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Elite turn to legends in search of X factor

THIS year's Australian Open may be the first major tennis tournament where more cameras are trained on the coaches' boxes than on the courts themselves.

In a remarkable chain of events, sparked by Andy Murray's shrewd appointment of Ivan Lendl two years ago, it suddenly seems that no elite player can be without a legend of the game sitting in their corner.

The re-invention of the age-old intrigues and rivalries between golden oldies such as Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Chang and Sergi Bruguera, promises to be the most diverting of subplots to the main event which will unfold at Melbourne Park this fortnight.

The first hints that Novak Djokovic was seeking a counterbalance to Lendl's influence on Murray came before last year's US Open, when Wojtek Fibak, Lendl's former mentor, was taken on board as a coaching consultant. But it was still a shock when Becker, the big-serving six-times major winner, agreed to take on the job on a full-time basis to add some belligerence and aggression to the Serb's counter-punching style. He ostensibly usurps Marian Vajda, Djokovic's long- term coach, in the pecking order.

Not to be outdone, Roger Federer then enlisted the services of one of Becker's long-term nemeses, his "childhood hero" Stefan Edberg, even though his own 17 Grand Slams dwarf the six the Swede managed during his career.

With Goran Ivanisevic now full-time coach of his fellow Croat Marin Cilic, former French Open champion Chang passing on his tricks of the trade to Kei Nishikori, and clay-court specialist Bruguera - twice a winner at Roland Garros during the 1990s - having taken up with Richard Gasquet, it is clear that something extraordinary is happening.

Rafa Nadal, whose triumphant return to the tour in 2013 saw him end the year as world No 1, may be ignoring the trend, but the fashion has even surfaced in the women's game with Maria Sharapova's brief partnership with Jimmy Connors, a dalliance which lasted just one match.

"First of all, I think it's great that any time these former champions want to get back into the game, the big winner in this is tennis," said Darren Cahill, the renowned Australian coach who helped put Murray together with Lendl as part of his work with the Adidas development team.

"For it to work it has to be for the right reasons and most that we've seen lately do seem to be the right reasons. Let's be honest, one of the big reasons we haven't seen a lot of former champions get back into the game is that for the salary a coach makes these guys can go out and do public speaking and exhibitions and make that money in three or four days.

"But this is a special generation of tennis players in the men's game, so there is a little bit of these players seeing that, and wanting to be involved. Also the fact that these players are now reaching out to these guys and getting them involved has made a big difference.

"But mainly, if you go through a lot of the five-set matches, especially the tight ones, between the top four - and I put Federer in there, not [David] Ferrer - mostly it's 10 or 12 points that will separate winning or losing in one of these matches. And these guys can bring to the table something that most coaches cannot. They've been there. They've experienced it. They are bringing an X factor to the court that a lot of normal coaches cannot."

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