A change will do you good. For Julia Goerges, it was time for a new voice. After finishing the 2015 season ranked No.50, her highest season-ending rank since her breakout 2011-2012 seasons, the 27-year-old German ended her seven-year partnership with coach Sascha Nensel and brought on Michael Geserer. The decision has paid off and as the European clay court season begins, Goerges is shaping up to be one of the more dangerous unseeded player in the draws.
Goerges knew Geserer from club tennis in Germany, where he had been coaching her club team in Regensburg. Geserer made his mark by coaching Germany’s No.1 male player Philipp Kohlschreiber for years but had since chosen to step away from the tour to focus on family.
“I was playing for this club for the last two years, and I’m still playing,” Goerges told WTA Insider in March. “He was coaching me on the bench there for some matches. I’d gotten to know him for a bit longer before, and I really liked his way of saying things, very calm and has a good plan behind it. He sees a lot of good things, and tactically-wise he’s also very good.
“I thought I was going to ask him, but I didn’t really expect a yes because I knew he doesn’t want to travel anymore because he has two kids and a wife at home, so it’s not easy. I said, ‘Ok, why not ask? You can only get a no!’ He thought about it, and luckily, he changed his mind.”
In order to give Geserer as much time at home as possible, Goerges also brought on a second coach, Mathias Mischka, who works with her eight weeks out of the year. The entire team lives just five minutes from each other in Regensburg, 50 minutes outside of Munich. Goerges relocated to Regensburg from Hamburg during the off-season.
“It’s not very new for me because my mom was originally from there. It’s kind of like my childhood area! It’s very exciting and we all live close together so it’s very nice. We don’t need to travel to train somewhere, so we’re able to stay home. It’s very focused.”
Goerges’ signature seasons saw her reach a career-high ranking of No. 15 in 2012 and put together a stunning run to the title at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in 2011; Stuttgart remains her biggest title to date.
Gifted with incredible power off the ground and on serve, she struggled with her consistency in the ensuing years and failed to replicate her earlier results. But after making the fourth round at two majors last season (Australian Open, French Open) Goerges found herself back on the right path. Which is why her off-season decision to swap coaches came, at first blush, as a surprise.
“I was working with my team before for seven years, and I thought this was a time when I needed to change something because I’d just turned 27, and I think I still have some good years ahead of me, and that’s the best time to change something – in the middle of your best age of your career.
“After seven years, I think you need to hear a different voice sometimes. I said, ‘Ok, I’ll take this new path, and looking for a new team.’ I took the right decision, in my opinion, because it’s always good to have a new team around, one you can put your trust into and it’s working pretty good, I can say.”
Goerges started the season by making her first final since 2012, losing to Sloane Stephens at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand. She’s also notched quality wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Dubai Duty Free Championships and Samantha Stosur at the Miami Open. This week she joined the flurry of Germans into the second round of Stuttgart with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Alizé Cornet. Working with Geserer and Mischka hasn’t transformed her game, but it’s reinvigorated her emotionally.
“It’s probably not that different, but sometimes it’s just the voice that makes it different,” she said when asked about the differences between teams. “It’s probably the same things that we’re working on, but a new voice gets to other parts in the brain.
“I’m completely feeling like a new human being. I’m much more positive and forgiving myself of a lot of mistakes, what I haven’t done in past years. That’s something that’s working well.
“With a final at the beginning of the year, I think nobody expected that to happen in the first week. I know that I’m capable of playing in finals, but for it to happen in the first week of the year was a nice bonus. We’d been working together for just six weeks during the off-season, and it’s nice to have a good result like this. Also, with the doubles now, it’s kind of all working together, because even those doubles matches are helping me for singles.”
Tennis players will be quick to tell you that winning is winning. It doesn’t matter at what level of tournament or whether it’s in singles or doubles. For Goerges, her pairing with Karolina Pliskova in doubles has led to quick success too. The two have yet to win a title but since pairing last fall in Asia they made the quarterfinals in Wuhan and Beijing, the Australian Open semifinals – losing to eventual champions Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza – and the Indian Wells final. It’s a partnership that could see the two book a spot into the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global at the end of the season.
“I asked Kaja last year in Canada or Cincinnati if she wanted to play Wuhan and Beijing. She was always waiting for her sister to combine for doubles and play. I said, ‘If you want to play, we can. If not, I’ll look for someone else.’ At the end, we said we would play Wuhan and Beijing. We made the quarters of both and only lost to the No.2 and No.1 teams in the world.
“We had a lot of fun. She’s a very lovely girl and she’s very relaxed, which I like because it’s always about good communication in doubles and good connection. I have to be around positive energy, and it’s not easy if you’ve been playing singles for a while and go back into doubles. So you really have to have someone who can keep you up.
“Off the court, we get along very well and that’s something that makes me think I’ve found a really, really good partner. We just want to play the big tournaments this year, and if we do well and have a chance to go to the [WTA Finals], we’ll play some more. So far, we’ve taken it very seriously in the two events this year. We’re just enjoying it and having a very good time together, on and off the court.”
After an off-season that saw her focus primarily on fitness, Goerges says she’s much calmer on the court these days. She has confidence in her physicality and her ability to hang in the rally, which allows her to be more patient. At her worst, Goerges can pull the trigger early and recklessly in the rally, spraying the ball mightily with her fluid but extreme forehand grip. At her best she’s an all court player, something she’s been focusing on getting back to.
“For me, it’s important to find the balance between being aggressive and being a solid player. I have the capability to play with a lot of spin on my ball, which makes it a bit different for the other girls because a lot of women are playing flat, flat, flat, and hard, hard, hard.
“For me, it’s important to get the spin on the ball, have the control over the ball, and really mixing it up between flat and aggressive with spin. This is something where I say, ‘If I really play well, I don’t make many mistakes, but am still being aggressive at the same time, which makes it really tough for the opponent to have a good depth on the ball. But at the same time, I can really flatten out the ball as well.’
Goerges plays her second round match in Stuttgart against sixth-seed Roberta Vinci on Thursday.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.