Coach Talks: Madison Keys keeps Juan Todero laughing
By James Henry
(August 13, 2019) CINCINNATI — Shortly after her coach, Juan Todero, began talking with a select group of reporters, Madison Keys entered the interview room.
“Hello,” she interrupted, flashing a big smile as she sat down. “What are we talking about? Can I ask some questions?”
“On days when your player is maybe not like the easiest to deal with, like what’s going through your head? How are you feeling? How do you deal with those things?”
“Well, you know those days are pretty tough,” Todero played along. “I have to see, how am I going to do this? How am I going to put in her head what I want her to think and how she’s going to get over all these things that are going on in the moment.”
Keys added, “And when she maybe doesn’t listen to anything that you’re saying, what are you feeling?”
“Oh, that’s a tough one. I guess it takes a lot of patience,” he replied as the back-and-forth continued.
“And like what do you think about setting a good example by like wanting to go to bed early and wake up early and like have early morning practices and like being on time?”
“Well, you know, I think the best example is that my players always see how I put everything I have and how professional I am no matter what I do outside of the court when I am in the court. So, I think they learn a lot from that.”
“So, tomorrow? Are we going to be on time? Everyone is going to be early?”
“Well, there’s always a chance. Things can happen,” finished Todero, before both Keys, 24, and he erupted in laughter and she then left, so the coach could speak freely.
REUNITED, AND IT FEELS SO GOOD
Their humorous exchange at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati is the evolution of a partnership that started in 2013 and resumed this spring after five years apart.
He was with the USTA and helped her into the top 40. But then a carousel of coaches took over.
Lindsay Davenport and her husband, Jon Leach. Jesse Levine. Thomas Högstedt. Davenport again. Then Dieter Kindlmann.
In 2018, for the most part, Keys was coachless. Then David Taylor was on board.
Keys used USTA resources, including Kathy Rinaldi and Ola Malmqvist.
“When we started, she was 17 back then. Now, I think she’s experienced a lot of different things. She’s matured a lot, grew up. I think our conversations changed, no? Now, it’s a different dynamic,” Todero said.
“Before, you felt like you were teaching more. Now, it’s more like a partnership, how we see things. For me, that’s the biggest change. I feel like it’s, I don’t want to say easier, but different. It’s more together.”
What do you like about working with Madison?
“We have a lot of fun. We have a good chemistry, a good relationship. We have our ups and downs, but overall it’s very fun to be around her. So, that’s a great thing.”
Is Madison a bit of prankster, like crashing our talk today?
“Yes, she likes to mess around. She likes to have fun. That’s one of the things I like a lot about her. She’s a fun girl to be around, which makes my job a lot easier.”
What are your goals now that maybe are different than before?
“I think we were more developing into a type of player before. Now, we want to find some consistency in what she is doing. It’s not a secret that she has a lot of ups and downs. We are trying to find a way to click into a more consistent player. That’s our main goal.”
Madison, now ranked No. 18, has been viewed for a long time as someone destined to win a Slam title. Is that something that has been weighing on her, especially since some younger players who’ve come up after her have been able to do that?
“I think that when you had the chances that she’s had, that she had all the semifinals and the final at the U.S. Open, and when you see the possibility and you know it, you’re always a little bit anxious to make it and to see if you’re going to make it, because it’s always a question mark.
“But I think nobody can doubt the potential and the capacity and the chances that she has of winning it. I think that if she finds consistency to what she does, she’s going to do it.”
What’s your opinion of on-court coaching?
“I like it. I think it’s positive. Pretty much all the sports have coaching. I think it makes it more interesting, you know? Some players are better at responding to situations and others are not… It evens the field.”
What’s improved with Madison this second time around?
“Her confidence. I think she’s more confident. Once you’ve achieved many things, you know you can get them. Before, it’s a maybe. Now, she knows she can get them because she had a lot more experiences.
“Everything has improved from the different perspective of the coaches. I think Lindsay Davenport, Thomas Högstedt, Ola Malmqvist, everybody helped out and everybody gave her a little input on how to do things better, approach and transition into the net, varieties of shots. Everybody put a little bit in, and she’s better at everything, I think.
“Her shot selection has improved a lot. When they’re younger, they’re just hit, hit, hit, hit. And now, little by little, she’s getting more into a rhythm of understanding the game a lot more.”