Having had a few weeks away from tour now, it has been a great time for me to reflect upon where Kevin has arrived in this world of tennis. I am so proud of his accomplishments in his last few weeks of competition; he won a tournament, beat a top 10 player, achieved his personal best result at a major tournament, and reached a career high ranking of 12 in the world. I’m happy, thrilled, and excited for everything that he has achieved.
However, tennis is a funny little game. For most players, results are not consistent, goals are not always attainable, and injuries can crop up at any time, sending you to the sidelines. The prospect of losing everything you have worked tirelessly to achieve is real and frightening. This fear can be crippling in some cases, as I learned when reading Mardy Fish’s heartfelt article about his personal battles with anxiety. So how does a player cope with all of this and continue to improve?
If I had to describe it to an outsider, I would say that the graph of tennis results should more or less resemble a graph of the stock market. There will be great runs and peaks, sometimes followed by dips or even recessions; but the hope is that overall, and over time, the general trend of results is moving in the upward direction. Kevin is lucky to have been more or less on a constant path of improvement throughout his career, and I have been wracking my brain to figure out what exactly has helped him to do this. Of course, Kevin is hardworking and talented; these are contributing factors. But honestly, I would wager that almost every man on tour possesses these traits; they are exactly what have propelled them to the most elite level of this sport.
Upon further consideration, I think the best thing a player can do to keep improving and have the greatest level of success during his career is to actually fall in love with the process, not the outcome. I speculate that players who can derive enjoyment from the day-to-day activities of working towards a better game will undoubtedly obtain the highest level of personal satisfaction in addition to reaching a superior level of tennis. Results will come and go, but the process of getting better at the game is a constant presence throughout your career.
In reality, I think it’s difficult not to become consumed by the dream of attaining a specific goal. Naturally it is easy to love the “results” of success in tennis, such as the high you get from a stellar performance, the financial rewards of a successful tournament, and the feelings of personal achievement and career highs are all excellent rewards. It is much more challenging to love the down and dirty part of the everyday grind rather than the fruits of your labor.
In my opinion, we focus far too much on outcomes, when in reality the real “dream” should be to make the most of your journey. Of course Kevin has result-specific tennis goals, but at the end of his career his satisfaction will not hinge on whether or not he reached a coveted ranking. Someday Kevin will be able to retire happily knowing that he has done everything in his power to be the best tennis player he can be.
Because of this attitude, Kevin genuinely loves the everyday work that goes into being a world-class competitor. He revels in finding new ways to improve his performance, whether physical, mental or strategic. Even the tiniest decisions are made from the perspective of, “is this going to help me be the best tennis player I can be?” And it is brilliant.
The obsession with the minutiae has not only allowed Kevin to continue to improve, but it has allowed him to enjoy every moment of it. It means that he has personal fulfillment from his efforts, independent of his on-court results.
“Fall in Love with the Process”
I already mentioned the three major categories where Kevin directs his day-to-day energy towards progress: physical improvement, mental improvement, and strategic improvement. With respect to each, there are specific steps he takes in order to progress; it’s a process. I will try to outline some of the efforts and strategies we have employed below:
1) Physical Improvement:
This category encompasses everything people usually think of as the hard work associated with tennis. It includes on-court work with his coaches Neville Godwin and Jay Bosworth, strength and fitness training with Allistair McCaw, injury prevention and treatment with his physio Florian Zitzelsberger, as well as ensuring proper diet and nutrition. Not a day goes by where Kevin does not address each and every one of these physical areas in some capacity.
Even the best tennis players are always trying to get better in some area, and usually it is physically. I think it is probably the easiest and most rewarding goal to work towards physical improvement because results can actually be seen and quantified. The ability to recognize advances is obviously very gratifying, and fuels the drive for further improvement.
2) Mental Improvement:
This area of improvement is much more difficult to assess than physical improvement. Nevertheless, Kevin works very hard on improving his mental strength and fortitude. Some of this work is done on-court and during physical sessions, other times it takes place in a more clinical setting with sports psychologist Alexis Castorri.
It is important to note that mental belief is tied closely in a way to physical improvement; practice and training breed confidence. On the flip side, breaks from tennis are also critical to mental wellbeing. After the U.S. Open, we took a holiday to visit an alumni weekend at the University of Illinois. It was refreshing and invigorating for Kevin to be away from the norm and to catch up with our old friends. Rest and rehabilitation is a big part of tennis, not just for the physical benefit it provides, but also for the mental benefit, which should not be overlooked.
Honestly, mental toughness is what separates the good from the great especially at the level of tennis where Kevin is competing. Finding ways to maximize one’s cognitive potential are critical at this stage, and I really think any tennis program must incorporate a strong approach to improving your competitive mindset.
3) Strategic Improvement:
Our entire team is working constantly to have a better strategic approach to tennis. Some of the biggest things we consistently try to improve upon are scheduling, equipment, and the team operations.
Scheduling is of the utmost importance, and it is not always easy to identify good or poor choices without hindsight; it is a learning process that we are always looking to improve upon year over year. Tournament selection is important, but plans for effective training blocks and rest periods are downright critical. Kevin has taken heat for putting his scheduling above all else with respect to his selective participation in Davis Cup, and in turn, the Olympics. I stand behind Kevin in these difficult choices because I recognize that it is incredibly important to have a good schedule; it can have major ramifications on the outcome of one’s career.
Good equipment is a powerful weapon on a tennis court and you want to leverage this to the best of your abilities. Although I personally know very little about tennis equipment, I am certain that Kevin’s coach and racquet specialist Jay Bosworth does everything possible to ensure he is competing with the best technology. Racquet specialization is vital to tennis success and, in my opinion, an untapped area of improvement for many players. Clothing, shoes, and orthotics can also have a major impact on performance, and Kevin considers all of this very seriously.
Finally, we are always looking to improve our team operations. The coaches, physiotherapists, and I are continuously discussing ways to make the team function better for Kevin. Whether we consider travel arrangements, accommodations, inventory management, or match preparation, there is always room for improvement. We all do what we can to provide Kevin with the best setup and tools at his disposal for success.
By focusing on these targeted areas of improvement each and every day, Kevin has enjoyed continued progress. Taking joy in the individual routines and efforts is what provides such a great level of satisfaction and happiness for our team at the end of the day. As we continue to help Kevin towards greatness, we will leave no stone unturned. Kevin has employed a tremendously talented group of experts to help him with each of these endeavors, and views each of them as investments in himself and his career. Improved results are desirable, but not the end goal of any of our actions. We have always said, “Take care of the details and the results will take care of themselves.” It is this motto and belief system that allows us to tackle each and every day with enthusiasm and dedication, while enjoying the success along the way.