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…
Gilad Bloom is 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.
Vinicius Carmo is the Director of Tennis at the Ross School Tennis Academy. A former standout player from Brazil, Carmo attended the University of Tennessee on a full tennis scholarship, before moving on to direct several prestigous tennis programs in the Hamptons before going to RSTA. Carmo has expanded the program to include events, competitive training techniques and more, using his NCAA experience and extensive connections to help RSTA graduates in the next stage of their tennis careers.
Ion Efrim is the Senior Assistant Director, Camp Director, On-Site Tournament Director for Sportime Randall’s Island and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA). Originally from Romania, Efrom was a top-ranked junior in his home country, as well as the European Champion in the Boys’ 14s Division. As a senior at Alabama State University, he was named Player of the Year and MVP of the SWAC Conference Tournament, as well as Student-Athlete of the Year at ASU. Ion spent three summers at the SPORTIME/JMTA during college, before joining the team full-time as a tennis coach and the site's Tournament Director in 2020.
Dale Evans is the Director of Tennis Operations at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Originally from Oakland, CA, he is a two-time tennis industry national award winner and two-time national coaching champion who has spoken at several conferences and USPTA World Conferences. After playing collegiate tennis at Jackson State University (MS), he has spent an extensive amount of time coaching players and leading high-performing teams throughout the tennis industry. He holds a B.S. in Management and M.S. in Sports Management and certifications from USPTA, PTR, Academia De Sanchez-Casal, and IPTPA.
Ed Krass coached 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 ExposureCamps, 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 Lewit is a former number one for Cornell and 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 coaches in NYC and year-round at his high performance tennis academy inManchester, VT, where players can live and train the Spanish Way full- time or short-term.
Ognen Nikolovski is 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.
Shenay Perry is the Associate Director of High Performance and Adult Programming at The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in the Bronx, N.Y.. Perry won nine singles and seven doubles titles on the ITF tour, and reached a career-high ranking of 40th in the world in singles.
Conrad Singh is the Chief Operating Officer of Tennis & Director of Coaching at Centercourt Club & Sports. He has held Head Coach and Director positions in Australia, England, Japan and China, and has been involved in professional tennis player development for well over two decades. Singh came to Centercourt from Shanghai, China, where he helped to develop a top high-performance player program, which saw more than 200 athletes train under his system.
How do you find the right balance between training and rest/recovery for junior tennis players?
Carmo: I think every player is different and the coach needs to understand how much rest/recovery between training is needed for each player on an individual basis. Some players play with less intensity and still do very well. These players can go for more hours and get less recovery time between sessions. Other players are very physical and need more time to recover. We also have to consider the mental part of the recovery during competition; some players can play several matches in a row and enjoy the competition. Other players will have a lot of stress and mental fatigue after a competition and need more time for recovery.
Nikolovski: The best method for this is to keep good track of the heart rate of the player before, during and after every practice, and based upon that, plan the practice load and intensity of the players. In the past this was not as easy, however with the help of today’s technology where the players can easily wear accurate heart rate monitors during their practices, and the coaches having easy live access to it, this is much easier. Obviously, it is very important that the coach has a good understanding of the ability, the capacity, and the work load that each player can handle at certain stages of their maturation process. Understanding that each player is different is also very important, as some players need more recovery time than others, and also some players need to spend more time on the court than others.
Mental health is an important topic that has been brought to the forefront of athletics recently. How often and how do you engage your players on their mental well-being, both on and off the court?
Bloom: If I notice that the kid is stressed out or nervous, I’ll initiate a conversation and ask what’s on their mind, what’s bothering them, etc. Many times it can be pressure that they put on themselves (in school or on the tennis court), and my goal is to defuse the pressure and try to get the player to focus on the positives and on relaxing, enjoying the journey. In the pursuit of winning, they sometimes forget that it’s a game and that it’s supposed to be fun. As a coach I try to give them that perspective. If I feel that the kid is in a bad place I’ll talk to the parents. In general my job as a coach is also to mentor the students on the mental side but when necessary I’ll refer them to an expert mental coach that I know can help them. I work with two mental coaches and I find it very helpful to work with an expert who focuses on the mental side of the game.
