Coach Talks: For David Taylor and Madison Keys, it’s all about winning
By James Henry
(August 12, 2018) CINCINNATI — Tennis is a cutthroat sport. You win, or you lose.
And if you’re a tennis coach, failing to win can mean losing your job.
“There’s a high level of stress because the job is so black and white, it’s so measurable, it’s measurable to the public,” said David Taylor, who now coaches World No. 13 Madison Keys, the finalist at last year’s U.S. Open.
“It’s only about winning. The only important thing is winning.
“At that level of coaching, you are literally there and employed to help the player win matches. There’s not a lot of — at this level — thinking ahead, long-term development. Well, there, obviously, is. But, to stay alive, you need results.”
Coaching, Taylor said, is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job.
“It turns into that,” said the former longtime coach of Samantha Stosur and Fed Cup captain for Australia. “You make it that, eventually.”
Taylor, who also has worked with Ana Ivanović, Ajla Tomljanović, Naomi Osaka and Jeļena Ostapenko, discussed coaching at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
On Taking The Reigns From Lindsay Davenport
“They remain good friends. Lindsay just wasn’t able to commit to the time that Madison was after. In that scenario, I spoke at length and still have contact with Lindsay. There was a lot of debriefing. She’s been fantastic in wanting to share information. She wants the best for Madison. It’s probably the most extensive gathering of information I’ve ever had in a crossover from a player, because often it’s not so amicable.”
On Today’s Power Game
“Madison plays the type of tennis I’m more used to in my coaching career, that’s been with sort of big serves, big forehands. I’ve coached three sort of players of that mold: Ana Ivanović, Sam Stosur, Alicia Molik. Big serves, big forehands — the ways to get the opponents to hit to the strengths and then to use those strengths, for me, is very clear.”
On Changing With The Times
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more flexible, because this generation is a tricky one. Australians tend to be a little old-school in their approach sometimes. But, having said that, there’s a lot of Australians on the road traveling. There’s a lot of Australians in coaching. And I think that’s because we all, as players, growing up we had to travel so much ourselves, so we’re very flexible.”
On Being A Man In A Woman’s World
“I’m happy to be coaching on the women’s tour. I’ve never really had that ambition to coach on the men’s tour. I’ve never understood why a woman would then go and choose a guy who’s never coached on the women’s tour. I just don’t understand why women make that mistake sometimes. I don’t know whether they’re led that way by agents. For me, it’s a completely different sport.
“I’ve always been very fortunate to have friends that were players on the men’s tour come out and help me with my jobs I’ve had. Some come to memory was Pat Rafter coming to help me with Sam Stosur, and he was still in good shape and he’d often play points and we’d get into point construction, because at the really top level of the WTA, which I’m at coaching, it’s all about point construction. And he would just be shocked why I’m getting her to hit the ball here, here and there. It’s completely different tennis in point construction.
“Therein lies what a different sport. I’ve never understood how someone who’s never coached on the women’s tour suddenly thinks that they can offer some sort of insight. I’ve spent my whole life working very narrowly on that. And it’s not that easy.”
On The Differences Between Male And Female Tennis Players
“To be very basic about it, I think men rely a lot more on holding serve. I think women have a much stronger return game in comparison. There’s a lot more service breaks in women’s tennis. I think the most dominant shot in men’s tennis is the forehand. I think the most dominant shot in women’s tennis is the backhand. I think the second serve is probably the biggest difference between men’s and women’s tennis. In terms of isolating a shot, whereas I’d say 95 percent of men have an effective second serve, I’d say 95 percent of women don’t have an effective second serve, or can’t hit a kicker, for example.
“Defense is the biggest difference physically in women’s and men’s tennis. The men’s ability and the skill level to keep the ball in play with defense doesn’t exist as much. I think the ball striking in women’s tennis is such at a high level, but the defense hasn’t caught up because of the physicality that’s necessary.
“I used to think emotional difference was the biggest, but the more I talk to men’s coaches, that’s an issue on the men’s side. But the men can hit three massive serves and get out of trouble, where the women may have to hit three or four shots. It’s harder to do under pressure than physically just act.”
On The Rise Of Social Media
“I don’t like it. I just think it’s really unfair — how people can just get so abusive. It’s amazing how passionate they are in their abuse.
“I think what Madison’s initiative is is a great one, anything to reduce that type of bullying online and also just being smart about what you’re posting and the access you’re giving people. But it’s hard because the fans want the access, and 99 percent are so nice and so positive. But players tend to read the negative ones more often. I try to get the players not to participate so much in that or not to read the comments so much and be happy with what you’re doing. It’s a massive change.”
On On-Court Coaching
“I don’t like it so much. I know it’s good entertainment, but you ask any player’s goal and it’s to win a Grand Slam and in the Grand Slam you’re not allowed to have on-court coaching.
“So, I just feel you want to get towards where you can process the information, change what’s not working and do that yourself in the 90 seconds you have in between the change of ends and also the 25 seconds you have between the points. That’s always been my mindset.”