September 28, 2016

Approach Shots – Q & A with USTA Player Development GM Martin Blackman

Martin Blackman photo courtesy of the USTA

Martin Blackman photo courtesy of the USTA

 

 

(September 9, 2016) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Tennis Panorama News sat down with the General Manager of Player Development at the United States Tennis Association, Martin Blackman, to ask a few questions about his goals for Player Development.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News (TPN): I’d like to know how became involved in tennis in the first place?

Martin Blackman (MB): I was born in New York, while my dad was going to Columbia University. When I was two-years-old, we moved to Barbados, that’s where my father’s from and I had two older twin brothers who played tennis. They were very good players. So they basically coached me, when I was a kid in Barbados from 2-13.

When I was eleven, we started coming over to New York for the summers and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to the Port Washington Tennis Academy. So I trained at Port in the summers, when I was 11 and 12, I was still living in Barbados.

When I was 12-years-old, I lost in the finals of the Orange Bowl and Nick Bollettieri offered me a scholarship to his academy. So I went to high school at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy from 13-17. And then I played at Stanford for two years – two NCAA championship teams. Had the pleasure of playing doubles with Patrick (McEnroe) my freshman year so we became great friends and then I played on the (ATP World) tour for six years.

Coming off the tour I finished my degree at GW (George Washington University). I thought I wanted to get out of tennis, but a head coaching position opened at American University, and was able to get tuition remission. I was doing graduate work so I took that job as head coach and I fell in love with coaching.

I’ve had three jobs – American University for five years – loved it. Had success there, really learned what it meant to be a coach and be a mentor of young men.

Then I ran the program at the Junior Tennis Champions Center at College Park (Maryland), a program that produced Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla.

Then I went to work for Patrick in Player Development as the Director of Player ID and Development. Then I left for three years to run my own tennis academy and then I’ve been back in Player Development as a GM for 16 months.

 

TPN: You played with Patrick McEnroe and you succeeded him in Player Development. That’s a big name to follow. When you came in, what were you looking at, at first and what challenges coming in did you see or do you still see and how are you tackling them?

MB: Well I think the benefit of having worked in Player Development before, was that I really understood how our division worked. I really understood how our coaches and performance staff and admin staff were doing on a day-to-day basis, so I understood the operations and I wanted to make sure that I provided continuity in the areas that were working already.

The two biggest most impactful things that Patrick did were one – to bring in Jose Higueras as our Director of Coaching and to really create a comprehensive teaching and coaching philosophy in collaboration with the private sector. I think that has really unified the country, not in a cookie cutter prescriptive approach to training players, but in a framework that kind of unifies us in terms of how we see the game, how we train players and how we talk about the game.

And the second is the Team USA initiative that started under Patrick about four years ago where we made a concerted effort to reach out to the private sector, be more collaborative, be more inclusive. Making sure that all of the information was going through private coaches and really build and strengthen that trust with private sector coaches who are the ones doing the work in the trenches with those young players.

So, when I came in, I definitely saw those two things as working, but I also saw some opportunities to invest more in areas where there is a need. So a few of the things that we did, one is we had a need to support our best players between 100 and 300. Those young pros just coming out, they’re doing well, can’t afford to travel with a full team and we know from doing studies that the faster a player breaks into the Top 100, the more likely they are to go farther to become a Top 50 or Top 20 player. So we created Team USA Pro Department, that provides supplemental support for all of our American pros between 100-300 and that’s been really successful.

Tom Gullickson on the men’s side, and Kathy Rinaldi on the women’s side, supported by Jeff Russell, have done a great job of helping those players to move a little bit faster, giving them support on the road.

The other thing that we’ve done is that we’ve really increased our investment financially and from a human resources perspective in college tennis. That was an area, obviously, you look at our rankings, you look at John Isner and Steve Johnson. They’re our top two Americans, both went to college for four years. We’ve got Nicole Gibbs, Irina Falconi, Jennifer Brady doing well. So that was an area where we really weren’t investing a lot. I think we were a little too focused on the players who could turn pro coming out of high school and I saw that as an opportunity that we needed to capitalize on.

So those are two moves that I made to capitalize on opportunities to help more players and to help them progress a little bit faster and make sure those college players are getting the emotional support as they go into college, and making sure that we are totally engaged with college coaches to help with the developmental process.

 

TPN: In years past really good juniors would go straight into the pro ranks. You see a lot of them now thinking about going to college, because you see with both the men and the women, they’re older when they make an impact in majors it seems.

MB: Absolutely. I think there are two factors – one, the physical demands of the game have increased so much. The game is so much more physical, so it’s hard for a girl or a boy to compete with women and men. The other piece of it is that players are taking such good care of their bodies. Their nutrition, they are traveling with a physio. They’re stretching more than they ever have been.

The average age of the Top 100 player has gone up, I think it’s about 28 and 1/2 on the men’s side and almost 25 on the women’s side. If we had said that 20 years ago, people would have thought that you were crazy, but those two factors, the physical demands of the game and the fact that players are taking really good care of their bodies are contributing to that. So that’s why I think you don’t see as many junior players bursting on to the tour the way we did in the 80’s and early 90’s.

 

TPN: Speaking of groups of “kids” as it were, its seems that on the men’s side, like the Tiafoes and the Taylor Fritzes are coming up together. I guess we haven’t seen that since, I don’t know Agassi, Sampras and Courier? Some of them are down in Florida. There must be a lot of camaraderie down there with them all coming up together.

MB: The great thing about this group of boys is that, there is a lot of camaraderie, there is a lot of positive peer pressure. You know, Reilly (Opelka) will have a good week and Taylor will have a good week, Frances will have a good week and that’s really the type of dynamic we want to see. We want to see a group of boys, a group of women, coming up together, pushing themselves.

And the other great thing is when the younger players play our established older players that really creates a lot of positive pressure as well. So when one of that group you mentioned plays Stevie (Johnson) or Sam (Querrey) or Donald (Young), they really, really want to win. The older guys want to win. They don’t want to lose to one of these young guys and the younger guys really want to make a breakthrough and beat one of those established guys and that’s a very healthy dynamic.

We’re seeing that on the women’s side as well. The women were a little bit ahead demographically. After this tournament we’ll have 15 women in the Top 100. We’ve got Madison (Keys) playing really well. We’ve got Christina McHale playing well. Sloane (Stephens) when she is healthy, will be back doing well. CoCo Vandeweghe has such a big game. Shelby Rogers breaking through at the French. Louisa Chirico. So all of these women, I think are really poised to get to the next level. And luckily we have two amazing champions in Serena and Venus (Williams) to really set the bar where it needs to be, right at the top.

 

TPN: The announcement from the other day about the Adidas partnership, how long was that in the making? Was it something that you prioritized? Reaching into the private sector as you mentioned before, was this a big goal for you, or was it something that you thought about before coming in?

