The local tennis community boasts some of the top coaches in the world, and with this wealth of talent available, New York Tennis Magazine took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these coaches. These coaches share their thoughts on a wide variety of tennis topics and issues, ranging from junior tennis to the professional game.
Meet the participants…
Ricardo Aciolyis a director at the Evert Tennis Academy. He is a former member of the Brazilian Davis Cup Team who was ranked in the top 50 in the ATP doubles rankings. Ricardo has coached several top players including Marcelo Rios and Gabriela Sabatini. He served as Davis Cup Captain for Brazil for six years, and during his tenure as the team captain, reached the semifinal in the World Group. Ricardo has also served as a director on the ATP board of directors and is a two-time member of the ATP Player Council.
Gilad Bloomis a former Israeli Davis Cup player and two-time Olympian, played on the ATP Tour 1983-1995, reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 1990, reached a highest ranking of 61 in singles, was Israel Singles Champion three times. Bloom has been running his own tennis program since 2000 and also was director of tennis at John McEnroe Tennis Academy for two years.
Tawhid Choudhuryis a tennis professional at New York Tennis at Great Neck. He grew up playing in different programs in New York City, while competing in national and international ITF tournaments, before going on to play college tennis at Asa College in Miami.
Jay Devashettyis the Director of Player Development for the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning. He spent nine years as a national coach for the USTA based in New York where he was responsible for implementing the USTA teaching philosophy to top national juniors and pro players. He coached Kristie Ahn to the second week of the U.S. Open in 2019, and Ann Li to the Wimbledon Junior finals in 2017.
Eric Farois the Director at Gotham Tennis Academy. He grew up in Riverdale and played in the top singles spot at Horace Mann, and went on to play in the top spot at Ohio State University. He has an extensive coaching background at both Stadium Tennis and the Central Park Tennis Center.
Petar Foxis a Tennis Professional and the Junior Player Coordinator at Midtown Tennis Club. Before he came to New York he taught in Los Angeles and has experience teaching junior and adult programs.
Jason Josephis the Chair of the USPTA Eastern's Education Committe. He is a USTA Net Generation Coach and a Master Performance Coach who is endorsed by both the United States and Canadian Olympic Committees. He is the Head Racquets Professional at Park Country Club and the Director of the Academy at Hamburg Racquet Club.
Ed Krasscoached the Harvard Women’s Tennis Team to four consecutive Ivy League titles from 1986-1990. Ed is the founder and director of the Annual College Tennis Exposure Camps, which are taught exclusively by all head college coaches for high school-aged players (15-18). Ed is also the founder of One-On-One Doubles tournaments, which have been played at USTA, ATP, ITA and USPTA national events.
Chris Lewitis a former number one for Cornell and a pro circuit player. He is a high- performance coach, educator, and the author of two best-selling books: The Secrets of Spanish Tennis and The Tennis Technique Bible. He has coached numerous top 10 nationally-ranked players and is known for his expertise in building the foundations of young prodigies. Chris trains players during the school year in the NYC area, and players come from around the country to his summer camp in the paradise of Vermont.
Ognen Nikolovskiis the general manager of CourtSense and director of tennis at Bogota Racquet Club. He is a former top junior from Yugoslavia who went on to play college tennis at Rollins College where he became an all-American. He went on to become a world-ranked singles and doubles player on the ATP Tour and was a captain of the Macedonia Davis Cup team. He joined CourtSense in 2008 where his passion and experience has become instrumental in developing the program.
Jay Pinhois the head professional of 10U and High-Performance at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He is a USPTA elite professional, a former NCAA Division I coach and player, and has specialized in developing competitive junior players over the past decade. Currently, he is the private coach of three national champions and a WTA touring pro.
Bogdan Sheremetis a former top junior player from Ukraine and is now a tennis professional at MatchPoint NYC in Brooklyn.
Michael Wardis the General Manager of Sportime Randall’s Island and John McEnroe Tennis Academy. Ward graduated from Mississippi College in 2007 where he was named a National ITA Scholar Athlete and All-Conference selection. He joined Sportime and JMTA in 2016.
