Kaupunki Ranskassa vaihtui viikonlopun aikana Pariisista Metziin, jossa pelataan tällä viikolla vuoden viimeinen ATP-kisa. Kisa on myös minulle viimeinen ATP-pisteitä kerryttävä kilpailu tällä kaudella, joten olisihan se hienoa päättää kausi menestyksekkäästi. Pelaan tällä viikolla jälleen uuden parin, Andreas Miesin, kanssa, ja avaamme pelimme tiistaina kello 13 paria Bublik/Shevchenko vastaan.
Palataan kuitenkin tuohon otteluun vähän tarkemmin huomisen matsin jälkeen, sillä nyt on kuten luvattua aika päästää valmentajani Boris ääneen. Boris puhuu nykyään suomen kieltä varsin hyvin, mutta tekstin tuottaminen sujuu helpommin englanniksi. Niinpä tässä tulee sekä blogini ensimmäinen vierailevan kirjoittajan teksti että ensimmäinen vieraalla kielellä kirjoitettu teksti. Nauttikaa!
I believe best tennis coaches are best scanners. Like those new machines in renovated Helsinki-Vantaa airport, when you don’t need to take anything off your bag on a security check anymore, since it recognise liquids, gadgets, sharp elements and similar things by itself. The only difference with machines, is that tennis coach has to recognise the reasons of technical, tactical, physical or mental imperfections which are the reason of mistakes, and find opportunities or capacities to correct them.
For me, as a tennis coach, coaching is not only what I say, but also when, why and how. Sometimes I can say 5 words during the whole 2 hours session, or sometimes I can talk non-stop for an hour instead. It could be also that you invest in future by telling something what player is not ready to take now, but he will remember the words later in a couple of days, weeks, month or years. It all depends on the player’s receptivity and timing. Knowing “when” is about knowing player’s personality, mentality, temperament, background, motivation, off-court life situation, values, believes, physical and technical skills, learning capacity, moment he is in, expectations and many many more.
This four weeks Harri was in the most coachable state! He was receivable for any message, open for dialogue and committed. And luckily stayed healthy most of the time as well as his partner, which is not easy sometimes when traveling so much in these part of the season and having two kids at home.
Since cooperation with Lloyd came to an end, the team got smaller because most of the people around him while traveling were from the British side. But we’ve been talking about it for years, about how can he maintain a backup plan if this happens one day. That’s why I was traveling and overseeing the methods and ways he was coached during the season, while financially and logically having 3 tennis coaches on some weeks may felt like “too much”.
I learned a lot from Brits, so did Harri. They definitely taught him bunch of skills for doubles, and played a big role in his career high ranking. Louis Cayer has opened the secrets and set the standards of the best doubles game in the world. But I feel like tennis is not about specific skills only. And don’t get me wrong, Louis is an unbelievable tennis coach besides all. He has a perfect sense, timing and endless knowledge of bringing the right message to the player. But having him all the time was impossible for many reasons and it affected the performance.
To me tennis is a performance sport. By performance I mean doing it better than the opponent on a scoreboard. Not being perfect! I prefer to leave strive for perfection for a practice court. But good enough to win the match. And for me, player’s performance is “the heart” of the work I do, or the motive of it. It is all what matters at the end of all. It’s also a reason to pick up a drill, choose a type of warm up, to talk or not to talk, ask a certain question. It is a reason to agree or disagree on player’s opinion, to make a decision and set a “direction” to move in. No matter doubles or singles it’s about being yourself, which may help you the most under pressure. By being yourself I mean to sticking to the decisions you make according to your personality or nature.
And as some have recognised, sometimes in 2023 the performer Harri was missing. The one with natural emotions, creative solutions, enjoyment from the toughest moments of pressure. A problem solver who never gives up and finds the way to escape from the most difficult situations on court. It makes no sense to speculate why the performer was missing, but the fact is – that we had to find his real playing identity for his best performance. So we started to do it after the loss in 2nd round match at US Open against Olivetti/Galloway from a discussion.
To me he started to look for excuses more than opportunities, became too robotic, didn’t want to consider alternative drills besides what he did most of the time, stayed negative, unsatisfied, closed for discussion or dialogue. We’ve talked about all these in the locker room after the match and I had to leave back on the same day to Finland because of having a newborn at home, and since Harri had coach Dan Kiernan helping him till the end of the tournament anyway. Well it turned to be a Grand Slam title which I didn’t see live, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Not the last time my player win a slam, I believe so 🙂
And I felt like from then on he started to work with the proper approach and in the right direction. Not immediately tho. It took time.
It’s funny, first time we’ve seen each other after US Open mixed title (begging of September) only when he came back from Asia (mid October), when I was able to come to work with Harri only for an hour on that day due to a tight schedule. And the phrase he started with was – “groundstrokes feel shit, net game feels shit, serve feels shit, returns feel shit, I will be playing ad-side next weeks – help me!” Not easy, when you have 5 first round losses in 8 last tournaments.