Carmo: It is extremely important to engage in their mental well-being both on and off the court. Coaches need to listen and understand each player individually. The coach needs to understand what is going on with their players to help them perform better. Understanding and dealing with their well-being is as important as tennis practice on the court or doing fitness every day. Coaches must take time on and off the court daily to talk to their players and support them.
Lewit: Mental health is often unfortunately ignored by elite coaches. Rather, the goal is winning and results only. When I’m in a long- term coaching relationship, I build up a rapport and trust with the student and that connection can open up doors to talk about the player’s personal feelings and mental health. It’s important for coaches to keep the doors of communication open with other coaches, trainers, and especially parents of junior players too. Parents are often shut out of the team by coaches who mistakenly believe the parents are the problem. I see parents differently. I see them as a valuable resource and I regularly engage them to learn about my player’s well-being off the court.
Perry: I believe it is important to speak with young players as often as possible about the upkeep of their mental health. Exposing them to awareness of thoughts and feelings helps keep them accountable for learning how to manage expectations and goals. It also provides them mental clarity on how to solve problems better. Gamesmanship and cheating are always controversial topics at the junior level. How do we begin to try and eliminate those sorts of things from the game?
Bloom: The cheating and gamesmanship in tennis is a big problem, and as a coach I always tell them to expect to be cheated and not to let it frustrate them. I never tell them to cheat back, just to stand up for their rights. For example, if they feel that the opponent cheated they should go to the ref and tell them that they don’t trust the calls and demand that someone stands on the court to supervise, the cheaters need to know that they’re watched. Another solution is not to hit too close to the lines so they can’t cheat (although not too practical). The bad line calling frustrates me as a coach and at the end when you play a junior match you just have to take into consideration that you will get cheated two or three times per match at least, it doesn’t mean that you can’t win, you just have to win decisively and get through the cheaters and into the final rounds. Usually in the final rounds there’s more supervision and less bad calls.
Evans: The key to eliminating gamesmanship and cheating is the pro-activity of coaches. As tennis industry leaders, coaches must take responsibility in players’ pursuit of realistic performance goals, players preparation for adverse on-court situations, and cultivation of a cohesive player-parent-coach relationship. Communicating realistic performance goals to players and parents will emphasize that not winning every match is part of developing as a player. With the proper win- to-loss ratio, players should look at losses as learning opportunities, therefore diminishing the pressure to cheat.
Krass: The temptation to cheat is always going to be there for players in tournaments, but event officials can play a role in preventing this. Many College matches, especially at the Division I Level, have a ref or umpire on every court. I recommend we start paying extra for referees and charge more to play; I bet most parents would buy into this!
Nikolovski: Unfortunately, this will always be an issue, unless the line calling technology that is currently being used at the pro level, becomes available at all tournaments. With the rate that technology is moving forward, this might not be in the so distant future. In the meantime, we as coaches and parents have to keep emphasizing to our players of how important fair-play is, and help the juniors understand that integrity is one of the most important character traits that any individual can have. Introducing and elevating “Sportsmanship Awards” is another way to deal with it, to the point where the players that receive these awards at tournaments actually are celebrated and maybe even get extra bonus points that count toward their ranking, or can easily be viewed once somebody is able to pull up the players ranking profile. I am sure if a college coach has to make a choice between two players of similar level, where on their record one player has three Sportsmanship Awards during their playing career, and the other player none, it would be a pretty easy choice of which player would be picked.
Perry: Making sure the player understands process vs outcome at a very young age. Also, helping the parent/coach encourage these behaviors.
What is missing from the development of American tennis on the professional stage?
Bloom: The million dollar question! I think that there are a few issues that hurt US juniors coming up, the main one is that in Europe and South America the kids grow up mainly on red clay which helps to raise more fit and more tactically aware players. The slow soft surface allows you to push the kids without getting injured and the longer rallies create players that have better endurance, better court sense and better consistency from the baseline which is the key to modern tennis. Another aspect that we are behind in is coaching in the younger ages, I feel that in the US there’s a lack of high performance coaches that are developing young talents from a very young age , we now know that it is crucial to start specializing in tennis at a very young age in order to have a chance to do well as an adult.
Efrim: I think one of the challenges is that, these days, the best athletes in the United States often choose to play other sports, such as football, basketball and baseball, instead of tennis. In comparison, in most European countries, the best athletes are far more inclined to choose tennis. This is evidenced by the fact that the last two decades or so have been dominated by European tennis players, other than Serena and Venus Williams of course. Tennis is currently experiencing a bit of a boom in the United States, so hopefully that results in more of our best athletes choosing tennis first!