College recruiting is always a difficult process, never more so than right now. What is some advice you have for players navigating this process during a pandemic?
Acioly: The overall tournament schedule has been greatly reduced so lots of kids are worried about not being able to compete and raise their UTR. But this can be seen as an opportunity to work on one's game and develop and/or improve aspects that would probably not be done under a regular tournament schedule. Hitting the books to raise GPA and preparing a good college video are good things to do at this time and everyone has the challenge to take the initiative to communicate and be in the radar of College Coaches as much as possible.
Krass: My advice to players/recruits during this pandemic is to pay close attention to all CDC guidelines while playing, travelling and competing. I know in person recruiting is heavily restricted, so play the best events available to you to show your interest in improving and competing. If you stop competing in tournaments altogether, due to the pandemic, then coaches will need to judge you on just past results. Producing a current matchplay video, against a comparable UTR level player, in a set, unedited except for the dead time, will speak volumes to your level. I offer my Exposure Camps/Clinics outdoors to add an even better opportunity for college tennis recruitment. Try to get college coaches to watch you play at a tournament, camp and on video. Keep your letters of interest short and to the point and keep updating coaches on your progress. Hopefully, in due time, you will be able to visit your top college tennis choices to where coaches are also interested in you.
Nikolovski: The pandemic has definitely made college recruiting a different process than before, as for the most part, college coaches are not able to travel and therefore watch players live, however in some sense it has made the college coaches more accessible then before as they have more time to communicate with potential players through email and phone. The main suggestion would be that players contact the coaches and make sure that they let them know what they have been doing tennis wise, what tournaments they plan to play, and if they have the ability to send videos of real match scenarios that would be even better. Showing a strong desire to communicate during these times goes a long way with the coaches, especially if they see that the players are sticking to their training and tournament schedules as much as they can, and that the motivation to keep getting better has not been affected.
Ward: It is a great time to focus on tournament play whenever possible to give coaches more tangible results and rankings since they are even less likely to see in person play with covid. UTR tournaments are prevalent right now and it’s a great time to both practice competing and improve the UTR rating. The John McEnroe Tennis Academy is hosting UTR tournament play every weekend in addition to some USTA events. This is also the time to perfect your college video and put yourself in the best possible position.
How do you feel about on-court coaching, and at which levels should it be allowed?
Bloom: This is a tough one for me. I believe that tennis is unique because of the no coaching rule; it forces the player to think independently beginning at a young age. I would hate to change that, however, I acknowledge that the times are changing and that this is inevitable. I think that allowing coaching at the beginning of each set for one minute can be useful but it definitely should not be allowed after every point, and the coach should not be allowed on the court.
Lewit: It’s a controversial issue—and I know I will upset traditionalists—but I’m a huge believer in on-court coaching. I’ve written a lot about it and we have done episodes on my podcast, The Prodigy Maker Show, on this exact topic. At the junior level, it’s a child welfare issue. Most children are not emotionally or developmentally ready for long tennis matches without psychological support from a coach or parent. Some kids are naturally tough, but many young kids would benefit greatly from support from a coach. It’s a healthy way to improve the junior sport of tennis. We lose many children to other sports where they receive coach support and are much happier. At the pro level, on-court coaching is just more entertaining. Bottom line. And on court coaching is already part of the culture of college tennis.
Pinho: I am in favor of on-court coaching during tournaments. I believe that this practice could not only speed up the learning curve on a wide range of aspects for the players, but it can also create a better experience for juniors. Our sport has a high turnover in terms of juniors playing tournaments, and having the presence of a coach on-court could provide a less intimidating scenario for players who are starting or who are young, thus potentially increasing the chances that this player would "stick around" for the long-term. While I understand and respect the nature of our sport, where two individuals (in the case of singles) have to problem solve on their own and mitigate the ups and downs of a match, I also feel that having a progression where players start with more help and then become more independent as they mature (both as a player and an individual) would be the best approach. I also understand the argument that wealthier families/players that could afford a coach during events could end up having a competitive advantage over those who cannot afford it. However, isn't that the case in many other sports too, where we have teams that have trained coaches and others are coached by parents? While I acknowledge this potential competitive advantage, I think the pros outweigh the cons in this case.
