For the last few years, famous Brazilian tennis coach Larri Passos has spent time out in East Hampton on Long Island, working as a coach and consultant at the Ross School Tennis Academy (RSTA).
RSTA’s Director of Tennis Vinicius Carmo is a fellow Brazilian who knows Passos from their time in South America, and Carmo has arranged trips for RSTA students to go down to Brazil and see how the players train there. Two years ago, Passos reciprocated that trip by spending time on Long Island and teaching students at the RSTA.
Passos is now a head coach for RSTA, and spends about twenty weeks of the year at the school.
“I fell in love with the school,” said Passos. “I invited my family to come here. My daughter is now a boarding student here, and she also fell in love with it, both the academic aspect and the tennis.”
While he was a talented junior player in his own right, from an early age Passos felt a passion for coaching. After coaching at a club for more than a decade, Passos became a private coach and began working with fellow Brazilian Gustavo “Guga” Kuerten beginning in 1990.
“I met Guga and his father when Guga was young,” recalls Passos. “His father had asked me if I could coach his son. I couldn’t do it at the time, but I made a promise that one day I would coach him. A few months later, his father passed away, and I knew I had to honor my promise. We moved down to the southern part of Brazil, Santa Catarina, and I began coaching him. He was around 14-years-old at the time, and I would coach him from then until he was 32-years-old.”
Under Passos’ tutelage, Kuerten would become the top-ranked player in the world and would win the French Open three times. Their coach-player relationship would last for nearly two decades, and Passos helped Kuerten become an International Tennis Hall of Famer.
“I think the best moment we had was in Lisbon, when he beat Pete Sampras in the semifinals and Andre Agassi in the finals,” said Passos, recalling the only time a player has beaten both Agassi and Sampras in the same tournament. “We both grew up in Brazil, and the dream was always to beat the European and American players. Also, months prior to that, in Miami, he had beaten Agassi in the semifinals but lost to Sampras in the finals. Then he would beat both guys in Lisbon, and he became No. 1 in the world after that. It was fantastic.”
Based on his experience coaching the best player in the world and a multiple- time Grand Slam winner, Passos knows top-level talent when he sees it. He carries that knowledge and keen eye to the junior players he coaches.
“I think I bring a lot of passion to the tennis court. And a big part of my concept is I teach young kids the same way I would teach the pros,” said Passos, who has also coaches Brazilian pro player Thomaz Bellucci. “When I’m teaching them drills or a technique, I tell them that ‘the pros play like this’. I always start first with the technique, then control, and then we go to the speed.”
Asked to name the trait that he looks for when trying to spot a talented young player:
“If I see a player can read the ball well, that’s the first thing that tells me he or she is a special player. If you can read the ball well, you can already see the next shot. Kuerten understood that, his mind was so fast.”
Passos now brings his wealth of knowledge of the game from Brazil to the Hamptons, seeing similarities between his academy and the way RSTA operates.
“My program in Brazil was almost identical to the one here at RSTA,” he said. “In the morning, my players would go to school until about 11:30, and then we would have our transportation pick them up and bring them to tennis. So to combine academics with tennis, I think RSTA is doing it the right way with this system. I hope we’re able to continue that and do even more. Your mind needs to be focused all the time, so it helps to do both together. And I love that this is the way RSTA runs its program.”
Passos officially became a United States citizen earlier this year, and is embracing the challenge of trying to develop a potential American major champion, notably a French Open champion.
“I want to bring a Roland Garros title to an American man,” said Passos. “I think the key is to establish consistency on clay courts, and that comes from experience. I had a talk with Jim Courier recently and we talked about how we need to have Americans playing more tournaments in Europe to develop that experience. We have all the resources here in America, but we need to do more.”
Passos has brought his energy and passion for tennis, as well as his track record of success, to the players at the RSTA. His infectious personality and love for teaching is evident in any class or program he is running, and Passos is eager to continue teaching all he has learned in this game to this new crop of players and students.
“I believe in academics, and finding the right balance between academics and tennis. That’s what RSTA is all about, and the opportunity they have given me here has been an amazing experience,” he said. “I work with my heart, and I love passing on what I have learned to this new generation of players.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org