ONCE, at the Australian Open, you would find Paul McNamee prowling the corridors wearing a well-cut suit, running the tournament with the effortless authority of a Vegas floorwalker. Now, at farflung court 19, McNamee is dressed in tennis kit and overseeing the fortunes of one relatively obscure player.
As Su-Weih Hsieh battles a churning stomach and a troublesome Spanish baseliner, the grandstand is packed. Largely because it provides the best vantage point to watch Roger Federer practice on an adjoining court.
These might seem humbling circumstances for a man who was once among the most powerful in Australian tennis. For the relentlessly optimistic McNamee, however, coaching the 27-year-old from Taiwan is merely the next opportunity.
''You can cry in your soup or you can get on with life,'' says McNamee, who has had more than the odd bowl of minestrone dumped in his lap in recent years. Such perspective is even easier on the day it is revealed his contemporary, ATP executive director Brad Drewett, has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
After leaving the Australian Open in 2006, McNamee attempted to tackle two of Australian sport's problem children - the local golf tour and the Melbourne Football Club. He was then beaten in an election for the presidency of Tennis Australia by one vote. More painfully, last year, he lost control of the Hopman Cup, a tournament he had co-founded and built from a humble exhibition into a significant event.
''That one hurt a lot,'' says McNamee, who spent Christmas in New York rather than watch the Hopman Cup played in its new government-funded arena. ''Me and my wife had given everything to that event. To have it taken away, yeah, that was tough.''
Under those circumstances, returning to the grassroots has proven an enjoyable distraction. His fellow ''Supermac'', Peter McNamara, is better known as a coach. Although McNamee had mentored Jennifer Capriati in 1992 - ''That was before things got a bit off track,'' he says, arching his eyebrows. ''Yeah, interesting one.''
His relationship with Hsieh began as a favour for a friend who operates a French tennis academy. Hsieh, a doubles specialist, needed help at Wimbledon. McNamee arranged for her to play mixed doubles with Australian Paul Hanley and the pair made the semi-finals. McNamee encouraged Hsieh to play more singles. She subsequently won two WTA tournaments last year, and her ranking has risen from 333 in 2011 to 27.
Hsieh is a prototypical WTA player. Skinfolds of a prepubescent gymnast, double-fisted everything. McNamee, who hits with her when he can, notes how much more powerful the women's game has become. ''It's like the men's game was 20 years ago.''
McNamee laughs about Hsieh's ''free spirit''. How, after a big win, she bought hiking gear and went tramping through the Austrian wilderness. ''No entourage, all by herself,'' he says. ''She supports a big family, she's got some real character.''
Hsieh's character was tested on Tuesday. Leading Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino 3-0 in the first set, she was beset by the effects of a stomach infection. But she steeled herself and won 7-6 (7-5), 6-2. McNamee, who once accompanied Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis on to centre court, hurried to the back of court 19 to meet her.
McNamee combines coaching with his role at Monash University, where is establishing a program which aims to make it easier for Australian sportsmen to stay here, rather than take up scholarships in the US. He also remains trenchant in his opinions about what he calls ''the sad state of Australian tennis''. Particularly his claim the role of the personal coach has been diminished.
McNamee is aware there is a danger he will be cast as a bitter man, attacking the administration because of his failure to maintain power. He jokes that he will probably not ask current tournament director, Craig Tiley, for any scheduling favours for Hsieh. But he is adamant he has the right to speak his mind.
''I've always made it clear what I stand for,'' he says. ''I've been clear about what I represent. I've been lucky to get some new opportunities right now. But I'm steadfast about what I believe is good for the game.''