What hasn’t Sven Groeneveld done in tennis coaching in the past 20 years?
He coached Roger Federer during the future superstar’s tempestuous teenage years. He guided Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, and Ana Ivanovic to Grand Slam titles; Michael Stich and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to Major finals; and Caroline Wozniacki to a year-end No. 1 ranking. His resume of renowned students also features Andy Murray, Martina Hingis, Fernando Verdasco, Mario Ancic, Maria Kirilenko, Mary Joe Fernandez, Greg Rusedski, Tommy Haas, and wheelchair tennis legend Esther Vergeer.
When adidas, the respected sports merchandiser, began its player development program in 2006, it hired Groeneveld as its consultant and coach. The peripatetic Dutchman quickly became its “Flying Tennis Doctor,” going wherever an adidas player needed his services.
The dynamic Groeneveld always looks for new personal challenges and novel ways to improve the coaching profession. Toward that end, he co-founded the Professional Tennis Coach Association, started OrangeCoach, and in 2011, formed Tennis Academy Amsterdam with another Dutch coach, Roland Laurense.
This Sven is no Svengali, though. A mild-mannered 47-year-old, Groeneveld has earned a reputation for dealing harmoniously and effectively with tennis association leaders, tennis parents, fellow coaches, sponsors, and media, as well as players with diverse, and sometimes difficult, personalities.
In this comprehensive interview about his life and the coaching profession, Groeneveld shares his vast expertise and enlightening experiences. Whether you’re a tennis fanatic or a casual fan, you’ll enjoy Groeneveld’s inside view of our sport.
You’ve said a small advertisement in a tennis magazine in 1991 “turned out to be the defining moment in my life.” Would you please explain what happened.
I finished my university education in the United States in 1989, and when I returned to Holland, I found out there was an American University there. I attended it after playing some pro tournaments and teaching tennis at a club. I finished the university in 1991. It took a long road for me to conclude that my education and tournament tennis were behind me. I was looking for a new challenge when my mom showed me an American tennis magazine with a small advertisement asking for coaches interested in coaching in Japan. I responded, and two months later I received a letter requesting me to send a photo. Then I received another letter asking me to teach in Japan at the American Tennis School.
What happened in Japan?
The American Tennis School had 25,000 students, which gave me the chance to learn about the Japanese culture and to teach at a recreational level. There, I was selected by Tex Swain, the head coach of the American Tennis School. Tex had been in Japan many years, and he introduced me to Japanese teaching methods, and the system of having many players on one court, because of the lack of tennis courts then. Tex’s brother is Gary Swain of IMG and the manager of John McEnroe. Tex asked me to start working with some top juniors. We designed a plan for a junior program for the American Tennis School. Then Tex received a request from his brother who asked if we could take care of Monica Seles while she was in Tokyo for a tournament. Tex said, “This is the perfect job for you, Sven. I think you should do it, instead of me.” Tex was the guy who made me believe I had something to offer to players. He thought I should be playing professionally, but also professionally coaching. With that support, I got a chance to meet some other people at IMG, and they basically approved my helping Monica while she was at the tournament.
Was your week with Monica successful?
Yes. After that week, IMG asked me what I charged. I said it was a great pleasure and honor to get the experience to work with a great champion—because Monica had just become No. 1 in the world and had won the US Open. For me, it was a great learning experience, so why should I get paid for that? That great experience led to more opportunities in Japan. I got a job offer to work with Naoko Sawamatsu, a girl ranked about 35 in the world. She was traveling the world six months a year, and attending the university for the other six months. Her uncle offered me a job to be part of the tennis school and to work with Naoko.
What did IMG and the American Tennis School like most about you?
This question would be best answered by them. But I believe during the time I’ve traveled the world and through meeting so many different people and cultures, I obviously became aware of traits in these cultures and respected the cultures. My respect for people and the elderly, and listening and being humble are maybe the qualities that stood out for them as well as my ability to also adapt and adjust to different circumstances.
As an aspiring pro, you reached only No. 826. So did it become clear you did not have the potential to become a world-class player?
Yeah, one reason I stopped playing tournaments was about my personal opinion about my potential. Another reason was I lacked the infrastructure. I also didn’t have the drive or the discipline. When I look back and think I’m now providing advice for the best players in the world, and I look at what is necessary for them to excel, I think I actually did have the talent and ability, but I did not know all the pieces of the puzzle that would make a complete professional.
Did your own tournament experience in your 20s give you clues about other young players and the missing pieces they must have or develop to reach their potential?
Yeah. I studied business management in school, and I learned you look at what potential you have in front of you and you go by a certain set of rules you have to maximize that potential, and you manage it and structure it.
Is it accurate to say you’ve coached more world-class tennis players than any coach since Harry Hopman 50 years ago?
(Laughter) I don’t know if I belong in the same sentence as Harry Hopman. He is a coaching legend, someone who developed the game of tennis in many ways. Since Hopman, Nick Bollettieri would have to be at the top, and I’m sure there are some other coaches like Nick Saviano or Robert Lansdorp. As a tour coach, I probably would be high on the list, yes.
You have coached three players to Grand Slam singles titles, the first being the inimitable Monica Seles at the 1992 Australian Open. Since her father also coached her, how did that work out?
With Monica, my experience was not as the lead coach. Her father Karolj was her lead coach for her entire career. I observed their father-daughter relationship, and also their coach-player relationship. I pinpointed the way he motivated Monica and kept her disciplined. She was one of the most hard-working and disciplined players I ever worked with. Her incredible drive and energy came naturally, but also through her parents and the way they approached her tennis. My experience with them was more in an observer and supportive role. I was still very young, but I had some input in the way we practiced and how we prepared for her opponents.
What specifically did you suggest that Monica used?
I did a lot of scouting of the players she played. I would give my insights on her coming opponents. Regarding her game, I helped with the way she structured certain points. Since Monica was a lefty, I told her what righties like and don’t like, and I helped her get used to top players, like Martina [Navratilova] and Steffi [Graf], who I had to simulate. In the case of [Jana] Novotna and other girls with the serve-and-volley game, I would do that. So we would create certain drills to prepare her.
Under your guidance, Mary Pierce captured her first Major title, the 1995 Australian Open. Please tell me about that.
When I joined Mary’s team in 1994, Nick and I shared responsibilities with me working on tour and Nick training her at his academy. We had a really good structure and a really good physical trainer named Jose Rincon. We were one of the first people to travel full-time with a physical trainer. In 1994, Mary got to the final of the French Open, dominating her opponents. Due to a rain delay, she got thrown off her stride, because instead of playing the final on Saturday, she played it on Sunday. And the experience of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario—whom I coached just a few months prior to that—was a big factor in Mary losing that final. We wanted to maximize the physical potential Mary had. At that point, the physicality of tennis was starting to become a bigger factor. In October, we started working hard toward the  Australian Open. It paid off. A key aspect of my learning is that preparation involves creating a plan that leads to a goal. And winning the Australian Open was the reward for all the hard work.
