Interview with Mili Veljkovic, tennis technique expert coach in Partizan Tennis Club. Part 1

Here is a first part of an interview with Mili Veljkovic, tennis technique expert coach in Partizan Tennis Club (Belgrade), Split Method’s author, PTR professional.
Nenad Zimonjic actively followed Mili Split Veljkovic’s presentation

Q.: When did you start to coach tennis and why? Did you attend special courses or college to become a tennis coach?

A.: It took me some time to respond because I was looking for accurate info regarding my coach’s history. It matters who teaches you, what was the ranking …and it was long time ago!

When I was 11.5 years old, my family moved from one part of Belgrade to the building across the street of Partizan’s sport center. Parents told me to choose what I want to train. All sports were there in front of me. I felt like a boy in a toy shop. Tennis attracted me as a magnet. I was just fast kid who didn’t know anything about any sport. Most of my schoolmates were into all other sports (Red Star was just 2 blocks away), but I remember watching some big guy in his 50s or 60s who was dancing on the court and beating much younger guy who was actually very good. That young guy was competition player and the older guy was Petko Milojkovic. I was fascinated with his grace in spite he was 100 kg. I became his pupil. He used to be top Yugoslav player but WWII stopped him. As a veteran player he was for many years top in Europe.

My next coach was Bane Vucetic, another top Yugoslav coach and amazing technician who, as a junior, used to beat Ilie Năstase.

Even Seles’s father used to bring Monica to Partizan for additional lessons while as I was as a sport college student assisting my coach. Technically I could say that Monica (she was about 8 years old) was on my lesson.

One summer Jelena Gencic, Yugoslav champion, also known as the first Novak Djokovic’s teacher, was coaching our junior team and in Split I joined their team to be coached from Niki Pilic (also Novak Djokovic’s coach)!

My point is – good coach inspires and means so much in developing kid’s personality.
I loved giving lessons and I started as a junior 17 years old even my coach forbid me because I played for the first Partizan’s team.

My first instructor’s certificate I got when I was 18 only. I became youngest coach with university (sport science) degree in Yugoslavia. I was considered as one of top talented junior players in Yugoslavia. Army was obligatory and then university for five years. So much about my professional career as a tennis player.


Interview with Oscar Wegner, creator of Modern Tennis Methodology

Here is an interview with Oscar Wegner. Oscar is a tennis coach and pre-open-era tour player, author and creator of Modern Tennis Methodology, a tennis-teaching system which he began developing in 1968.
Oscar Wegner
First of all, I would like to thank you for your time and your desire to answer some questions for me.

Q.:  You have been in the tennis world for a very long time and have seen everything I can only imagine. What is the most memorable tennis match or event you have ever seen?

A.: There are actually two, Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe Wimbledon final and the Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final that finished into the night.

Q.: On your website I found “You too can learn to play like the pros with Oscar Wegner ‘s Modern Tennis Methodology”. Tell me briefly about the core of MTM? Does it mean that using your technology allows players to train without a tennis coach?

A.: Yes, once the players understand how the top pros play, they can copy them with great success. Even parents can transmit this to their kids, whether they are good players themselves or not.

Q.: Do you have any junior tennis players who you train right now? If yes, please tell me about their results and potential?

A.: I coach sporadically juniors that are with other coaches, and I also help the coaches themselves to understand MTM and apply it.

Q.: Many academies offer 25+ hours a week for juniors from 12 years old. In your opinion, how much should a junior tennis player train?

A.: It depends on their physique and desire, but for a dedicated junior 25 hours is not too much.

Q. American tennis has lost its dominance in the world. Why? What do you think must be done to improve the situation?

A.: Proper technical information is missing. There is too much false data out there, impeding real progress.

Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis players?

A.: Focus, be serene, apply yourself to the task.

Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis parents?

A.: Let the kid evolve into an independent thinker. Trust your kid to make decisions as to their own game.

Q.: Your three advices to junior tennis coaches?

A.: Guide without being authoritarian. Study Modern Tennis Methodology and apply it in its purest form.

Thank you for the interview Oscar. Good luck to you!

Interview with Johan Kriek, director and owner of Johan Kriek Tennis Academy

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.

Johan Kriek

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 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!

How to Choose a Tennis Racquet

Bruce Levine

Bruce Levine

I made this interview with Bruce Levine. Bruce is the tennis racquet technical advisor for Tennis Magazine.

