Paul Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, spoke exclusively to the Double Bagel podcast last week. He is currently coaching the rising American Taylor Fritz as well as appearing as an analyst for Tennis Channel. Annacone, who was once ranked as high as 12th in the world, discussed his experience coaching the legendary Sampras and Federer, as well as which players he thinks may benefit from the suspension of the tennis season due to the coronavirus pandemic and what Fritz needs to improve on.
*Listen to the full interview on ‘The Double Bagel’ Podcast here.*
Federer’s 2011 Roland Garros Final And How Federer Deals With Losses
For many, Federer’s best hope of winning a second French Open title came in 2011. The Swiss had snapped Novak Djokovic’s 43 match winning streak in the semifinals, delivering one of the finest performances of his career to do so. But in the final he once again fell short against Rafael Nadal, losing to the Spaniard in four-sets despite making a superb start to the match.
“He did a great chance that year. He beat Novak in the semis, and Novak hadn’t lost the entire year going into the French Open. Against Rafa, he was up 5-2 in the first set and had set points. Tried to drop shot which was a lot bit of a bail out shot. Lost that set and a tough four-setter.” said Annacone.
I asked Annacone how Federer handled tough defeats like that, especially when he knew he was so close to winning a second Roland Garros time.
“When [Roger] was done he was very proud of what he had done in the tournament. He’s very good at detaching from that emotion in a natural way. Where he doesn’t deny the emotion. Where he doesn’t come up with excuses for losing. Where he doesn’t blame anything. But he just processes it in a really healthy way and I think that’s why at 38 years of age he’s still playing.”
With the world at a standstill right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, Annacone discussed who he thought will benefit the most when tennis returns.
“The older you get the more challenging it is to stay in peak shape. Although rest is good, too much rest can turn into rust… I think that can happen more quickly with older players just because they’ve been doing it for a long time.”
“With a huge long gap I think it’s a little bit more challenging for the older players to just bounce right back. Whereas a younger player I think has more fuel in the tank and their body has less miles on it. So in a long period the younger players actually can do a lot of hard work and come back perhaps a little bit physically better and a little bit more strategically tuned in.”
Sampras won nine of his 14 Grand Slam titles under Annacone’s tutelage and the American coached Sampras until his retirement in 2002. We discussed how Sampras handled his competitiveness especially towards the end of his career.
“Before the 2002 US Open I think [Sampras] hadn’t want a tournament for about 25 months. He gone through a lot of changes in his life and I think he’d become emotionally tired. He loved the idea of competing and winning major titles. But he’s not a gregarious outgoing world traveler like Roger.”
“I remember the day he decided, we walked on a practice court. We walked down and we’re about to hit. He just looked at me and said “I’m done.. I don’t want to play anymore. I just realised that I don’t really need to prove anything to myself anymore and that’s why I been playing recently and I’m happy and I’m healthy and I don’t play any more.”
“The last match he ever played was the final of the 2002 US Open. Which I still think is pretty poetic. He and Andre playing each other in that final and they done the same thing 12 years earlier. So for me that was quite a poetic moment.”
Coaching Taylor Fritz
Annacone returned to coaching in 2018, working with world #24 Fritz, who won his first title on the grass in Eastbourne last year and backed that up by reaching the final in Atlanta, Los Cabos and the ATP 500 Mexican Open. Annacone shared his thoughts on how he feels Fritz can continue to progress.
“He tends to be a bit more emotional than the other guys I’ve coached before. Part of that is because he’s 22 years of age and part of that is just his makeup. But I don’t want him to suffocate in that emotion. I just don’t want him to be driven blindly by it and as long as he doesn’t get driven blindly by it and makes the decisions out of pragmatism versus emotion, he’ll do great.”
On the 2019 Wimbledon Final
In the 2019 Wimbledon final, Federer became the second man in history to lose a Grand Slam final having held Championship Points. Annacone discussed he think Federer felt and what he thinks happened in that epic match.
“I don’t think Roger did anything wrong other than having to try to close it out against what I think is the greatest of defender in the history of the game. So sure you can blame nerves you can blame of lot of different things.”
“But sometimes you just lose and sometimes your jaw hits the table the way you lose. I know he was extremely pained by it. But I’ve also had conversations in the past with him where after the US Open matches when he lost to Novak in the weeks following he said “It was really painful. But I can give you a lot of matches in my career that I have won that I never should have.””
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