Since Mary can be difficult, as Nick Bollettieri learned, and you’ve described yourself as “pretty stubborn,” how did you get her to play her best tennis?
Mary had a strong character, and that character may not always be easy to handle as a coach, but in time you learn that this strong character made her one of the best in the world. So you channel that energy and focus and stubbornness to have the player commit to a plan. Mary bought into that. I make players aware of their strengths, but also their weaknesses, and we focus on maximizing their strengths, and then the weaknesses start improving automatically. By giving some attention to the weaknesses, you have a quickly improving player. With Mary, it was primarily making sure her mobility on the court was maximized. If the ball were in her strike zone, it was very hard to beat her. But when she was moved around, she struggled retrieving balls and playing defense.
In one of the greatest matches of her career, she demolished Steffi Graf 6-2, 6-2.
That was in the 1994 French semifinals. Mary committed to her game plan in that match. Steffi had a huge forehand, and all the players had a tendency to avoid Steffi’s forehand by hitting to her backhand corner, but they never drew any free points [errors] from Steffi. And if they didn’t get to Steffi’s slice backhand, which she hardly ever made errors with, Steffi would hit the inside-out forehand from that corner. So our plan was to really attack Steffi’s forehand more than anything else, which then exposed the weaker side, the backhand corner. It may sound simple, but Mary really committed to that game plan. She surprised Steffi with that strategy, which I designed.
In June 2007, you told ESPN: “Ana is in charge. She’s the one who communicates with her whole team.... Great players are strong personalities. They need more people who support them, not tell ‘em what to do.” Ana Ivanovic won her only Major title at the French Open in 2008 and gained the No. 1 ranking in June. Please tell me about how that happened.
Ana came under the adidas player development program. I started with this program before she won the French Open in 2008. I was still the “flying doctor” for adidas. I was hired by adidas to look after several of their contracted players and I also was available to help others who sought support. Ana and I started working in 2006, and she had reached the French Open final in 2007 and she reached the Wimbledon semifinals also in 2007. We knew 2008 would be a difficult year because she had climbed high in the rankings and she did really well at the year-end WTA Championships. When we got to the clay season, she felt the pressure of defending the final, and knew it was not going to be easy. Leading up to Roland Garros, she struggled with her game and with her nerves. She basically was still in the learning process of establishing herself as an elite player. Ana got to the semis in Berlin. That was a great feat, even though she had won the tournament the year before. But at Rome [the Italian Open], she lost in the first round. She was really down on herself and worried about the French coming up.
How did you revitalize Ana for the French?
I put my foot down and said, “It’s either full panic, or we’re going to make a plan.” So we devised a Plan A game and a Plan B game for her to execute her shots. Plan A was her own attacking game, with her looking for her forehand to dominate the points. Plan B was to apply her defensive skills and to use a heavy topspin ball to set up the points and force her opponents to move back behind the baseline and then transition into Plan A. Because she lost early in Rome, we had a chance to do that. We spent a week in Amsterdam, and we conducted a great week of practice with a physical trainer and we put a strong plan in place. In Paris, we treated every match like a final. With that plan and that attitude, she won her only Grand Slam event so far.
What were the keys to bringing out the best in her power game and strong personality?
Everyone has emotions, so through structure and plans and giving her direction, she had no doubt that was what she needed to do. Ana and Mary Pierce have strong characters because they are great personalities. But because of that, sometimes they lose their focus. Then they have to have someone to guide them and refocus their attention.
Can Ivanovic ever become an elite player again?
For sure. I believe that 100 percent. She’s doing a lot better now and has a good team around her. Everyone who wants to excel must have a strong team around them. I believe she’s ready for a breakthrough.
In 2008, you worked with Sania Mirza some fifteen weeks a year, leaving the rest of the tennis training to be provided by her father and current coach Imran Mirza. What did you focus on? And did she make the progress you hoped for?
Sania was also part of the adidas program. Before I started working with her, she was working with her father, who still is her coach. I had more than a supportive role. Unfortunately, because Sania had a lot of injuries, we weren’t able to spend as much time together as we would have liked to. But we did work on her serve. It was inconsistent and susceptible to double faults. She had a great speed in her arm, and she still has. I wanted to take advantage of that. She did not have the plateau or platform serve like Roger Federer. He stands in a neutral stance where you maximize your swing [speed]. I wanted her to take out a link in her serve and simplify it. Because she simplified her serve, she really improved. She played a lot more consistently on her service games, and she had some good results. She won the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Mahesh Bhupathi, which was a great achievement.
You’ve also coached Caroline Wozniacki, Mary Joe Fernandez, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Nathalie Dechy, Sorana Cirstea, Kimiko Date, Naoko Sawamatsu, Anna Chakvetadze, Roger Federer, Fernando Verdasco, Michael Stich, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Kiefer, Greg Rusedski, and Mario Ancic. Which players did you most enjoy working with?
I’ve enjoyed working with them all. There’s one player not on the list, Betsy Nagelsen. I really enjoyed working with her. Betsy was the wife of the late Mark McCormack, who founded and headed IMG. He was the greatest sports manager we’ve ever seen. In 1993 I spent six months with Betsy and Mark. I learned so much from both of them. She was playing a lot of doubles then, but also doing some TV commentating. I still remember very clearly when Mr. McCormack told me, “Sven, I believe you are one of the greatest talents in coaching. I believe you will coach the best players in the world and will be one of the leading coaches in the world in the future. The only thing you have to learn is to learn about your ego.” I didn’t know what he meant by that. I was a little afraid to ask. I remember that his advice led me to learn about the ego of the coach, the ego of the player, and the egos that are in the governing bodies of tennis. That was a really important learning process and learning curve that I went through.
Specifically, what did you learn about the egos of yourself and others?
I’m a humble person. I got that humility from my parents and my upbringing. But the ego was not so much about humility. It was more about this question: Was the job about me or about the player? Did I want to reach the goals, or did I want to help the player to reach the goals? What Mark meant by that was he felt I sometimes put myself ahead of the player for certain decisions—about the work we did on court, the scheduling of breakfast, and so forth. Mark questioned whether I based decisions on my knowledge or my ego. His advice had more to do about how I approached my job as a coach. I was in my late 20s and self-centered. I wanted to maximize my potential as a coach and build a career. I still am. He pointed out that if I didn’t know that I was self-centered, it would limit my progress.
