Stay up-to-date with what’s going on at SotoTennis Academy with our monthly blog from Head Coach Dan Kiernan.
As well as giving us an insight into what life is really like at the Academy, you will find some stories from his travels with the players both on and off the court!
December 2012 - 2012-The year for Sport!
2012- the year of Sport. Anyone watching SPOTY last Sunday would be testament to that. A year for all involved in sport to feel highly motivated and ready for 2013, it has given us reason to do what we do and most importantly has inspired a generation. I know it has inspired me!
Over the last couple of weeks I have been reviewing 2012 for SotoTennis and even though we don't have Bradley Wiggins in our set up we do have some very notable successes and some more subtle but equally important and proud achievements.
Starting with the important people- The players.
January could not have started better, we had our very own Grand Slam Champions! Full-Time Player Josh Ward-Hibbert alongside STA Access Player Liam Broady won the Junior Australian Open Doubles. A moment that will stay with me for a long time and a very proud one at that. Josh also went on to make the quarter finals of the singles in Australia, as well as 5 Grade A ITF events Doubles titles in a row and a career high ranking of 9 in the world juniors.
In the same week, we had our first professional player qualify for a Grand Slam in Valeria Savinykh before losing to eventual semi-finalist Sara Errani. Valeria went on to break the top 100 in the world under our teams guidance and notably Dominic Mahboubi who did a great job with Valeria. She achieved this by qualifying and winning her first round in Miami Masters beating a top 40 WTA player along the way.
We have had 10 different FT Players competing at ITF level and notable ranking increases for Sam Bayda and Peter Bothwell and then Alex Stiteler moved into the Top 200 ITF rankings with 2 ITF tournament wins.
David Miladinovic and Jake Fisher have competed well at Tennis Europe Events with both rising significantly int he rankings, but more importantly have started their International tennis Journey. Alongside Bradley Stoneham who has had victories at 2 Southern Spain Championship Tournaments, the future is bright in this age category. Morad Mackey is working hard to join this group.
Dakota Norton, Danny Bristow, Andy Lynk, Josh Curwen , Chaney Norton and James Mackinlay, have all experienced the 'winning' feeling in Spain and are ready to try their luck on the International scene in 2013
At the futures level, Josh Ward Hibbert and Mikey Suleau have both picked up their first world rankings and will be joined on the tour with TJ Bate, Ryan Moffat and Callum Henderson in 2013.
We welcome new FT Players Mariella Blackwell, Isaac Sturgess and Ryan Mcelvenny who all bring the qualities we look for in a STA Player and we are excited about what lies ahead for them.
With regards to our Access Players- did someone say Strawberries and Cream!??
Freddie Nielsen and Jonny Marray only went and won Wimbledon! Words cannot describe how happy and proud I was for the boys on that day in July- the same day as my sons Christening and another day that will live long in the memory. We hope the boys will be back to meet you all in 2013 to share their inspirational story with you.
We have had visits from US Open Junior Finalist Liam Broady, Top 200 in the world ATP Doubles James Cluskey, Evan Hoyt top 50 in the world ITF, former European number 1 U14 Ana Brogan. U12 National Champion the last 2 years Luke Hammond and Finn Bass. Katie Swann National Finalist, George Hutchins National Semi-Finalist, Joe Tyler and Will Davies (both top 5 in the UK) and many many more. All who have brought something different to the Academy and in turn we hope that we have provided the same in return.
We have an exciting partnership with Millfield School forming as well as a really exciting partnership in the pipeline which I hope to announce early 2013.
As on SPOTY- all the athletes thanked their 'support staff'. Do not underestimate the importance of these guys behind the scenes. 18 months ago I had to fill all these positions and not very well may I add. So, now at the end of 2012 it gives me great pleasure to look at the STA team, the experts we have in the team with the number one quality 'they care' and boy do they work.
I am excited to announce our New Head Coach is Nathan Rooney who has once again proved to everyone what an asset he is on and off the court. Nathan has also been completing his LTA Masters Performance Course which is no mean feat and certainly a massive asset to all at the Academy. We have added to the coaching team with Joe Dixon, who has slotted right into his role and is a big hit with all at the Academy..
