"Robert," I answered. "My guys have called you four times. I kept on top of that. And as I understand it, you never returned their calls."
Great players and top coaches like to be wooed and cajoled. They act and probably feel they have the key to success, and maybe they do. But they only want to reveal it at a price. They don't want to call, they want to be called, and not by just anyone. When the organization does reach out and makes the call, the results can sometimes be bizarre.
I approached one Grand Slam legend about helping us out, partly because I'd read about this player's willingness to help the program if the USTA would only reach out. Well, I reached out, with realistic expectations. I suggested that the player commit to showing up a certain number of days at one or another of our practice facilities. I wouldn't even ask the player to fly or spend a night or two away from his family. Eventually, we got around to talking about money. When I suggested that we'd pay the player $75,000 for a pretty modest commitment of time, staggered throughout the year, the player promised to get back to me.
The response was this terse text message: "Add a zero."
Like I said, on their terms...either financially or in some other fashion. Few of the iconic figures in the American game have stepped forward and said, "Listen, I want to help. Tell me how I can be of most use to you, and maybe we can work it out." Maybe I'm nuts, but that seems like the way it ought to work. But everyone wants to be the chief, not the Indian. I lose interest quickly when a big-name player says he or she wants to help, but only if his name is on a tennis stadium somewhere, or on a big check that I could never justify cutting—not even in my own mind. One exception to this trend is the former two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin. I approached her cautiously, wondering whether she'd buy into the philosophy of our program. Tracy was one of Robert Lansdorp's first great success stories. She hit incredibly clean, precise, flat strokes—all Lansdorp trademarks. And unlike many of Robert's other protégés, Tracy remained loyal to him, partly because they were in some ways kindred spirits: frank, outspoken, tough. What if we hired Tracy, because of her background and status, and she went rogue there and told the kids something entirely at odds with what they'd been hearing every other day of the week from our full-time coaches?
And there was the ever-present compensation issue. What if we couldn't afford her? What if we went through our discussions and she came back with, "Add a zero."
My concerns were unfounded, and it made me realize it wasn't me who was out of step. Tracy listened, asked all the right questions, and decided that she could endorse our approach and help promote it—and she quickly developed into one of our most valued assets, bringing enthusiasm and passion to the job. Tracy wanted to be paid, but it was mainly because she knew that you get what you pay for—getting a check would take her sense of responsibility to the next level.