MB: Coming in my first month, our Sponsorship department on the pro side told me that this was a partnership they had been looking to form, if they could find the right partner and design a deal with the right parameters. So I gave my input as it related to what would be beneficial to player development. I didn’t give my input specifically, it needs to be Adidas or it needs to be Nike, but just in terms of what would really help Player Development and then Lew Sherr (USTA Chief Revenue Officer) kind of reached out in the market place. Spoke to a lot of big companies and at the end of the day it was Adidas that wanted to make the direct investment, not just in Player Development, which is going to be very beneficial to us, but also in our junior competitive national tournaments, in the national campus, in leagues.

Again, as I said during the press conference, it’s really encouraging to see a global leader in our industry making a direct investment back into the game.

 

TPN: A lot has been done, what more do you want to do? What’s on your wish list for Player Development?

MB: If I kind of take a step back, I think what are the two big things that Player Development does or should do. I think on the one side, it’s to create really strong relationships with our players, parents and coaches across the board, from juniors all the way through to the pros.

On the other side it’s to make sure that the expertise and the performance support that we give to those players as a result of those strong relationships, is the best in the world. So there is a performance excellence component and there’s a relationship component and if you don’t have both of them, you are not going to be effective. Because it doesn’t matter how much you know or how good you are at what you do, if you don’t have relationships and trust with the players.

So we have to invest in both of those things and if we get it right, we have an unbelievable opportunity at the national campus in Orlando. And if we get both of those things right, you are going to see the resurgence of American tennis.

 

Related Articles:

USTA and ADIDAS Announce Partnership To Support US Tennis On Multiple Levels

Martin Blackman Named General Manager, USTA Player Development

 

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Eric Butorac, Former ATP Council President and Doubles Specialist is Retiring After the US Open

(September 1, 2016) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Former ATP Council President and doubles specialist Eric Butorac is calling it a career after the US Open. The 35-year-old Butorac won 18 doubles titles on the ATP World Tour reaching a career high ranking of 17 in 2011.

The man born in Rochester, Minnesota, currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will go to work for the USTA beginning in October. He will become the Director of Professional Tennis Operations and Player Relations.

 

Tennis Panorama News asked Butorac a few questions about retirement and his future endeavors.

 

TPN: What are your feelings about your career? Retirement?

EB: Hard to sum it up in very few words. I never expected to have a career like this. Moved to France to play money tournaments and stumbled into Challengers and eventually got into Grand Slams. It was a surprise to be even out there doing it. To look back and say I did it for 13 years it’s… strange feeling but also reward I guess is the word. I don’t know how to sum it all up.

I’m proud about what I accomplished, worked really hard and got to live a great life, see the world, make great friends. It was an awesome experience.

 

TPN: What are some of the highlights of your career?

EB: On the court, making the finals of the (2014) Australian Open one year, it was not so much making the finals, just more having one of those runs where we beat the Bryans. We beat Hewitt and Rafter. We beat Murray/Peers. We beat Nestor and Zimonjic. We beat like all of these great teams playing on Center Court. Having to feel that you did one of those all the way down to the final day when everyone else is gone and you’re the only one in the lunch room with two other tables and you’re one of the last ones standing. It’s a really, really weird feeling. I didn’t have that often so. So that was great.

Off the court, being a part of the Player Council was something really special for me. It was something I stumbled into and someone nominated me for it. I took it very seriously, spending eight years on the council and doing two as president. That was something I’m very proud of. As much as anything I achieved on the court, for the good of the sport I was able to do a lot more off it.

That was something that was really great.

To end here and finish my playing career here at a place where I’ll now come and have an office. It’s kind of fitting in that way too.

 

TPN: Can you talk about your transition from player to working for the USTA? How did it come about?

 

EB: Gordon Smith approached me a couple of years ago and said when I was looking to wind things down to let him know. They were interested in finding a place for me and about a year ago, when my wife got pregnant with our second child, we knew that it was time we were going to be looking to get out of the game to be home more regularly.

One kid you can travel a little bit, but with two, way more logistically challenging.

I went back to him and said I’m very interested and we talked about what we’d like to do. He was able over quite a few months to create a job description that I felt was fitting to my current skill set as well as what I aspire to do. What better to do than to join an organization that has so much scope they cover from coaching and training players to running one of the biggest sporting events in the world.  I’m really into American tennis, how we can grow the sport in our country and what better way than to be our biggest showcase

 

TPN: What are some of the challenges that you anticipate in your new position?

 

EB: The US Open, I want to make the best tournament in the world, especially in the players’ eyes. I think that people here really want it to be that way. They want what’s best for players. Unfortunately, over the years for whatever many number of reasons, players are not seeing this as their favorite event to attend, so I really want to change that. In some it can be a mindset, in some financial additions here or there changing how players are treated or how they view this event but I think it can be done. I look forward to that challenge.

 

TPN: Doubles – what have been some of the changes that have taken place during your career? What would you do to improve the state of doubles.

The sport could be very powerful. When I first started there were a lot of smaller guys on the tour who were very “handsy”, very crafty, old school if you will, doubles players. Names you may know like Jeff Coetzee, guys who were really crafty and quick around the net. Todd Perry who is a friend of mine and nowadays it’s that bang, bang tennis. You’re seeing a lot of Horia Tecau, Bopanna who just bang serves, crush returns which is just an evolution of the game. There is still a Marc Lopez out there, there are still people. It’s become pretty physical, they’re big and strong and they bang the ball, which maybe isn’t great necessarily for the fans as much, but that’s okay, The game will always be changing and you never know what’s next.

 

What could be better? Guys need to know where doubles is at and they need to do a good job of making sure it’s a fan-friendly product. The Bryans do an unbelievable job. They do pro-ams, they do clinics, they high-five every fan. They do autographs. They rest of the guys need to make sure that they copy that same style, especially as the Bryans move on the next few years. They’re not going to play forever. But we have a few guys who don’t go the extra mile I think to be fan friendly and as a doubles player we need to make sure that we have that, because if we don’t our sport could be quickly wiped off the map.

 

TPN: You have two young sons who may someday ask you, Daddy why did you play tennis?

EB: I don’t even remember how I started. My father was a tennis coach. He never really pushed me to play, but I sort of enjoyed it.

Why did I play tennis? I think as I have gotten older, I realized that some of the things that tennis has the components of it, it’s an incredibly self-reliant sport and in doubles you have a partner but for the most part, you have to hold yourself accountable for how you perform. I’m a pretty self-motivated guy. I don’t need a huge team, or a coach to rah-rah me to work hard.

I’m pretty motivated, but at the end of the day I think I really enjoyed that I’m accountable for my own actions. I don’t rely on a team of 10 guys, or four guys or what they are doing. I pretty much have to rely on myself and I think that tennis really allows you to do that.

People sometimes focus on the negative side of an individual sport. You don’t have a team, that is missing. There’s times when that’s really fun. There’s something really great about the complete self-reliance that tennis allows you. So when you win, the satisfaction can be really high, when you lose it can be really low because there are not a lot of places to turn, except on yourself. But that’s what makes it so powerful and for me it was really special.