Which players made the most progress under your coaching?
Ana and Mary made a lot of progress. I worked with Michael Stich. He won Wimbledon [in 1991]. But he wasn’t sure if he was going to continue, and then he reached the French Open final and won a great tournament in Antwerp [both in 1996]. Greg Rusedski, who reached the 1997 US Open final, was another. Nathalie Dechy made very big progress during the time I coached her from the end of 2004 to 2006. When we first talked, she said, “I believe you’re the only coach who can help me reach my true potential.” That was obviously a great compliment. Nathalie made the most progress of all the players even though she never won a Grand Slam singles title. But she won Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles titles after we worked together and she reached her career singles high at No. 11 and qualified as an alternate at the WTA Championships. She reached heights in her career she never thought she would reach although she had the ambition to reach them.
What lessons did you learn from coaching these very different people?
The lesson that I’ve learned is that you should always listen. Even though you’ve gained so much experience over the years, you may think you know it all. But you don’t. There is always something new that you have not experienced and learned. So I still stick to the same principle of observing and listening and looking at each player as an individual. Tennis is an individual sport, and if we treat each player individually, we can maximize their potential. There is not one system [that works] for all. I’ve learned you have to adapt to each player.
In an article titled “Women’s tennis: training methodology and evolution so far” in the December 2012 ITF Coaching and Sports Science Review, Montserrat Francín Veciana classified six types of coaches: permissive, democratic, authoritarian, & permissive, all three, and it depends on the work. What type of coach are you? And why?
I would probably use all three coaching styles at different times. It depends on the age of the player and the character of the player. I’ve been authoritarian, I’ve been permissive, and I’ve been democratic. It depends on what role you have on tour, whether it’s an academy structure, whether you are in a group. If you’re in a group, you better be authoritarian. If you are democratic, you look at ways to integrate with the player, as I did with Michael Stich. Michael said, “Design a program that is perfect for me, and I will follow it, and you’re the boss.” I said, “OK, great. I’ll pick you up at 9 o’clock.” He said, “Sven, I don’t start before 10 o’clock.” I said, “Michael, just refer to what you just told me to make a plan and schedule everything and I’m the boss. I’m telling you I’m picking you up at 9, and you’re telling me I should pick you up at 10. So what time do you want me to pick you up now?” I let him make that decision himself, instead of me saying I’m the boss and I’m picking you up at 9. I confronted Michael with his biggest problem—he wanted people to lead him, but he didn’t want to be led. He actually then said, “You’re right. Pick me up at 9.” That established a relationship right there. Then I was able to work with him democratically. So, it just depends on the player’s age and experience, male or female, in a group or in a team versus a private lesson with a player.
Do you have to treat women with greater sensitivity?
I would say no. You do need a little more time to gain the trust from a female player than from a male player. People may interpret that and think you have to be more sensitive. I just think you have to be more patient to gain the time for women to trust you.
Veciana concluded: “The democratic approach is the most common among the coaches in our study. Besides, there is a significant relationship between the coach and his greater desire to have his player participating in his/her own learning process. The ideal approach consists of sharing decision making between the player and the coach.” Do you agree?
I agree totally with that. The player has to become very much aware of their learning curve. And the player has to be involved in the decision-making. That will give them a lot more experience, and allow them to grow faster. And they can then also fall back on the teaching they have learned through their own eyes, and not just be dependent on a coach.
In an “open letter” to Australian coaches, former Australian Open director and world-class player Paul McNamee, now a coach, denounced Tennis Australia’s development program, which, he contends, “endeavours to monopolise the coaching industry, including directly employing coaches itself and designating which talented players they work with…. a mix of inputs like that, however knowledgeable and well meaning, is a recipe for disaster. I don’t blame the individual coaches for accepting a very attractive employment option, but as our results demonstrate, the TA player development strategy is fatally flawed in my view. After all, systems do not produce champions, people do. As a consequence, and I’m not alone in saying this, we’ve pretty much lost a generation of players who have not transitioned to the Tour.” Do you agree with Paul McNamee?
I agree 100 percent with one thing Paul McNamee said: “After all, systems do not produce champions, people do.” Regarding the core of that story, I’m not involved in that whole array of decision-making in Australian tennis. What I remember very clearly is that when I was recruited to be the head coach for the Swiss tennis federation, and we were looking for coaches who would form the team of coaches for the federation, there were many players attending the Swiss program, and one of them was Roger Federer. Roger then needed close attention and a coach who would really help him develop. My focus was looking for a coach who could do that. After I did some research and talked with the technical director, we concluded that Peter Carter was the best possible developmental coach for Roger from the age of 15 to the pro level. So we recruited the coach based on Roger’s needs. So if McNamee says you have to recruit coaches based on the player’s needs, I have to agree with that. You can’t just hire a coach and then just say every player should be able to work with that coach. Referring back to coaching styles, I think the democratic coach may be able to work with any talent. So recruiting the coach based on his style helps you develop a certain program. My focus was to find the right coach for the right player. I do the same thing now for the adidas player development program.
So what you just said and did could become the solution around the world because you served as a valuable “middle man” between the young player and the national federation—which often wields more power and money—to find the best coach for the player.
Sascha Bajin, the little-known but very important hitting partner and factotum of Serena Williams, recently told USA Today: “The line between friendship and employee is gone a long time ago, which makes it sometimes very, very hard because then it gets personal.” Do you sometimes find yourself, like Bajin, getting very close to your players during long-term relationships?
Sascha is a guy who has been with Serena for so long that he’s a very important key to Serena’s functioning [successfully] as a professional tennis player. He has several different roles such as sparring partner, coach, friend, confidante. He is someone she can trust. If Sascha were to fall out of her team, it would be impossible for her to find a substitute for him. I’ve never really had such a close relationship with a player such as Sascha may have had. I did have a very strong relationship with Greg Rusedski. I was the best man at his wedding. That was the closest relationship to a player I’ve had with a player. We don’t speak to each other daily, but when we do, we have a strong bond. That happened more after we stopped working together.
You have the good sense not to get too close to your students, but have you observed coach-player relationships on tour that have become too close. And, if so, what are the pros and cons of getting too close?
Tennis is an individual sport. It’s a lonely sport in the sense that you travel the world 35 weeks a year. You travel with a team. When you work with a player, you obviously share a lot. I always kept a certain distance because there’s a personal side and a work side, and the work side has the upper hand. The personal side is not as important because I’m there to maximize the player’s potential. I’ve always treated it that way. But, obviously, in some circumstances, player-coach relationships have turned into more. In the short-term, this can lead to a certain stability. There is a lot of uncertainty as a tennis player. There is no certainty that you will have results or have a certain income. But if you’re going to have a very close relationship with a player, that creates certainty. All of us, as human beings, need certainty. And for players, that may come through a relationship with a coach.