We saw Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek win U.S. Opens, and the retirements of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Is tennis entering a new era?
Evans: Simply stated, yes. Tennis is entering what I anticipate being known as the post-golden era. With four elite champions amassing 20 or more Grand Slams each, this era will most likely be regarded as a transitional era. This seems to be similar to the transition from the golden era of American Men’s tennis in the early 2000s which gave way to a few years of parody. Nowhere has that parody been on display more than here in New York at the National Tennis Center with the last four US Open Men’s and Women’s champions being four different players.
Krass: We are entering into a new era of Tennis and I think we will see more true all court players competing at the top of the Men's and Women's game. We sure will miss Roger and Serena, but it is an exciting time of tennis for sure.
Lewit: Absolutely. It’s an exciting time to be a tennis fan with many new next gen players rising up the rankings and hitting the big stage. I just recently came back from a study trip in Spain where I spent a week at Carlos Alcaraz’s training home and observed his practices up close. I must say that he is the real deal, with great talent and also charisma that is a positive for the game. On the women’s side of the game, Swiatek has been on an amazing run and is having a breakout year. One of the lesser known stories in women’s tennis is the remarkable depth developing in the pro game.
Singh: Absolutely, an era where movement, stamina, all-court tennis skills are essential and players' ability to sustain high intensity goes beyond any levels I have seen in my 30 years developing players. Physical training combined with Mental Toughness Training and skills are more important than ever before in my mind.
There has been a surge in popularity of other racquet sports in recent years. Can this be beneficial to tennis? Why or why not?
Efrim: I think it can be beneficial to tennis, and that these other racquet sports can coexist and thrive along with tennis. There is no racquet sport that is as complex, engaging and rewarding as tennis, both physically and psychologically. So, while some tennis players will try other racquet sports, I believe that they will do so in addition to tennis, not instead of tennis. If anything, I think tennis will benefit from additional interest in racquet sports generally.
Evans: It is too soon to draw any correlations between the many up- and-coming racquet sports and their impact on tennis. The real question we should ask is how these sports will impact the real estate footprint of tennis courts. If they create new spaces, then I can see these sports as feeders into tennis. If they repurpose tennis courts, then I can see these sports as bleeders. With tennis’ two- year growth rate of 27 percent, we are on the right track and look forward to any newcomers helping us increase tennis participation.
Krass: Other Racquet Sports are all an offshoot of tennis and ultimately help to promote our great game. I know many are fearful about the rise in pickleball popularity, but tennis needs a rising star, in racquet sports, to truly evolve into a more exciting game for all!
Singh: Generally speaking, one racquet sport often feeds another, so I do think that the benefits for tennis are there if we can find ways to continue to be inclusive and to open opportunities for people to find the sport. It's also interesting that the surge in other racquet sports is primarily Older Populations that are coming back to the court - and that the social side of the game is driving much of the return. I certainly hope we can leverage off this post-COVID push back to racquet sports!
What fundamental beliefs about tennis technique have you questioned or changed over time?
Efrim: I have changed my views on the forehand follow-through, as well as the stance used for the forehand. Back in the day, players were taught to follow-through and catch the racquet out in front with their non-dominant hand, regardless of the shot they were hitting. They were also taught to hit from a closed stance most of the time. Now, follow-through technique varies based on the specific shot that a player is trying to make. For example, hitting a short angle shot would in most cases warrant a different follow-through than hitting the ball high and heavy. Also, players now use a semi-open or open stances when appropriate, rather than a closed stance.
Evans: My fundamental technical beliefs have remained relatively the same, with slight modifications as we evolve in sports science. Tactically, however, that is a different story in two key areas: use of the drop shot and exploitation of the court’s middle third in singles. After traveling with many players nationally, I firmly believe the drop shot should be layered into tactics early in matches to test an opponents’ vertical mobility and set his/her baseline positioning. This will create more passing lanes in the outer thirds of the court, especially for younger competitive juniors. For exploiting the middle third, the current generation has yet to embrace moving forward willingly so using deep “point builders” can be a great tactic.