Well… I love challenges, so how could I say no!? And I had the most important part in successful coaching – player who is looking for help and open for it. Since July it was only the second proper practice week (half/week before Washington and full week before US Open), and it was nearly the best we ever had. I’m sure the session in Varisto tennis club, before Stockholm, made a difference. We went deep into forehand technique, since he was over-rotating on the front leg after contact on the body weight transfer, so the shots were imbalanced and power generation inefficient. It took him nearly 200 reps from the basket to find it slowly.
But the most important shot to solve was serve – since double faults affected his game quite a bit in the last couple of tournaments. And believe me, he had to dig deep to find it. I created a drill which I call “pressure resistance” – serve 6 times with your 2nd serve into 6 zones, one-by-one. One zone is 1/3 width of the service box; directions – wide, body, T; with 6 balls. So you can’t miss a ball, if you miss a spot you start from zero. Do it until you make it. Guess how much time it took him? 40 minutes!!! 40 minutes to make 6 serves. Even some juniors I work with, would complete the task in no more than 15 minutes.
All what I did was just giving balls for a new try. We even had to book an additional hour (besides the 2 hours we did) of court for it, since it was not enough time and I believed he needed to go through the struggle on that day to actually learn how to overcome the challenge. It works simply – if you make 6 serves in a row to 1/3 size of a service box, you definitely serve somehow your second serve to a big zone under pressure once or twice. It’s like a contrast training.
And when someone thinks it’s mental only, I can guarantee not only! It is mental in some way, but all mental is physical at the end of all for all of us – humans. It is also a skill of doing a 2nd serve, picking up the right spot, with the right pace, spin, margin, as well as proper toss height and rhythm. An exercise like this teaches you to do it on an instinct level. And instincts will appear in a match no matter how much you will try to avoid it, while knowledge can be forgotten.
He was not doing enough of similar types of exercises, and lack of reps turned into poor serving performance under pressure. We have to admit the fact that serve was not the strongest part of Harri’s game ever, but who told it should be? With a decent serving stats (by far not the best in top10) in 2022 he ended up having his best year and became #7 in the world some time later. Why? Because he found the way to hold service games with his 2nd serve, and not to overthink the case. As simple as that. He also can hurt by serving spots at a decent speed, like this week in Paris.
Getting back to our “pressure resistance drill” we did the same exercise in Basel and guess how much time it took him? Not more than 2 minutes!!! From a second try he made it clean, with an excellent quality of serves. And did it two times in a row. No doubt he can hold his serve with second serves only, since soon he will be able to hit the zone with closed eyes 🙂 But do you know the funniest part? My main goal wasn’t the 2nd serve only… but also the 1st serve 🙂 when you have a plan B, plan A is easier to implement right?!
We also did a few technical-tactical adjustments, like paying attention to the right leg at the loading phase, consistency of rhythm, and adding flat wide serve at ad-score which was not an option lately for some reason. He has a tendency to do a serve with hand rip, and sometimes it even works. But in long term the serve won’t develop in the right direction and it may collapse at the peak of pressure unpredictably since you are dependent on a hand swing, not a full body motion. Your hand can get tight due to fatigue or nervousness and it can turn against you.
Important to notice. One drill doesn’t necessarily work as a “painkiller” against all aches all the time. This is just an example of finding the right tool at the right time after scanning. With an idea to measure the progress (on his serve), make purposed repetitions and setup a proper state of mind.
As we can see now focusing on serve and performance skills four weeks ago and sticking to it, turned out to work pretty well. In Stockholm he served decently, but got sick with fever. Basel and Paris was nearly the best serving and performance overall in a while. Besides a couple of good practice sets without being broken, in Basel lost to a tournament winner while having a match point after a decent match against young Swiss talents.
In Paris reached semis with 3 excellent wins against the top teams. Interesting to see what will happen in Metz. There are many reasons for this little success. For some it may take a year to get out of the hole, or “loosing first round” mode. It could be easily a couple of dozens of reasons why Harri picked it up… and one of them is definitely Mate. He brought into trainings excellent quality. His groundstrokes, pace, intensity and presence day-to-day was on a world-class level, besides the experience he has. He served well and kept consistency of basics (serve, return, server/returner partner) high without downs. He is hungry for wins. He is definitely not done with his achievements. And since doubles is a team sport it matters a lot…
Hope you got a better idea of the insides of coaching. Sincerely, Boris.
Kiitokset minunkin puolestani Borikselle syväluotaavasta analyysista ja osuvasta kuvauksesta tämän syksyn tapahtumista. Niille, jotka jaksoivat lukea tänne asti paljastettakoon taas yksi ensi kauden uusista neluripareista. Tällä kertaa vuorossa on pari Santiago Gonzales/John Peers. Mielenkiintoista!