I decided to write about my experience and understanding of the sport of Tennis on my website. I’m planning to publish short blog posts highlighting key fundamental aspects of the game and how they impacted me on my coaching style and player development. I hope the players, parents and coaches may be inspired and benefit from the content.
My first steps into Tennis
I have been playing tennis for 52 years and coaching for 42. As from the beginning I have had a tremendous passion and curiosity for hitting the ball and for the game. Immediately there was a desire to hit one more ball over the net and into the opposite court.
The very first time I stepped onto a tennis court, I made a clean hit and contact with the ball. Immediately after that first hit, I became addicted to Tennis. Every single free moment was an occasion to play tennis; I played against the wall, the house, the garage or on the street with a ball on an elastic band tied to a brick.
My parents found me a coach who was quite enthusiastic, Neville Nette. Each Saturday and Sunday mornings, Neville gave a lesson to a group of 8 players. He gave excellent technical advice and made it simple with each part of the game, the lesson cost 1$ per hour. Following each lesson, we all went and played “challenge matches” for approximately 3 hours.
The rest of the week was a battle between me and the wall, driving my sister “insane”. Every morning I would go for a 20-30 min run before breakfast, hit against the wall during lunch time and play again against the wall after school or climb the fence to get to the church courts next door practising ground strokes, volleys, smashes and my serve. After all of this training I don’t know whether it was actually me or my sister who was becoming “insane”.
Neville was always encouraging me as he recognised the enthusiasm, a few extra minutes here and there were beneficial. He encouraged me to run, hit against the wall, shadow drills in front of the mirror plus a banana milkshake a few times a week to help me grow.
Three to four months after our family moved to the city of Melbourne. I was allowed to skip school to watch the Victorian Championships where the top Australian and International men and women were playing and preparing for the Australian Championships.
As a 12-year-old and small, I was sitting on the benches trying to get an autograph from Harry Hopman. While waiting, an American gentleman sat next to me and began asking questions. Initially I thought it rather strange but we kept talking. George Mac Call was his name, the American Davis Cup captain and before leaving that day he asked if I would like to meet the American team, composing of Arthur Ashe, Clark Graebner, Charlie Pasarell, Cliff Richy, Herb Fitzgibbon and Jim Mc Manus.
Of course the next day I showed up at the courts again, missing school. Naturally after meeting all the players, I asked if I could be their ball boy for that day. Not only picking up balls but also looking at how they all played. I had never seen such training and level of playing before. I was so curious about how good they all were.
A few days later, still working as their ball boy, Arthur Ashe took me aside to hit a few balls. Unfortunately, Harry Hopman- the famous Australian Davis Cup Captain- came along at an inappropriate time for me and told Arthur I was not allowed to play on the grass courts as it would not be fair to the other young Australians watching.
All in all it was a wonderful learning experience. The following year Harry Hopman, allowed me to ball boy for the Australian Team with Emerson, Newcombe, Stolle, Roche and Davidson. Apart from being passionate and curious I became determined and committed to play better regardless of my level as an inexperienced 12 year old. Shortly after, I attempted to imitate these top players, which did not seem to impress my coach very much. However, I did learn a lot. Improvement of all these steps could only benefit my progress to becoming a better player.
Never be afraid to be different from others, in a good and productive way. It is important to listen to your coach and create every opportunity to play with others or against the wall in order to implement your coach’s advice and improve your game.