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Advance Your Understanding Of The Game

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Coco Vandeweghe
2018 US Open women's doubles champion CoCo Vandeweghe of United States in action during final match at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion

My tennis journey continues in so many wonderful ways. I’ve been a player at the junior, high school, college, and professional levels. I coached at the recreational, college, and professional levels. I’ve been part of directing and marketing racquet sports programs at various clubs and special events around the nation. Broadcasting tennis has been part of my journey since 1984, and that has been part of the fun.

I often speak to aspiring junior players about the advantages of a tennis career; that having a Roger Federer-type career is only one of the many options in the game. Tennis opened my life to so many avenues of opportunity. So, I stress to juniors and their parents to keep the focus on personal education. I teach them to draw on the world around them to better their knowledge of the game and how to treat people. Listening to learn is the greatest weapon a person can develop. I ask a lot of questions, and my awareness of how I can pick up effective tools to improve my approach has helped me more than any other aspect in my various careers.

My latest challenge is coaching WTA competitor Coco Vandeweghe (USA). We began in April with the clay court season. I coached her in 2020 during the World Team Tennis season, but being a full-time coach on tour is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced next to actually playing. The laser-like focus to improve every day and battle against the most talented players on the planet is so much fun! When you’re playing — or coaching someone who is playing — you learn right away the incredible intensity in every match, practice, and gym session.

It’s a “win and/or improve constantly” approach. Losing can’t be an option because it’s the reality of the profession. You are evolving into what can win out there or you won’t be out there for very long. You must always advance your understanding of the game. Can you as a player (or coach) adapt to the constant shifts of momentum and strategy during matches?

As a coach, my number-one goal is to empower my player with a confidence that can never be crushed by a loss, losing streak, or injury. I must instill a sense of situational awareness at all times to find their very best performance and identify opponents’ weaknesses. They must develop a mental dashboard of gauges (if you will) that tells the story of the match from walking out to the court to the handshake after. Have you ever seen Nadal at the coin flip or in the tunnel before he walks on the court? He does kangaroo jumps with his opponent right there! It’s done to intimidate the opposition mentally and physically before they have hit the first ball. Nadal sets the intensity tone that the other side must match or must block out completely. I was part of such a situation during one French Open final between Federer and Nadal. It’s too long to explain in this article, but if you ever run into me, I can share it. Basically, Nadal had Federer completely mental and the match was over before it even began. This is after Federer had won the previous three majors in a row.

Knowing what makes you think, feel, and play your very best is the same at every level. The players who master the mind master the game.

The WTA and ATP will be playing all around the country this summer and I hope you get a chance to see some of the fresh faces and old veterans. A couple of great events are the Atlanta Open and Washington D.C. Open. Seeing the great singles and doubles is a blast, but being close to these great players practicing is inspiring. They all work so hard. You might not be able to hit a 120-mph serve, but you could pick up a tip that helps your second serve. Whatever you do, do not try a “tweener!” Keep going for winners.

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