTA Player of the Year in 2016, when she reached three major finals, winning in both Melbourne and Flushing Meadows, the 31-year-old is seeking more consistency in her game. Despite a strong start to 2018, she labored through the fall, bowing out of the US Open — site of her second Slam win — in the third round.
In January, she was pushed out of the Australian Open in the Round of 16 by onetime collegiate star Danielle Collins by the lopsided score of 6-0, 6-2.
Kerber, Schuttler and the rest of her team arrived in the Southern California desert early to get acclimated to conditions, which play differently than the hard courts of, say, Doha or Dubai.
“The courts are really slow,” said Kerber. “You have to adjust your footwork, and you have to go for it. The balls are not coming to you, so that’s why it’s always good to come here a little bit earlier. You never know how the wind is, if it’s coming, or the sun. Sometimes you have a shadow on court. There are a lot of things where you have to adjust.”
Following a first-round bye, Kerber opened her title bid with an efficient 6-0, 6-2 win over Kazakh Yulia Putinseva. Next up is a first-time encounter with Russian qualifier Natalia Vikhlyantseva, who shocked 26th seed Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0.
“I know a little bit about her game, but it will be another match for me where I have somebody who I never played before,” said Kerber. “I will maybe talk to a few players and just see how she is playing. But I think for me it doesn’t matter. It’s another round here, and I will try to continue the game I’m playing right now.”
Kerber and her new coach will likely cue up some video, too, to figure out a game plan. Of course, they’ve both been there before, facing off against the unknown.
“He loves the sport like me,” she said. “We’re both really trying to do our best. We have the passion. It’s great to have Rainer on my team.”