The all-time great discusses what today’s players need to succeed, her career regrets and the future of coaching
Q: You’ve been credited with pioneering the tennis “team”—a player’s staff that includes coaches, physios and additional support. What are your thoughts on today’s teams?
Like everything, it’s a balancing act. What is enough information, and what is too much? What is enough preparation? How much physical training do you need? I would rather do too little of everything than too much, because if you do too little, you can make up for it as you go along and figure things out. But if you do too much, it becomes harder to cut the fat, so to speak.
The team is something you must evolve as your career evolves, to make sure that all the bases that need to be covered are taken care of. You also need to take responsibility and be in charge of what’s going on, and how everything is being run. Even though you’re the boss of everybody, you become a cog in this big wheel. If too many things are done for you, then how the heck do you decide what to do when the s--- hits the fan?
Players need to take ownership of their teams, rather than the other way around. There can be too much dependence. It’s a fine line and a constant work in progress. You may have a certain pre-match routine that works for a while, but you need to be able to play with it and adapt. That goes for everything in tennis. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut.
Q: Do you have any regrets about your own experience on tour?
I if I did anything too much, it was training. I could have trained less. I should have played fewer tournaments, fewer matches and not as much doubles. If I had to do it over again, I would have scheduled
myself differently so I could have lasted longer during matches. The people I had working with me, and stuff that I did, I think I took it to another level, but I don’t think I overdid it.
We also didn’t have technology to receive instantaneous feedback in those days, which could have made a difference. Today, there’s just so much information out there. With some new racquets, you can see how much spin you’ve put on the ball, how many balls you missed during a drill, and more. But again, you can get plugged in so much that it just becomes overwhelming.
Q: Which members of your team made the biggest impact on your career?
Originally, when I really started putting everything together, it was Nancy Lieberman. We were working out and hit it off right away. Then I had a guy that was helping me with speed work, a woman who was a champion bodybuilder that helped me with flexibility and strength, and a guy that helped me with a diet. Although I was eating well, I needed to eat smarter before matches.
And of course, I had a coach—the biggest piece of the puzzle—which was Renee Richards. Renee was constant; I needed her all the time. Whereas the others, they tell you what to do, and then once you
know what to do, you don’t need them all the time. It’s kind of like, once you know what you should be eating, you don’t need somebody telling you what you should be eating, because you already know.
Q: On-court coaching has been used in the WTA for some time, is part of Davis Cup and Fed Cup, and has been experimented with at other events. What are your thoughts on the concept and its future?
I have mixed emotions on that. I would have loved to have had a coach with me on the court just so that I could talk to somebody. It would have been helpful as a particular strategy. But oftentimes, on-court coaching is someone talking for a minute and saying absolutely nothing that’s helpful to the player. It depends on the coach, how they coach, and what relationship they have with the player.
I don’t like the fact that it’s on the women’s tour and not on the men’s tour, because then it looks like the women need help and the men don’t. I think it would help the men just as much as it helps the women, if they have the right coach.