A year later, Andre raced to a 6–3, 3–1 lead over Jim in the final, blistering the ball. He had a break point that was a de facto set point when rain stopped the match. In the locker room, Agassi would later reveal, Bollettieri said absolutely nothing to him. Higueras, huddling with Jim, advised him to take a few steps back, especially on his service return, to buy a little more time and make Andre play more shots. He boosted Jim's confidence with his faith and advice. Jim went on to win that match, which launched him on the three most prolific years of his career. Jose was one of the notorious "clay-court specialists" of an era awash with them. He was legendary for his work ethic, setting standards that a fleet of Spanish stars would soon emulate. I felt that the New World desperately needed a dose of his Old World work ethic.
Cross-cultural projects easily go awry, but Jose had immigrated to the U.S. near the end of his career, settling near Palm Springs with his American wife. They ran horses—and the occasional tennis player, like Jim. When I got the job as head of player development for the USTA in the spring of 2008, Jose was the first man I wanted to call and the last one I did call after interviewing other candidates and half-a-dozen long talks with Jose himself. He agreed to be my Director of Coaching.
Jose was such a grinder in his heyday in the top 10 that some people thought he was just a "pusher," and would teach our kids to wage dull wars of attrition from the baseline. Nothing can be further from the truth. First of all, there's a big difference between a defensive pusher whose only real weapons are consistency and stamina (the species is now extinct) and a grinder, willing to do whatever it takes, all day, to get the job done. Second, Jose had limitations as a player, but to me he's shown none as a coach. If anything, his own shortcomings as a player left him keenly aware of how much more you need than the ability and willingness to grind.
But I still like to get Jose going by saying stuff like: "Just remember, we're still Americans. We still want to pound the fucking ball." Put more politely, I'm telling him that I want to retain that basic American tradition of playing aggressively—playing to finish the point rather than prolong it, playing aggressively to create opportunity. Jose's vision could be called Spanish, although guys like Jimmy Arias and Jim Courier, both out of the Bollettieri Academy, were also pioneers of the aggressive baseline game and violent racket-head acceleration. On a broad, institutional level, the Spanish were the first to pick up on that trend, and they were flexible and wise enough to give their budding players intensive training on hard courts. The technological advances in strings and rackets also enable players to take huge cuts, and the Spanish emphasis on topspin, especially on the forehand side, ensured that the players got sufficient clearance over the net to have a built-in margin of safety no matter how viciously they attacked a ball.
The contemporary player who best represents the ruling style is Rafael Nadal, even though his technique is stylized to the point of seeming radical. You know the guy is no ordinary baseline grinder because of his success on all surfaces, including grass. Granted, Rafa is a rare individual talent. But Jose saw that much of what he did was based on general ideas that could be taught.