By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) - A dream private coaching session from Andy Murray will become a reality for one tennis fan after top players signed up to an initiative raising funds for professional coaches who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The coronavirus shutdown of tennis has not only prevented players from earning a living since early March but also the vast majority of those who coach them.
That prompted Venezuelan Daniel Vallverdu, who has worked with Grand Slam winners like Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin Del Potro, to reach out to other top coaches with a fundraising plan to help out their lesser-known peers.
The ATP Tour got on board and last month fans were able to bid for private sessions with celebrated tennis coaches on-site during tournaments in 2021.
"Nobody that I had called said no, so that was obviously quite uplifting in a way that everybody wanted to help," Vallverdu told Reuters from Geneva.
"I basically called them and said 'look let's start off with our coaches offering some of our time for next year and then I'll contact the tournaments and ATP to see how we can all work together to try and create some nice experiences as options'."
Top names like Paul Annacone, Boris Becker, Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Goran Ivanisevic, Ivan Lendl, Ivan Ljubicic and Patrick Mouratoglou got involved and more than $90,000 was pledged.
The second round of auction, from July 6-27, will feature a private coaching session with Murray at Wimbledon, including two tickets to the 2020 men's singles final and lunch at the member's enclosure.
"It was really nice to see that everybody was pulling in the same direction and was extremely supportive of it," said Vallverdu, who was signed up to coach women's world number three Karolina Pliskova this season.
"It's not normal in our sport to see everybody working together. So hopefully this would be a good platform so we can all in future have a little bit more connection when it comes down to the coaches at events or with the tour itself."
The second round of auction will also offer sessions with Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov and Feliciano Lopez as well as coaches like Carlos Moya and Toni Nadal, the uncle and former long-time coach of Rafa Nadal.
Fans can also bid for a frame featuring four signed rackets from Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nadal and Murray with additional details available on ATP's website http://www.atptour.com.
"I am personally very happy to be involved," said former number one Murray. "So many areas of our sport have been affected throughout the Tour suspension, including coaches. It's important we help each other where we can."
Vallverdu sits on the ATP coaches committee, which will allocate the funds to the members who need it most. Some proceeds will also be donated to a global COVID-19 relief fund.
"This can be great platform to show that coaches can be a lot more involved on and off the court," said Vallverdu.
"The stronger message is that when we all work together, we can really achieve some big things for the sport."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney and Christian Radnedge)