Masterminds of Tennis: Mats Merkel
Originally published on: 19/09/13 00:00
What made you make the move into coaching?
I was supposed to play college tennis in the US, and unfortunately it did not work out with a scholarship. Before going to the US I had spent two-and-a-half years doing an apprenticeship with the German coaching federation. I passed that and I had done some coaching with the best juniors in the area already. I got offered a job at adidas in the product marketing tennis business unit and within that period I was approached to help re-build a tennis club in Herzogenaurach, Germany, where adidas has its headquarters. I am currently finishing my bachelor’s degree in business and management. My move to coaching was not intentional. I've enjoyed it hugely, however, particularly in the last two years.
What are your recent highlights as a coach?
I have done more on my own, travelling with players. For example, in 2010, I did the preparation with Caroline Wozniacki. She had a great six months in the first half of 2011. I hope I can share some of the credit for that! I travelled with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and have worked with Andy Murray. I enjoy working with different personalities.
What do you think makes a great coach?
I think it’s being open, being able to listen, being able to understand your player, being able to be there for the player and to give them the feeling that he or she is important. You always have to have an open ear for them. There are no egos involved as a coach. You have to be able to adjust. Tennis is an individual sport; you always have to be able to give your player energy to help him or her to go out there and to give his or her best every single day. The chemistry between a player and coach has to be good.
Do you participate in any formal training to develop as a coach?
The degree I am currently studying helps me a lot, particularly when it comes to time or relationship management. I have enrolled into two coaching organisations GPTCA and the PTCA. They are both recognised global associations. I am trying to go to seminars when I have time and I am trying to learn from the player. That’s where I believe you can learn the most – from the player.
Do you have an example of something that you have said or has been said to you that has made a big difference?
Statistics. If you are travelling alone as a player you would probably not think of looking at your opponent’s stats. When I was travelling there was one particular match where I looked at the statistics for the opponent of my player. I told the player, this is what you have to expect, and this is what is going to hit you, now be ready and fight back. After the match the player came to me and gave me a big hug and it was very rewarding. I felt very happy, so I do think giving guidance is crucial.
How hard is it to make a living from tennis these days and how difficult is it to make the transition from junior to senior tennis?
I was reading some statistics on how many of the ITF top 10 juniors in the world make it into the ATP World Tour top 100 and how long that transition takes. It is very difficult to become a professional and earn enough money to make a living from it. Last year, I went to two of the biggest junior tennis events in the world – the Eddie Herr tournament and the Orange Bowl junior tournament that are held in the US every year. It is crazy how many young kids are playing there. But not a lot of those kids will actually make a living from tennis.
What else are you involved with when you're not working with the adidas team?
I have a couple of other projects that I'm involved in that occupy my time when I'm not coaching – the GPStennis app and a website called www.Becoacht.com, which is an online platform where you can enrol yourself as a tennis player, skier, coach, instructor in anything and it’s about getting a connection with other people who share the same passion. The site won an award last year for being an innovative start-up and I am helping as ambassador of the tennis element of that. So many times as a tennis player you go to different countries and you want to play tennis – this connects you. My own company, Made to Measure Sports, is a service I am also delivering, tailored to the needs of the customer. I help with events such as tennis clinics and present at conferences on a range of subjects
Mats Merkel has worked with the likes of Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki as part of the adidas Player Development Program.
He has joined tennishead as a guest columnist and will be offering an insight into life on tour and sharing his views on current issues in the world of tennis. His first column will be in our October issue – subscribe now to get a copy delivered to your door.