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X-Reyes vision: When Gil speaks, you listen


 

Originally published on: 02/03/12 00:00

There are few strength and conditioning experts in international tennis as well known as the world’s best players. But then there aren’t many strength and conditioning experts with a track record as impressive as that of American Gil Reyes. The 59-year-old made his name as a key member of the basketball programme at the University of Las Vegas before turning Andre Agassi into one of the finest physical specimens on tour. The duo’s sprint work up and down a 400-metre rock in the Nevada desert that Agassi famously named ‘Magic Mountain’ became the stuff of legend. The two toured together for 17 years and Agassi attributes much of the success he experienced during the second half of his career to his trainer and close friend. “Gil is the reason I’ve won more Slams after the age of 29 than I did before,” Agassi said in 2005. Reyes continues to work with the best players in the world out of his Las Vegas base, the Gil Reyes Fitness Centre, as a member of the adidas performance programme. We sat down to talk tennis, training and truth…

Remind us how you started your relationship with Andre?
He’d just lost a five-setter in Rome to Alberto Mancini [in 1989] and he felt that he had physically been let down and that his body had failed him – those were his words. He was curious but also motivated. His words to me were:  “I never want to feel that way again.”

Your working methods are well documented. Why is ‘truth’ such a key element to your relationships with players?
That’s a staple and a principle as well as a lesson that I’ve learned with – and from – Andre. If you were to approach our gym there’s a stone at the doorstep. Engraved in the stone is ‘truth’. Meaning, when you walk in here, you’re ready – everything is about the truth. It isn’t about one’s dreams or hopes or prayers and wishes but it’s about the truth and how you must at that time commit it. As an athlete, there are times you will hear things that you may not like, but the only way you can learn from and correct your faults or anything that is to your detriment is to face the truth.

How was truth a part of your relationship with Andre?
It’s something that comes with love and respect. Andre and I… I love that kid, I love him and I would do anything for him. He is such a good person. People often talk about his greatness, and I say, ‘Don’t ask me about his greatness, ask me about his goodness as a person.’ He learned to live the truth. If you read his book, his truths were not so easy… but it was the truth, and I encourage the players to bring the truth in with them.

What inspires you?
I’m a guy, just an old street guy. And I truly believe that I’m one of those guys that I will get in the trenches with you and for you and I’ll fight for you. All of that is based on love and I’m inspired by words, by music, by thoughts. When Andre retired, I was asked what I’m going to do now Andre is finished. And I knew for sure what I was not going to do. I was done with tennis. And then here comes these 15-year-olds with their dreams, their eyes this big [gesticulates] and that just fuels my fire.

At what age should players start to work on their strength?
Tennis is a phenomenon in many ways in that by eight years old, they’re full-time tennis players. But their bodies are not ready for weight training. I think the etched-in-stone criterium or template would be puberty, when a body begins its hormonal secretions and testosterone or oestrogen, at which time a body is more receptive to resistance exercises, strength training routines.

Technology has changed the sport. Will there be a marked difference in five years’ time? How do you see it evolving?
There for sure is a very natural evolution. And then there’s the conceptualised evolution. When you see the evolution and development of the actual bodies out there, it’s pretty amazing to see. But, it’s happened in basketball, its happened in football and all these other sports. The ball used to come over the net with an arc, now it comes over like a laser. But as much fun as it is, once you hit the ball, you have to hurry back to be in position again. Your legs must be very, very strong. The bar has been raised. But these players have grown up seeing Andre and his peers knock the cover off the ball and they say, ‘That’s how I want to play.’ They all play that way now. Including the girls. As they develop into young women, now it’s a disposition of physicality. Now we are compelled, as the coaches, to make sure they do it safely.

The remainder of this interview features in the June 2011 issue of tennishead magazine. Click here to buy the issue and find out what Gil says about the physical prowess of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. Or, you can get regular great content direct to your door by signing up for a subscription to tennishead magazine.

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