That’s the good side, presumably. But what is the bad side when a player-coach relationship gets too close?
If the relationship is too close, is the coach looking at his perspective or the player’s perspective? From the coach’s perspective, if you get too close, you break a certain trust not only to the player, but also to yourself and to the outside world. That conduct would have an absolute negative effect on your career as a coach. Therefore, I don’t approve of it. And I stay far away from a romantic or sexual relationship with players. You should never cross that boundary as a coach. You cannot break that trust.
When you educated tennis players, parents, and coaches in Japan, what did you conclude about these three groups of Japanese people as well as the state of tennis there?
That was a long time ago. I work very closely now with the coach of Ayumi Morita. The role of the coach then was a position as an educator and authority figure in Japan. It was less democratic. But I believe Ayumi’s coach, Junichi Maruyama, has so much experience in his career that he is much more democratic in his quest to help Ayumi reach her goals. When I was there because of the structure that was in place, coaching was a very authoritarian position. I believe these coaches today need to be more open to bring in other international coaches, who have the experience and expertise, to share with Japanese coaches ideas and methods to become a better coach. In Japan, the parents are very much involved. They are a strong voice within the team. But as a coach, you need to educate the parents about what their role is. It’s a supportive role. If they want to become a coach, it has to be very clear [to everyone] that is what their role is. Are you the coach, or is the professional coach the coach? That exact role has to be established clearly. It’s been proved that a lot of parents have a lot of questions. Because the coach’s role is being both authoritarian and authoritative, parents may not always ask the questions they have because they feel the coach may know more. But at the same time, the parents don’t completely believe or accept what the coach says. So that creates an imbalance. Then the communication between the coach and the parents needs to be improved, for sure. The problem areas need to be clearly spelled out to the parents.
What did you conclude about the players?
From the players’ perspective, they need to become more independent and be more vocal about what they are experiencing. In the Japanese culture, I’ve found it’s very difficult for a person to expose oneself or to explain oneself. There is a great cultural respect for authority figures, and you do what you are told to do by people in authority. You can see former tour players like Kimiko Date-Krumm—who is still obviously on tour—and [1995 Wimbledon quarterfinalist] Shuzo Matsuoka are all obviously strong personalities. All the athletes who excel in Japan have strong personalities. I believe they’ve been allowed to develop their personalities, and they’ve enjoyed some sort of support system that allows that.
Has Japanese tennis evolved in the past 20 years to allow that desirable and necessary independence in the individual sport of tennis?
I think so. There are more female and male players now on the pro tour. You have Nishikori (ranked No. 15) and Go Soeda (No. 86) and Tatsuma Ito (No. 101) among the men, and Morita (No. 46), Date-Krumm (No. 73) and Misaki Doi (No. 87) among the women. This change allows the younger players to come through and make names for themselves. It’s great to see that on both tours. There is still a need for the authority of a coach to instill discipline, but discipline should also come from the parents. Then the authority from a coach should recognize whether this player needs more space for their own character, or whether they need really strong guidance and direction. The coaching evolution in Japanese has opened some doors to allow player evolution to take place.
When you were Head of Coaching at the Swiss Tennis Federation where Roger Federer was part of the national development program, how much did you work with him?
I worked In Switzerland every day for more than a year and spent a lot of time with Roger on and off the court. Roger was part of the team structure where Peter Lundgren and Peter Carter were the leading coaches who spent most of the time on court with Roger. Since I was the head coach, I was on the court as well, not as much as they were, but enough to have a certain impact with Roger and the other players training there.
Did you have any inkling then that Roger would become the greatest tennis player of all time?
No chance! I would not have thought he would become the greatest player of all time. We knew he had great potential. He could excel in many areas. But his discipline at a young age was not very good. He needed some authority figures to get him to do certain things. And even then, he would fight the authority to challenge them. But allowing him to develop his talents and allowing him to have some flexibility in our process of teaching, I believe he had a great foundation coming out of the Swiss tennis federation with the guidance of Peter Lundgren and Peter Carter. The three of us always treated Roger as an individual and gave him some responsibility, so he would take responsibility for his tennis. You could see that he had an incredible gift of “reading” the game and playing the game and also “reading” his opponent’s game. So at an early age, he was a great strategist and tactician and he developed that more than anything else.
In retrospect, Roger was quite fortunate to have not one but three top world-class coaches to help him mature as a player and a person.
Yeah, we functioned well as a team, and there were no [big] egos among the three of us. Roger’s parents also played a big role. They had many discussions with us about Roger and how they wanted us to approach certain matters. They wanted to be involved only as parents, but they gave us really good guidance during his teenage years.
How did you become involved with the adidas coaching program, and what is “the flying doctor” concept?
In 2005 I was approached by the Head of Tennis, Jim Latham. He asked me if I were interested in working for adidas in the roles of consultant, advisor and interim coach for the players under contract with adidas. I had actually proposed this to Mark McCormack at IMG a few years earlier when I had worked with many of the IMG clients. Mark said there would be too many conflicts and it wouldn’t work and IMG already had its academy [in Florida]. So when adidas made this proposal, I jumped at it and said, “Yes, I’m your man” because I knew it had a lot of potential for myself. Having worked with the Swiss federation before, I could structure this very well. I knew it would be a big success if the manufacturer could provide this service to its contracted players.
Then what happened?
At the end of 2005 I went on a scouting trip on behalf of adidas to get to know Jim Latham a little bit better. We spent some time on recruitment and signed Laura Robson and Grigor Dimitrov. We also had talks with Bernard Tomic and Ajla Tomljanovic, who recently had a nice run at the Sony Open, where she upset Ksenia Pervak, Julia Georges, and Andrea Petkovic. So there were players I pointed out then who are now The Next Generation players. It was a great experience. As I look back, that experience really helped establish my role and added value to the players.
When did you start coaching adidas players?
I went to the 2006 Australian Open where I was already on board coaching four or five adidas players, including Martina Hingis, who came back from a [three-year] sabbatical. Martina needed some guidance. So adidas and I established quite quickly there was a need for this coaching. Both male and female players were keen to get this help. Tennis is a sport with a lot of uncertainty. But adidas provided certainty with a coach flying all over the world who could jump in and help out. In 2007, adidas realized many players were asking to be a part of this system and Mats Merkel became my assistant. So, from then on, we gradually became a team. In 2008, Gil Reyes [Andre Agassi’s former physical trainer] came on board, and in 2009, Darren Cahill [formerly Agassi’s coach and Australian Davis Cupper, and now a respected TV analyst] joined the team.
