Later, Jose will do the same drill, but this time he'll be on the other side of the net and feed off his racket. He does the same thing, only this time it's tougher because the ball is coming at the student faster. That makes it easier to create pace, an important factor, but it also makes it imperative to know how to receive pace—and we're very big on that. Watch Nadal and you'll see that he's exceptional at hitting a great, hard shot while moving backward.
Some of the kids in our program were already taught what might be called the American way, and it was amazing to see their reaction. They would try to step in, or forward, to meet the ball during a progression drill and of course they would miss it. That traditional and once useful notion of trying to take every ball on the rise isn't as effective as it once was; it represented playing tennis in a straight line, rather than a circle.
Back in the day, the idea of actually teaching someone how to hit an aggressive shot while backing up would have been considered heresy—if the very idea could even have been conceived.
But this is the era of heresy; teaching American kids the Spanish way to play, but with a greater emphasis on finishing points, is just part of it. And while things in the near term look a little shaky for our mature juniors, we're very encouraged by the performance of the kids in our sixteen and fourteen-and-under age divisions. .... My job as head of player development is mostly about management; in some ways, I'm a bureaucrat, reviewing salaries, or trying to figure out what to do about lousy food at our training camps. Meanwhile, guys like Jose Higueras and his two top aides, Jay Berger (head of men's tennis) and Ola Malmqvist (head of women's tennis), are out doing the fieldwork.
As a manager, I'm in charge of budgets and hiring. I know how the USTA is perceived in the coaching community. Everyone criticizes the organization, but everyone also wants its stamp of approval. Everyone thinks the USTA has a huge checkbook, and hopes to collect a big check. The same people criticize the USTA for spending money. And everyone thinks he can help turn the American game around and restore our former glory, but almost every one of them wants to do it on his terms.
That impulse is especially strong among well-known coaches and former players, especially great ones, including my own brother John. The hearts of most of these guys are in the right place. Nick Bollettieri, Rick Macci, Robert Lansdorp—guys like that have an unbelievable passion for the game. Many of them have been critical in the development of players who went on to be great champions. And almost all of them have at some point or another gotten screwed for their efforts—written out of history by a fame-hogging parent who suddenly turns out to be his daughter's only "real coach," or sometimes just because the advisers of the new star are terrified that the coach who invested so much in the player is going to want a cut of the action.
When these prominent names, former top players as well as coaches known wide and far, are asked by the press, they often say they're ready and eager to help the USTA but the organization never calls. That's an easy story to write, and a large institution like the USTA is a high-value target. Robert Lansdorp, who's had a hand in shaping some of the best players of three generations, once complained, "How come you guys (player development) never call me?"