Our Sports Science 'support team' has gone from strength to strength. It is hard to imagine that Luke Passman has only been with us for 12 months, as he has transformed the way our players are looked after from a Strength and Conditioning point of view, as well as the attention to detail been executed in monitoring of training loads at the Academy. We have been joined by Rob Chave in recent months who has strengthened the team significantly and is working with Luke to ensure our players continue to move forward physically and ultimately we have them on the tennis court ready to play in good health.
Nick Morgan, a performance director alongside myself for the Academy, as well as leading the Sports Science team has brought in Hannah Macleod to run our nutritional programme- we are extremely lucky to have Hannah and she has added such a nice blend of knowledge and 'aura' as she brings in her Bronze Medals from London 2012- and Yes Hannah we all saw you on SPOTY! (Hannah was a key member of the GB Women's Hockey Bronze medal Team)
Christo Schultz arrived from the States a few weeks ago and has already added value to the team with his great hitting ability and energy that lifts the place.
On the Operations side, my amazing wife, Vicki, holds this ship together and has to put up with my obsessive moods and demands. A special woman to run our family and our business while I flap around!
Our Education Manager Louise Tavares has been brilliant and provides the players with a strong ground for the future. This alongside our partnership with Sotogrande International School which grows year on year puts our student-athletes in a strong position.
Over the last 12 months we have had 2 players move onto US College both with full scholarships. Ella Taylor went to LSU in September and Joe Smithyman arrives in the States early 2013 to Niagra University. This is something we hold very close to us at the Academy.
The players have been looked after with great passion by Lorraine and Billy Bate as 'Accommodation Managers' - a role that is integral to the success of the Academy. Thanks guys!
We have been fortunate to have some great press this year on a National Level
- Times Newspaper UK
- BBC 5 live radio
- Sky TV
- LTA website
Our STA Graduation piece has been a big success. 90% of our players have completed 70% or more of the scheme including skills such as
- String rackets
- Writing a blog for the website
- Looking after a budget on a trip
- Entering/withdrawing from events
- Booking flights
Reading back over this e mail it sounds like it is fiction and I am making it all up. I just pinched my self and can assure you all that it is not. I could not feel more positive as the Director of this Academy in what we have all collectively achieved. Nothing is perfect and we will continue to have difficult days, but we must keep our eyes forward on the clear objectives we all have in place and continue to take baby steps towards them. Taking care of what is in our control on a daily basis is not a bad place to start. This Academy is built on 'good people' and will remain so over the coming years.
I will leave you all now to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2013, lets start there and see where the rest of the year takes us.
I hope you enjoy the video of the Academy- maybe puts it better than my blogs. http://vimeo.com/55550315
Play to Win
September 2012 - The Grand Slams
So as the Grand Slam year has come to an exciting end, I felt it relevant to summarise the 4 Grand Slams which are all unique and special, from my experience at them this year.
Fan friendly, modern, hot, but changeable and set in an amazing city that offers city life, beach life and ticks so many boxes- Melbourne!
Integration with Pro’s
It offers a great opportunity to 'mix' with pros, with juniors sharing the cafeteria and many get the opportunity to hit with the top guys. With it being so far away the players have smaller teams around them maybe?
In the first week, the crowds were great with the outside courts really filling. As the second week drew to an end, there were lots of empty seats and the boys doubles was played on big court in front of just 50 people.
I will always have fond memories of the 2012 Australian Open with STA’s Josh Ward-Hibbert making the quarters of the boys singles and winning the doubles title with STA Access player Liam Broady.
Another first for me.
Compact and full of history. Beautiful courts, but not ideal for practice with lack of courts. The Hotel was not good for junior players and spread out.
Integration with the Pro’s
JWH hit with Rafa, so what can I say! They share locker rooms and the cafeteria and you feel part of the ‘Slam’. Great for the juniors.
