I’ve put together a list of who I consider to be the world’s top 10 tennis coaches, past and present, in no particular order. I’m a personal trainer in London and tennis fanatic. In this blog post, I reveal the first 5:
1. Tony Roche
Australian coach whose clients included Ivan Lendl, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, and Roger Federer. Tony Roach was himself coached by the late Harry Hopman, who also coached Rod Laver, one of the best tennis players of all time.
I think Tony Roche’s coaching relationship with Ivan Lendl was the most significant, as he gave Lendl a more rounded game, by honing his volley skills. The intense focus on volleys was part of Lendl’s bid to win Wimbledon, a title which sadly eluded him.
Tony Roach coached Pat Rafter from 1997-2002, and helped Pat reach the Wimbledon finals in 2001, largely thanks to Tony’s intense coaching of volley skills.
Then in 2005-2007, Roger Federer hired Tony Roach to improve Roger’s clay court game.
2. Tony Pickard
Tony Pickard was Stefan Edburg’s long-time coach, and helped him win 6 grand slams. Tony was a meticulous planner of every aspect of Edburg’s professional life. He was not only Edburg’s tennis coach, but personal trainer, nutrition advisor, and personal assistant.
Tony’s style was calm, warm-hearted, conciencious, and low-key. His main obsession was to turn Edburg into the world’s best volleyer, and he arguably achieved this. Edburg was a baseliner when he hired Tony, and Tony turned him into one of the most dynamic serve-volleyers the game has ever seen.
Tony then took on the temperamental Marat Safin in 2000, with less success, as Safin failed to back up his incredible talent with the insane work ethic it takes to stay at the top and win multiple grand slams.
3. Toni Nadal (Uncle Tony)
Toni Nadal is the power behind Rafa Nadal, winner of 13 grand slams with more surely to come. When Rafa was a kid, Uncle Toni was the personal trainer from hell, instilling an iron discipline into every aspect of Rafa’s physical training.
Uncle Toni also instilled integrity into the young Rafa. His absolute intolerance of Rafa ever throwing a tantrum or breaking a racket on court, resulted in Rafa becoming one of the most humble and gracious tennis stars ever.
Says Rafa of his Uncle Toni: “without him, I’d be nothing.”
4. Ivan Lendl
Ivan Lendl has had a magical effect on his one and only coaching client, Andy Murray. He has turned the previously demoralised, distracted and deflated Andy into a Wimbledon champion, a US Open champion, and an Olympic gold-medallist.
Wimbledon was probably the most poignant victory for Andy and his coach, as Lendl himself never won the Wimbledon title. There was never any doubting Murray’s talent, but it was the mental block of falling at the final hurdle that held Murray back. And Lendl was uniquely qualified to help Murray overcome this hurdle, having lost his first 4 grand slam finals, just as Murray had.
The key to Lendl’s coaching was to show Andy Murray how to take charge against the likes of Federer, Djokovic, and Rafa. Murray had always been too defensive against these aggressive players, and Lendl knew that the only way to break through was to go on the offensive more often, and fight fire with fire. The results speak for themselves.
Ivan Lendl was one of the first tennis players to take his own fitness training to obsessive levels back in the 1980’s, and he works closely with Andy Murray’s personal trainer to ensure that Andy is in the best physical shape possible.
5. Marian Vajda
Marian Vajda, a Slovakian, started coaching Novak Djokovic in 2006, and over the next few years started to make an impression on his game, his physical fitness, and his diet.
Having struggled with lack of stamina, and lack of mental toughness too, Djokovic was in need of an overhaul if he was to break the supremacy of Federer and Nadal. Marian worked hard on Djokovic’s serve. “When you have a good serve, you shorten games and hold easily,” Marian Vajda said in an interview with BBC Sport. What still needs work? “His approach to and position at the net” says Vajda.
Another major breakthrough was the discovery of Djokovic’s gluten intolerance. When he transformed his diet to gluten-free, he had a phenomenal 211, winning 43 matches in a row, the biggest winning streak in tennis history. His Wimbledon win in 2011 was the icing on the cake in this amazing year for Novak Djokovic.
Marian Vajda, alongside a range of fitness trainer, acts as Novak’s personal trainer in chief, supervising a gruelling regime of cycling and running, to boost his endurance for those long grand slam matches against Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal.
(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London, and keen tennis player)