Lewit: One of the technical concepts that I have challenged and changed is that players should stay on the ground when learning groundstrokes and the serve. I have developed a method for teaching the groundstrokes and serve with controlled jumping that is much more effective than traditional methods of teaching grounded technique. The game of tennis has become dramatically more airborne over the past few decades. I’m surprised to see so many coaches teaching some old school techniques—such as always staying on the ground—that have clearly become outdated.
Nikolovski: “Correct grips” has been a term that I have always struggled with. At the beginning of my coaching career, I always thought that players must have specific grips in order to perform a good stroke, however over time I have realized that “correct grips” is a pretty strong term, and that in reality there is not one specific set grip for each stroke, but more like the grip has to be within certain parameters.
Perry: In my opinion, fundamentals will always be necessary for the grassroots. There can be slight alterations as the player develops into their own style, but fundamentals of the game don’t change.
How do you teach students to solve problems?
Bloom: By playing a lot of points and asking them many questions, during the point playing part of the session it is important to make sure they know what they did wrong, why they lost certain points, what they did wrong. First I let them come up with the solution on their own, I’ll ask them what they would do differently if they could play the point again and if they don’t get it I’ll tell them.
Krass: We need to, as coaches, ask our students more questions about where and when they experience problems. We need to have them come up with the solution with some subtle leadership involved!
Singh: You can not buy experience - so for me playing more practice sets, playing more matches that don't have anything riding on them allows players to experiment and to try things. Solving Problems is directly correlated to needing to solve them and being creative - which requires more time on playing sets and matches in a practice environment where you must draw on previous experiences.
How do you feel about students who question you?
Carmo: I feel that it is valid as long as the players respect the coaches and they have a valid point. Coaches are also learning every day and some methods work differently with each player. Players can share their ideas and ask why the coach is doing a specific kind of training and what is the purpose of the training. Players also need to trust that the coach knows what he or she is doing. Questioning is ok as long as there is an understanding that the coach wants the best for their players and players feels that the coaches want the best for them.
Efrim: I do not take offense at all when students question me about my approach to coaching, in fact I encourage it, especially in the early stages of the player/coach relationship. One, it shows that they are analyzing their tennis games and what they are being asked to do, which bodes well for them since tennis is such a cerebral sport. Two, a coaching relationship needs to be a collaboration between student and coach, not a one-way street, and you have to encourage dialogue and earn the trust of your students in order to establish a successful one. That can take time, but once trust is established, and the student/coaching relationship is collaborative, the sky is the limit.
Lewit: It depends on the situation and tone of the questions. If the student is being blatantly disrespectful than we are going to have a serious problem. However, if the student has sincere questions and wants to start a dialogue about technique or tactics or anything in his or her game, this type of communication is valuable and should be encouraged by the coach. It’s wrong when the coach has a huge ego and doesn’t tolerate any doubts or concerns from his or her students. Many elite coaches can fall into this pattern of behavior. I believe that no matter how high your level is as a coach or what you’ve accomplished, you are only as good as your current lesson.
Perry: I always welcome feedback from the players. Their perspective is important on how they are feeling day to day to get an accurate depiction on how to further help them.
Can and should junior players have more than one coach?
Carmo: I think that one coach only should be responsible for the player's strokes and development. It can get tricky when players receive information from different coaches. There is not one right away to teach tennis. Some coaches achieve the same results using different methods of coaching. I think it is ok to have more than one coach for different things a long as everyone on the team understands that only one main coach works with the player's strokes and development.
Nikolovski: This is always a difficult conversation as it ultimately depends on the player and the coach(es). In general, having more than one personal coach, or one voice, can only create the issue of too much information and ultimately confuse the player, however certain type of players are able to deal with this, and also if there is good and healthy communication between the coaches that are working with a certain player this can work. The key here is that if there is more than one coach involved with a given player, then the coaches should have the same understanding of what needs to be achieved with the player, and also use similar language with the player. From my experience, the more advanced the player is, the easier it is to involve more coaches, and the less experience and/or the lower level the player is, probably it is best to have only one coach.
Singh: Absolutely, and I feel it is beyond essential that Juniors have more than one coach. The issue lies in the Director of that player’s development being organized, planned and caring enough to bring the team together at one table to meet regularly with the parents andplayer to bring all findings back to base and build the development plan each three months. Being a coach, not a tennis pro, is then an essential characteristic for that leader of the team and Listening skills with the ego being left at the door are as essential as coaching skills.