Up and down. They love a good ‘Booooo’ do the French crowd and this certainly inspired Andy Murray’s victory over Frenchman Richard Gasquet earlier in the tournament. The outside courts were becoming sparse by the time the juniors arrived.
STA did not have so much success, so less good memories! I did make my BBC Radio 5 Live debut which will always be a fond memory and JWH hit with the king of Roland Garros- Rafa!
The most unique and prestigious tennis tournament in the world. You 'feel' it's history and tradition as you walk in the gates. The smell of the courts and the pristine way they are manicured stands out. Juniors stay at the Roehampton University dorm rooms which never goes down well with the National Coaches!
Integration with the Pro’s
Players mix at Arongi park practice courts, but players are separated for food where the juniors could be looked after a little better with their nutrition. The select few get to hit with the top guys.
By far the biggest daily crowds. The only slam where the outside courts are buzzing and supported. Once you see the other 3 slams I believe I now 'get' Wimbledon even more. The grass, the rules, the all whites... Special.
Bad memories with JWH injuring himself 30 minutes before his first match, but any Wimbledon experience is an amazing one and this was no different! Access players Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen played their 3rd tournament together as wildcards, going on to lift the Men’s Doubles title! Wow!
Wow! Big, brash, fan friendly, cool, entertainment. I love it! The juniors stay in the Grand Hyatt so get to live the city with its perfect location.
Integration with the Pro’s
I would say it is the least amount of integration with pros and juniors. Even though they share a cafeteria, the top guys have been in hiding it seems.
A US Open night cannot be matched! The fans come flooding in for night matches and it is very much a 'hot ticket' in town. The same cannot be said for day time matches where the stands look bare!
JWH had a good singles win before losing to an eventual semi finalist in 3 sets. He also lost in a heart breaking quarter final doubles after having 2 match points. STA Access Player Liam Broady lost in the final of the singles. Lots of fun matches to watch and lessons to learn.
Overall, it has been a fantastic year personally for my experience and development as a coach, and for Josh Ward-Hibbert who has reached World number 12. Also for the Academy, with exposure on the highest stage. Andy Murray’s team all came up to me and asked about the STA. I never told them about it, so it shows word is out there on what our team is trying to achieve.
Looking forward to another great year ahead.
Play to Win
September 2012 - The 'Modern day' Slam
I have to admit I have fallen in love with the city and the tournament. There is so much here, such a vibe, the city is alive and the climate has been perfect ( to date…)
The tournament brings a different feel to the other slams and in particular Wimbledon and its tradition with the loud music at change of ends, the noise from the crowd during the point as the players slug it out and of course the ‘night matches’..
I write this as we travel back from Andy Murrays demolition of Milos Raonic under the lights. The US Open makes tennis ‘cool’ and in an era where kids are fighting for all that is cool this can only be good for the sport.
Anyway, back to the real reason I am here.. Josh Ward-Hibbert, our own SotoTennis Academy player and I hope to get across a little insight into how a day works at a ‘junior slam’
Josh was second match on after 11am, so we set about a plan by working backwards on the basis that he will be ready to play for 12.30.
Josh eats breakfast at 8.15am with the help of our nutritionist Nick Morgan (who we are lucky enough to have with us on this trip). We then get the 9am bus into Flushing Meadows. It is bizarre, but very effective here in NY, as they have big coaches that leave the hotel every 30 minutes. Normally at grand slams you call and they send a car to pick you up. We have been on buses with Brad Gilbert, Mark Petchey, Judy Murray and many of the senior players at different times. All sitting in NYC traffic together, if you have good ears you pick up all kinds of gossip!
We get to the centre for 9.30 and head to pick up rackets from the stringer, then to the gym for his pre hab work and warm-up for practice. Nick is in Joshs ear making sure he is hydrating and taking in the right fuel for the battle. I take the opportunity while he is on the bike to start to discuss the match and the game plan for today. I know Josh so well now after 3 years of working with him that I like to keep the chat light and the message very clear. Today we have 2 very clear areas that we talk about and we leave it at that.
