How personality and playing style can lead to tennis success

Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, above, says he believes the best players express themselves through their tennis. TPN/Getty Images

Tennis has always had a cross-section of personalities and playing styles. From Roger Federer to Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal to Nick Kyrgios, Bjorn Borg to John McEnroe, Chris Evert to Martina Navratilova, Rod Laver to Margaret Court, every top player has been different.

Usually, the two things go hand in hand. In the heat of the battle, it makes perfect sense that someone's style should match their mentality.

Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, says he believes the best players express themselves through their tennis.

"If you're a painter, you have the technique to paint, what you're going to paint is a way to express your personality, feelings, in a way, who you are," Mouratoglou ssid. "Tennis is the same.

"You have to put your soul on the court. I don't know how it's possible to play a game that doesn't match who you are. I think in general, the champions have a game that matches their personality.

"Pete Sampras is a good exception. But I think even though they're like that, there has to be a piece of themselves that has this somewhere. I can't believe it, otherwise it doesn't make sense. It's a way to express yourself, why would you express somebody else's personality other than yours. Be yourself, everybody else is already taken."

Sampras served and volleyed his way to 14 Grand Slam titles, including seven at Wimbledon. A man who liked nothing more than to cruise into the net at every opportunity. Off the court, he was reserved, even introverted, much happier to stay out of the limelight. The opposite of his biggest rival at the time, Andre Agassi.

Mats Wilander, a former world No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam champion, agrees.

"I think you have to play the way that suits your personality, because if it doesn't suit your personality ... you're going to fight, but you're not fighting with everything that you have," he said. "You have to fight with your heart.

"Andy Roddick, perfect example, we all thought he had a huge serve, he has to play more aggressively. But if you know Andy Roddick, he's a fighter, he likes long rallies. That's what gets him going."

McEnroe and Boris Becker played in a swashbuckling, attacking style that matched their outgoing nature with their aggressive will to win shining through on and off the court. Gael Monfils, a big personality off the court, is a showman on it.

Stan Wawrinka, one of those players whose personality matches his style, said most players' style mirrors the way they are off it.

"If you look at every player, it matches a little bit the way they're playing and the personality outside the court. That's for sure," he told reporters in New York.

"At the end I still believe you need to be yourself on the court to play your best tennis. You need to be really honest with yourself. You cannot fake it too much if you want to play your best level."

And Janko Tipsarevic, a former top-10 player who announced plans to retire in November after losing in the first round at the US Open, agrees.

"I think it matters for the longevity part," he said. "I think it's incredibly difficult if you shape your game entirely the opposite of your personality. You heard the saying many times, 'It's very important you do what you love,' so your personality is kind of shaping your game."

And yet, like Sampras, there are exceptions.

Evert's consistency and resilience on the court helped her to become the world No. 1 for 260 weeks, the depth of her ground strokes and sheer refusal to miss making her one of the most difficult opponents to beat.

Her style of play might not have been as dynamic as Navratilova's, for example, but off the court, her personality was almost the polar opposite to her game.

"Off the court, the quiet, conservative Chris Evert was funny, borderline bawdy, romantically daring and in the locker room outspoken," former player Mary Carillo, a commentator with The Tennis Channel and Amazon Prime, said. "It made her even more appealing."

Margaret Court was a relentless serve-and-volley attacker, but a demure and old-fashioned traditionalist off the court. Lindsay Davenport's bone clean, emphatic groundstrokes were in sharp contrast to her soft-spoken humility.

Stefan Edberg, who was one of the most attacking players of his generation with his smooth serve-and-volley style, was notoriously quiet off the court. And in his role as an investor, admits he is conservative.

But is it better if a player's style matches their personality? Splitting style and personality can often be difficult to coach.

Craig O'Shannessy, a strategy coach who works as part of Novak Djokovic's team, said the only way to do that is to take emotions out of the equation.

"You can't get into an opinion-based discussion with a player, really," he said. "You've got to come up with concrete facts that says this is a better way for you to play. You almost either secretly or subconsciously try to get them to do it without ever really knowing it.

"If you just present strategy, you present video, you present data, you show them these are your patterns of play and you gravitate toward that, it's showing them explicitly what their best game style should be, and you almost remove the personality discussion. Because personality is about emotion and feelings, and when you're on a tennis court, battling all that is almost impossible."