Day 9 at the Aussie Open with Sven and Mats from the adidas Player Development Program

Day 9 – Australia Day (the 4th of July for Australia)

Today was a big day not only for Maria Kirilenko, but also for the adidas Development Program. Maria has been with the program on and off for the past 4 years, and she has really has developed into an all-court player, but most of all a great girl.

At 9 a.m. we took the bus so we could have our coffee in the players’ restaurant before warming up with Maria at 10 a.m. on center court. Maria warmed up with her doubles partner, Agnieszka Radwanska, and next to them on the same court was her opponent hitting with her coach/husband.

The Henin – Petrova match started at 11 a.m., and it turned out to be another great performance by Justine. For her to reach the semifinal in her second tournament after her two-year retirement it speaks volumes for Justine’s quality of play rather than the state of women’s tennis.

Maria was a bit nervous about the match and her ability to move as well as she need to against Jie Zheng. As it turned out, it was not enough. I was impressed with Zheng’s performance but not surprised. She is one of the greatest movers, and when she is on, you really need to be at your best to be able to get her out of her rhythm. Maria could not and was unfortunately not the one moving onto the semifinal.

After the match, Mats and I walked to Court 3 to meet up with Claus Marten, who was scouting matches on the outside courts. Laura Robson was battling with Yulia Putintseva, a Russian female version of Nadal. She and Laura both train at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy. However, it did not look like Yulia cared about the sportsmanship of the game, let alone respect one of her academy teammates. Laura tried to compose herself and focus on her game and not Yulia’s screams, jumps and fist pumps. The better player won this match, and Laura walked toward the net victorious. At that instant, Yulia’s racquet was flying toward the referee. Perhaps it was not intentional, but she hit is so hard on the court that it bounced 10 meters high and was caught by the wind. I am sure the match-up between the two will not be the last, but I do hope somebody will educate Yulia about what sportsmanship is all about.

When Laura’s match was finished, I went to the gym for a nice workout and had a good chat with Anders Jarryd, who is playing the seniors event. It is great to be around these great champions of the past to hear what they have to say about tennis and its development. Whether it is a Thomas Muster, Henri Leconte or Martina Navratilova, all of them take the time to have a chat and catch up. They are the legends of the game and they make tennis so special because they are still around to share their experiences with all of us.

It was now around 7 p.m., and I was about to leave for the hotel, call it a night and get ready for the Murray vs. Nadal match. As I was leaving, I ran into Laura Robson’s father, and we were chatting about her future plans and schedule. When the schedule was released, we found out that Laura would have to play her quarterfinals women’s doubles match at night and was scheduled to play after Djokovic vs. Tsonga.

This scheduling is an absolute disgrace, and I find it hard to believe that the WTA and the ITF, both of which are taking part in scheduling, allowed this to take place. Laura is also competing in the girls/junior event and turned 16 last week. Her singles match is the second one on after 11 a.m., followed by her doubles match tonight, and if she wins her singles match, the following day she would play another morning singles match in the junior event. I will say any more, but the tournament has made very bad judgment call.

Meanwhile, Mats left the site at 5 p.m. because he was invited for dinner at Jimmy Tansey’s place at Port Melbourne with Claus. Jimmy Tansey works in sports marketing for Olympic sports, individual sports and team sports so he has a lot of responsibilities. Claus and Mats have this as an annual event in Melbourne.

I got back to the hotel around 8 p.m., and as I turned on the TV to watch Nadal-Murray (who has just signed a contract with the 3 stripes), the match was is in full swing. It was 2-2, and I walked to Federation Square to watch the match on the big screen. It was Australia Day so it was very busy. On the big screen TV, there was live music, so they showed the match in the Atrium. The screen was little smaller, but the atmosphere that was incredible. Fans of both Rafa and Andy were chanting their names and waving flags. Unfortunately it was a sad ending because Nadal was hurt and could not continue his quest to defend his title.

Tomorrow will be our last day at the site, and we will round things up with checking on juniors, meetings with managers and having a nice day at the tennis without having to run from one court to another.

Sven and Mats

Day 8 at the Aussie Open with Sven and Mats from the adidas Player Development Program

Day 8 with Sven
Sven Groenefeld sitting courtside at the Australian Open. Photo by Paul Zimmer.

Mats Merkel, left, and Sven Groenefeld sitting courtside at the Australian Open. Photo by Paul Zimmer.