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From Rio Olympics to Flushing Meadows, Barbados’ Olympian Darian King Advances at US Open Qualifying

(August 23, 2016) FLUSHING MEADOWS – Barbados’ Darian King advanced to the second round of the US Open Qualifying tournament on Tuesday with a comeback victory over 31st seed Grega Zemlja 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Court 5.

 

King was up a break in the first set, but could not hold it. In the second set he went up two breaks against the hard-serving Slovenian, which he said was the turning point of the match.

“I think we both played great tennis,” he said. “And I’m glad that I kept (my) focus and got a great victory over Zemlja.

 

The 24-year-old born in Bridgetown, Barbados is currently ranked at No. 167 on the ATP World Tour. He just participated in the Rio Olympic Games, where he lost in the first round to No. 22 Steve Johnson 6-3, 6-2.

 

“It was great for me,” King said of his Olympic experience. “Coming from a Caribbean country, the only person that was there, it was a great achievement.”

 

“Also playing against a Top 20 player, everybody wants to play against the top players and for me to participate for my country against a Top 20 player, I think it was a great experience for me overall.”

 

Asked about if there is more pressure playing in the Olympic Games or the US Open Qualies, he said: No pressure. I’ve been playing the sport for at least five years and I don’t think there is any pressure, it’s what you train for. To train hard and hope it comes out in a match. I’m a guy who never gets nervous against anyone because I train hard for this, I’m willing to play anyone who comes up.”

 

King, who also plays Davis Cup for Barbados, has won two challenger events this summer just prior to the Olympic Games – one in Binghamton, New York and the other in Cali, Colombia.

 

“I’m transitioning from the Future to the Challengers,” he said. “It was a big move for, the first time out playing a lot of Challengers – two-time victory in the Challengers is a great achievement for me. It shows the progress I’ve been doing, the hard work I’ve been putting in. Hopefully after the US Open, I’ll continue playing Challengers more.”

 

King hopes to raise his ranking to 150 this year, a goal he set for himself in the beginning of 2016. “That’s what I’m really aiming for. It’s going to be tough because the margin from 170 to 150 is a big margin. Have to play in the big tournaments and hopefully do well in them.”

 

King will face Kazaakh Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the second round of the US Open Qualies on Thursday. The 29-year-old Nedovyesov is ranked 218th in the world.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News at the US Open.

Dustin Brown was in the crowd at Court 5 cheering on Darian King.

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Catching Up with Vania King

Vania King gives towels to children

(September 1,  2015) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY –  WTA player Vania King is back on tour after being absent for about almost a year. Playing under a protected ranking, we caught up with the Californian who is currently ranked at 414 in the world after her first round US Open loss to Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-4, on Monday.

Tennis Panorama News: A tough match on the road back. You are under a protected ranking, am I correct?

Vania King: So I played three tournaments prior to this and yes I was out for almost a year. I didn’t touch a racquet for seven months. I had a herniated disc in my neck. I started having pain in May of last year. By US Open I had decided that I had needed some time to take off. I took off seven months, it got much better, so I was very happy with that. Started practicing and I really wanted to make the US Open. I felt that my tennis was good and I needed matches. Today I felt like it was a good match for me. I really see I need to get stronger. I was out for seven months and only practiced for three months. The first two I was so weak that I really couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Now I really can’t do what I really want to do in terms of fitness –wise, court-wise, because my body is not strong enough to do it. So slowly my goal is next year. I feel that my tennis is there.

I was up a break in both sets, I just need to get stronger.

TPN: Have you set your goal for next US Open in terms of your fitness?

VK: I haven’t set a specific date, but I really hope that I can be back next year, with or without any injury. Being strong and healthy. One year, I was gone for a year so I lost all of my rankings (points).

One year to get back into the the 100 may be a tough task for me but, I’m going to take it a step at a time and I feel that my tennis is good, so I’m happy about that. It just depends on how long this body takes to get strong again.

 

TPN: What keeps you motivated to keep playing? You are only 26, but it seems like you have been around for a long time.

VK: Tennis has changed a lot. When I came on tour it was fairly common for players to come up at 14, 15, 16… I was late actually at 16, 17 – that was late. But after me, no player that broke through was a teenager, very, very few players, but Americans overall.

It’s very hard for players to break through, the game has gotten very physical and players are mentally and physically very tough, so it’s hard to break through you have to be consistent physically and mentally throughout the year.

I needed to stop for my physical health, but it was also very benfeficial for me to stop mentally, because I have never had a break.

As to your question, to stay motivated, to recognize that players, we do get burned out during the year because we do play a long season. If we play too many tournaments in a row, then we get burned out. With experience every play figures out what they can handle mentally. So for me it took me a few years to figure out how many tournaments can I play in a row. Which areas geiographically do I feel better in, in that way I adjust my schedule. And if I’m feeling bad, what do I do, should I push through it, should I take a break, go on holidays…

With experience, I learned to recognize the signs and for me it was always better to take a step back and not to push through it, take a few days off, take a week off… and then come back.

 

TPN: Are you playing doubles at all?

VK: I’m playing here with a protected rank, so I’m playing maybe Wednesday or Thursday.

 

TPN: What’s been the highlight of your tennis career?

VK: Winning my first title in Bangkok. Winning the grand slams. Results-wise those are the best, but I think that if I could be happy consistently then I could I could be pleased. That was my goal to be happy for a long period of time. Recognizing metal dips and stuff and trying to maintain that.

 

TPN: Tennis idols growing up?

VK: When I grew up I loved Pete Sampras, I played nothing like him because I’m tiny. Don’t have a big serve but I loved watching Pete. Watched all of his matches, tape them and watch them. I loved watching the rivalry between him and (Andre) Agassi, but I always rooted for him.

 

TPN: What do you think of when I say the name Serena Williams?

VK: I want her to win the Grand Slam. I think she can do it. I think she needs to stay focused. I think most of the tennis tour would be excited if she won it because it’s milestone for our generation. Of course Steffi (Graf) has done wonders for tennis, but we haven’t had someone from our generation to surpass the world records. She has won four in a row. Technically not the Grand Slam. I think she’s a great champion. I am so envious, I admire her so much for how strong she is mentally. Everyone’s got great tennis, of course she’s got great tennis but she is mentally the most stable and strong and that’s why she’s where she is.

TPN: Are you playing any tournaments the rest of the year?

VK: My plan is to play challengers because now I don’t have a ranking. I’ll play challengers get stronger and then use my protected rank. I’ve got a couple more protected ranking tournaments I’ll use them for next year.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News at the US Open.

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Q & A with ATP Rising Star Elias Ymer

(August 31, 2015) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In qualifying for the US Open, Sweden’s Elias Ymer became only the second man to qualify at all four Grand Slams in a single season. The world No. 144 on the ATP World Tour lost in his first round main draw match to Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. He took time out after his loss to speak to Tennis Panorama News.

Tennis Panorama News: Can you talk about the rare feat of making all for major main draws through the qualies in the same year? Can you talk about your road through the qualies?