Josh is looking very intense in his practice and is showing great footwork around the ball which is an area we have worked on lots. I can tell he has his ‘game face’ on. I want to make sure he hits enough serves, as he has been out injured for a few weeks and has not had his rhythm on his serve, so I remind him of the time and that we only have 10 mins left of the court. I don’t normally ‘coach’ before a match, but we spend a little time talking over technical points that are our ‘go to’ points on his serve and it seems to help, well he thinks so which is the main thing!
Back to the locker room for a quick shower before taking on a light snack again and having one last light chat about the match- only to reiterate the same 2 areas. I then leave Josh to be on his own for 30-40 mins before the match.
This is the sort of preparation we are after from Josh all the time and being so close at hand to educate this culture is key to his development, but I must say he is starting to act professional and this is becoming habit which is very encouraging, as was his performance in a 6/4 6/2 victory over a hot up-and-coming prospect from Korea.
Day off during the tournament
Today was slightly different, as Josh was only playing doubles and not till 6pm. Originally, we had decided we would get the 7am bus to the centre so we could get a good practice, I must stress Josh decides and drives this which is perfect for me and what you want from your player. We then spoke and I mentioned that it may mean being at the centre for 14 hours in a row and 12 before he plays. Josh decided that practicing a bit later would be better. It meant he could sleep for longer and have a later breakfast. We then went down to the club where he got 45 mins with his doubles partner Evan Hoyt and then we lucked out and got another 50 mins on the courts to work on some specific areas. This is almost unheard of at a professionalevent to find such court time, as it is normally dog eat dog for every minute on a court and 4 players to a court. We did not complain.
At lunch we sat with Evan and Ben Haran (Evans coach) and talked through some doubles tactics. This was to be the first time they have played together, so it was important they knew each others strengths and weaknesses on the doubles court, as it really is a team game and they must compliment each other to go far here..
In the end they played at 5.30pm due to a quick moving court (matches did not last long on their court) When they went on, it did no seem like we had been at the club all day and the decision to sleep in for longer was a good one on this occasion. Due to the uncertain nature of match length, weather this is not always the case, as you are relying on things out of your control.
Another good day for the boys, with a strong team performance to advance to the next round.
Cool downs, massages and refueling is on the agenda after the match and then sleep to go again for a ‘match day’ tomorrow.
I for one am loving my 4th slam experience of the year and am learning all the time.
Excited to get back to my team and players back at STA in a few days.
Play to Win
July 2012 - Wimbledon:The Highs and Lows!
From an STA point of view - well all of the above!
It started what feels like years ago with Valeria Savinykh who lost in the last round of qualifying, but was not to be denied a chance on the hallowed turf at SW19. She quallied with her partner Mariana Lucic for the women's doubles and made it through to the second round.
Next to have a go were our Access Players, Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen, both good mates of mine. We were members of the same German league team for 5 years (TC Logopak) and Jonny put up with my snoring for a couple of years while we lived together. As well as Jonny and Freddie know each other, they have not played together many times. In fact when they were with us at STA last year getting ready for the clay court season, the following week they faced each other in the final of the Challenger .
Anyway, they got together to play 1 day before the tournament after being granted a Wild Card into the event, unheard of really for a Brit-Dane partnership.. Freddie`s Scouser accent fooling the AELTC! In the first week these boys got through 2 tough matches- in the 2nd round against Ivo Karlovic (and Frank Moser) and I have never seen anyone half volley his serve before…never mind for winners- Freddie did! Then on the middle Saturday as the junior event started they took out the 8th seeds who they know so well from our National Premier League Club days - Aisam Qureshi and Jean Julien Rojer in a mouth-watering 5 setter..
As I said above the juniors also started on the middle Saturday.. Liam Broady (STA Access player) was playing, with his coach Mark Hilton continuing to do a great job. Liam was ready to play and he cruised through his first round.. Monday (2nd week) was to STA Full-Time Player Josh Ward-Hibbert's turn.. I know first-hand how prepared and excited Josh was for his `home slam` as he put it the day before.. I must say I really fancied his chances, he was serving big, looking sharp and had found a nice ideal performance state in the proceeding weeks.. This was all to blow up in his face while he hit a serve an hour before his match. I could see from his face he was in trouble, but being the brave lad Josh is, he tried to play, but to no avail. Josh was forced to retire, and give up his Junior Wimbledon chances.
