Former pro Brad Gilbert returns to IMG Academies as guest coach
From player to prognosticator, Brad Gilbert has done it all for the game of tennis. Since retiring in 1995, the former No. 4 player in the world has become a coach to some of the sport’s greatest players and brightest stars (see Agassi, Roddick, Murray).
Currently, Gilbert works part-time as a tennis analyst for ESPN while helping coach rising tennis star, and IMG Bollettieri Tennis-alumni, Kei Nishikori. Gilbert has been coming back to IMG Academies for over five years to assist in the development of the Academy’s aspiring students, and this week he has been serving as a guest coach for all of the students training at the Tennis Academy. We recently sat down to chat with Gilbert about all things tennis.
Brad Gilbert on…
Coming back to IMG Academies…I started with IMG way back as a student and now I believe that this is the sixth time I have come down here for a week of guest coaching. I have been down on separate occasions when I was working with Andy Murray and I have also spent a week at IMG with Kei Nishikori. This week, though, I am dedicated to the entire Academy.
What benefits Gilbert thinks the Academy offers young tennis players…My son came here for a year-and-a-half and said the greatest thing about the Academy was its simplicity. Where we come from, a lot of tennis players have to go practice after school, and you have to drive or get a ride, and it is always a chaotic process. Everything at IMG is within a close proximity; from the gym, to the courts, to the groups, to the coaching, your life is simplified for you so you can focus on tennis. It is already fairly stressful being a kid anyways.
The potential of Kei Nishikori…Kei is 21 years old, and the most important thing for him is to keep working hard and getting better. For me, it is easy to say you want him to get to this or that, but that adds pressure for him. The most important thing for him is to continue getting better and continue improving in the gym. Get stronger, get fit as a fiddle, and keep working on all aspects of his game. Then, who knows how far he can go? I never like to say player could be top-20 or something, because then you are selling him/her short.
Is Roger Federer really struggling?…The most amazing thing about Roger is, I think for 10 straight years the guy hasn’t missed a major. He has been incredibly healthy, and has had an incredibly amazing run. Maybe the only thing the guy is guilty of is raising the bar so high that all these young kids now are playing so much better because of him. He is still solidly playing at No. 3 in the world, even though when you hear people talk about him you think that he is 15-20 in the world. He is still three in the world! Something tells me that he believes he can still take it to the next level. It is like a novel, he has to try discovering another chapter. Andre played great at 29 into his early 30s. Andre is probably is a good person for Roger to look at and think that if he could do it, than I could still do it.
Is Novak Djokovic really that good?…Novak was almost his own prophet in that, he said, upon winning the Davis Cup that everything made sense and everything kicked into gear for him. Since then, he obviously has put it together. At the Open he beat Federer, saved match point, got to the final and won. You could tell by his play in Australia that he was playing with so much more confidence. And you know, I think he knew it, he felt it and he is showing it.
Which current player embodys the philosophy of your book, Winning Ugly, best?…The person that I like to watch the most because so many people talk about how she doesn’t have any weapons and that there is no dominant woman’s player is Caroline Wozniacki. She is a great counterpuncher, she works hard every match, and she is just doing as good as she can do. I love watching because she doesn’t have the biggest shots. She works hard, gives 100%, and she is No.1 in the world because she is out there winning the most matches. She is one of my favorites.
How you would describe your style as a TV analyst…It is hard to be your own critic. I like to think when I am calling a match, or sitting courtside, that I have to pinch myself because I am having a good time. I really love what I am doing and I’m having fun. I’m not one that tends to rip people. I guess, only in the bluest of blue moons, if something happens then I might have a comment, but you see, my style is that I like to have a little more fun and make up nicknames and predictions. I try not to be so critical, and the thing I do like most is discussing strategy. I like talking to people about what I am seeing strategy wise, and what one player is trying to do against another.
French Open prediction…I always say that I don’t like to make any predictions until I see the draw, but obviously based upon what we have seen this year; Nadal has to be one of the favorites. Over the last six years, Nadal has won 97% of the time on clay matches. Only six losses on clay in six years! Based on that, you have to like Nadal. I just like to see what lies ahead once the draw is made, but obviously Nadal’s success on clay speaks volumes. Obviously, with the way Novak has been playing, you can’t rule him out either. He is still yet to lose a match this year. Those guys, on paper, are the ones to beat this year.