Has it been frustrating both for you and your protégés when an adidas player plays another adidas player, particularly in big matches, because you cannot coach either player?
I know my role, and I’m not an individual coach. My role is as a support system, like a mentor to the players. That was very clearly established from the beginning. During the time I worked with Ana Ivanovic, she played the 2007 French final against Justine Henin. Justine was an adidas player then. I was not allowed to coach or sit in the Player’s Box. The same thing happened in 2008 when Ana played against Dinara Safina, also an adidas player, in the French final. Yes, it was difficult, but it was a choice I made from the very beginning. And I always made that clear to the players involved. I also said to Ana in late 2008 that maybe it’s time to look for a private coach because there could be some conflicts. I’ve always said to the players I’ve worked with that if I’m in a role that would stop them from developing or excelling—whether they need more time from adidas or myself that we cannot give—then you should look at ways to get additional help outside of the program. I’ve always accepted the adidas rules, just as I did when I worked for the Swiss federation. It can be tough emotionally for the player and me. But our adidas coaching is an “added value.” We’re not creating a dependence because we’re not always there for players at all the tournaments.
What is your opinion of parents or relatives who coach players on the pro tour? There are many current case studies, such as Walter Bartoli, Toni Nadal, and Piotr Wozniacki, as well as Jim Pierce, Yuri Sharapova, Melanie Molitor (Martina Hingis’s mother) and Richard Williams in the recent past. What are the advantages and disadvantages of family coaches?
This subject will always be part of our game because family coaching is more prevalent for female players than male players, except for Fernando Verdasco, and in the past, Tommy Haas. One reason is that tennis is an individual sport, and young girls go on tour and travel 35 weeks a year, and parents have a responsibility to their daughters. Sometimes it crosses over from parenting to coaching. Some parents make the decision to coach for financial reasons to avoid the expense of a professional coach. One of the services provided by the adidas program is that our coaching helps parents coach their boy or girl.
What are the disadvantages?
When the player becomes more independent, you may see some struggles between the parent and the player. Pro tennis players are highly visible athletes and are seen through highly critical eyes. These struggles happen in other parent-child relationships in normal lives as well. Certain parents are better than others as coaches. I’m not opposed to it, but I believe there should be some support system in place, which adidas provides. There have been instances, such as with Jelena Dokic and Mary Pierce, when parental coaching has been harmful, and the WTA Tour stepped up and banned the misbehaving fathers.
What do you think of husband-wife coach-player relationships, such as Li Na and her husband, who stopped coaching her?
The tension that comes from playing tennis is not easy, so if you also have a very strong relationship outside of the court, like a marriage, emotions do come out during these high-stress situations. That is only normal. Maybe it’s easier then for a player to show these emotions or for a parent or a husband. But as a coach, I like to stay away from that type of behavior, and I prefer that the player is fully focused on their tennis.
Why is there so much coach-switching on the pro tour with Gael Monfils, probably the most frequent coach-switcher?
Tennis is an individual sport. There is not a coach or a team provided for each player. So because a player has only one career, he obviously wants to maximize that. Tennis players are faced with their results every week, and if the relationship is not strong enough or not built on trust, then you see a lot of coaching changes—whether a coach quits or is fired. I hope, in time, there will be more coaching stability. And that is one of the reasons why I co-founded the Professional Tennis Coach Association (PTCA), the coach’s association on tour, which sets the baseline or benchmarks for professional coaches. With this recognized [higher] level of coaching, parents and players can find high-quality coaches. You can actually prevent many of these coaching changes by putting a strong structure in place, like a PTCA.
When coaching changes happen, whose fault is it: the coaches for not doing a good job, or the players for not listening and being coachable?
I don’t know enough about Monfils or his coaching structure. I know he comes out of the French tennis federation and he also developed partly outside of the federation. It’s so hard to say what make Monfils go through all these coaches. We shouldn’t always blame the player. Sometimes it depends on the coach. Is the coach educated enough? Is he professional enough? Is he experienced enough to handle all these different personalities? I once worked with Tommy Haas, and after three months, I said, “Tommy, I’m not the coach for you. I’d love to work with you, but I don’t believe I can maximize your potential. I don’t think we’re a good match.” I thought he was a great player and a great athlete, but I walked away from the job because I felt he needed different guidance.
Specifically, why didn’t the relationship work?
I like to work together with the player, and a lot of times Tommy was looking for and needed someone to work for him. In that format, I believe Tommy would function better. This goes more to the character of the player. Tommy needed me to be more authoritarian, but at the same time more democratic and maybe more submissive.
It must have been very complicated for you to try to be all those three very different things.
There you go. I said that those are all different character traits that come with coaching. That’s fine. But I prefer to lean more toward the democratic style of coaching than the other two styles. And I still want to enjoy my work. I wanted to work with him, but if I had to work for him, that is totally different. The role he wanted to have in a coach was a role I was not willing to take on. That role was assumed by Red Ames, a coach at the Bollettieri academy. I did tell Tommy he had to get much stronger physically and create a better plan to do that. After we parted, he installed a very strong physical program.
How do you make practice sessions fun so that players stay enthusiastic and happy?
If you work with a player 35 or 40 weeks a year, you better use variety. The certainty I can bring is my personality. I’m very stable as a person. I’m not moody. But I do use a lot of variety in reaching certain goals during practices. Every practice should have a purpose—whether it’s pre-season training or tournament training. So we used different exercises to achieve our goals. For example, there are many different drills to work on a forehand to improve crosscourt forehands, down-the-line forehands, and so on. When you use a lot of variety, you keep the player a lot more focused. But the player does need repetitions. So, for example, if you are changing the technique on a stroke, then you have to have lots of repetition and that is usually not much fun. Tennis is a sport of repetition.
Throughout the year the ITF, USTA, USPTA, PTR, and GPTCA hold clinics and seminars for coaches, teaching pros and players around the world. Who are the best clinicians and teachers at these clinics? And Why?
I am not too experienced about this. I attended one seminar of the PTCA last November. I have not attended the ITF, the USTA, or the USPTA seminars. In November I will attend the ITF and I will speak during the convention. That is an area where I have to learn more, so I’m not aware who the best clinicians and teachers are.
Are you in favor of on-court coaching at pro tournaments? And why, or why not?
When I want to keep it very simple and on-coaching is in place, you better maximize it because it’s part of the game. But if I were in charge [of the WTA Tour rules], I would not install on-court coaching. I believe, like Andre Agassi, tennis is an individual sport with two players against each other, and that’s it.