How do you deal with a student who shows poor sportsmanship on the court and/or a negative attitude?
Acioly: At ETA, we work to instill a culture to involve all students in a conversation with the purpose that they take ownership of the process to identify positive and negative behaviors that are then set as guidelines for everyone. That way it is easier for a student to identify the consequences of his or her actions and how it impacts themselves and the group as a whole. On an individual basis we try to identify specific things that are causing this behavior to happen and give the student tools to deal with the issue, always trying to inspire him or her to improve, grow and reach maturity.
Devashetty: When players show bad sportsmanship/negative attitude, it’s their way of dealing with their frustrations and pressures. The first step would be to talk to the player and educate them on a better way to deal with it and also come up with a mutually agreed upon consequence for continued negative behavior. After that it's important to keep the player accountable for those standards.
Fox: I always try to motivate the players and encourage sport ethics on the court at all times. As a pro I want to lead by example and portray positivity.
Nikolovski: Good sportsmanship on the court is one of the most important attributes of our sport, and it is extremely important that it is practiced at all times that the player is on the court. When the student shows poor sportsmanship the first thing that the coach has to understand is why and where this behavior comes from. Depending on the reason(s) then the coach can decide how to deal with it, but in general the most important thing is that the player before stepping on the court understands what is good sportsmanship, what is poor sportsmanship and what are the consequences for showing poor sportsmanship. In most cases when the players are aware of this, then it is much easier for the coach to deal with it as ultimately the coaches job is to hold the player accountable and act accordingly depending on the level of poor sportsmanship that the player is showing. If the coach is consistent with the messages it gives to the players, the issue of poor sportsmanship goes away pretty quickly, especially if the consequence for the same offence gets more severe each time it happens.
2020 has been a challenging year on many fronts. As a tennis coach, how have you adapted your coaching style to coincide with this new socially-distant world we live in?
Choudhury: Since the pandemic a few things have changed in terms of how coaches can teach. For example we try to keep a distance at all times while we feed balls or play games but if we must come close to the clients then we have our masks on and we keep six feet apart . Other than that tennis can be taught and played at a distance so it doesn't affect our teaching styles too much.
Faro: Working more with teaching equipment, such as cones, discs, ladders and others to help separating the students. And then limiting the hand-feeding and focus more on racquet feeding from the other side of the net or incorporating more rallying with the coach initiating the rally.
Nikolovski: I believe that in general we have been lucky as we did not have to adapt much in our coaching style simply because the social distancing guidelines are much easier to apply in tennis. When working with higher performance players the adjustments have been minor as the ratios on the court are very small, so other than reminding the players to stay away from each other and wearing a mask off the court there has not been much change as the on court operations have been pretty much the same. The biggest adjustment dealing with HP players has been just making sure that players keep staying just as motivated as during pre-pandemic times, and with the beginner and lower intermediate level players, it has been more about adjusting certain drills, so players can make corrections on their own more by visual instruction rather than sometimes helping with personal contact.
Pinho: In addition to complying with governmental mandates and USTA guidelines, this period was an opportunity to tackle "technical projects" with some of my players. We know how difficult it is to make changes when players are competing on most weekends, so this presented an opportunity to work on specific areas without the players being so concerned about taking a half step back to then take two steps forward. The use of at home activities was also a valuable addition to the mix, which made me and the players more creative in finding ways to improve with the tools that were available at the time.
Ward: The first challenge was the amount of time away from the sport for so many of our players. We coordinated with our athletic department to ease players back in to prevent injury as much as possible. Additionally, safety on court has always been top priority, but now we have re-imagined protocols for private lessons and small group training. I am coaching mostly through a mask which is important, but unfortunately I’m without expression and less able to work hands on or close up with players. To combat these challenges, I have worked harder than ever on video and am relying more on reviewing footage with our players.