Getting up early every morning is part of our routine. This is the only time we get a chance to reflect and relax at a nice breakfast on the executive floor of the Grand Hyatt. Before we take the bus, we can catch up and review the upcoming day’s schedule.

Today we had a warm-up with Caroline on Hisense Arena court at 10 a.m. It went really well and showed no indication of what was waiting for us later in the day.

At 10:30 a.m., Mats ran over to Court 16 where he warmed up Fernando for his match. This did not give him much time after Caroline’s warm-up, but Fernando is not too stressed about starting exactly on time. When I got to the court, Fernando walked in as well, and they were off to prepare for his match with Davydenko.

Because it was Maria Kirilenko’s birthday (turning 23 today), I wanted a chance to meet with her before Caroline played Na Li of China. Maria had planned a warm up with her doubles partner at 12.

As I was walking over to Maria’s practice court and checking out some juniors (I won’t mention any names), I saw some new talent on the boys side and made a note for Claus Marten to check on him later today. Claus, who is part of the adidas Global Marketing team, focuses on the next generation of players who are playing the junior event. Our focus will stay the same but because we have time in between practices and matches, we can check out what the next generation will be holding for us.

On my way to Caroline’s match, I wished Maria and a happy birthday and told her I would see her after Caroline’s match.

Caroline was not able to put it together today and had a disappointing loss to a player who would normally cause her no harm. However, she also lost to her in Sydney, a lead-up tournament for the Australian Open. Even though it was a loss, Caroline told me, “At least I am one round further than last year.” I told her that there is more to come, and if we can improve each tournament by one round, she would have a very good year.

After the match I walked back to the player’s lounge, which is located in the Rod Laver Arena where Fernando was playing his 4th round match. Mats and I had decided that he would watch Fernando’s match, and I would watch Caroline. So when I saw that it was 2 sets to love for Davydenko, I thought it would not be much longer. However, Fernando turned it around and was heading into a 5th set.

At the end of the day, both matches were lost, but on her birthday, Maria won her doubles match against the reigning Masters champions in convincing fashion.

Maria Kirilenko celebrates her 23rd birthday at the Australian Open.

Maria Kirilenko celebrates her 23rd birthday at the Australian Open.

After the match, she was presented with a birthday cake and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her on Margaret Court Arena.

Before leaving the site, we had some meetings with the management of the players we are inviting to come to Vegas.

We also got a chance to say hello to players in the Wheelchair competition who start their tournament Wednesday. Because I have been working with Esther Vergeer since last October, I have gotten to know most of the players who are participating in the tournament. Esther decided not to play this Australian Open and take some time off after reaching her ultimate goal of winning the Masters in November. She has finished the year No. 1 for 10 consecutive years and won the Masters 12 consecutive times.

Another day has come to an end, and although we did not get the results we wanted, we are looking forward to Maria Kirilenko’s first Australian Open quarterfinal.

Day 8 with Mats

Fernando Verdasco vs. Davydenko was a strange match to watch. I was sitting in Fernando’s box with his father and two friends of his, Garry and Claudio.

Fernando had a lot of chances to break Davydenko in the first set but didn’t convert them and lost the first set. In the second set he managed to break Davydenko, but was broken right back.

It felt like the momentum was always on Davydenko’s side. He was moving unbelievably well and retrieved some of Fernando’s forehands.

Fernando was down 2–0 in sets, but still it didn’t really feel like a match yet. When he managed to break Davydenko in the third set and held despite facing break points, I knew that it now was going to be a match.

Mats Merkel with Fernando Verdasco on practice court. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Mats Merkel with Fernando Verdasco on the practice court. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Fernando won the third set and started out very strong into the fourth. He was up a break again, but Davydenko was playing well, and they played their first tiebreaker of the match. After being down 1-3 then 3-5, Fernando managed to win the breaker 7-5.

I was sitting in the sun, cooking and screaming, trying to push him and give him the feeling that we in his box believe in him!

The fifth and final set started, and Fernando had chances to break Davydenko in the first game to go up 1-0, but Davydenko came up with some great answers. At 2-2 Fernando had Love-30 on Davydenko’s serve, but again the Russian played some unbelievable points! At 2-3 Fernando was broken in a very strange service game. He lost the fifth set 3-6 and with this the match.

