Australian Open 2012 - A slam to remember

Written by Dan Kiernan

As I sit here, a few weeks on from what was a brilliant couple of weeks out in Australia for our Soto Tennis Academy (STA) boys Josh Ward-Hibbert and Liam Broady, I look back with nothing but fond memories of the experience, and not just because they won the Boys Doubles title (but it helped!). Going to any Grand Slam is a great experience, but going as a coach gave me the opportunity to see Melbourne Park in all its glory.

V2I7-DanKiernan1Sharing a tournament car with Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, watching our own STA player Valeria Savinykh qualify for his first Slam Main Draw, getting the chance to go on court with Roger Federer, when Liam warmed him up before his semi-final against Rafael Nadal. Roger, was full of stories of Juniors, as we played juniors together and had lots of positive things to say about the British players at the time, in particular Simon Dickson, a British player who beat Federer in his junior days but unfortunately didn’t progress in the senior game. It was surreal, but really just felt like talking to a mate... until I saw him strike the first ball. The customary RF Forehand. The practice was surprisingly low intensity and he strolled around trying some different shots, getting Liam to kick up balls to his backhand for him to slice and dice and work out a way to carve through Rafa. It also stood out to me that he hit `over` every serve he faced from Liam, maybe a tactic he is trying to employ to stop Rafa taking the initiative against him. It certainly worked in set one, but struggled to maintain over 5 sets.

But the real reason I was there…Josh Ward-Hibbert & Liam Broady…I have been fortunate enough to work with Josh Ward-Hibbert for the last two years and he has had a massive change of fortunes in his results over the last 3 months including moving into the World (Junior) top 20 and picking up doubles titles at the prestigious Orange Bowl in Florida as well as the Australian Open (with Liam). I have been asked the question as to why the dramatic change in form?

The answer is 10 years of hard work! Not just with myself over the last 2 years, but all his previous coaches….but the number one reason is Josh himself. Josh will, and continues to control his own destiny through hours on the court, in the gym, and off the court, from what he eats, to how he sleeps. Little decisions, like giving up his New Year at home with his family and friends to spend 2 weeks training on the hard outdoors in Sotogrande before we flew off to Australia. Those players who are willing to make the extra sacrifices and put in the extra yards WILL seek their reward in whatever form that comes.

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In Australia, for the first time we saw Josh looking like the player we envisioned 2 years ago and have worked towards. Did this change in the 2 weeks prior to the event? Of course not... When Josh was losing all those matches 6 months ago, was it because he was no good, or because he was not working hard enough? No, not at all. These things take time. Committing to the right way of playing and then working, working, working in a purposeful way towards those goals. The secret for me is not getting too `up` when you win and not getting too `down` when you lose. Keep a philosophical view of your tennis and always keep the bigger picture in mind whether you are a player, parent or coach. Not easy I know!
Has Josh now got it cracked because he is a Junior Grand Slam Champion? Has he heck! And he knows this and is already cracking on with his next stage of development, this never stops!  Which leads me into my second example from Australia- Andy Murray!

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Melbourne with Andy Murray and his new coach, the legend that is Ivan Lendl. Andy has taken the decision to continue to develop his game rather than resting on his laurels as one of the World’s Best Players, and he has entrusted Ivan (and his team) with this- it is an on-going process and it was refreshing to see first hand. In my opinion Ivan has brought a calm to the team and is the godfather of a wealth of knowledge and talent that sits within the Murray camp. He has helped Andy to commit to taking the ball on further up the court, especially in the key moments. And lastly, and possibly more importantly the positive self talk in helping him believe that he can be a Grand Slam Champion and I believe he will.

The key point I am trying to make is that we never stop learning; Rome was not built in a day! And persistent hard work DOES pay off! Josh and Liam got what they deserved through sheer hard work and persistence, and they developed greatly throughout the 2 weeks. I always like to see good people who do good things, get rewarded and this was a prime example of this.

This is the same journey we all go through as tennis coaches at any level and we must not lose sight of the vision we have for our players and the hard work that is needed to achieve these visions. Onwards and Upwards!

Play to Win