I continue to publish interviews with famous coaches and players. I hope, you like it. Here is my interview with Johan Kriek, two-times Australian Open champion and former # 7 tennis player in the world.
Q.: You have huge experience playing tennis on the professional level and working as a tennis coach. What are the differences between tennis in your time and now?
A.: Many differences from when I played and the players of today. On the men’s side I have always said it will become a “big man”sports. The kids nowadays are way over 6 feet tall. Here and there a short guy below 6 feet that is doing great. Ferrer for example. The equipment has changed quite dramatically , especially in string technology. A kid who does not follow the latest and greatest technology stuff in rackets, strings may be cutting themselves short. I was lucky to have played with 4 different types of rackets, wood, metal, combination aluminium/composites, and lastly graphite. This makes me a pretty informed coach when it comes to the “old game” vs the “modern game”. Because of the ball being hit with more power and more spin (dipping the ball quicker, the serve and volley game is now just a “by product” of a certain situation during a point rather than a clean tactical decision. Unfortunately, I think the “attacking game” as it relates to serving and volleying is being neglected as a pure form of play, and should be implemented more by the top players, but I do not see it ever come back as a distinct characteristic of any future player like McEnroe, Edberg, Sampras etc. It is actually a situation that has evolved due to racket strings, racket speeds and the neglect of continuing teaching a very specialized way of playing, but sadly, most “younger “ guru coaches are now into powering serves and ground strokes with volleys an afterthought. Perplexed at this situation…
Q.: There are literally hundreds of tennis academies in the US. But only a few good world class juniors are developed in these academies. Why?
A.: Because there are virtually NO former Grand Slam winners that even attempt to coach, they either are too rich, get involved with coaching a top end current player, or do not care or they just do not have the will to go into something that is actually very difficult to do well. Look around….is Agassi really doing it, Sampras, Courier, McEnroe..? Nobody is involved with daily coaching, every day! I think I may be the only one in the US doing it 5 days or more every week spending time every day with every kid and going to junior events! It will take a few years to build an 8 year old or so to go somewhere, but that is what it takes. It is a slow long process and there are no short cuts. Academies are also typically focusing on the college route which is by far the most logical way to deal with the masses of kids wanting to play tennis. It is extremely rare to find that “talent” who shows up at an academy and goes “all the way”. Very rare…Also, the Europeans, especially the Eastern block has been dominant the past few years across the board. The Americans do not have a lock on talent, but we have lost a bit of ground in terms of desire. The Americans in my opinion will not outwork and outhustle a kid who is from a country where it is almost a “life and death” situation to get out of there via tennis! I can only sum it up in one word…” HUNGER”!
Q.: How much should a junior tennis player train?
A.: Difficult answer because it is different for each kid. Also depends on how old they are. An 8 year old does not need to play more than 2-3 hours a day. They are not grown ups yet! But, a kid who is 12-16 and is really pro material, maybe 4 hours a day should be good in terms of adding all the components etc. plus fitness. But it will vary a great deal. Some kids are just work horses because they have that “hunger”…
Q.: What do you think about the situation with development of world class tennis players in the US? Can the USTA program produce the next Sampras and Agassi?
A.: I think the USTA should stick to developing the sport of tennis at the grass roots level, help super coaches with money and other support to “vet out” talents, instead of this “watered down” approach of working with “academies” like mine…the USTA is actually in competition, yes COMPETITION with private academies like mine. I get a kid to a certain level, the USTA will “reach out” and cherry pick…..happened to me before. Is Bollettieri working with the USTA…NO! Everybody dances around this issue because the USTA is massively big and powerful, but I will call a ‘spade a spade’…the USTA has many of my tennis friends working for them as coaches. But the USTA development of tennis talent in the US has been a failure for a long time considering the amount of money that is spent every year. It is mind boggling.
Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis players?
A.: Lots I can say here…but you want 3. I suggest to a junior, find somebody who knows coaching, ask around, check references, experience etc. before deciding to get coached by that person. Also, try out many different rackets and string tensions, better yet, call a person by the name of Tim Strawn who is the top man of the US racket stringers association and get as much information out of him about rackets, strings etc. Tim is a friend of mine and knows this technology business frontwards and backwards. It makes a HUGE difference if your equipment is the right stuff! Lastly, be realistic about your tennis. Get an education via tennis but do not set yourself up for “mental anguish” by shooting to become a pro when you cannot beat people in your own town or city or even in the state! Be realistic!
Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis parents?
A.: Be supportive, NEVER show negative emotion, bite your tongue no matter what! Never scream at your kid for missing a shot, never castigate the child after a match…ask instead where they want to go eat. Pick a different day to go over ANYTHING negative about the match they have lost. Doing it on the same day is a “loss”- period. This topic is so vast and so many pitfalls here, hard to just do a few points…but see www.parentingaces.com. Very informative.
Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis coaches?
A.: Every kid is different so treat them as a smart coach would! Push the ones that are in need of pushing, keep it real, DON”T coach every kid to play like you as you played. Every kid is different. Focus a lot on mental training, it is as important as training the strokes and maybe more. I always said a great tennis coach in the juniors needs many degrees, especially a PHD in parenting skills….plus some!
Thank you for the interview Johan. Good luck to you and your tennis players!