Elias Ymer: Of course it’s a big effort. I was really motivated in the qualies. I played every slam I wanted to make the main draw. I was really working in the qualies, focusing on every match. I had good structure before every match, planning, everything was good. I earned it, I was winning every match. I really played good in the qualies.

 

TPN: Most challenging qualies?

EY: I think in Australia when I was playing my first qualies. When I qualified it was really like, I felt the most in Australian because the others, I feel of course but it’s not the same feeling. The first one is an unreal feeling.

 

TPN: How did you get into playing tennis?

EY: My father was a professional runner and my parents come from Ethiopia and my father wanted me to be a runner but I don’t like running so much you know. In Ethiopia everyone running and when we came to Sweden. In Sweden tennis is a big sport, they have so many great players.

 

TPN: There has been a bit of a tennis player drought in Sweden, do you feel pressure because of it?

EY: No. I wish I had some players coming up with me, so I was not the only one. They could challenge me and I could challenge them we would move up together. It is what it is now and I have to see some other young guys coming up. I try to focus against them and challenge them.

TPN: Who were your tennis idols? Did you mimic them in your style?

EY: Not really because I haven’t see many players who play like me I play really different because, sometimes when I try to watch and see who I’m playing like, I cannot find the guy.

TPN: Describe your playing style.

EY: Aggressive from both sides. I need to be a little bit more consistent. When I’m playing really good, everything works for me sometimes when I’m little off I can be up and down. I use my forehand a lot to move the players side to side, trying to come to the net, I know it’s going to come, my game.

 

TPN: So who were the tennis players you admired?

EY: Of course Sweden has a lot of players… I was always too young, we never really had one to look up to. (Robin) Soderling was a Swedish player we were watching quite young. What he has done is unbelievable. It was sad when he had stopped playing.

 

TPN: Do you speak to any of the former Swedish pros?

EY: I speak a lot with Magnus Norman and Stephan Edberg. Twos guy who I really admire, really admire. They know a lot about tennis and they are a big help.

 

TPN: You are only 19, what’s been the highlight of your career so far?

EY: When I qualified for all four slams is a big highlight and I have to say when I qualified in Australia, it was a dream come true, actually to play in the main draw. Because I’ve been wanting to play in Grand Slams, it’s what you dream of.

 

TPN: Do you have any goals set for you within the next year?

EY: I think this loss for me was very important. I saw a lot of stuff I need (to work on), I have a lot of work ahead of me, I’m going to need to put my head down and work my a** off because it’s not coming easy. This job is like really tough and I have a lot of work.

 

TPN: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

EY: I’m going to Turkey, then I’m going to stay in Europe playing some ATPs mixed with Challengers.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News at the US Open

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Althea Gibson Week 8/25-29: TPN Talks to ALTHEA Filmmaker Rex Miller

Photo of Althea Gibson and Millicent Miller courtesy of Rex Miller

Photo of Althea Gibson and Millicent Miller courtesy of Rex Miller

(August 24, 2015) NEW YORK, NY – With the celebration of what would have been Althea Gibson’s 88th birthday on August 25, it’s Althea Gibson Week. This week not only commemorates her accomplishments at the US Open, where she won singles titles in 1957 and 1958, but also the national broadcast debut of the documentary film ALTHEA, on PBS’ American Masters, Sept. 4th, 2015 at 9 p.m., with an encore on WNET, New York on the morning of the US Open men’s final on September 13th.

 

All over the New York City area, special screenings of the film will be taking place, before its broadcast television debut.

 

Tennis Panorama had the chance to speak with ALTHEA filmmaker Rex Miller about what this week means to him. Miller’s mother played with and against Gibson.

 

“For me it’s all about Althea, and our team, we call ourselves “team Althea,” Miller said.

“I was fortunate enough to get great people fired up about this project, they’ve put up a lot of work and personally my biggest enthusiasm comes from the film. We are going to be having four events in Harlem this week, and that’s real exciting because that’s where Althea grew up. We had a goal of helping althea get re-recognized. We wanted to take her to icon status, that may or may not happen, I think she deserves that. But to have her recognized, especially in Harlem is just awesome, in Queens and Long Island as well.

 

“Althea’s story to me is important on several levels,” Miller said.

“For the tennis fan, obviously it’s a tennis story, and a sports story. But it’s also a civil rights story because Althea achieved all of this in the early 50’s. I mean she broke the color barrier in 1950, then she went on to win the US Nationals, Forest Hills and Wimbledon in 1957 and 58. This is the time of Emmitt Till, Rosa Parks and lynchings in the south. Long before Arthur Ashe, long before Martin Luther King.

“She really was heroic in having to break down barriers during this time, way back in the early 50s. She overcame all of these obstacles and her achievements span across many areas.

 

“Not only did she breakthrough in tennis, she also played pro golf – the first female African American to be on the LPGA tour.

 

“She sang at the Wimbledon Ball, on the Ed Sullivan Show live. She was in a John Wayne film, directed by John Ford.” Gibson also made an album. On top of all of this, Gibson also earned a college degree at Florida A&M.

 

“She’s a role model for kids today of any ethnic group,” Miller said. “So her story is important.”

 

There is also an outreach component to the film in which many schools have had screenings of the film which have been successful. “It has worked so well that we are working with our various outreach partners, including the USTA and setting screenings over the next year.”

“We also plan on renovating two Black history tennis sites” – the backyard courts of Dr. Hubert Eaton in Wilmington, NC and tennis Hall of Famer Dr. Robert W. Johnson of Lynchburgh, VA who coached Arthur Ashe.

 

For more information about the film http://www.altheathefilm.com/ Follow on twitter at https://twitter.com/AltheaFilm

 

Here is a list of scheduled events for Althea Gibson Week:

Aug 25 : Harlem Junior Tennis & Education program

The Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program will host a viewing of the Althea at the Harlem Armory where Althea trained and competed. Katrina Adams, Dante Brown, Directors. Filmmaker Rex Miller will join the audience for a Q/A following the screening.

For more info please visit hjtep.org

 

DATE: Tuesday, August 25 2015

TIME: 1:00pm to 3:00pm

LOCATION: Harlem Armory – 40 West 143rd Street NY, NY 10037

TICKETS: Open to all – Please RSVP (212) 491-3738

 

Aug 25 : Films at the Schomburg

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Presents AMERICAN MASTERS, ALTHEA: Remarks by Neal Shapiro, President & CEO WNET and Michael Kantor, Executive Producer, American Masters, excerpts from the film, a discussion and reception with  The Honorable David N. Dinkins, Art Carrington, and director Rex Miller. Talk-back with guests following the screening.

For more info please visit Films at The Schomburg

 

DATE: Tuesday, August 25 2015

TIME: 6:00pm to 9:00pm

LOCATION: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture , Langston Hughes Auditorium – 515 Malcolm X Boulevard NY

TICKETS: Seating Limited Registration Required

Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/films-at-the-schomburg-althea-tickets-17953871513

 

Aug 26 : Queens Day at the museum

The Queens Museum presents the Queens Premiere of ALTHEA, as part of Queens Day at the US Open.