Even though Josh and Liam tried to play the doubles (they were 2nd seeds) and won a match somehow, serving at 30% was not going to cut it against the best juniors in the world. Very disappointing for the young lads, but also the reality of an extremely difficult sport- as long as you can keep a level head throughout your career it is easier to ride the inevitable highs and lows.
Liam then had a win over 14-year-old Kozlov from the States. Remember the name, he is going to be a superstar - unfortunately, only to lose a tight 3rd round match to Couchaud from France. His Wimbledon never really got going like last year, but he will continue to work hard under Marks expert guidance.
So back to Fred and Jonny.. Into the quarters- they couldn’t could they!? I had jokingly remarked to Kevin (Jonny`s dad) after their second round match that they were going to win Wimbledon if they continued to play like that. I can assure you it was a joke, even though they were playing extremely well and looked so calm out there… like they belonged on that stage.
Myself and Mark Hilton had watched most of the quarter-final only for Josh and Liam to be called for their Junior Doubles whilst Jonny and Fred had moved into the 5th set of their quarter-finals. In between cheering the young guns on, we had a sneaky look on the Wimbledon app on the iphone where it told us the boys were serving for the match..
A semi-finalist at Wimbledon doubles gains entry to the `last 8 club`.. Wimbledon member for life, unlimited tickets, their own area during the championship alongside the greats, we did not want to miss this moment, so we ran across to court 3 to see Jonny serving it out. Euphoria carried around the stadium, they had made the semi-finals of Wimbledon, 3 months earlier playing in places such as Sarajevo to climb the ladder- they couldn’t...could they!?
The next day it would all come to an end- they were to play last year`s finalists, 11 times Grand Slam Champions- The Bryan Brothers… 3 hours, and four sets later, they were in the final! They could?
A few months ago, we had been setting a date for my sons christening, the only weekend we could fit in was Wimbledon final weekend, it was a risk we took 6 months ago when we booked it. My only concern was the boys singles/doubles final. I would cross that bridge when it came, but here we were with Fred and Jonny in the final of the Wimbledon Men`s Doubles.. As much as I would have loved to have been there and experienced the atmosphere, my sons weekend came first. (if I was coaching Fred and Jonny this may have been different! Don’t tell my wife!)
We did of course get a large screen put up where all our family and friends were and screamed and shouted at the TV, and well the rest is history.. Freddie Nielsen and Jonny Marray you have shown us all that anything is possible, we should never give up on anyone and I believe that there are thousands of aspiring tennis players (including our own STA Players) who have `hope`.. 2 weeks ago they couldn’t, today they can.. Thanks boys! You will always be a Wimbledon Champion!
And players- never stop dreaming!
Same time.. Same place next year!
Play to Win
July 2012 - Wimbledon: How to beat the Greatest of All Time!
So the match, how does Murray beat the 16 time Grand Slam champ, 6 time Wimbledon champ on the court he has owned for the last 10 years.. We are
seeing a very different RF at Wimbledon to the rest of the year, he seems so assured, the swagger is back, he is 'feeling it'...
1. Murray must get off to a strong start- in his previous 2 slam finals, he has been over ran early doors and in turn lost some belief. He needs the
crowd on his side and needs to keep a calm clear mind set to execute his plan.
2.1st serve percentage- Murray served above 70 percent in both his quarter and semi final and this is going to be key for Murray. If RF gets a look on
Andys second serves it could be a long afternoon.
3. Play to win mentality- RF will be all over any short balls that Murray gives him so it is important Andy gets after his shots and does not fall
into a passive mind set. He has to win this final- RF will not hand it to him..
4. Tactically, I would like to see Murray getting RF running, opening up the court then trying to get him to open his racket face with Murray being pro-active looking to knock the volley off. If Murray doesn't do this- RF will!