Have your on-court suggestions ever helped a player who was losing turn the match around so she won it?
There have been times when I been there for a player who was struggling and gave her support—whether it was technical or emotional support—that helped her win the match. That happened with Sorana Cirstea when she upset Agnieszka Radwanska in the Los Angeles quarterfinals in 2009 and with Ana Ivanovic against Virginie Razzanno at Sydney in 2008.
Athleticism has become more important this century because pro tennis has become more powerful and faster-paced than ever. What exercises and drills do you use to improve the athleticism of certain players you’ve coached?
I’d need a couple of hours to discuss all the exercises that can improve athleticism. I’ve encouraged players to hire the best possible physical trainer they can find to maximize their physical potential through on-court and off-court exercises. I believe a lot of the exercises should be done off-court because it’s a muscle-memory, repetition-type of exercise that should not be thought of when you’re playing tennis. But you may want to learn about what type of movement you need to have on court. But most of the work should be done outside of the court so you put the focus on the game, instead of the mechanics of the game.
Who are the best physical trainers?
The one I worked with is Scott Byrnes. He worked with Ana Ivanovic as her strength and conditioning trainer for many years. Obviously, Gil Reyes. And Mark Verstegen. I worked with Mark when I worked with Mary Pierce and Mary Joe Fernandez and Michael Stich. Mark is very, very good. He founded Athletes’ Performance which provides tennis players and basketball and football players and other athletes with groundbreaking training methods.
What have been the most important trends in coaching and playing this century? Please explain in depth.
The physicality of tennis has been the biggest trend in our sport. On my website, I put an ITF seminar where they explain the transition of the sport of tennis. Years ago it was a very fluid sport, a sport of rhythm. Right now it a sport of starts and stops. And it’s very explosive. Players are so all-around now, and obviously they are not coming to the net as much now. But I still believe we will see some players coming forward more. Look at 34-year-old Tommy Haas, who has an all-around game. At the recent Sony Open he easily beat [No. 22 Alexandr] Dolgopolov, [No. 13 Gilles] Simon, and [No. 1 Novak] Djokovic. These New Generation players didn’t know how to deal with Haas. The other big trends are the rackets and the strings which allow you to hit the ball harder and with more spin. Therefore, the physicality needed to improve. The top four men, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray, are all-around athletes. They are really the best athletes out there. That shows the physicality of our sport. They could play any other sport and would probably excel.
Should coaches be motivators? Or, considering virtually every great champion has been highly motivated, should players be highly self-motivated in the first place?
I agree that the top players are highly motivated. We can inspire the players to reach their full potential. I see myself as a motivator but more as a person to inspire others. The best players are motivated from within. They do need some help sometimes, but I don’t believe my [main] role is as a motivator. The inspiration basically comes from within themselves to leave a legacy, to think of their future and look back at how they’ve made choices that they won’t regret, and to make them aware of the potential they have so they can leave a mark for themselves. I try to inspire them through the history of the game. The greatest champions are highly knowledgeable about the history of the game. If you ask Roger Federer a question about the history of the game, you’ll see he’s very highly educated in that area because it means so much to him. I believe former players can inspire present athletes. That’s not motivation; that’s inspiration.
You told 10sBalls.com: “To be a good coach you need to listen: listen to what you players have to say. Observe. See what other people are doing and maybe apply it to the players that you work with. I think you have to be very flexible, adaptable and you have to learn how your ego is functioning.” What do you mean by “you have to learn how your ego is functioning”?
By that, I mean: What makes you tick? And what drives you as a coach or as a player? What is your inspiration? What makes you come out every day and give 100% effort? You have to learn what really makes you tick. For players, it could be money, fame, glory or the love of competition. You have to find a way to learn where their ego is. You establish that by having a lot of conversations with them, and you find a balance to maximize their ego.
What are the best instruction books, tennis videos, and tennis websites you recommend for aspiring tournament players to make them more knowledgeable?
That’s a good question. One book, The Inner Game of Tennis, written in the 1970s, can still help a lot of players. It’s one of the best tennis books I’ve ever read. It explains the personal side of the game so you can recognize what is happening in certain situations, and it gives you solutions to tackle these situations. Each person can apply it differently. I’ve used The Inner Game of Tennis in my coaching and also encouraged players to read certain paragraphs. It’s been a great source of information and help for me as a coach and for many players.
What are the best tennis websites and videos?
If you really want to study the game and excel, the ITF’s I-Coach has the best data base of teaching and learning and video analysis. I-Coach has so many videos that allow you to go through certain drills and practices, plus the biomechanics of strokes. If you’re looking for the specific areas of any aspect of tennis, you can find it there. I-Coach is by far the leading authority in tennis education. I am developing a new website that will be of great interest for every tennis player who wants to excel and improve their game. The technology of today will allow us to integrate more tools and aide the coach in his job. We have developed a video analysis system that allows any player to access the elite coaches of the world and have a personalized video analysis of their game or stroke. This is called Freeze Frame Tennis, and in the summer of 2013 we will launch our site, www.fftennis.com.
What do you believe are the distinct roles of the private coach and the academy in the development of champions? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each?
I believe there should be a combination of both because tennis is an individual sport, but in a group you grow faster by interacting with your peers. It’s most important to improve your tennis but also to develop as a person. It’s a lonely sport, so you need to have a connection with other kids. Individual attention is very important because each individual develops differently. The ideal situation is to be involved in both group training and private training. This decision also depends on what stage of your career you are in. Obviously, later in your career, you’ll be less involved with a group structure. The strength of the Bollettieri academy, as Agassi and Courier have said, is the highly competitive practice matches they and other players had every day that made them tougher. That’s a healthy approach.
How often do you study videos of your students and their opponents? And what do you learn from those videos?
I do and I have in the past. I don’t have the time I would like to address certain areas because my work is to help five, six or eight players at a time during a Grand Slam tournament. It’s tough to have 16-hour days and then apply myself for four hours more. But I’m a great believer in using any technology that is available. Yes, video analysis is great. I’m a big supporter of using statistics you can apply to your pupil. When I was coaching one on one, I did a lot of video analysis and statistics.
When you did that, what did you focus on?