For more info Queens Museum/info@queensmuseum.org

 

DATE: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

TIME: 6:30pm

LOCATION: Queens Museum, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park Queens, NY 11368

TICKETS: RSVP  info@queensmuseum.org or (718) 592-9700

 

Aug 27: US Open Draw Ceremony

 

DATE: Thursday, August 27 2015

 

Aug 27: ImageNation Cinema Foundation presents a screening of ALTHEA.

Doors open at 6:30pm / Screening at 7pm, Q&A with director Rex Miller to follow.

Free! $5 suggested donation.

Please visit www.imagenation.us to learn about the #iLoveSoulCinema crowdfunder.

 

http://www.imagenation.us/

 

ImageNation’s RAW SPACE,

2031 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York, NY 10027

(bet. 121st & 122nd)

 

rsvp@imagenation.us

 

Aug 28 : The West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills

The West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, hosts a screening of ALTHEA. Reception and outdoor screening on the grass courts just after sunset. Visit the legendary site of Althea’s groundbreaking 1950 match against Louise Brough, and her 1957/58 US National titles. In the shadow of the grand old stadium, built in 1923 and recently renovated, the film will be viewed after sunset on a 20′ screen. Cocktails available beforehand. Q&A with director Rex Miller to follow. For more info Forest Hills

 

DATE: Friday, August 28 2015

TIME: 8:00pm

LOCATION: The West Side Tennis Club – 1 Tennis Pl, Forest Hills, NY

TICKETS: Open to public, please RSVP as seating is limited

(718)268-2300 Ext 115  Attn: Bob Ingersole

 

Aug 29 : The Jungle: Re-dedication of courts

The David Dinkins Tennis Club at The Jungle presents, “A re-dedication of the Althea Gibson and Sydney Llewellyn courts at The Jungle public courts”, 7th Avenue and 150th St., Harlem, in honor of those who have contributed to the Jungle’s legacy. This year’s inductees will be David Dinkins and tennis great Bob Ryland. The ceremony will start at 10:00 AM. It will be followed by a party for kids and their parents, in conjunction with our weekly “Free 10 and Under Family Tennis/Reading Program.” All are welcome!

For more info please visit The David Dinkins Tennis Club

 

DATE: Tuesday, August 29 2015

TIME: 10:00am

LOCATION: The Jungle public courts – 7th Avenue and 150th St., Harlem NY, NY

*Parking is available up the school’s ramp next to the park at 7th Avenue and 150th St.

TICKETS: FREE – All are welcome!

 

Aug 29 : Long Island Premiere

Long Island Premiere screening of ALTHEA, presented by the Gold Coast Film Festival. Q&A with director Rex Miller to follow.

This premiere is sponsored in partnership with the USTA Eastern Long Island Region.

For more info please visit Gold Coast International Film Festival

 

DATE: Saturday, August 29 2015

TIME: Doors 7:00pm; Screening 7:30pm

LOCATION: Soundview Cinemas, Port Washington, NY

TICKETS: Regular $15 / Student $10

 

TICKETS: http://goldcoastfilmfestival.org/althea/

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama

 

Related article:

Althea Gibson Documentary Project “Althea” Selected for Film Festivals

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From ATP Pro to “Shark Tank” – Zack Fleishman Talks About Being an Entrepreneur

Zack Fleishman ucla 4

(May 12, 2015) Former ATP World Tour professional Zack Fleishman will be taking the plunge on the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank” on Friday, May 15, 2015.

 

Shark Tank, which has aired on ABC since 2009, is a program in which aspiring entrepreneur contestants make business presentations to a panel of “shark” investors.

 

The former tennis player who reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 127 in 2007, will have his company Shark Wheel featured on the program. Fleishman is the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

 

Shark Wheel is based in in the Lake Forest community of Orange County. Shark Wheel’s technology guru David Patrick has literally reinvented the wheel with a design that offers superior performance advantages to the traditional wheel.

 

The Shark Wheel design is the perfect intersection of a cube, a sphere, and a three-dimensional sine wave. It appears to be a square or cube rolling from the side/45 degree angle, but from the rear view looks like a snake or three-dimensional sine wave in motion.

 

The former UCLA All-American who competed in all four majors as a professional, with career wins over the likes of Fernando González, David Nalbandian, Vince Spadea, Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri, Daniel Nestor, Tomáš Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson and Nicolas Mahut talked about his transition from swinging racquets to reinventing wheels.

“What happened was that I was having my best year in tennis in 2007, reached my career high of No. 11 in the United States, No. 127 in the world and in 2008 I flew off a mountain bike and had a horrible accident, said the 35-year-old Californian. “My tire popped and I flew over the handlebars and severely injured my shoulder, I tore everything, so I had to get reconstructive shoulder surgery. And I tried to come back a year later. I actually won a futures tournament and I had to get a second shoulder surgery, re-torn in the same spot. So that basically knocked me out of competition.”

 

“Then I started teaching tennis full-time and then what happened was my tennis coach, he was also my fitness trainer. He used to travel with me to the U.S. Open and a bunch of other big tournaments and he used to always make fun of me because I used to read science books all the time. That was my obsession – physics, cosmology, anything to do with science.

“So one day when I was working out, one of my clients made a major scientific discovery which made the cover of Time Magazine. He said that I think you would understand the scientific discovery and that he would like me to hear all about it. I said absolutely.

 

“So he introduced me to one of his clients and it started off for the first two months as me almost being his apprentice, learning all about the discoveries that he made, it was beyond fascinating.

 

“And then it slowly turned into a business relationship when he had all these unique shapes that came out of this discovery.

“He actually spent years developing this scientific model.

“Then one day he said, did I ever show you this wheel.

“He showed it to me, and I literally called the patent lawyer five minutes later.

“And we changed directions only working on the (Shark) wheel.

“I was just extremely hungry to help him get his ideas to the marketplace and that’s how I got involved and went from tennis into entrepreneurship.”

 

A small company based in the Lake Forest community of Orange County, Shark Wheel’s technology guru David Patrick has literally reinvented the wheel with a revolutionary design.

 

Patrick’s passion for skateboarding along with his interest in the natural world led to the discovery of the Shark Wheel.  Patrick discovered the shape while studying natural sciences. It is based on the shape of shark jaws and is a pattern found throughout nature. Once he realized the significant advantages of the wheel, a team was assembled, a patent was obtained, and Shark Wheel was born. The Shark Wheel offers a faster ride, more slide control, and better grip through rain and rough terrains.

 

The Shark Wheel can be used for almost any application that uses a wheel, but it is the company’s intent to manufacture only skateboard products and roller skate/roller derby wheels.  Shark Wheel ‘s expansion into a full spectrum of markets where the Shark Wheel could increase efficiency, roll faster, and maneuver through uneven surfaces would be executed only through licensing agreements.