As a socially-distant sport, do you think tennis will see an uptick in participation due to the pandemic and lack of other competitive sports available?
Choudhury: Yes I believe so because most people are starting to realize that the pandemic has been harshly affecting their health. People want to stay active but are afraid to go to an enclosed space like a gym or go and bump bodies playing sports like basketball, football, soccer, etc. Tennis is the perfect sport for these times because of the fact that we can play at a distance even doubles and singles.
Fox: Absolutely. I feel people are eager to have physical activities right now and tennis is definitely a great option. As an individual and naturally socially-distant sport, tennis is a social, physical and intellectual game making it ideal during these times.
Joseph: Tennis is primed, as a socially-distant sport, to see an increase in participation. I am amazed how many people are playing the sport, especially those that have not played for a number of years or even never played at all. I was (safely) coaching at a public park with 12 courts throughout the spring and summer and I was amazed at seeing the number of players who needed to wait for a court. It took me back to my childhood in the early 90s, the last time I have seen anyone having to wait for a court at a public facility.
Lewit: Yes—tennis has already seen a modest uptick. I own a high performance club in Manchester, Vermont, for example, and my coaches have seen an increase in kids and adults looking for tennis lessons. Folks see tennis as a healthy activity that is safe during the pandemic.
What are the most commonly asked questions you receive from parents?
Choudhury: A lot of parents usually ask about my background and how I was introduced to this sport. Many times I'm also asked what their child can improve and I try to do my best to help when asked these questions.
Faro: Are my kids safe and does your club have a COVID protocol in place? Do the students have to wear mask while playing? How do you keep the students socially distant during the session?
Fox: Parent inquiries are mostly about their child’s level and group placement. They have many questions about the various ball colors and use of the mini nets versus the full court classes and junior racquet sizes. This semester there are many questions regarding COVID-19 safety protocol and class size.
Krass: The biggest two questions that parents want to ultimately have answers for is: What schools might my son or daughter thrive both academically and athletically? How can we better understand how the college tennis recruiting process works?
Who do you think is the greatest tennis player ever and why?
Bloom: The right answer to this question is FedereNadalKovic. But seriously, the Big Three have changed the way we look at great champions, setting the bar so high. Next to their achievements, phenoms like Borg and even Sampras are left behind. The only one who could be considered as great as the Big Three is Rod Laver who won the calendar Grand Slam twice, something that even the BigThree didn’t do. Laver surely would have reached a higher number of major titles than his 11 had he not turned pro, in those days they banned you from the majors if you took money. That, of course, looks ridiculously hypocritical today since the four major tournaments pay players more than $60,000 to players who lose in the first-round. Theoretically, he could have gotten to 20 major singles titles like Roger and Rafa, and since he won all four majors in the same year twice, I’d put him in that mix.
Devashetty: In the women’s game it’s hard to argue against Serena... so that would be my pick. The combination of sheer athleticism, power, grit and longevity makes her the G.O.A.T. In the men’s game, the current Big Three are probably the best group of players to have ever played the game. To pick just one, let’s circle back once the dust settles.
Joseph: I really cannot answer that question with detail. I just know that we are fortunate to have such superstars playing in front of our eyes like Serena and Venus, Roger, Rafa, and Novak. To have so many players who push the boundaries of the record books in our lifetime is very special and we should appreciate that.
Pinho: Roger Federer is the best one ever in my view. While Rafa and Novak may end up with more Grand Slam titles, Roger has many other accomplishments that are unlikely to be surpassed. Furthermore, I feel that he is not only a more complete player but also the most "plastic" tennis player ever. On top of that, he's arguably one of the best role models ever from the sport world, which elevates the image of our sport as a whole. Rafa would be a close second on that "race" though.
Sheremet: I like Roger Federer’s life story. Watching him play and winning so many tournaments and breaking so many records was really inspiring for me and my generation. Everyone was trying to copy him, starting with his hairstyle and finishing trying to hit his backhand like him. What is more inspiring is the fact that Roger looks so cold-minded, stable and precise on a court now, which is different from how he looked in his early years (reckless, impulsive, unstable). I think he is the best example of how a human is capable to bring a sport to a highest possible level by starting to build your personality and character first.