It was such an awkward feeling to see the match end like this. Fernando fought back after being down 2 sets to love and then the fifth set takes such a turn again. Davydenko seemed to be not as physically strong as Fernando, but Fernando couldn’t take advantage of it. I believe if Fernando could win just one of those close matches against those Top 5 players, it would give such a big boost to his career. I am sure he will be able to do that eventually. He has shown great fighting spirit, and we believe that he will do it!

Have a great day!
Sven and Mats

Day 7 at the Aussie Open with Sven and Mats from the adidas Player Development Program

Sven Groenefeld on the practice court at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Sven Groenefeld on the practice court at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Today would be a day with not too many matches. Only Sania Mirza is playing doubles and Maria Kirilenko plays against Dinara Safina later that day, but due to the fact that both players are with adidas the “adidas vs. adidas – RULE” comes in.

We are only allowed to do the warm-up, but we cannot talk about any tactics at all. Also we are not allowed to watch the match in the box of the player we work with, because this would also be a conflict of interest.

At 11:00 – 11:30 a.m. Sania was warming up with her doubles partner Vivi Ruano Pasqual. Sven and Ruano Pasqual’s coach were with them on court 15 and I was sitting at court 14 watching Eugenie Bouchard from Canada who was playing her first round match. She is with adidas and it is one of our responsibilities to observe juniors to see the next generation of players.

Talking about next generation, on Court 12 Tiago Fernandes from Brasil was playing. Tiago has been with adidas for a couple of years now and we know Tiago quite well from prior preparations that Sven and I had with juniors in Saddlebrook (Tampa, Florida) — prior to Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl.

Mats Merkel hitting with Maria Kirilenko on the practice court at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Mats Merkel hitting with Maria Kirilenko on the practice court at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Sven joined me at 11:35am and we had 15 minutes to watch Tiago until we had to go to the next practice, which was at 12:00 01:00 p.m. on court 16 with Maria Kirilenko. We went through the routines with her and basically did the warm-up like every other day.

From court 16 we went straight to court 17 at 1:00 p.m. because we had a practice with Caroline. A lot of people came to the court to watch her practice. We had a very good session. Worked on her game and specifically on the transition game, coming in to the net.

Now it was time to grab something to eat. Sven quickly left to see the end of Sania Mirza’s doubles match, who unfortunately lost. Sven then came back to sit down with me and relax for half an hour.

We also had to start working on a presentation to our boss Jim Latham concerning training we will have in Las Vegas at the end of February — prior to Indian Wells and Miami. We trained there last year and it was a big success.

Mats Merkel hitting on the practice court with Fernando Verdasco at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

Mats Merkel hitting on the practice court with Fernando Verdasco at The Australian Open. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

At 4:00 p.m. I had a training session with Fernando Verdasco on court 16 for an hour. We were just working on having a good rhythm and played some points at the end.

After the practice with Fernando, Sven and I then met with Darren Cahill to go through a list of players for the preparation in Las Vegas and to finalize that list before sending it out to our boss.

The bus back to the Grand Hyatt left at 6 o’clock and I met up with Claus Marten to help him pack up the leftovers from the distribution. Everything will be shipped to the warehouse of adidas Australia. We had 3 other helpers and we were really fast this time. In between we were eating some pizzas that we ordered and were watching the match on Rod Laver Arena between Henin against Wickmayer, where Justine managed to win in 3 sets. It is always the Sunday of the first week, where we meet up and pack up all the boxes. I remember last year we did that starting at midnight, because one of our players was playing late.

Packing boxes after the player gear distribution.

Packing boxes after the player gear distribution.

Sven didn’t go back with me, because he had to take care of the schedule for the next day, so all of our players would be set with their warm-ups. Another reason why he stayed to watch the match (from a location unknown) of Maria against Dinara which was played on Hisense Arena. Unfortunately Dinara had to stop because of an injury (back) and Maria advanced into her first Quarter-Final in her career in a slam.

We were all done with packing up the boxes at around 10:00 p.m. and Claus and I decided to watch some tennis at the Federation Square which has a big screen set up on a modern square surrounded by bars and restaurants — it creates an atmosphere only possible in Australia. Gonzalez was on against Roddick and we were watching the second and third set before heading back to the hotel, because we were freezing!

As you can see we can never get enough of tennis. Even when we could or maybe should shut off we still keep going. We are looking forward to another day and some big matches tomorrow, since Fernando Verdasco will be on against Davydenko on Rod Laver and Caroline Wozniacki play against Na Li on Hisense.

Have a great day!

Mats and Sven