 

As for expanding the wheel’s use, Fleishman said: “We decided to start in skateboarding because it’s a cool market.

“We plan to go into a variety of markets – doing licensing deals from everything from scooters to roller skates to luggage to office chairs, all the way down to cars one day.”

Any possible use of this wheel in tennis someday? “Not quite yet -we may be able to throw some wheels on the umpire’s chair and a couple of other places,” the entrepreneur said with smile in his voice, “but I plan to look into that soon because I’d love to bring my current business back into the tennis world somehow.”

Fleishman talked about playing pro tennis versus what he’s doing now in the business world: “I look at business as a sport and when I was playing tennis, all I was doing was trying to out-work my opponent, out-think my opponent and figure out ways to get ahead, find advantages – and that’s exactly how I look at business.

“I’m scared that my competition is out-working me, out-thinking me. So even though it’s a lot less physical, it’s a lot more mental, it’s a whole new exciting learning curve for me to master the art.

“And I’m just an extraordinarily competitive person and I look at this as a different sport that I took up.”

 

As for preparing his pitch for Shark Tank, “We were only given a few weeks of preparation time so it was a full-time job getting ready for the show, he said. “We had a very small time frame to build prototypes to show on the show and I had to learn every single part of our business, every single number, down to the penny. I was very well-prepared by the time the filming of the TV show came around.”

The show was taped a few months ago.

The former world No. 127 still keeps up with the tennis world. Of particular interest to him is college tennis and the up-and-comers on the pro tours.

He’s very proud of having coached the No. 1 women’s college player – Maegan Manasse of the California Bears, University of California, Berkeley. He predicts that she’ll be a Top 20 player someday. He thinks she’s ready for the pro tour and to keep an eye out for her as she’s been “under the radar” for her entire career.

 

As for the men, Fleishman likes to watch Dominic Theim, Borna Coric. “I really like watching those young guys, how they are able to perform at such a high level at such a young age.”

 

“It’s so amazing for me to be part of a new discovery that has never occurred in all of human history – somebody reinvented the shape of the wheel and it actually out performs a traditional wheel.”

 

See if Fleishman can convince the panel on Shark Tank to back the Shark Wheel on Friday, May 15, 2015 on ABC-TV. Check local listings for the time and the exact channel.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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Approach Shots: Getting to Know Tennis Umpire Ali Nili

By Wendy M. Grossman

(June 14, 2014) LONDON – “To be close to professional tennis,” says Ali Nili, in explaining his motivation for working as a tennis umpire. Nili is an Iran-born US citizen and one of the ATP’s cadre of ten full-time umpires. This makes him as much of an elite member of his profession as the players whose matches he oversees: only 25 umpires in the world have, like him, earned the profession’s highest qualification, a gold badge. Ten of them work full-time for the ATP, traveling the tour alongside the players.

Umpiring wasn’t what he set out to do. “I wanted to play. I wasn’t good enough.” He sounds comfortable with that.

“It’s just a fun job in general, especially if you’re a tennis fan.” Nili is speaking shortly after umpiring the semifinal between Stanislas Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov. It was a match not without incident: down a set and 3-5, Wawrinka crashed his racquet repeatedly on the court and then, apparently dissatisfied with the demolition job, deliberately folded it in half. Nili seems unbothered by that or any suggestion that angry players might be at all scary. “Just because of the fact that I know them, I work with them every week.”

On the other hand… “I would rather deal with any professional player than any junior’s parents. They want their kid to win at any cost, and anybody in their way is an enemy. I realized that early in my career and tried to stay away from it.”

From the sounds of it, umpiring is a more social job than playing: umpires at the top level hardly ever work with anyone they don’t know, and accordingly they have each other as company.

But players do have one advantage. In a long match they can leave the court for bathroom breaks or request medical treatment. Umpires, on the other hand, stay in place throughout, climbing down only when the match ends or, on clay, if someone wants a mark inspected. It’s not surprising, therefore, when Nili says that ,”My only pre-match routine is go to the bathroom.” When he’s working at Wimbledon or one of the other Grand Slams, where the men play five-set matches, he doesn’t drink anything until the end of his last five-set match.

“It’s easier to stay sharp thirsty than when you have to go to the bathroom out there.”

Nili earned his first international certificate in 1998. Like players, umpires start out in the weeds of the game – small, local events or junior matches. As they learn, gain experience, and improve, they move up the ranks through a series of certificates: white, bronze, silver, and, finally, gold. A tournament like Queen’s, with a singles main draw of 56 and a doubles draw of 16, uses six umpires, four from the ATP’s group, the rest contractors.

Nili jokes about preferring women’s matches at the major because they’re only best-of-three sets, but you have to suspect that every umpire would have liked to have been in the chair for the historic 2010 Wimbledon first-round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which went to 70-68 in the fifth and took more than 11 hours over three days to complete.

“Even he” – meaning the umpire in that match, Mohamed Lahyani – “would tell you that it goes a lot faster than the action time.” In general, he says, “The better the match is, the easier it is to keep your level of concentration. You do a tough five-set match which lasts four hours and when you sit up there it feels like a half an hour.” By contrast, “The opposite is also possible. You might do a match, that might never really pick up, you know, and it’s not the most exciting match in the world and it’s one hour and it feels like three hours. The closer the match is, the tougher the match is, the better the tennis is, the easier it is to concentrate. You get into the flow and the match just drives you along.”

Mistakes still do happen, of course. Umpires are taught not to dwell on them. “We just really always think forward. We always just think about the next call. The more you think about what happened the more chance there is that you’ll miss something else because you’re losing concentration.”

Few mistakes have lasting effects like the one in Venus Williams’ second round match at Wimbledon 2004, when the umpire incorrectly awarded an extra point to her opponent, Karolina Sprem, in the second-set tiebreak. No one corrected the error, and Sprem went on to win the match, though Williams did earn – and lose – three set points along the way.

“Usually, at least in men’s tennis, if you call the score wrong for two points in succession one of the players is going to tell you.” Or, if not the players, a line judge. “It’s not something that happens really often.” Modern technology helps: umpires have tablets that connect directly to the scoreboard so when he punches in the score everyone sees it and it feeds through to TV. A wrong score popping up in those circumstances generally gets a reaction in the stadium.

The hardest thing to learn, Nili says, is “to see the ball well”. Most, though not all, of the top rank of umpires play tennis themselves. “And then communication and not taking things personally.”

One surprising thing to learn is that just as the players must change their games in shifting from clay to grass, so must umpires change their procedures.

“It’s kind of like an art to umpire on clay,” Nili says. “It’s very different. You have to have a better feeling for the match. You have to have done a lot of clay-court matches in order to be a good clay-court umpire.” Years of experience on other surfaces doesn’t automatically translate.

“It’s a lot different.” On other surfaces – hard, indoor, grass – whether or not Hawkeye is available, as soon as a point ends the umpire looks at the loser in case he has questions, comments, or breaks a racquet. “On clay you keep staring at the mark so you don’t lose it.” Obviously. Because: if there’s a disagreement you will have to get down and go check it.