How can we as a tennis industry make sure that tennis becomes more accessible and inclusive, and that the landscape of the sport can be more diverse?
Acioly: Nowadays, kids and adults can start playing with beginner methods that really deliver a good result in terms of an easier and faster way of learning, which in turn helps retention. Public facilities and their respective programs should receive the incentive to apply these methods across the country via a subsidized program.
Bloom: In the USA, tennis on the men’s side has been suffering in the last two decades. I think this is mainly because of the decline in popularity due to a lack of big name Americans, someone who would capture the imagination of the young kids who start playing the game and provide the inspiration to choose tennis over the many team sports. On the women’s side, our situation is much better. The emergence of the Williams Sisters sparked a generation of girls that are following their footsteps. In fact, American women are keeping up very nicely with the never ending flow of Eastern European players that keep emerging. I think that in women’s tennis we are getting the top tier talent, but not on the men’s side. One major reason is of course the price of lessons and equipment; it is predominantly an upper middle class sport, we need to get the kids who come from the lower income families and other great athletes, most of them don’t even consider tennis as an option. This should change.
Devashetty: I would say the community programs play a key role in this. Also introducing tennis into the public/charter school’s athletic curriculum and having more team events could play a big role in tennis becoming more inclusive and diverse.
Joseph: Oh, the million dollar question of how to make tennis more accessible and inclusive. I really do not have an answer for that, except that we need to widen our horizons with seeing what other tennis national governing bodies do to increase participation from a large scope of populations. Tennis Canada and the KNLTB in the Netherlands have wide-ranging wheelchair tennis programs. The VTV Tennis Vlaanderen is exceptional in promoting the fun and passion of tennis and physical development to young children, while Tennis Australia promotes an indigenous participation program, with top player Ashleigh Barty as a model for others, and the U.S. has numerous, wide-ranging tennis autism programming to tap into. I think we all really need to open our eyes and our minds and look to communicate with others who have been successful in other ventures to help promote the participation and inclusivity of the sport that we love.
Lewit: The main reason that tennis is still exclusive is because it is too expensive to play. Until the game becomes cheaper to train and play, the sport will always be out of reach for many families. Some countries, like Spain for example, have been able to keep down the cost of training and the result is a surge in participation rates. Tennis is a truly awesome sport, but the financial hurdles to play will always deter families of modest means. Concerning diversity, we are in a great place due to the success of so many athletes from diverse backgrounds and regions. The recent successes of African-American players, and superstars from Asia, Europe and South America for example, ensure a broad ethnic diversity at the top of the game. Those superstars in turn drive participation by minority players and families at the grassroots level.
There are no high school sports this fall and winter. What’s your advice for high school players on staying motivated and maintaining training during these months?
Faro: I encourage them to still get out and practice and definitely motivate them to participate in some of the tournaments that are still going on. I also want to give them a positive outlook in the future where high school tennis will be played again and make sure they keep those positive thoughts alive.
Sheremet: The USTA has organized tournaments which are happening in risk-free environments and under strict safety protocol. Thanks to USTA, kids can compete while performing their favorite sport. It is a great opportunity for high school tennis players to continue training despite their cancelled fall season. Players will survive and adapt to the new normal, and be stronger when the season returns.
Ward: Being a part of a team and competing for more than yourself is incredible preparation for college tennis, so even in a world where junior tennis tournaments primarily trump high school tennis commitments for many juniors, I advocate for juniors representing their high school and playing on the tennis team. Not having high school tennis competition is another loss during covid, but I’m encouraging our players to play UTR and USTA events and I was excited that many of them competed with a partner in the Empire Cup recently. For players who may not play as many individual junior tennis tournaments and have worked solely for the high school tennis team, this is a great opportunity to break from competition and work on building the game in practice lessons and groups and possibly entering some tournaments for the first time.