I focused on patterns of play. I look at key moments in a game or in the match, such as on break points, and what choices a player makes then. That’s why I like to watch a lot of tennis and study that over many matches and collect data. I used to do that a lot. Then you can see what their favorite serves are, their favorite serve returns, and so forth. You can find their strengths but also their weaknesses. And if you can find a pattern of play of a player, which a lot of players are not aware of, you can break that pattern. Tennis is still evolving, and we’re getting so much information from Hawk-Eye. The next focus or frontier in tennis will be applying all the technology available. You can find them already in other sports where all the technology is being used, whether it’s ice hockey or cricket or American football or soccer. Since I believe the patterns of play are such a big factor in our sport, I am developing an app for collecting statistics. In a very simple and productive manner, this app will allow you to track, locate and navigate your opponent’s game. In the summer of 2013, you will be able to download the app from the iTunes web store. It is called GPStennis, and soon you can find more info under www.gpstennis.com.
In A.D. 65 Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher, said, “It is a youthful failing to be unable to control one’s impulses.” How do you deal with this and help boys and girls hampered by temper tantrums?
I agree with Seneca. People have certain impulses and they can’t control them, and that relates to what I just said about certain patterns of play. Maybe it’s better that way. We’re not machines. We’re human beings. At the same time, we’re predictable but also unpredictable. Regarding the temper tantrums, Roger had a lot of those. And later when he was able to recognize them, he was able to deal with them and sometimes even positively use them to his advantage. Borg and Sampras also had teenage temper problems, so it's not uncommon for champions to overcome that.
Why do you believe the average age of top 100 men players is now a surprisingly old 28 and so few young players are breaking through?
I believe that trend will basically continue. A lot of players are staying in the game into their 30s, and Roger will probably compete until he is 35, maybe even longer. If these guys stick around, and Tommy Haas, who will turn 35 soon, looks like he will be in the top 10 soon, it makes it harder for the younger generation to break through. That’s because these guys have a lot of experience. It’s a tougher sport, for sure, than it was 20 years ago.
If pro tennis is becoming so much more physical, then why do we have more players in their 30s doing so well?
Even though they say you’re at the peak of your physical capacity at age 28, it’s proven that many of these athletes outside of tennis at an older age are still at the top of their sports, whether it’s in boxing, athletics, cycling. They add value because they have so much experience, and they may not be the fastest anymore, but they may be the smartest out there. They can apply their physicality in a more productive way because they have more experience.
When the Big 4—Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray—decline, which players do you foresee winning Grand Slam titles?
That’s a big question for everybody in tennis. You would think Djokovic and Murray would stay at the top a little bit longer than Nadal and Federer. Maybe the rivalry between Djokovic and Murray will become our focus for a couple of years. I don’t see one dominant player coming up who is going to take over the game the way Federer did, or make the impact Nadal made or do what Djokovic is doing now. It shows that to replace these guys like Federer and Nadal, you have to be around a long time, like Djokovic and Murray. Who will lead the next generation of champions? It could be Raonic or Dimitrov or Tomic. Those three guys are potential Grand Slam [tournament] winners. Del Potro also has the potential to replace the top 4 guys.
Of the ten youngest men in the 2012 year-end top 100 men’s singles rankings, only Grigor Dimitrov has a one-handed backhand. It is a big weakness in his game. The one-handed backhand is also almost extinct on the WTA Tour. Since the two-handed backhand has greater power and control and most two-handed players also have a slice one-hander, is there any reason for a coach to teach the one-handed shot as the basic backhand today?
You’re right to conclude that even the best one-handed backhands aren’t as good as the best two-handed backhands. At the same time, the best player ever, Roger Federer, who is still playing the game, has a single-handed backhand. That may be because the one-handed backhand gives his game more variety. However, power is becoming more prevalent in tennis, while variety is disappearing. If you look 10 years ahead, the dominance of the double-handed backhand is going to be greater than now. Even today in the top 50 men, you can find only a few single-handed backhands, and all of those players are old. And the younger generation, except for Dimitrov, all have double-handed backhands. But, if you have some variety, you may be able to throw some players off their game, disturb their type of play. So being single-handed could still be beneficial.
Please tell me about Tennis Academy Amsterdam and what makes it special.
In 2011 I joined forces with Laurense Tennis Academy Amsterdam to form Tennis Academy Amsterdam for the international market. Amsterdam is an international city with a great port of entry to Europe and the rest of the world. Our city lends itself to travel around the globe, and I felt that it was time to invest my efforts in creating a base for players. This base allows players to come and go but also provides a full academy program that allows the players to follow a full-time training schedule. Our academy has two facilities located in Amsterdam. Both are equipped with indoor, hard, clay, and all-weather courts, plus fully equipped fitness centres. Our full-time staff includes tennis coaches who have worked with the best players in the world, and all have experience on either or all of the ITF, WTA, and ATP tours. We also have two highly educated and qualified physical trainers who are experienced working with world-class players. Presently we are working on creating housing on site for our full- and part- time students and those attending our summer camps. You can find more info at www.tennisacademyamsterdam.com.
When you look at a boy or girl between 13 and 16, what abilities, skills, or traits do you consider most important to become a world-class player or even a champion?
Hand-eye coordination. That is essential for any sport that plays with balls. Next are the balancing skills and the ability to be mobile and agile. For athleticism and mobility, you need a strong physique. At a young age, you can usually get some idea if the boy or girl will be mentally tough. Then again, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, Roger and Bjorn Borg had some temper tantrums. If they had not been in the right structure, or in the case of Borg, had a loving but strict father, and not been guided the right way, they might never have become great champions. I’m sure there are some kids out there who never made it because they were never allowed to show that character trait and have it channeled properly. I believe character is made when they are born, but then how these traits are developed depends on what influences they have as they grow up. I believe in the nature vs. nurture debate. If there is no nature, you cannot nurture.
By far the two best American female players this century are Serena and Venus Williams, and nearly all the best young American female prospects now are African-American. Are African-Americans superior athletes in general and for tennis in particular?
If you look at Venus and Serena and Monfils and Tsonga, obviously the physicality of these players is great. They are great athletes. Their physicality and athleticism are their advantages in the sport. However, there are other important parts of tennis. Tennis is also a game of strategy. That’s why you have a David Ferrer reaching the Sony Open final and ranking No. 5 in the world. He’s not the biggest and strongest out there at 5’9” and 160 lbs.], but he’s a really hard worker and excels because of the [shot] repetitions he can make and his mental and physical endurance. We want to grow the game by encouraging tennis to develop in Africa. Of course, it would add a different aspect of athletes and athleticism. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.
Arthur Ashe predicted blacks, if given a full opportunity, would dominate tennis just as they have in other sports, such as basketball, track, and boxing. Do you agree?
In basketball, the domination of blacks is a fact if you check the NBA teams. In tennis, it is open for discussion. I will have to wait and see if tennis is a sport that will be dominated by blacks. Tennis is not only about athleticism. I hope tennis continues to be a sport of the mind—about tactics as well as technical and mechanical skills. That makes tennis a special sport in many ways. Tennis is a sport that can still evolve and develop in many [unforeseen] ways. It’s hard to predict if more players of different color will dominate tennis. So I guess we will have to wait and see about Ashe’s prediction.