Asked to name the stand-out matches he’s umpired, Nili picks first the 2008 match between Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, which stretched to three tiebreaker sets and took two hours, 35 minutes to finish. “The longest three-set match ever played on hard court,” Nili says, and also, “Every point was really amazing. That’s probably the best tennis I would say, I’ve umpired.” Then he names a match from a few months ago: Federer versus Djokovic at this year’s Indian Wells final – “That was a good match.” He umpires comparatively few women’s matches, but obliges with Serena Williams versus Jelena Jankovic in Rome.

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Approach Shots: Meet Andrew Krasny – The Voice of the BNP Paribas Open

Krasny in Paris

Andrew Krasny – The Voice of the BNP Paribas Open as well as many other tennis tournaments and events.

 

INDIAN WELLS, California – For those attending and watching BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the voice you’ll hear introducing the players and conducting on-court interviews on Stadium 1 will be that of jack of all entertainment media trades – Andrew Krasny. Krasny has done everything in the field of entertainment media, from radio to television, from producer to host.

Krasny is the voice of many tennis tournaments which include the Sony Open in Miami, Cincinnati and the Family Circle Cup in Charleston to name a few.  With all of his work in tennis some have dubbed him “the voice of tennis.”

“My first job in Hollywood was answering fan mail for comedienne Joan Rivers.”

How did he get the job? “I grew up in Los Angeles and my friend’s father was the Executive Producer of the Tonight Show and he introduced me to Joan and her family and we became friends and then while I was in college my first job was to work on her show when she was at Fox. Hopefully no one is doing the math that really shows how old I am.

“That was my first job and then I went into producing talk shows, became by choice an audience warm-up guy – where I got my formal training to be in front of crowds and then I continued to produce shows and got a job hosting a dating show in the USA Network called Crush. Which was a TV where if a friend had a crush on you and they were embarrassed to tell you, we told you your friend had a crush on you and then you had to decide which one of these three people in my life has the crush on me.

“And then I produced for Martin Short, Joan Rivers, Leeza Gibbons, John Tesh and then I was at a tennis tournament one day at UCLA. I can’t tell you what year it was but I was producing a radio show for Joan Rivers. I noticed that an older gentlemen was on the court and I was wondering where the energy was, and a friend of mine was working for the tournament at the time, I said to him, ‘do you think there is a need for an emcee and a host?’

“I met Bob Kramer and the next year Bob Kramer let me volunteer on court two and I was such a fan of tennis that to volunteer, to get free clothes, to be able to stand near Agassi, Sampras, Safin – and Joan Rivers gave me the week off every year. So for two or three years I volunteered, that led me to being moved to Stadium 1. And from Stadium 1 at UCLA I got recommended to do the women’s event in Carson. From Carson came the Women’s Championships, from the Championships became Indian Wells, From Indian Wells became Miami, from Miami became Stanford, Stanford became Cincinnati, Amelia Island, San Diego and next thing you know to make a long story short in 2009 I was asked to be part of the team at the US Open. This now I would say has become 60 percent of my livelihood and 60 percent of my career is becoming an emcee and announcer around the world for tennis.

“I’m realistic to the energy and expertise that I bring to the fan experience at a tennis tournament,” when he talked about further goals in tennis. “Everyone always asks me ‘do you want to be on TV more?’ and I go back and forth with that. I’m flattered and honored that many events use my post and pre-match interviews for television and it’s fun to be recognized when I’m out and about by people saying ‘you’re the guy who hands out trophies at tennis tournaments’ or ‘I saw you on ESPN’ or this or that.

“As far as tennis goes, I’m perfectly content doing what I do, and my other television career being a correspondent and a host on a few television shows – working with Marie Osmond currently, that I am pursuing my avenues of hosting and being more on television in that aspect, but as far as tennis goes, I felt I have won the lottery and I am not screwing with it for one single moment.”

So which players give the best interviews? “First of all,” Krasny said, “I’m appreciative and grateful for every player has opened their heart out to me and has said many things to me over the past few years that have made my job the greatest job in the whole wide world.

“I will say by far there is not a better ambassador, more articulate ambassador to the game than Roger Federer. Roger has a great respect for the job that I do, and obviously I am a huge fan of his and love his work.

“No one gives me a better interview than Roger Federer. But that being said I’m grateful for the amazing things Rafa (Nadal) has said over the years, Novak Djokovic, it’s an incredible opportunity to get to know them better and understand and respect them.

“On the women’s side…. the first player who ever said to me ‘I love what you do and you are the first person who has done it the way you do’ goes back to Mary Pierce.

“First person who saw him on TV to know that a dream came true for Krasny in terms of finally being on air for tennis, was Lindsay Davenport who is a good friend. Davenport who will inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 12, was inducted into the Southern California Tennis Hall of fame by Krasny this past summer.

So with all of the very unique names in tennis, do any of them give him any problems in terms of pronunciation? “Some of women’s names tend to be harder than the men’s,” Krasny said.

“In terms of finding the correct way to say a player’s name, he goes straight to the player.

“Names are not so much a problem for me, I need to make sure I do my homework  and know my facts is more important to me than pronunciation names, because that’s a given.”

Krasny does admit that he makes a rare mistake or two. “Saying Fed Cup instead of Davis Cup in front of Tim Henman and he laughed. (I) said Belgian instead of Belgrade, Serbia in front of Novak Djokovic once and he stopped during warm-up to hit me with a tennis ball.”

At the Sony Open, Krasny incorrectly read a scoreboard and said that Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova were playing doubles together and Serena Williams sent him a text message to make fun of him.

The native Californian who also teaches on-air hosting and public speaking, tells his students, “you are never judged for a mistake you make, it’s how fast you can bounce back and get out of it.”

Tennis players make mistakes, he points out and so do announcers. “I hit a ball out, we make mistakes but at the end of the day, I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

I asked Krasny about what would people be surprised about him behind the scenes.

“I’m a diva when it comes to traveling. I’m not a huge fan of traveling. Once I’m there, I’m OK. But I love to make sure I have a nice hotel, I love to make sure I have transportation.”

“We are all on a mission to make sure that the fan experience is just unmatched and that I feel that I’ve been on the forefront of being part of a team that has really changed the sport in the last 10 years. When I started here at Indian Wells 9 years ago we had no videoboards, we had me on court from 11 in the morning to two in the morning with my iPod and look where we’ve gone. We’ve got a multi-billion dollar facility, we’ve got a new expansion with Stadium 2. Tennis is bigger and stronger than it’s ever been before and I’m so proud to be part of it. Behind the scenes we are just trying to put together the best show possible.”

Follow Andrew Krasny on twitter @AndrewKrasny.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

 

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Approach Shots – Judy Murray Q & A Part One

 

JudyMurray

(September 17, 2013) NEW YORK, NY – During the US Open, Great Britain’s Fed Cup Captain Judy Murray, mother of ATP players Andy Murray and Jamie Murray sat down to do an interview with Tennis Panorama News.