Bruce, you have huge experience with tennis racquet testing and tennis string testing. Why and when did you start to do that?

I have been testing tennis racquets for about 20 years. I started because Tennis Magazine came to me and asked if I would be interested. When I first began there were three testers of tennis racquets and then there were two and after the third year I have been doing it on my own with an editor from the Tennis magazine.

Many tennis players are curious if the tennis racquets that pro tennis players use are the same as those that anyone can buy at a store? If not, what is the difference?

Most of the tennis players that are on tour are using tennis racquets that are very different than you can buy off the wall of a tennis shop. Usually there is a different balance and weight to the players frames, grips are designed for them so that the shape fits their hand and some players even have a stiffer or softer version of the frame made for them. The biggest two changes however are weight and balance.

The same question, but about tennis strings. Are there any differences?

I do not know of any strings that have been altered for players specifications. I believe that there is enough variety of string that a player can find a type and gauge that fits his or her needs.

Your three tips to tennis players about how to choose a tennis racquet and strings?

1. Don’t look at what your pro or the pros TV are using try to find a frame that fits YOUR needs and is comfortable in your hand.

2. Play test, play test, play test in all aspects of your game under match situations, drills, practice.

3. Remember with string that if you play with a firm racquet, then your string bed should be a bit more flexible and if you play with a flexible racquet, then your string bed can be firmer. Always remember the elbow with be the loser if the frame and strings are both very rigid and firm and also if both are too flexible.

Thank you for the interview Bruce. I hope, you will share your experience and give us more useful information about tennis racquets.

Bruce agreed to answer any questions about tennis racquets. So, ask him.

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Talking to a tennis coach

Yesterday I was talking to a tennis coach. He was watching his students play and simultaneously was answering my questions. I found them interesting and decided to share some his answers with you.

Q.: Why dozens tennis academies do not produce TOP players? What is the main difference between “academies” and private coaches?

A.: In art, they talk about academic art as implying that painters are molded like cookies. You can take a good painter or player and make him better, but you’re not going to create Van Gogh.

Education is not done by majority vote. If a tennis player has to listen to several voices, he is not going to know which one to believe, so he will pick the voice that corresponds most closely to what he already believes. That’s not a recipe for growth.

Q.: A few players use serve and volley style in Tour now, actually nobody from leaders. Is that style like it was in past, still alive? Or serve and volley may be effectively use only all court players as additional option for their play?

A.:  The great serve and volley players of the past forty years or so were, in general, great tennis players who added serve and volley to their game. Names that come to mind include McEnroe, Edberg, Becker, Sampras, and Rafter. The fiction of a great serve and volleyer who had no ground game, say Annacone, is a fiction. He was a very good, but not a great player. Now imagine being fluent in French, say, and then being asked to learn Chinese at age 16 or 19. You would need very strong motivation to go through this. Because players are forgoing college to turn professional, they lack the time to learn this new and difficult tennis language. So they don’t.
I’ve heard that technology has rendered the style obsolete. Players are too strong. Returners are too good. But technology also makes the serve faster with more action. And am I supposed to believe that today’s players return better than Borg or Connors or Agassi?
The game has always gone in cycles. It will continue to do so.

Q.: What are your impressions from new season? Who will be heroes in 2012? Are Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic still the strongest players in the world?

A.: I think the days of Serena Williams and the seven dwarfs are over. Her injuries, ranging from serious to life-threatening, will make it hard for her to continue her dominance. I’m picking Maria Sharapova for the women. She is healthy and playing her best tennis in many years. All she has to do is keep her double faults in the single digits. Kim Clijsters serve looks off, and one of the other top 12 could fluke in. There will be another generation of great women, but I don’t think any of them are playing now.

For the men, as usual, I don’t see how either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic can lose, but the rules say one of them has to. Rafael Nadal incessant running has finally taken it’s toll. If Andy Murray can learn to strike the ball like Ivan Lendl, he can be a threat, but that’s a tall order. I love watching Alex Dolgopolov with his unpredictability, and Gaël Monfils, who is already the greatest athlete never to have won a major, but they are not ready for the top.

Q.: Are young Americans like Harrison and McHale able to enter TOP50 in this season?

A.: I like Ryan Harrisons command of the court. He will learn someday to hit hard and may even grow up. He’s a potential top 10. McHale isn’t.