In her autobiography, Monica Seles wrote: “Top 10 players have no friends at their level on the tour. It isn’t done because it isn’t smart tennis.” Yet, Roger Federer and Rafael are good friends, just as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are. Do you advise your top 10 players not to have friends at their level?
I was a small part of Monica’s tennis career. During that time she was very young, and she was pushing the boundries of these established players. The players that she was competing against and beating were usually much older than her, and the girls her age weren’t even on the tour. So it was very difficult for Monica to develop relationships with her colleagues because they were in different stages of their lives. But in tennis in general, I don’t think it’s difficult to have friendly relationships. I see it every day. I see players socialize and go to dinner together and spend a lot of time together.
What about top 10 players competing for Grand Slam titles?
Even for top 10 players, I disagree with what Monica said. Certain top 10 women feel a need to create a certain distance from other players. There is plenty of that. But the top 10 men communicate with each other a lot more. Are they friends? I see them more as colleagues. There are very few real friends out there in the whole tennis world. Remember these players are competing against each other. You can’t say all these players are friends. I can count my great, great friends on [the fingers of] one hand. Again, it’s an individual sport that doesn’t lend itself to really strong friendships. [Sara] Errani and [Roberta] Vinci may be exceptions. They seem to be really close. They come from the same country. They’ve both developed a lot in the last two or three years. They excel together in doubles.
You are an International Tennis Federation wheelchair tennis ambassador. What do you do in that capacity?
I had that capacity before I worked with Esther [Vergeer]. My role is to promote wheelchair tennis across the board—meaning any chance I can. For example, in February, I had an ATP tournament where I was with my academy team in Rotterdam, and we had wheelchair tennis clinics every day. I’m meeting with Esther this week to find ways we can promote the sport of wheelchair tennis. My role is to broaden the spectrum of wheelchair tennis and at the same time integrate professional tennis with wheelchair tennis.
Was it a risky, no-win situation coaching wheelchair tennis superstar Esther Vergeer, considering she won the last 470 matches of her career? Why did you decide to coach her?
The question of it being a no-win situation never came up, because we both wanted to gain experience from each other. So when Esther asked me if I would work with her, I actually asked her, “What can I add? You have already won everything.” She said, “I need to learn more. I need to be inspired. For me to play this game another three years and play the Paralympics, I want to add a different dimension to the learning process.” I said, “OK, I’m your guy and am willing to help you.” For me, I gained experience working with a top athlete and a Paralympic star. In Holland she obviously has always been very well-known. I always try to give back something to tennis, and this was a way to do that. It was a great honor to work with Esther.
What did you learn from Vergeer about the way a champion thinks and acts? And what did she learn from you?
I can only speak for myself. I learned about the professionalism she applied to her sport and to her life and the dedication and total commitment to being undefeated for so long [her last 10 years]. Even though wheelchair players don’t play as many matches during a year as WTA and ATP players, still to motivate themselves confirmed all my beliefs about having structure, about having a plan and a focus. All that was confirmed in my relationship with Esther.
Vergeer’s humility and modesty always amazed me because after she would win a final 6-0, 6-0 or 6-0, 6-2 she often said that she did a lot of things wrong and her coaches would tell her about her shortcomings.
She’s very humble. That relates to her career goal: she wanted to maximize her ability. As a young girl, she found herself bound in a wheelchair. In the beginning I wondered: how can I help her and what kind of handicap does she have? Actually, very quickly I found myself thinking differently: what can’t she do? I thought about all the things she can do, rather than about the things she can’t do. Esther has used that humble attitude to maximize her potential to become a better athlete and a better person.
You are co-owner of OrangeCoach. Please tell me about OrangeCoach and where it fits into the tennis world.
It stems from my ambition to establish the role of a professional tennis coach. Ever since I started 23 years ago, no real established group or association or union of coaches has looked out for the interests of coaches but also that could help coaches. Before, it was all about the player. Coaches were and are only recognized by the players they coach, not for their service they have rendered to the sport! I believe we can improve tennis by improving the coaches, not with technique and tactics advice, but with career planning and building their name or brand. So when I joined forces with Robert van den Bout and became co-founder of OrangeCoach, it was not only about a job platform, it was always about looking out for the coach. That means coaches getting the best contract, giving them advice about certain clauses in their contract, or their development as a coach. Before OrangeCoach was a closed platform where you could only register and put your CV and credentials online and then start looking for jobs or promote yourself as a potential coach for employers looking for coaches. But recently we opened it up, and now I’m proud to say we now have coaches joining us who can register their platform or resume for free. We want to reach as many coaches as possible to give them the opportunity to develop as a coach and as an individual but also to look for any career challenges they have. We have talked to the Global Professional Tennis Coach Association about joining forces. They are not a job platform organization. In tennis, if we join forces, we could help each other.
You co-founded the Professional Tennis Coaches Association (PTCAtennis.org). Please tell me about it.
The PTCA is more of a union where we look out for the best interests of the coach on the pro tours. The PTCA doesn’t educate, which is what the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA), the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), and the GPTCA do. We are really like a coaches union. If a coach on the pro tour had a legal or ethical or practical problem and came to the PTCA, we would advise him what to do. The PTCA sets a standard of the level a professional tennis coach should have. We have created through the PTCA a baseline on which aspiring coaches can create their own path to professional coaching. In short, the PTCA was founded to safeguard the standard of professional coaches on tour and those working with professional players.
Are there any past players you really wished you could have coached or current players you would love to coach because you believe you could help them a lot?
I personally don’t have that ambition now, but, if you look at it objectively and subjectively, you would have to consider Gale Monfils as one of the players that any coach would want to take on and work on his game and make him a dominant player in the sport. He could be that. It would be a great challenge because you’re dealing not only with the athletic skills and the potential but with the mental part or motivational part, and that would be most challenging. If Monfils would really apply himself, he doesn’t need any coach. He’s that talented.
Are there any other players who have intrigued you?
Marat Safin, even though I worked with him a little bit in the adidas program, is another player I would have loved to work with. He could have achieved a lot more. It’s a shame he left the game earlier than I would have liked. On the female side, I always had a lot of respect for Kim Clijsters. Kim probably could have done a lot better in her career, even though she achieved a lot more [three Major titles] after she came back in 2009. She showed when she came back that she was a different player from when she left the game. Among today’s players, Grigor Dimitrov and Laura Robson would be very interesting to coach. They look like the next generation of stars.
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