In part one of our Q & A, the former top Scottish women’s tennis player spoke about her introduction to tennis and coaching, Fed Cup, women coaches and those women coming up the ranks of British tennis.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News: How did you get involved in tennis?

Judy Murray: I started playing tennis when I was about 10. Back in those days, when racquets were wooden and balls were heavy, the courts were all just one size. It was actually quite tough to start tennis younger than that unless you were quite big because the equipment was heavy.

My Mom and Dad both played, they played for the county, played a lot down at the local club. When I was big enough, I started to join in. I just learned from playing with my parents.

 

KP: With your sons, did they naturally want to play because you played?

JM: Probably, we lived about 300 meters from the tennis courts and when they were very small, we didn’t have much money and I didn’t have a car. I went round to our local club and did some work just as a volunteer and started working with some of the older juniors because I was still playing at a good level. I was the Scottish No. 1 for quite a number of years.

I started working as a volunteer coach when they were very small and some of the kids that I started working with, they started to get quite good and that is when I realized that my initial coaching qualification that I had done when I was a student wasn’t really helping me to help them particularly, so I was just teaching them from a tactical base, which was based on my own playing experience. In my day you didn’t have coaches. You learned how to play the game by playing the game.

I upgraded my qualification when Jamie and Andy were six and seven and then a couple of years later I upgraded it again, because I realized  that a lot of the kids I was working with, were becoming pretty good at the Scottish level and I wanted to help them to be the best that they could be. And I realized that my knowledge of playing the game was all about playing the game, it wasn’t too much about teaching them from a technical base, so I wanted to learn about that. I haven’t up graded my qualification since then. That was the highest level of coaching qualification at the time in Britain. It was a year-long course that was a big thing for me to take on when the boys were quite young, the workshops were all down south.

Also what I remember about that course is that there was a lot of information but not enough about how to actually use the information. And what I have learned in my 20 years or so of coaching is that it doesn’t matter how much information you’ve got if you are not able to communicate it effectively and in the right way with the kids or the adults in front of you, you are not going to get the job done. I think a lot of it comes down to how well you communicate, how much you can enthuse the kids by the way you behave with them. I keep saying kids because I’m so used to working with juniors but now I’ve started working more on the women’s side, but it’s the same thing – you need to have a good rapport. You need to have some fun. You need to get your point across. The other thing is that the better you know your player as a person, the more chance you have at doing a good job with them because understand what makes them tick and what makes them react badly and you’ve started at the best way to get them to do things.

KP: Speaking of working with different players, how challenging is it to be the Fed Cup Captain?

JM: That’s quite a challenge. It’s certainly was a challenge the first year because I had never worked on the women’s side before. I’d worked with juniors and obviously on the men’s side. But working with girls is quite different than working with boys and working with women is quite different from working with girls. Had to learn a lot about that but like throughout my coaching career, I speak to people. I speak to people who have been there and done it before and have lots of experience and then you form your own opinion. You form you own view or philosophy. So I picked a lot of people’s brains. It’s mostly men on the women’s tour, mostly male coaches.

 

KP: Why do you think there are so few female coaches?

JM: I think there is not a great career pathway for female coaches. I think it doesn’t matter whether you work in clubs or whether you are working with better level players. I think it’s you know, that natural thing is for women to get married probably in their twenties and have their kids and then the life of a coach is actually very difficult because if you are coaching in a club for example or a domestic program, your busiest times are going to be after four o’clock and on weekends. So you’re working in the evenings and on weekends, if you’ve got family it’s very difficult. I think if you get to the stage where you want to work with a full-time player then you need to be prepared to be on the road for probably about 30 weeks of the year and that’s very tough as well.

But I think there are one or two things which come into play too. It’s tough to make a living in the game unless you are probably 70, ranked 70 and above. And really anyone ranked below that, it’s tough to have to pay for a coach and a coach’s expenses on the road with you and your own expenses too. Most girls, I think will try to pick a coach who can also work as a sparring partner, and that tends to lend itself more to males who play at a decent level and who can fill that kind of dual role. I think that has something to do with it as well.

Of course there is nothing wrong with having male coaches, but I think we could do with having more females because I do think that female coaches understand the needs and feelings of girls a lot better than guys do and I’ve been saying this for some time now. In our country we need to get more little girls playing tennis and taking up tennis. Tennis has become very attractive now since Wimbledon and since the success of Laura (Robson) and Heather (Watson), very young and exciting prospects and they’re great role models for young girls and for women’s tennis. But once we get little girls into tennis, we need to make sure they are having a lot of fun, doing what they are doing. We need to have a lot more female coaches working with little girls, for exactly the same reasons – to ensure we can retain them in the sport because little girls tend to generally be not as competitive, not as boisterous as boys and can be put off by being in a mixed group or being with a male coach who finds it easier to deal with the boys, because the boys kind of do all the competitive things because they enjoy doing that sort of thing. Building a stronger female coaching workforce in our country is important to us to retain more girls in the game.

KP: Beyond Heather and Laura, who are the women coming up behind then in Great Britain?

JM: Some of the girls have started to do quite well pushing themselves up the rankings. Johanna Konta was at a career-best ranking at 112 before the US Open, I think she’ll drop a little bit. She won a 25 and a 100K back-to-back during the summer which was very good progress for her. So she’s moving in the tight direction. She’s 22 now.

Tara Moore is the same age as Heather Watson and she is very, very talented and she has started to show some good signs of progress. She still needs to work at being able to put good performances in on a consistent basis, and so much of that being able to perform consistently well is down to how emotionally stable you can be for longer periods of time and that always doesn’t come quickly to every player. I think sometimes you have to let them grow into themselves a bit. But she has a huge amount of potential – a very, very skillful player. I think that if she can get herself together I think she can go places over the next couple of years.

And we have Sam(antha) Murray who was playing in the qualies here (US Open). She was at a US college on a scholarship and she has started to push herself up the rankings. Very hard worker, good all-court game, plays good doubles as well, big first serve.

Elena Baltacha had a surgery on her foot in the off season last year, so she’s just playing again full-time, but she has produced good performances as well. It won’t be long before she’s back at her best. Beyond that we are starting to look at the juniors.

We have three very good juniors born in 1998.  Maia Lumsden who won the 14s Orange Bowl in December, Gabby (Gabriella) Taylor who trains in Spain and Jazzy Plews who also trains in Spain. All have been ranked within the top ten at the end of last year in the 14s. So they are all in a good place as well.

But certainly, from my point of view we need to use this opportunity now where tennis is the kind of buzz word among sports in Britain just now. We need to use the opportunity to get more girls playing and to develop a stronger female coaching workforce to retain more of them in the early stages, and then to educate more coaches to be able to do a better job through all the development stages. There’s quite a big job to be done but there’s a huge opportunity at the moment. I will always argue that more better coaches, produce more better players. We need to, in my opinion, to invest in our coaching workforce.

 

In part two of our interview, Murray talks about the women’s tour and some of her proudest moments.

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